May 17, 2013
Fifty years ago on May 17, 1963, TIME magazine put James Baldwin on the cover with the story “Birmingham and Beyond: The Negro’s Push for Equality.” And to create his portrait, the weekly called on artist Boris Chaliapan. Baldwin’s intense eyes and pensive expression stared out from newsstands across the country.
“Chaliapan,” explains National Portrait Gallery curator Jim Barber, “tried to capture the essence of a person and their personality.” Though the magazine had contracts with a dozen or so other cover artists, Chaliapan was part of the prominent threesome dubbed the “ABC’s” with artists Boris Artzybasheff and Ernest Hamlin Baker. Known for his spot-on likenesses, Chaliapan could also be counted on for a quick turnaround. “Unlike the other cover artists that needed a week or two, Chaliapan…if pressed, he could crank out covers in two or three days,” says Barber.
Over his nearly 30 year career with TIME, Chaliapan produced more than 400 covers and earned the nickname “Mr. TIME.” He portrayed the day’s biggest stars and helped illustrate each week’s cover story with a fresh portrait.
Born in Russia, Chaliapan trained as an artist there before journeying to Paris, France to continue his education. Eventually making his way to the United States, he found work with TIME magazine and in 1942 produced his first cover for them of a WWII general. Chaliapan often worked from photographs to create his covers, made with watercolors, tempera, pencil and other materials. Other than his speed and technical skill, Chaliapan was known for his portraits of beguiling starlets like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.
From the National Portrait Gallery’s more than 300 Chaliapan covers, Barber selected 26 for a new exhibit, “Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapan,” opening Friday, May 17. “I wanted to show Chaliapan’s entire career,” says Barber.
By the end of that career, painted portraits were on their way out for magazine covers. Photographs and more thematic illustrations were being used more frequently. Chaliapan’s covers capture a snapshot of the news from days gone by, but also of the news industry itself. His final cover was of President Nixon in 1970.
“Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapan” is on view at the National Portrait Gallery through January 5, 2014.
May 16, 2013
In high heels and flawless fashions, Sheila E. has been rocking the drums since she was a teenager growing up in Oakland, California. At 55, she’s still not slowing down. She’s collaborated with artists like Michael Jackson and Prince, toured the country and is currently working on a new album and autobiography, From Pain to Purpose, due out next year. In town for a show at the Howard Theater Thursday, May 16, she stopped by the African Art Museum for a performance with the Farafina Kan Youth Ensemble drummers. “I slowed down for a couple hours this morning,” she jokes about her hectic life.
It’s a pace and spirit that have become her signature no matter what genre she’s performing in. But those high energy concerts come with a cost. “It’s very demanding,” says the star who regularly ices her hands and feet after shows. “I just had a procedure done on my arm, my elbow and my wrist so it’s still painful to play,” she says. “It’s just things that happen from playing all of these years for so long but I love what I do.”
Sheila E. was born Sheila Escovedo, daughter of percussionist Peter Escovedo. Surrounded by a whole host of musical uncles and godfather Tito Puente, she picked up the drums at a young age. But, she says, “I didn’t know that music was going to be my career.” Instead, she had plans to be either the first little girl on the moon or an Olympic sprinter. Interrupting her training, she took to the stage to perform with her dad when she was 15. “And that changed my whole life.”
Her family and her hometown of Oakland provided precisely the kind of creative fertile ground she needed to experience all kinds of music. “My dad is totally the foundation of who I am,” says Escovedo. “He’s a Latin jazz musician, but he also brought different kinds of music into the house,” she says, adding that it’s this sort of artistic range that has helped her have such longevity in her career. Oakland also provided its own mix of music for the young artist. “I’ll tell you, it’s the best place to be born. I love D.C. but the Bay Area, oh my gosh.” Calling it a mecca for music with a rich variety of ethnicities, Escovedo cited the many bands that came from the area, including her uncle’s band, Azteca.
Though her father tried to persuade her at first to take up violin, he never let her think she couldn’t play the drums. “I grew up in a home where my parents never said that it was wrong to play because I was a girl,” says Escovedo. She remembers going to her friends’ houses and asking where all the percussion instruments were, thinking it was typical of all homes.
Once she got in the industry and began working with everyone from Marvin Gaye to Lionel Richie, she says she encountered some resistance as a female musician. But her parents told her, “Just do what you do, play from the heart, be on time, be early, learn your craft and when you get in there…be prepared so when you walk in you walk in with confidence.”
Anyone who’s seen her perform or watched her delight audiences during Drum Solo Week on the “Late Show with David Letterman” knows that she’s not wanting for confidence. She’s also not wanting for inspiration. The artist says she’s tried almost every genre of music, including polka, though she’s most well-known for her songs “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre,” collaborations with Prince. With one country song under her belt, she says she’s now trying to encourage her friend Garth Brooks to record with her.
When she’s not writing books or in the studio, she likes to search YouTube for up and coming female percussionists. “There are more women percussionists, young girls playing now than ever,” says Escovedo, and that includes girls from her own Elevate Hope Foundation, which seeks to bring music and art to children who have been abused or abandoned to help them heal and communicate.
Contemplating what item she would donate to the Smithsonian if given the chance, she says it’s almost impossible to decide, despite a garage full of instruments. “The thing is, everywhere I go, if I pick something up, you know, that tube over there or this water bottle, I can play it as an instrument.” In fact, she says, “On Michael Jackson’s album, the first one that he did, “Off the Wall,” he wanted me to come in and play this sound and to emulate it the only thing that I could think of was to get two water bottles, like two Perrier water bottles. I poured water in them to tune to the actual track, ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.’” With two pieces of metal, she hit the glass. “So that’s me playing the bottles.”
After her show in D.C., Escovedo says it’s back to the studio to record a track for her album with Chaka Khan. “I say yeah, I’m going to slow down,” she says, but, “I get on stage and I get crazy. It’s in me. I’ve got to do it.”
May 15, 2013
On the eve of the release of the latest feature-film from the “Star Trek” mega-brand, scholar and curator Margaret Weitekamp argues that the fictional series of space exploration helped define and inspire real world parallels. From advancing diversity in NASA to anticipating new technologies, “Star Trek” left its mark on American culture. Weitekamp, the Air and Space Museum’s curator of space science fiction materials, including a 14-foot model of the Enterprise, says, it will continue to do so.
Since the original series aired in the 1960s, “Star Trek” has grown to include five different series, 12 movies and a vibrant fan culture that supports a multi-billion dollar industry.
Many of the people working in the spaceflight industry, says Weitekamp, are also huge fans of the franchise. That includes Mike Gold, chief counsel at Bigelow Aerospace, who is currently working on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable module for the International Space Station. Gold and Weitekamp will be joined by two more Trek fans for a panel Thursday May 16, “Star Trek’s Continuing Relevance,” at the Air and Space Museum.
We spoke with Weitekamp over the phone about her career, why “Star Trek” matters and her own spaceflight ambitions.
How did you turn “Star Trek” into a scholarly pursuit?
I have a Ph.D. in history from Cornell and while there, Cornell has a rather innovative program of writing in the discipline, where for their freshman composition classes, you can create a course about anything you want because the content is not what is graded, it’s the teaching of writing in sociology, or history, or philosophy.
So I created a space history and science fiction class that I taught a few times while at Cornell.
How does “Star Trek” inspire industry?
The original ‘Star Trek’ series, from 1966 to 1969, had a very diverse cast as the command crew of the Starship Enterprise. When NASA was recruiting astronauts in the 1970s, they weren’t getting the diversity of female and minority applicants that they had hoped that they would. So they actually hired Nichelle Nichols, who is the actress who played Lieutenant Uhura, an African American actress who was part of that command crew, to do a public relations campaign in the 1970s with the theme that “there’s space for everyone.” They saw the number of women and people of color applying go up after her campaign in 1977 and 1978. So there have been some instances of a very direct relationship. And then also just the broader sense of being interested in what’s possible in terms of space flight and thinking about the ways in which who we are gets translated when you go into space.
How close are we to the future “Star Trek” envisions?
Not as close as people would like. The lack of a transporter and the lack of a warp drive has kept humanity a lot closer to home than I think people had hoped we would be being this far into the 21st century.
On the other hand, there are a lot of ways in which, in terms of global communication, people are much farther in ways ‘Star Trek’ didn’t necessarily anticipate.
People had hoped that some day they would be able to walk around with a thin tablet or with a communicator on their belts and, in fact, we now have moved passed flip phones to having a kind of mini-computer in your hands when you’re on your smart phone.
There are some ways in which I think we’re living the dream but the physical transportation of people out between star systems is still hundreds if not thousands of years out.
Would you consider going into space?
If there’s some need to send a historian mother of three into space, I think that would be tremendously exciting.
What do you like about “Star Trek?”
I personally, as a scholar, am really intrigued by the ways that it can be both a driver for social change but also a commentary on the political and social situation at the time. The original ‘Star Trek’ series, for example, had a lot of discussion about racial integration and gender roles and was very self-consciously a social commentator. As someone who is interested in American culture and society as a historian, it’s a really rich source for looking at the ways in which people have engaged with those issues.
And as a fan, what do you like about it?
I am more of a Next Generation fan and was also a kind of closet Trek fan and a ‘Star Wars’ fan. I am always interested in gender roles and ‘Star Trek’ has had some very innovative plot lines where they talked about women’s roles in society. Despite the mini-skirts of the original series, they have done some very innovative gender stuff.
Which is better, “Star Trek” or “Star Wars?”
Actually, I’m very ecumenical on this. I really like both. I grew up more as a ‘Star Wars’ fan but I have really come to like how rich ‘Star Trek’ is in terms of the scholarly analysis and that’s something that’s a lot of fun for me personally and professionally. I’m going to have to come down solidly on the fence of saying I like both.
‘Star Trek’ has more self-consciously, commented on its social and political context…Although the ‘Star War’ universe has all of those six movies kind of working to tell one continual arc of a story, the ‘Star Trek’ universe has really worked to knit together many disparate pieces: TV shows, movies, fan culture, novels, merchandise, into one, what has been called by scholars, megatext.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” will be showing at the Udvar-Hazy Center’s IMAX theater.
May 13, 2013
Tuesday, May 14: Grand Challenges Share Fair
Even Smithsonian magazine can have a hard time keeping up with all the great research that Smithsonian scholars are doing around the world. From the stars to the seas, experts are hard at working fulfilling the institutional mission to increase and diffuse knowledge. To complete the second part, the Grand Challenges Share Fair offers everyone the chance to hear about some of the cutting edge research via a live webcast. Catch Kristofer Helgen of the Natural History Museum for his talk, “The Roosevelt Resurvey: Leveraging the Contributions of the Smithsonian and President Teddy Roosevelt for Wildlife Conservation Insight in Africa.” Or hear about the Deep Reef Observation Project from Carole Baldwin. Opening remarks from Secretary G. Wayne Clough begin at 1:00 p.m. Free. 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Webcast.
Wednesday, May 15: The Films of Nam June Paik
When the father of video art gets behind a camera, you can be sure the results will be engaging. Known for his playful embrace of new technologies, Nam June Paik’s “Electronic Superhighway” has long been a staple at the American Art Museum. Joined now by more than 60 additional works from the Korean-born artist for the exhibit “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary,” the map made of televisions serves as a sort of introductory manifesto. Curator John G. Hanhardt, who worked with Paik to bring his archive to the museum, will be on hand to discuss the films and Paik’s legacy. during Free. 6:30 p.m. American Art Museum.
Thursday, May 16: Take 5! Jazz Night
You’ve made it to Thursday, now relax with a little after-work concert courtesy the Night and Day Quintet. And should the music of George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and Cole Porter inspire you, ArtJamz will be there as usual with all the art supplies you need to create your own masterpiece in the Kogod Courtyard. Free. 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. American Art 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.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
May 10, 2013
The drinks were freer, the music brassier and the times, well, Gatsby-er. At least, that’s the picture F. Scott Fitzgerald creates with his tales of high society run wild in his 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. Now set for yet another screen adaptation, this time thanks to the energetic hands of Baz Luhrmann, the novel continues to resonate today.
Its appeal is a dark but undeniable one, enough to let you weep alongside Daisy as she marvels inside Gatsby’s closet at his exquisite shirts. The clothes, the alcohol, the music–we get it, it’s a heady and seductive mix. So go ahead and throw your Gatsby-themed party (skipping the murder and suicide–oops, spoiler alert) and let the experts at Folkways supply the playlist.
Thanks to David Horgan and Corey Blake of Smithsonian Folkways for the inspired lineup that includes three tracks referenced in the novel itself, including “Three O’clock in the Morning,” which narrator Nick Carraway calls a “neat, sad little waltz.” The novel also mentions “The Sheik of Araby” and “A Love Nest,” which, in some versions, includes the poignant lyric:
Ever comes the question old,
“Shall we build for pride? Or,
Shall brick and mortar hold
worth and love inside?”