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.
UPDATE: Curator interview reveals more historical information about the cabin.
Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, had more than 170 slaves before the Civil War working in the fields to pick Sea Island cotton. Not much evidence of the slaves’ daily toil exists now, though, except for a couple one-story, dilapidated cabins–the last physical reminders of the brutal and degrading living conditions of the enslaved, as well as an emblem of the strength and endurance of the nearly four million Americans living in bondage by the time of the war.
Today, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) announced the acquisition of one of these 19th-century cabins, which was donated by the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society last month after they received it from the plantation’s current owners. The cabin will travel to its new home at the Smithsonian to preserve the story it stands for.
Slave cabins are held in other museums and collections around the country. However, NMAAHC focused on acquiring one from Edisto Island, says curator Nancy Bercaw, who is in South Carolina this week to oversee the relocation project, is that the Point of Pines plantation was one of the first places where slaves “self-emancipated” themselves before the Emancipation Proclamation. South Carolina’s coastal islands, Bercaw says, were the earliest territories overtaken by Union troops. Point of Pines became a Union stronghold in 1861, and the African Americans living on the plantation, along with other slaves from around the area who had left their owners, declared themselves free.
Museum representatives just arrived at the plantation this morning to begin the week-long process of taking the cabin apart, piece by piece, and driving it up to the Washington, DC area. Officials say that every board and nail will be carefully numbered and packaged for shipment. The cabin eventually will be reconstructed inside the African American History and Culture Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2015.
Already, dismantling the cabin and examining the site has revealed details about the plantation’s slave community, says Bercaw. The cabin is now understood to have been part of a larger “slave street,” which consisted of up to 25 similarly small dwellings built in a row along a road. Bercaw and her team are working with Low Country Africana, too, to interview local descendents of the slaves. Their stories will supplement the documentation of the community’s history.
“The Point of Pines slave cabin will help us share the living history of a place and the resilience of the people, who, in the darkest days of slavery, built the cabin, cleared the land, worked in the fields and raised their families there,” says Bercaw. “The cabin will be one of the jewels of the museum positioned at its center to tell the story of slavery and freedom within its walls.”
Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, says: “Slavery is one of the most important episodes in American history, but it is often the least understood. By exhibiting this cabin, NMAAHC will ensure that the rich, complex and difficult story of the enslaved will be made accessible for the millions who will visit the museum.”
The cabin will be the focal piece of the museum’s exhibition “Slavery and Freedom,” which examines slavery’s role in shaping America and its lasting impact on African Americans.
The Museum currently is in the early stages of construction, but stop by its recently opened onsite Welcome Center to preview what is to come.
May 10, 2013
As someone who adores sequins and feathers, I am buzzing with anticipation over what the New York Times has dubbed “an eminently enjoyable movie,” Baz Lurhmann’s new film version of The Great Gatsby. Will I like Leo DiCaprio as Gatsby? Will Jay-Z’s music convey the fancy-free spirit of High Flapperdom?
F. Scott Fitzgerald is credited with coining the phrase “The Jazz Age” in the title of his 1922 collection of short stories, Tales of the Jazz Age. He also became its effervescent chronicler in his early novels This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), along with another short story collection, Flappers and Philosophers (1920). Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby was the quintessence of this period of his work, and evoked the romanticism and surface allure of his “Jazz Age”—years that began with the end of World War I, the advent of woman’s suffrage, and Prohibition, and collapsed with the Great Crash of 1929—years awash in bathtub gin and roars of generational rebellion. As Cole Porter wrote, “In olden days a glimpse of stocking/Was looked on as something shocking,/But now God knows,/Anything Goes.” The Twenties’ beat was urban and staccato: out went genteel social dancing; in came the Charleston. Everything moved: cars, planes, even moving pictures. Hair was bobbed, and cigarettes were the new diet fad.
According to his biographer Arthur Mizener, Fitzgerald wrote his agent Maxwell Perkins in 1922: “I want to write something new. . .something extraordinary and beautiful and simple.” Like today, newness was fueled by innovation, and technology was transforming everyday life. Similar to the way social media and the iPhone shape our culture now, the Twenties burst with the revolutionary impact of silent movies, radio and recordings. New stars filled the mediascape, from Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson, to Paul Whiteman and the Gershwins. Celebrity culture was flourishing, and glamour was in.
Accompanied in a champagne-life style by his wife Zelda, the embodiment of his ideal flapper, Fitzgerald was entranced by the era’s glitz and glamour. His story “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” he admitted, was designed “in the familiar mood characterized by a perfect craving for luxury.” By the time he wrote Gatsby, his money revels were positively lyrical: when he describes Daisy’s charm, Gatsby says: “Her voice is full of money,” and the narrator Nick explains, “That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jungle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.”
Fitzgerald acknowledges the presence of money’s dark side when Nick describes Tom and Daisy: “They were careless people—they smashed things up. . .and then retreated back into their money. . .and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” But his hero Gatsby is a romantic. He was a self-made man (his money came from bootlegging), and illusions were vital to his world view. Fitzgerald once described Gatsby’s ability to dream as “the whole burden of this novel—the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.”
Gatsby sees money as the means to fulfilling his “incorruptible dream.” When Nick tells him, “You can’t repeat the past,” Gatsby is incredulous: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.” (Cue green light at the end of the dock: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into time.”) As critic David Denby recently wrote in his New Yorker review of the Luhrmann film: “Jay Gatsby ‘sprang from his Platonic conception of himself,’ and his exuberant ambitions and his abrupt tragedy have merged with the story of America, in its self-creation and its failures.”
It was the American Dream on a spree. Fitzgerald ends Gatsby intoning his dreamlike vision of the Jazz Age: “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . .And one fine morning—”
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?”
May 9, 2013
Longtime host of “Jeopardy!” Alex Trebek, has often called game shows, “the best kind of reality television” for the way they encapsulate the American dream. On his show, he says, anyone can earn success with enough wit and skill. Now a donation from Trebek to the National Museum of American History of several items from his popular game show cements that idea in popular culture. In a new partnership with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the museum accepted a cache of items, representing three categories of the Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards–daytime dramas, game shows and children’s programming.
Trebek, who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy Award in 2011 as well as five Daytime Emmy awards, contributed a script with handwritten notes from one of his 1984 shows. Also making a donation was the 1999 Daytime Emmy Award-winner Susan Lucci, better known as Erica Kane from the popular soap opera “All My Children;” and 2001 award-winners Kathy and Phil Parker, creators of the 1990s children’s television program, “Barney & the Backyard Gang.” Lucci’s pink gown and shoes from her cover of People magazine played colorful companion to the plush purple dinosaur that was donated along with the script from the first “Barney” video.
“Game shows have been an important part of daytime television since the 1940s,” says curator Dwight Blocker Bowers, “when the radio series, ‘Truth or Consequences,’ made its debut as a television show.” The show selected ordinary citizens as contestants to answer trivia questions and to perform zany stunts. Over time, he says, the questions got tougher and the prizes, bigger.
We talked with Trebek at the donation ceremony:
Why has the show enjoyed so much success since its debut in 1964?
It’s a quality program and it appeals to the aspects of American life that are very important to us: opportunity, we give everyone an opportunity to compete even if you’re an ordinary citizen. It doesn’t matter what your background is, you can compete on our program and do well if you have knowledge. You can fulfill one of the American dreams, which is to make a lot of money. You’re not going to be elected president just because you appear on ‘Jeopardy.’ Although we’ve had ‘Jeopardy’ winners in the past who have done very well in the public arena. One of them is the current director of our consumer affairs department, nominated by President Obama. He was a ‘Jeopardy’ winner and in fact, when he first ran for Congress in Ohio, his bumper sticker said, ‘The answer is.’
We are now part of Americana so we’re accepted, people know us, they like us, we’re familiar, we’re part of the family.
If you were a contestant what would your biographical detail be?
I’m willing to try everything once. I’m just thinking back to sky-diving, scuba-diving, running military equipment, flying in a F-16 and taking 8Gs, parachuting, it doesn’t matter. I’m a little too old now to get out and do that stuff but there are a few things on my bucket list.
You’ve been hosting since 1984. Are we getting smart or dumber?
There are bright people in all walks in life and probably in the same percentage as there have always been. We’re attracting more of them so people think America is getting smarter, I don’t know about that.
But not dumber?
Some people are.