December 29, 2010
Air and Space Lions—Understandably, folks over at the AirSpace blog have been feeling a bit envious of all the attention the National Zoo has been getting on account of their seven new lion cubs (ATM has covered their birth, swim tests, physical exams and outdoor exploration in recent months). To show that the Air and Space Museum can be cute too, they’ve unearthed a series of lion photos from the Air and Space archives. The photos are mostly of pilot Roscoe Turner and his partner in flight, Gilmore the lion. In 1930, Turner was flying for the Gilmore Oil Company, whose mascot was a lion head; Turner decided to fly with a real lion to show some spirit. The post features pictures of Turner with Gilmore the lion as a tiny cub, but also as a full-grown lion.
Rockwell Closing—The American Art Museum’s Norman Rockwell exhibit, “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas,” is closing on January 2. One group of stories that the exhibit leaves largely untouched is that of the many people who posed for Rockwell, mostly from Arlington, Vermont, where the artist grew up. Last summer, there was a Rockwell model reunion in Arlington, where 80 former Rockwell models came together to reminisce. Eye Level has a few anecdotes from some of the participants.
New Anteater Born at the National Zoo! As if lion cubs weren’t enough, earlier in December the National Zoo’s giant anteater, Maripi, gave birth to a male pup. This was Maripi’s third child in the past three years (her other pups are now at zoos in France and Nashville, Tennessee). Initially, the pup had low body temperature, causing concern among the keepers, but after weeks of monitoring both the pup and his mother in the hospital, they have moved them back into their exhibit. They report that both seem healthy and Maripi is taking good care of her offspring.
Race to the Museum—There are 73 cars in the American History Museum’s automobile collection, but only 14 are actually on display. Vote for your favorite of eight cars on O Say Can You See by January 12, and the two most popular cars will be put on exhibit from January 22 through February 21. The options include a 1997 electric car, a General Motors solar-powered car from 1987 and an Oldsmobile “runabout” from way back in 1903, to name a few.
December 28, 2010
The newest exhibit in the American History Museum’s Albert H. Small Documents gallery has been a long time coming. The germ of the idea began in 1967 1966 when Cynthia Adams Hoover, then a young curator at the American History Museum, first visited the Steinway family in New York in search of material for an exhibit on American music. Founded in 1853 by German immigrants Henry Engelhard Steinway and his three sons, Charles, Henry and William, Steinway & Sons famously manufactured pianos that are widely used today in popular and classical music.
On that 1966 visit, a diary kept by William Steinway caught Hoover’s eye. The entries documented a period from 1861, three days before Steinway’s marriage, to around the turn of the 19th century. Hoover found the 2,500-page diary to be a rich chronicle of 19th century America, with commentary on events occurring before the Civil War to urban development to the immigrant experience, all through the lens of a prominent New York businessman. Hoover persuaded the Steinways to let her use the diary for research. More than 40 years later and after more than 25,000 hours of research by one hundred different volunteers, parts of the diary are now on display in an the exhibit “A Gateway to the 19th Century: The William Steinway Diary, 1861-1896.”
“We just started [transcribing the diary], and we didn’t have a real strong path, we just wanted to make it available to people,” said Hoover at the exhibit opening. Although the American History museum didn’t officially acquire the diary until 1996, co-editor Edwin M. Good was able to start transcribing it in the 1980s. In recent years, the project has benefited from the help of retired economists, physicians and others who have taken charge of researching passages in the diary that pertained to their respective fields.
“This is very much a classic German-American immigrant story, but also the story of a young man who is a witness to history,” says Anna Karvellas, managing editor of the project. The exhibit delves into the Steinway business, the New York City draft riots that nearly destroyed the Steinway factories, German singing societies that Steinway participated in, the Rapid Transit Commission that he pioneered, and his role in developing Astoria, Queens, where the Steinway factories were located.
“When we started in the 80′s, we were thinking books. But no publisher that we talked to wanted to do it. They would do one volume [of the diary], but that was it,” said Hoover. But with the advent of the vast resources of the Internet, Hoover decided to make the diary available as an online resource. Now, with the opening of the exhibit, the project team—including Hoover, Karvellas, Good and project coordinator Dena Adams—has put the entire diary online, complete with a full transcription and some sample annotations for the entries. (The project is ongoing and pending funding, plans are to add more than 30,000 interlinked annotations in the coming years.) The online diary is searchable by topic or keyword, so anyone who wants to can learn about the life of this 19th century New York entrepreneur.
“A Gateway to the 19th Century: The William Steinway Diary, 1861-1896″ will be on display in the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery of the American History Museum through April 8, 2011.
Updated 1/6/2011: This post includes new information about the future plans of the diary project.
December 23, 2010
The halls are decked in red and green, and there’s a winter chill in the air. The folks at the Smithsonian Gardens have taken great pains to decorate the Smithsonian Institution for the holidays. They have grown thousands of poinsettias and wrapped a green garland up the wrought iron gates to the Castle. In almost every museum, there’s at least a hint of holiday cheer.
So what exactly can you expect to see if you’re out and about around the Smithsonian over the next couple weeks? Although the biggest attraction might be the new lion cubs on exhibit at the National Zoo, you may want to admire some of the trimmings adorning the museum halls. The Natural History Museum may take the cake this year, with four holiday trees, decorated with museum-appropriate ornaments, including crocheted coral and tropical fish to go along with the “Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef” exhibit. ”Typically, the decorations tie into natural history,” says horticulturist Monty Holmes of the Smithsonian Gardens. One of Natural History’s other trees has miniature owls and berries as decorations.
The Smithsonian Castle, in contrast, has gone the classic route, with a giant, glittering tree full of red, silver and gold ornaments (watch a team of Smithsonian horticulturists decorate the tree in fast motion below).
While it may be a bit too cold out to go see all these decorations yourself, we’ve compiled a gallery of festive photos taken by Smithsonian photographer Eric Long, so you can stay warm and cozy inside. From all of us here at ATM, we wish you a very happy holiday!
December 22, 2010
Total Eclipse of the Moon—Early yesterday morning (or late Monday night for those on the west coast), an astronomical event took place that only happens once in a blue moon. Well, okay, it wasn’t a blue moon, but it was a total lunar eclipse. This was the first lunar eclipse to fall on the winter solstice since 1638. By the time this happens again in 2094, most of us will be long gone. The AirSpace blog has more information on how lunar eclipses form and what they look like in case you happened to miss out.
Christmas Sweater Archives—I have certainly seen some festive holiday sweaters around the Mall this winter; my personal favorite (worn by ATM’s own Beth Py-Lieberman!) featured chiming jingle bells, appliqued gingerbread men, Christmas trees and red bows. The Archives of American Art has done their own archival roundup of holiday knitwear donned by poets, painters and explorers.
Winter Wonderland—The Bigger Picture blog has a slideshow honoring the onslaught of cold the Washington area has received in recent weeks. The pictures are from the Smithsonian Institution Archives and include snowflake art, icy expeditions, and the Smithsonian covered in snow in the early 1900s. The post also has links to snowflake templates for cutting your own winter decorations.
Solstice—If you thought the weather here was cold, SIRIS has posted photos of Alaska Natives buckling down for the dead of winter from the archives of scientist Leuman M. Waugh, who visited the area in the early 20th century. The photos are likely to make you want a fur-lined winter parka to brave the icy chill. Another post on SIRIS shows images of winter landscape paintings from the National Art Inventories.
Birth of the Christmas Card—Pushing the Envelope has published a guest post by Skidmore College professor Catherine Golden that reveals the first Christmas card ever, from 1843. The card depicts a merry gathering of people eating and drinking, and reads, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year To You.” Read about the history of the holiday card, as well as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which Golden writes was arguably more popular for its philanthropic message than even the author’s expert prose.
Poinsettia Video—Recently, Around the Mall brought you the true story of the Poinsettia, which involved Joel Poinsett and his idea to create a national museum. Watch Monty Holmes, a horticulturist at Smithsonian Gardens, talk more about the history of this holiday plant.
December 20, 2010
From the moment the National Zoo’s seven lion cubs were born this fall, we’ve been waiting with great anticipation for the chance to meet them in person. We’ve seen them through their first physical exams and a swim test to make sure they can get across the moat in the Zoo yards. Recently, the first lion cub was named Aslan after the famous lion from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. Finally, this weekend, the Zoo announced the names of the six other lion cubs and let the little superstars test out their habitat. Starting today, the cubs will be conditionally on exhibit for all to see (keepers will evaluate the weather and make a decision each day). To see them online, view our photo gallery of the cutest cubs in the Smithsonian (for now…)
The names of Shera’s cubs, born August 31, are:
John: This cub was given the name John after John Berry, director of the National Zoo from 2006 to 2009. Berry was instrumental in bringing the cub’s mother Shera, her sister Nababiep and the father, Luke, to the Zoo in 2006.
Fahari (pronounced fa-HAH-ree): This name means “magnificent” in Swahili. It was chosen by the National Zoo advisory board because when she was first born, she had a ravenous appetite and was bigger than all the other cubs, even her brother. Though she no longer holds the distinction as being the biggest cub, keepers are sure she’ll keep her larger-than-life personality.
Zuri (ZUH-ree): It was only fitting for the Friends of the National Zoo board to name this cub Zuri, which means “beautiful” in Swahili. Zuri has the thickest, softest fur of all the cubs.
Lelie (la-LEE-ay): The first-grade classroom at Marshall Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, won the video contest to name a cub, which we announced last month. Afrikaans for “lily.” The students chose it because lilies are a common flower at Kruger Park, the largest national park in South Africa and home to about 2,000 African lions.
The three cubs born to Nababiep on September 22 are named:
Baruti (ba-ROO-tee): The Bright Horizons daycare class in Arlington won the video contest with the best male name for a cub. The name is African and means “teacher.” Keepers described the lion as calm and quiet, so the class thought this to be fitting.
Aslan: On December 10, Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes, actors in The Chronicles of Narnia movies, visited the Zoo and named him Aslan after the “Great Lion” in the series. Aslan is Turkish for “lion.”
Lusaka (lu-SAH-ka): Last January, the Zoo lost an 18-year-old lioness named Lusaka who held a special place in the hearts of her keepers as the matriarch of the lions. This cub was the only female of the bunch, so she was given the name Lusaka in memory of the late lioness.
Beginning today, zookeepers will decide on a daily basis whether or not to let the lion cubs roam their outdoor digs. This will depend primarily on the weather and on how well the cubs adjust to being out and about. Read updates from the Zoo’s lion keepers and check for news on the Zoo’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.