May 24, 2013
Jack Fogarty and John MacDonald served with the Army’s 98th Evacuation Hospital in World War II’s Pacific Theater from 1944 to 1945, where they spent “many an hour sitting around in a jungle clearing,” according to Fogarty, who is now 92 and living in Teaneck, New Jersey. The two soldiers developed a tight friendship as they worked and relaxed together.
Fogarty became close friends, too, with John’s wife, Mary MacDonald, who remained home in Queens, New York. Fogarty had met her before he and John shipped out, and he struck up a correspondence with her that lasted until he and John returned home. An amateur artist, Fogarty illustrated his envelopes to show Mary daily life around the camp—jungle hikes, beach swims, evenings in tents under gaslight.
“My drawings were an expression of love for the MacDonalds,” says Fogarty. “I loved them and they loved me in the best of terms.”
The letters sealed a lifelong friendship between Fogarty and the MacDonald family. Mary MacDonald died in 2003; her husband in 2007.
Meg MacDonald, one of the couple’s four daughters, recently donated 33 illustrated envelopes, eight letters and a watercolor made by Fogarty to the National Postal Museum, which is currently exhibiting them online.
We spoke with Fogarty recently about his time in the War, his art and his enduring friendship. An excerpt of our conversation follows.
When did you first meet Mary?
I met Mary in 1943 when John and I were stationed in an evacuation hospital in the Yuma, Arizona desert. She came to visit John in the first few months we were there. All the soldiers went into town whenever we had time off, so I bumped into John with Mary in town one day. John introduced us and that began our friendship. I started corresponding with her after we went overseas, and she was very loyal, a very good friend. Since I was so close with her husband, she liked hearing about my relationship with him and our time in the service.
What made you decide to illustrate the envelopes you sent her?
I’ve always drawn—all my life I’ve had a talent to paint. I had another dear friend from high school, a cartoonist, and he and I exchanged letters when we both joined the service. He would illustrate his envelopes, so I would do the same. That started it. Then when I was in the South Pacific Islands in World War II, John started a weekly bulletin just for the 217 men in the evacuation hospital. He did the editorials, and I did the artwork on a mimeograph machine. That got me doing more illustrations, so I started drawing on the envelopes to Mary.
Tell us about the illustrations.
They illustrated what was happening at the time. They showed the places we were at, the fantasies we had. They were an outlet, and I had the talent to make them. And they meant so much to Mary, because they showed her husband’s life while they were separated, and she loved him so much. It’s funny, too, because a lot of the drawings would be considered chauvinistic now—you know, jokes about women and so forth.
What was your relationship like with the MacDonalds back then?
It’s difficult to describe, because it’s such an important part of my life. It’s a love relationship. John and Mary were just wonderful, wonderful people. They were friends, and friendship is very important to me. We had the same values, as far as our faith and our family. And John was a mentor to me. I’m a little slow in my growing up, shall we say—I’m still a little naïve. John was a married man, and worldly. He had been a reporter before he joined the service. We would just discuss everything, discuss all the topics that young men would discuss at the time. It was an exchange of values and thoughts and experiences.
A few years ago, Meg MacDonald told you she had found your letters and illustrations among Mary’s things. What was it like to be reunited with them?
I was completely flabbergasted that Mary kept them. But I was flattered. It was a very warm feeling to know that Mary had kept them all these years. It’s strange reading the letters now, looking back on the past. It happened, and yet it’s incredible that it did happen.
Many young people who see your illustrations online will never have known a world without e-mail. What do you hope younger viewers take away from your letters?
My niece is a teacher, and a while ago she has a fellow teacher who invited me in to talk about World War II. I brought souvenirs from the war, my patch, and cap, and pictures, and things from Japan. It was the most rewarding experience. The children were so attentive and interested. They have no idea of the world as I knew it, and yet they were so excited to realize a world they didn’t know. They were learning about something other than Lady Gaga or all these things they need to have today, iPads and so forth. I hope these letters do the same for others.
May 23, 2013
In 2009, the Hirshhorn Museum announced plans for a dramatic, glowing balloon that would emerge out of the center of the circular building when inflated seasonally. The “Bubble,” as it came to be called, was conceived by the Hirshhorn’s director, Richard Koshalek, as an architecturally ambitious addition to the museum that would serve as a space for meetings, lectures and temporary think tanks about the arts and culture. But recently, cost projections for the Bubble, officially known as the Seasonal Inflatable Structure, had been reported to be unsustainable.
The fate of the project lay in the balance today as the museum’s board of trustees met to determine if the project would go forward. But at the meeting’s conclusion, Smithsonian Institution officials stated that the board had “failed to reach a consensus.” A final decision will be announced next month.
The museum’s director also announced his resignation to the board and to the museum staff to become effective at the end of the year.
Koshalek came to the Smithsonian in 2009 from the Art Center of College and Design in Pasadena, California with many bold ideas. Koshalek saw the Bubble design as a seasonal venue that would “house pop-up think tanks about the arts around the world,” according to architecture critic Joseph Giovannini in the May issue of Smithsonian magazine.
In an announcement to staff, Richard Kurin, the Institution’s undersecretary for history, arts and culture, said that Koshalek had brought “tremendous energy and creativity to the Hirshhorn.”
The New York-based firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro conceived the blue, translucent structure as an “off kilter dome, jaunty as a beret,” wrote Giovannini, who also described the project as daring and innovative. But costs of the structure and its installation are estimated at $12.5 million, with only $7.8 million raised or committed to date. In addition, Smithsonian officials report that about $1 million would be required to maintain the project, covering the installation, de-installation and storage.
Friday, May 24: Gallery Talk on Jeff Koons’ Kiepenkerl
What is about pop artist Jeff Koons that draws equal parts scorn and admiration? The art world, argues a recent article in New York Magazine, remains skeptical even despite his commercial success. “Koons is,” writes Carl Swanson, “by the measure of sales of new work, which is the money-mad art world’s only objective measure, the most successful living American artist, but he has never before had a museum retrospective in New York, his home base for 36 years.” His reputation, says Swanson, is built on creating toys for rich old boys. The Hirshhorn’s own Koons, Kiepenkerl, is a strange mix of old meets new, with a candy-coating of silver. The statue of a traveling peddler plays on nostalgia while selling an exciting spirit of exploration: poised with walking stick and a bag full of mysteries, where is this man headed? Today’s gallery talk will examine this 1987 stainless steel sculpture and look at how it fits into the artist’s larger oeuvre. Free. 12:30 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Saturday, May 25: Celebrate Hawai’i Festival
Even though the Washington Post reports that fewer folks will be traveling this Memorial Day weekend, you can still get that tropical vacation you were hoping for right on the Mall. Head to the American Indian Museum for a full day of events celebrating Hawai’i. The annual celebration is part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and includes cooking and hula demonstrations as well as films and performances from popular acts like the Aloha Boys. And if one day isn’t enough, Sunday features another full day of programs. Free. 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Sunday, May 26: Music at the Museum: Summer Band Concert
Salute the troops this weekend with a performance by the U.S. Navy jazz band, the Commodores. The show is outdoors, so bring the blanket, the family and some sunglasses. The band has been entertaining and educating since 1969 and features a mix of big band tunes and vocal arrangements. The concert series continues each fourth Sunday through August. Free. 6 p.m. Air and Space Museum.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
May 22, 2013
Welcome to DC, Bozie!
The 37-year-old Asian elephant, whose transfer from Baton Rouge Zoo was announced earlier this month, arrived safe and sound at the National Zoo today after traveling in a truck for more than 1,100 miles.
Baton Rouge decided to loan Bozie to another institution recently after her elephant friend, Judy, died of chronic gastrointestinal irritation from arthritis medication in March. Bozie had lived at the Baton Rouge Zoo since 1998, but had to go because female elephants need companionship to stay happy and healthy, Zoo officials said.
Bozie will join the National Zoo’s other three Asian elephants—Ambika, Kandula and Shanti (who, incidentally, lived with Bozie in Sri Lanka at an elephant orphanage before both were transported to North America)—in their newly-renovated Elephant Trails Habitat after she goes into quarantine for a minimum of 30 days, per standard procedure.
The National Zoo is regarded as a leader in elephant research, particularly on Asian elephants (whose population has dropped at least 50 percent over three generations to around 40,000, according to the IUCN Red List), so Bozie should be in good hands with the Zoo’s elephant keepers, nutritionists and veterinarians. To keep her busy mentally and physically, her caretakers will provide her with a variety of enrichment, including bamboo, boomer balls and puzzle feeders.
“Elephants are equally curious and cautious in meeting a new member of the herd,” says the Zoo elephant manager Marie Galloway. “By watching their behavioral cues, we’ll be able to determine their comfort level and can move as quickly or slowly as they see fit. Our goal is for Bozie, Shanthi and Ambika to bond and live together as a herd.”
Sixty years ago, on May 29, 1953, mountaineers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay set foot atop Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. They were the first ever to reach its 29,029-foot peak, and met instant fame upon their return: today their ascent is considered a great achievement of the 20th century.
In 1974, Hillary, a New Zealander, detailed the perilous climb and his motivations for tackling it on “Interview with Sir Edmund Hillary: Mountain Climbing,” produced by Howard Langer at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The conversation touches topics from Hillary’s preparation for the perilous climb, the thrill of reaching the top and even the abominable snow man (Hillary thought he might have found its tracks while scaling Everest, but later discounted Yeti reports as unreliable).
Sir Edmund, why do you climb mountains?
I think I mainly climb mountains because I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it. I never attempt to analyze these things too thoroughly, but I think that all mountaineers do get a great deal of satisfaction out of overcoming some challenge which they think is very difficult for them, or which perhaps may be a little dangerous. I think that the fact that something has a spice of danger about it can often add to its attraction, and to its fascination.
What would you say are the outstanding characteristics of a good mountaineer?
I think that a good mountaineer is usually a sensible mountaineer. He’s a man that realizes the dangers and difficulties involved, but, due to his experience and his technical skill, he’s able to tackle them calmly, with confidence. And yet you know the really good mountaineers that I know never lose that sense o enthusiasm that motivated them when they first started.
I think the really good mountaineer is the man with the technical ability of the professional, and with the enthusiasm and freshness of approach of the amateur.
How many men took part in the 1953 Everest Expedition?
On this expedition we had altogether 13 western members of the expedition, and then we had, I think, about 30 permanent high-altitude sherpas—these are men who will be carrying loads to high altitudes for us, and who are all hard, efficient performers. So then, altogether some 600 loads were carried into the Mt. Everest region on the backs of Nepalese porters, so we had 600 men who actually carried loads for 17 days, across country into our climbing region. Altogether, I suppose you could say that almost 700 men were involved in one way or the other. . . . It is a team expedition, and it’s very much in the form of a pyramid effort. . . . The two men who reach the summit are completely dependent on the combined effort of all those involved lower down.
How did you feel when you were going up those last several hundred feet?
I’ve often been asked as to whether I was always confident we were going to reach the summit of Everest. I can say no. Not until we were about 50 feet of the top was I ever completely convinced that we were actually going to reach the summit.
On a mountain like this, although the distances may not be so great, you’re so affected by the restrictions of the altitude that you never really can be completely confident that you’re going to be able to overcome the technical difficulties ahead of you.
And when you finally reached the top, what were your thoughts then?
I think my first thought on reaching the summit—of course, I was very, very pleased to be there, naturally—but my first thought was one of a little bit of surprise. I was a little bit surprised that here I was, Ed Hillary on top of Mt. Everest. After all, this is the ambition of most mountaineers.
What was Tensing’s reaction?
Well, Chet Tensing was, I think, on reaching the summit, certainly in many ways more demonstrative than I was. I shook hands with him, rather in British fashion, but this wasn’t enough for Tensing. He threw his arms around my shoulders—we were in oxygen masks and all—and he thumped me on the back and I thumped him on the back, and really it was quite a demonstrative moment. And he certainly was very, very thrilled when we reached the summit of Everest.