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 1, 2010
First Aircraft Moved to New Hangar: This week, AirSpace reports that the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was the first aircraft to move into the Udvar-Hazy Center’s new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. Designed in 1938 and manufactured in 1942, the scout bomber flew in World War II. The Air and Space Museum’s plane is one of only a handful still in existence. The plane is scheduled to be restored over the course of the coming year, along with several other aircraft that will soon move into the new hangar. Later in 2011, the mezzanine level of the hangar will open so that visitors can see the aircraft refurbishment in action.
Patti Smith Wins National Book Award: Singer Patti Smith, perhaps best known as the “Godmother of Punk,” just won the National Book Award for her memoir, Just Kids, which chronicles her friendship with photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The Archives of American Art blog has a sound clip of Smith reading at a 2008 benefit, or your can hear her on NPR.
Twain Galore: It seems that in addition to Around the Mall’s post honoring Mark Twain’s would-be 175th birthday, a couple other blogs around the Smithsonian have paid their own tributes to the 19th century American author. Face to Face has posted some of their favorite Twain quotes as well as Edwin Larson’s 1935 portrait of the writer. The Smithsonian Libraries blog has a list of further reading straight from the Smithsonian’s collections.
Flamingo-Keeping: Now on the Smithsonian Science homepage, a video from the National Zoo features footage of the Zoo’s 61-bird flock of flaming pink Caribbean flamingos. Sara Hallager, flamingo keeper, says the birds are extraordinarily social animals (their squawks can be heard in the background). She discusses how she and the other keepers prevent inbred chicks during mating season by putting different colored bands on the flamingos’ feet to keep track of who’s who.
National Museum of “Dad-Trolling”? The web comic XKCD has proposed a new Smithsonian museum that specializes in enabling fathers to tell little white lies to their children. Click on various parts of the museum’s floorplan and see what waits inside the “Hall of Misunderstood Science,” “Regrettable Pranks: An Interactive Experience” or the “Rotunda of Uncomfortable Topics,” among others.
November 17, 2010
Inner Workings of the Space Suit: This week, the AirSpace blog exposes one of their spacesuits from the inside out using X-Ray imaging. Until now, the only way to glimpse the inside of these high-tech uniforms was to shine a flashlight down the wrist or neck of the outfit. But recently, Mark Avino, chief of photographic services at the Air and Space museum undertook the challenge of doing a complete X-Ray of Alan Shephard’s Apollo 14 spacesuit. The result is now featured in the book, Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection.
Thanksgiving in the Smithsonian: Mary Henry (1834-1903) was the daughter of Joseph Henry, the very first Smithsonian Institution secretary. Her diary provides a firsthand account of a pivotal period in the history of the United States, spanning the years of the Civil War and early Reconstruction. One personal anecdote, quoted in a post this week on The Bigger Picture, describes Henry’s Thanksgiving day in the Smithsonian Castle, where she lived.
Up Where He Belongs: The American Indian Museum’s Current exhibit, “Up Where They Belong: Native Americans in Popular Music” tells the stories of Native Americans in every genre of music, from rock to hip-hop to jazz (see my article on the exhibit in the October issue). The NMAI blog has posted an interview with one of the most well-known musicians in the exhibit, Robbie Robertson, who is perhaps best known as a member of The Band and for writing the song “Up on Cripple Creek.” Robertson talks about his favorite artists and what he’s learned in his long career as a Native musician.
Freer/Sackler Annual Auction: The Freer and Sackler Galleries opens its annual auction today in conjunction with their benefit gala, “Dancing Dragon, Roaring Tiger,” this evening. The gala celebrates the opening of the museum’s Chinese jades and bronzes exhibit. The auction features four works by the renowned Asian artists Mei-Ling Hom, Sun Xun, Hai Bo and Cai Guo-Quiang. View the works and short biographies of the artists. Bids must be emailed to email@example.com before midnight tonight.
World Folk Music Map: Smithsonian Folkways Records has contributed folkloric music from around the world to an interactive map posted on the “Preserving Intangible Culture” section on America.gov. Click on any country or region, from Mongolia to Norway to Sierra Leone, and listen to a Folkways music sample from there.
November 3, 2010
Time for Butterflies: As the first chill of fall sweeps the National Mall, folks at the Smithsonian Gardens are thinking about how best to take advantage of the seasonal change. As it turns out, fall is a great time to plan for those butterflies that everyone wants fluttering around in their gardens come springtime. In a new video, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Jonathan Kavelier shares a few tips for how to fill your garden with enough host plants for caterpillars to live on and nectar plants with plenty of sweetness for the butterflies to drink.
Rain or Shine? The Smithsonian encompasses a multitude of smaller projects that one might not hear about just by visiting the museums on the National Mall. The Smithsonian Weather Records Project is one of these—the Biodiversity Heritage Library features weather records from as far back as 1862. Want to know what the weather was like the year your grandparents were born? Or whether the temperature in a particular region has increased over the course of the past 150 years? The Weather Records Project will have all the answers.
A World of Turned Wood: In conjunction with their current exhibit, “A Revolution in Wood: The Collection of Fleur and Charles Bressler,” the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery have released a video interview with turned wood collector Fleur Bressler, who has amassed an unparalleled collection of wood art over the past several decades. Fleur, who is a docent at the Renwick, appeared in our recent post about the opening of the exhibit. She shares how she first got involved in collecting turned wood and shows off a few of her favorite pieces. The video also features some action shots of a few artists, whom Fleur has become close with over the years.
With the Void Comes the iPad: If the Yves Klein retrospective came and left the Hirshhorn too fast, fear not—the Smithsonian has created their first iPad application, which allows anyone owning one of Apple’s nifty new toys to peruse the exhibit virtually. Anthropometries, Cosmogenies, fire paintings and blue monochromes abound (if none of these ring a bell, there are explanations to go with). High resolution images of the works on view, audio of the artist discussing his work and video clips give the sense of being right there in the exhibit halls.
October 27, 2010
Halloween Costumes of the Past: Not sure what to be for Halloween? The Archives of American Art blog has dug up some photos from Halloweens gone by to spark the imagination. Beginning with an old invitation to a Crazy Costume Dance held by 20th century architect Spencer Fullerton Weaver, a series of pictures (not all of which were actually Halloween costumes at the time) illustrates a few artsy costume ideas. As “L’Artiste,” “The Gunslinger,” or “The Arabian Prince,” you’ll be ready to dance the night away at your own costume party.
The Bigger Picture: If none of those ideas stick, you can also turn to The Bigger Picture, where in honor of Archives Month, blogger Courtney Esposito has compiled several archival photos of possible costumes. Bearded lady, mad scientist, and first lady are but a few of the original disguises in the post.
The Biodiversity of Creepy-Crawlers: In honor of All Hallows’ Eve, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a digital natural history resource, has featured the Spined Micrathena, a horned spider that would scare even the least skittish trick-or-treater. The spider, which lives west of the Rocky Mountains (lucky for those of us on the East Coast), comes in a variety of sizes and colors, with females growing nearly twice as large as males. These spiders spin orb-shaped webs. Another orbweaver, Darwin’s bark spider was featured on Surprising Science earlier this month.
Phantoms of the Natural History Museum: Anyone who’s watched Night at the Museum knows that museums can be strange places to be on a dark and stormy night. Currently under renovations, the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building, which once housed the first-ever Smithsonian museum, is no exception. According to a post from Natural History at 100, the scientists that once roamed the halls of the building when it first opened as the National Museum in the late 19th century continued to haunt them after they died. The post details a number supernatural events: figures coming to life, ghosts of scientists watching over their collections and even classical music emanating from the shadowy recesses of the building. Can you say ‘boo’?
Pumpkin Carving, Smithsonian Style: Sick of carving jack o’lantern after jack o’lantern, with the same triangle eyes and toothless smile every year? This year you can carve pumpkins using our specially-customized Smithsonian-inspired stencils of Tai Shan the panda, the Smithsonian castle, the elephant from Natural History or even a Neanderthal. Smithsonian magazine’s Brian Wolly and Jamie Simon have teamed up to bring you a group of the scariest, zaniest, cutest, and most Halloween-like things they could uncover around the mall. Use our Smithsonian stencils to carve your pumpkin, and your squash is guaranteed to be the most cultured on the block! If you send us your photos of your carved pumpkins, we’ll even post them in our photo gallery.