Tag Archives: New-York Historical Society

First Ever Exhibit of LIFE Magazine’s 6 Women Photographers, Now at New-York Historical Society

The exhibit, LIFE: Six Women Photographers, at the New-York Historical Society through October 6, 2019, features the work of Margaret Bourke-White, one of LIFE Magazine’s first four full-time photographers, one of only six women LIFE photographers; her photograph was the cover of LIFE’s inaugural issue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

From its founding in the 1930s to the end of weekly publication in the 1970s, LIFE Magazine elevated and showcased photojournalism. Instead of just being the acoutrement to reporting, the photos were the story, or as Henry R. Luce saw it, the photojournalist as essayist.

During that time, only six out of 101 full-time LIFE photographers were women. Now, for the first time, these women – who contributed so much to the evolution of photojournalism as well as the cultural and societal trends they spotlighted –  are featured in their own exhibit, LIFE: Six Women Photographers, at the New-York Historical Society through October 6, 2019.

“For the editors of LIFE—the first magazine to tell stories with photographs rather than text—the camera was not merely a reporter, but also a potent commentator with the power to frame news and events for a popular audience. For decades, Americans saw the world through the lens of the magazine’s photographers. Between the late 1930s and the early 1970s, LIFE magazine retained only six women photographers as full-time staff or on a semi-permanent basis. LIFE: Six Women Photographers showcases the work of some of those women and how their work contributed to LIFE’s pursuit of American identity through photojournalism,” the curators write. The exhibition features more than 70 images  showcasing the extraordinary work created by Margaret Bourke-White, Hansel Mieth, Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Nina Leen, and Lisa Larsen. 

How were these women part of a larger editorial vision? What topics did they cover, and how did their work reflect—and sometimes expand—the mission of the magazine? The exhibit reveals these photographers’ important role in creating modern photojournalism and defining what LIFE editor-in-chief Henry Luce called the “American Century.” The level of influence that LIFE Magazine wielded was considerable – at its height, one out of every three Americans read the magazine each month.

We learn that of the six, three were immigrants of whom two fled Fascist Europe. In all, they produced 3,000 stories, 325,000 images that curator Sarah Gordon, curatorial scholar in women’s history at NYHS’ Center for Women’s History, and Marilyn Satin Kushner, curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, combed through to select out the 70 images featured in the exhibit. The exhibit, interestingly, highlights not only the photos that were selected for publication, but photos out of the series that were not, as well as the contact sheets. There are also displays with the magazine opened to the page, and notes from the photographers.

Asked how the six featured stories were selected out of the photographers’ 3,000, Kushner reflects, “We thought about what we wanted to show and say – that kept me up at night, how to tie as a thread. The first thought was to show a woman’s point of view, but then we don’t know how a man would have treated the same subject. What the women did was illustrate Luce’s idea, that the photos [depict] the American story.”

Margaret Bourke-White, one of the first four staff photographers, her image of Fort Peck Dam was the cover of LIFE Magazine’s inaugural cover ; she photographed from front lines in World War II, and worked for LIFE until her death in 1971

Yet, except for Margaret Bourke-White’s famous series on the Fort Peck Dam – illustrative of her talent to show Industrial America and technological progress – the photo essays selected for this exhibit predominantly show women and women’s issues – wrestling with their place in society after World War II’s independence, the WACS. And even when there is a story, like the Dam, Bourke-White and others showed a great sensitivity to how ordinary people – families – lived. Bourke-White chose to show shantytowns that developed around the dam, and what Saturday night dancehall was like.

Margaret Bourke-White’s feature on nightlife in the “New Wild West” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Her telegram to her editor reads, “Swell subjects especially shanty towns. Getting good nightlife. Nobody camera shy except  ladies of evening but hope conquer them also…. May I give one picture FortPeck Publishing booklet for local sale. Would help repay their many courtesies. Could choose pattern picture we probably wouldn’t use anyway.”

How did they get their assignments? “Sometimes the women wrote and asked for an assignment, but usually were told to ‘do that’” Kushner tells me. Luce wanted LIFE Magazine to reflect the American Century, and while Bourke-White documented steel mills and dams – America’s technology and industrial achievements – she also depicted new towns in the middle of no where, “FDR’s New Wild West.”

Standing in front of one of the most controversial and substantial photos in the exhibition – Martha Holmes’ 1949  image of singer Billy Eckstine being embraced by a white  female fan, surrounded by other gleeful white teenagers  – I meet Holmes’ daughter, Anne Holmes Waxman, and granddaughter of the photographer, Martha Holmes., Eva Koshel Castleton.

LIFE Photographer Martha Holmes’ granddaughter, Eva Koshel Castleton, and daughter Anne Holmes Waxman, with one of the photographer’s most controversial and important photographs, of Billy Eckstine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“My mother came on when a lot of men were in the war. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, she was working as a photographer at the Courier-Journal when Life Magazine came to recruit her to come to New York. “She was shaking in her boots, just 24 years old. She never went back.”

The exhibit shows the contact sheet with other images of multiracial crowds waiting for tickets and autographs, but the editors chose to publish the more controversial image. They were so concerned that they sought permission from Luce, who agreed with Holmes that the photograph reflected social progress and was appropriate for the story. “Holmes felt the photo was one of her best, claiming ‘it told just what the world should be like.’ The magazine, however, received  vicious letters in response  and the fallout adversely affected Eckstine’s career.”

LIFE Magazine photographer Martha Holmes.

In the weekly report of letters received for April 24 issue, “Fifty-nine readers are very much upset. ‘That picture of Billy Eckstine with a white girl clinging to him after a performance just turns my stomach. Why a teen-age white girl conducts herself in this manner over a Negro crooner is beyond me. Juvenile delinquency is bad enough in our own race without mixing it up with another.”  “The most nauseating picture of the year.” “That picture qualifies as the most indecent picture ever published by LIFE.” “ That picture should have appeared in Pravda Your publication of it leads me to believe that Mr. Chambers was not the only Communist on your staff.” Eight readers cancelled their subscriptions, but nine praised the feature.

(What I notice in the magazine that is featured in the display is the ad for new Coty eye cosmetics . “Eyes of natural glamour. Newest style in beauty.”)

It becomes clearer why LIFE Magazine had women photographers exploring women’s issues when you look at the ads that accompanied features like Martha Holmes’ Billy Eckstine piece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I ask her daughter Anne whether her mother got or lost certain assignments because of being a woman. She related that the only assignment her mother turned down was when, she was 8 ½ months pregnant with her, in 1956, and had to refuse an assignment to photograph Elvis Presley. “It was the one job she couldn’t take.” But she is renowned for her photos of artist Jackson Pollack and the House on UnAmerican Activities hearings.

LIFE Magazine photographer Nina Leen.

A very interesting series, “The American Woman’s Dilemma” by Nina Leen, published in the July 16, 1947 issue, danced around the issue of “how are you going to get them back on the farm, after they’ve seen Par-ee” – in this case, women who worked traditionally male jobs and had independence during the war, now being shoved back into housework and child-rearing rather than pursue a career. “The essay also reflected cultural anxieties about a ‘return to normalcy’ after the Depression and war. LIFE assumed that all women desired marriage and children but voiced concern that a woman’s time was so stretched, she did not have time to pursue her husband’s interests.

“The American Woman’s Dilemma” by Nina Leen that was published in the July 16, 1947 issue danced around the issue of career and childrearing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The article barely acknowledged that many women had no choice but to find work. It did recognize women’s struggles with child care buit disparaged separation as creating insecure children.”  Only one of Leen’s photos of an unmarried woman made the cut. “This article represented a clear attempt at setting out women’s choices in the post-war era of societal realignment.” (The article is opposite an ad for Singer sewing machines; LIFE Magazine clearly had an investment in women as homemakers, wanting the latest appliances.)

LIFE Magazine photographer Marie Hansen’s series “The WAACs” (September 7, 1942) helped America accept the idea of women in uniform..
LIFE photographer Hansel Mieth.

Hansel  Mieth is represented by her feature on “International Ladies’ Garment Workers: How a Great Union Works Inside and Out” (August 1, 1938). She worked as a migrant worker in California when she first emigrated to the US from Germany, and photographed fellow migrant workers in San Francisco, the city’s neighborhoods and cultural enclaves before LIFE hired her in 1937, publishing her socially engaged photo essays over the next seven years.

Among Lisa Larsen’s iconic assignments for LIFE was photographing the John F. Kennedy-Jacqueline Bouvier wedding in 1953.

I am left to wonder to what extent were the projects reshaped by a woman’s perspective, or how much the women photographers were directed to focus on “women’s subjects”. Even Lisa Larsen’s feature, “Tito as Soviet Hero, How Times Have Changed!” (from June 25, 1956) featured a spread, “Wives Materialize to Greet a Visitor.” We would have to see many more examples of the photographers’ assignments to make that appraisal, and hope these topics will be revealed in future exhibits NY-HS’ Women’s Center.

Based on this cursory examination, it seems Luce wasn’t being progressive in having women photographers for their point of view. He was realizing that women were the market for advertisers. And they were used to socialize women back to their pre-World War II prescribed roles – as homemakers and consumers.

The exhibit is curated by Sarah Gordon, curatorial scholar in women’s history, Center for Women’s History, and Marilyn Satin Kushner, curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections; with Erin Levitsky, Ryerson University; and William J. Simmons, Andrew Mellon Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Women’s History.

NYHS brilliantly uses its space to maximize an immersion into Women’s History. Just outside the Women Photographers of LIFE Magazine exhibit is Women’s Voices, a multimedia digital installation where visitors can discover the hidden connections among exceptional and unknown women who left their mark on New York and the nation, even going back to Colonial America. Featuring interviews, profiles, and biographies, Women’s Voices unfolds across nine oversized touchscreens to tell the story of activists, scientists, performers, athletic champions, social change advocates, writers, and educators through video, audio, music, text, and images.

Among the many fascinating profiles featured in Women’s Voices are those of the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor; Nobel Prize-winning scientist Barbara McClintock; civil rights activist and poet Audre Lorde; the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S., Elizabeth Blackwell; award-winning actress Meryl Streep; Brooklyn-born opera star Beverly Sills; Seneca leader and artisan Caroline Parker Mountpleasant; trailblazing dancer and principal ballerina Misty Copeland; the Manhattan Project physicist who was snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee, Chien-Shiung Wu; Gilded Age novelist Edith Wharton; and the teacher whose 1854 lawsuit helped desegregate public transit in New York, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, among others.

There are also displays about the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), Women’s Activism and Billie Jean King. And in the middle of the floor is a most sensational gallery devoted to Tiffany, which includes a fascinating display about Clara Driscoll, who headed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department of some 45-55 young women (mainly 16-17 year olds who would work until they went off to be engaged). And who until this exhibit was unheralded for her role in creating many of Tiffany’s iconic designs.

Revolutionary Summer at New-York Historical Society

Also on view:

The New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New York, celebrates Revolutionary Summer, a Museum-wide exploration of Revolutionary War times, Revolutionary Summer presents outdoor events every weekend featuring characters from the era; 18th-century art and artifacts; a diorama of the Continental Army; and a host of programs for all ages, including trivia nights, a DJ evening, and a Revolutionary Drag Tea Party. On select weekends, visitors can explore a replica of George Washington’s Headquarters Tent at an outdoor Continental Army encampment, meet Living Historians portraying soldiers and spies, and learn about the many facets of camp life during the War for Independence.

“We’re so excited to welcome visitors to New-York Historical this summer with a full line-up of fun ways to experience the Revolutionary era,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Revolutionary Summer celebrates the outstanding, revolutionary times that ignited the birth of our country with everything from a scavenger hunt to the chance to meet George Washington.”

The centerpiece of Revolutionary Summer is a replica of George Washington’s Headquarters Tent, on display in New-York Historical’s outdoor courtyard on select weekends. The original Tent is on display at the Museum of the American Revolution (MoAR) in Philadelphia. Often called the “first Oval Office,” the Headquarters Tent was where Washington and his most trusted staff plotted the strategy that ultimately won the Revolutionary War. On loan from MoAR, this painstakingly detailed, hand-sewn replica—made of custom woven linen and wool fabrics—was created as part of a collaboration between MoAR and Colonial Williamsburg. The Tent is staffed by MoAR educators, who lead visitors on an immersive tour through history. (On view July 4–7,  26–28, August 16–18,  23–25,  September 13–15)

A host of special installations and artifacts are on view at New-York Historical as part of Revolutionary Summer. One of the highlights is a recently discovered watercolor painting of the 1782 Continental Army encampment at Verplanck’s Point, New York—the only known eyewitness image of Washington’s Headquarters Tent during the Revolutionary War—on loan from MoAR. Other highlights include a camp cot used by Washington at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777; John Trumbull’s iconic painting of Washington that he gave to Martha Washington in 1790; and a pipe tomahawk gifted by Washington to Seneca Chief Sagoyewatha. Also on display is a diorama depicting the Verplanck’s Point encampment and the Hudson River shoreline, providing visitors with a 360-degree view of the scope and scale of Washington’s forces.

Revolutionary Summer also showcases historic documents from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, including an original 1823 William J. Stone facsimile of the Declaration of Independence; a broadside from King George III announcing the armistice and officially ending the war; and a letter by Martha Washington detailing domestic life in the aftermath of the Revolution.

Independence Day Celebration: Celebrate the Fourth of July exploring George Washington’s encampment! Enter his Headquarters Tent, meet the man himself, and experience where the future first president strategized, dined, and slept while MoAR staff describe his daily life. Also on tap: singalongs with the Hudson River Ramblers; fife and drum corps music; a one-woman play about Deborah Sampson, the woman who disguised her gender to enlist in the Continental Army; family-friendly food for purchase; and Living Historians portraying soldiers from the Continental Army, as well as John Adams, who’ll read the Declaration of Independence. Free Admission for kids age 17 and under

And this fall, the New-York Historical Society explores the life and accomplishments of Paul Revere (1734–1818), the Revolutionary War patriot immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1860 poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” On view September 6, 2019 – January 12, 2020, Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere separates fact from fiction, revealing Revere as a complex, multifaceted figure at the intersection of America’s social, economic, artistic, and political life in Revolutionary War-era Boston as it re-examines his life as an artisan, activist and entrepreneur. The exhibition, featuring more than 140 objects, highlights aspects of Revere’s versatile career as an artisan, including engravings, such as his well-known depiction of the Boston Massacre; glimmering silver tea services made for prominent clients; everyday objects such as thimbles, tankards, and teapots; and important public commissions, such as a bronze courthouse bell.

Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.

_____________________________

© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘Hudson Rising’ Exhibit at New-York Historical Society Shows River Was Incubator for America’s Environmental Movement

“Hudson Rising” at the New-York Historical Society: Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, with a model of the Clearwater, led a movement to reclaim the Hudson River from industrial destruction and overdevelopment © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This spring, the New-York Historical Society presents Hudson Rising, a unique exhibition that explores 200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along “the most interesting river in America” through artifacts, media, and celebrated Hudson River School paintings.

On view March 1 – August 4, Hudson Rising reflects on how human activity has impacted the river and, in turn, how the river environment has shaped industrial development, commerce, tourism, and environmental awareness. The exhibition also explores how experts in various fields are currently creating ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change.

Indeed, we tend to think of the environmental movement as originating with Yellowstone and the national parks, but it is fascinating to realize that the beginning of environmental activism – and the techniques – began here. Citizens rallied to oppose the construction of a Con Ed plant on Storm King Mountain; one of the new organizations, Scenic Hudson, sued; the case, in 1965 set a precedent beyond the Hudson, establishing that citizens have standing to sue on behalf of conservation, even when they do not have a direct economic interest,  that beauty and history also merit protection – the forerunner of the Environmental Protection Act. Later, a “viewshed,” modeled on the concept of a watershed, in connection with landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, also warranted preservation.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, “Hudson Rising” begins where environmental consciousness of the Hudson River began, with the landscape artist Thomas Cole © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hudson River raised consciousness of the importance of environmental protection. the exhibit opens with paintings from Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School art movement (America’s first native-grown art movement), who worried even then about the encroachment of development. His paintings depict an idyllic landscape, but also the destruction of the forest to lumbering.

Much more than a body of water, the Hudson and its surroundings have been the home for humans and hundreds of species of fish, birds, and plants; offered an escape for city-dwellers; and witnessed battles over the uses of the river valley and its resources. For over 200 years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings, literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and measured its every parcel.

The Hudson has always encapsulated the tension between development and conservation. But it was more than about aesthetics, and the need for urbanites to be able to seek respite in the countryside: an early environmental scientist realized that logging in the Adirondacks, which was discovered to be the source of the Hudson, was jeopardizing the watershed supplying New York City.

Scientists at the same time discovered the critical link between forests and the health of rivers. They realized the Adirondack forest supported the Hudson River and aquatic animals. That begins the movement to save the Adirondacks, including the forests. Ultimately, it leads to New York State’s “Forever Wild” amendment to the state constitution, in 1894.

“This path-breaking exhibition explores ideas about the environment that developed in the context of the Hudson, examining how we became aware, as New Yorkers and as Americans, of the role that humans played in the river’s ecological degradation,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibit also looks at the strategies we devised to address it. Spanning the entire industrial era, Hudson Rising presents a compelling account of how the Hudson has been an incubator for our ideas about the environment and our relationships to the natural world for two centuries-plus.”

Indeed, we learn that Theodore Roosevelt, before creating the first national park as president, innovated environmental protection as Governor of New York State, working with New Jersey, to protect the Palisades as a “park for the people” (hugely popular with immigrants who crammed into cities, the park had 2 million visitors in 1920, many who came by a free ferry); similarly Franklin Roosevelt, when he was New York State governor, created what would become the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps when he was president.

Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Jeanne Haffner, associate curator, Hudson Rising begins with a prelude featuring artist Thomas Cole’s panoramic five-part Course of Empire series (1834-36), a treasure of New-York Historical’s collection that depicts the transformation of a pristine landscape into a thriving city, then its dramatic decline, and the fall of civilization.

Thomas Cole’s painting, Catskill Mountain House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole railed against “human hubris” and the exploitation of nature. “The ranges of the ax are daily and increasing,” Cole said. “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” he wrote in his “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). Cole’s poetic questioning of the social costs of what was seen in his time as progress, serves as a prelude to the exhibition narrative, which begins with the industrial age and continues into the present day. The Hudson River, we learn, was the incubator for the environmental movement.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and geographically into five sections that highlight significant places and events in the environmental history of the river: Journeys Upriver: The 1800s, The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s, The Palisades: 1890s-1950s, The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s, and A Rising Tide: Today.

The exhibit is designed to meander, like the river itself, and uses actual artifacts – there is even the smell of freshly cut wood from the Adirondacks – that bring you, as much as possible to the Hudson: bricks from Haberstraw; rocks from the Palisades; iron from Cold Spring Foundry across from West Point; wood from Catskills; hemlock (used for tanning), even a fish tank with striped bath (blue eels will be added later). “The layout is a metaphor for the river,” said Ken Nintzel, the designer.

A cherished tourist panorama of the Hudson River from 1847, that was so big, it was accordioned into a book © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are historical maps – one of the most impressive is a panorama map from 1847 that stretches the length of a wall, that tourists would use, “one of the great maps of American history”- photos, paintings, news clips that trace the battle to reclaim the Hudson from industrial pollution. A map from 1890s shows how the Hudson was “redesigned” to make it more navigable for shipping, changing the way the river ran, but in the process, did away with the shallows that hosted aquatic life and mitigated flooding. Another map documents how plentiful oysters used to be – New York city used to be the primary exporter of oysters and clams – until sewage in the Hudson killed off the oysters.

The painting by Thomas Cole of the Catskill Mountain House reminds that American tourism began here in the Hudson – today, you can hike up to where the hotel used to be and gaze out over the Hudson.

The exhibits surround you, and there are various interactive elements. 

“Hudson Rising” features a combination of paintings, artifacts, maps, photos, videos to tell the story of the development of the river and its preservation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Journeys Upriver: The 1800s starts with a steamboat journey up the Hudson River from the New York City harbor to Albany, inspired by one of the great tourist guides of Hudson River history, the Panorama of the Hudson (1847). The detailed rendering of the river landscape led steamboat and armchair travelers from New York City to the last navigable point of the river near Troy, pointing out natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Also on view are paintings, industrial objects, and an important Army Corps of Engineers map that shows how the Corps engineered the river to be a more navigable and predictable shipping channel. Hudson River School art on display include Robert Havell Jr.’s View of Hudson River from near Sing Sing, New York (ca. 1850) and George Henry Boughton’s Hudson River Valley from Fort Putnam, West Point (1855), both depicting tourists enjoying the landscape.

The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s examines the creation of Adirondack Park, established to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Advocates for the area included surveyor Verplanck Colvin, who mapped the area’s peaks and lakes as superintendent of the State Adirondack Survey and identified the source of the river at Lake Tear of the Clouds, and Seneca Ray Stoddard, a photographer whose images of deforestation made a case for forest conservation. On view in this section is one of Asher B. Durand’s majestic depictions of the Adirondack wilderness, Adirondack Mountains, New York (ca. 1870).

The Palisades: 1890s-1950s traces the protection of the forests and cliffs of the Palisades to maintain the health of the river and preserve a place for beauty and nature. In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted to bits by road builders who prized their rock. Citizen activists, such as the New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create Palisades Park in 1909. Residents of New York and New Jersey thronged to the park, arriving by foot, ferry, train, and car, with over two million people visiting in 1920 alone, most of them from Manhattan. The exhibition features a selection of tourist brochures from that era, including one with a trio of women posed on the cliff edge, above the river.

The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s explores how activism along the river helped spark the modern American environmental movement. By the early 1960s, untreated sewage and industrial pollutants were poisoning the river. Increasing numbers of power plants were also rising along the Hudson, whose operations were killing millions of fish, and whose monumental structures were intruding upon the most treasured vistas. When Con Edison announced plans to build a plant on Storm King Mountain, citizen activists fought back and prevented its construction. By the 1980s, citizens could legally intervene to stop development that put treasured natural resources at risk. On view is an aquarium featuring striped bass and other fish native to the Hudson River, which now thrive due to activists’ efforts to save them.  Displays of artifacts, images, and media from the environmental campaigns of the era include a 1983 photograph featuring John Cronin, river patroller for the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (now called Riverkeeper) on his first day on the job, confronting an Exxon tanker discharging polluted water into the river.

The final section, A Rising Tide: Today, discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the Hudson River in the 21st century, as experts in many fields explore ways to restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change. The exhibition showcases innovative projects addressing these concerns, such as a system of “living breakwaters,” reef-like structures designed to restore diverse aquatic habitats, lessen wave impacts, and restore the shoreline, implemented by the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and landscape architecture firm SCAPE.

“We hope Hudson Rising will inspire visitors to see the river differently, and how movements like environmental activism get born,” Dr. Mirrer said.

“It’s not a new story, but this is the first exhibit that presents such a comprehensive look at the Hudson River as an incubator of the environmental movement.”

Programming

As part of New-York Historical’s What the History programs, a suite of interactive talks, history classes, art-making workshops, and social evenings for a young professional audience illuminates the environmental history of New York, the lasting impact of the Hudson River School painters on the American imagination, and how contemporary design and ideas are engaging with the threats climate change pose to the city.

Visiting families can enjoy a special guide featuring suggested exhibition highlights to view as a family, discussion questions, and gallery-based activities. During the April School Vacation Week (April 19-28), Museum’s family programs explore environmental activism, including art making using recycled materials in Museum galleries. On the weekends (April 20-21 and April 27-28) visiting families can interact with Living Historians portraying famous and unsung activists of American history.

On April 16, architectural historian Barry Lewis discusses how the Victorians “greened” their homes and cities, bringing nature into city greenbelts and private home design. On May 22, Douglas Brinkley, New-York Historical’s presidential historian, explores how presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection of the nation’s natural treasures and established a sprawling network of state parks and scenic roadways, respectively. On June 9, author Leslie Day leads a tour along the Hudson River exploring its rich geological and human history and its diverse ecosystems.

Present Day Relevance

The exhibit is particularly timely: years of exploitation and pollution have resulted in the entire Hudson River, from the Battery to Hudson Falls, some 200 miles, designated a superfund site by EPA. Mandated clean-up by industrial polluters including General Electric, have significantly improved conditions. But the Trump Administration’s EPA is moving to issue a Certificate of Completion which would end GE’s responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund site, despite the state’s research that shows high levels of PCBs remaining in the river.

Governor Cuomo issued a statement ahead of Administrator Wheeler’s visit to New York:

“In New York, we are leading the fight to protect our environment with the most ambitious environmental agenda in the nation. Administrator Wheeler, while you are in New York, I urge you to visit the Hudson River, one of this country’s natural treasures that is also one of the most pressing Superfund sites in the country. New York has fought to restore this vital resource but the ball is now in the EPA’s court. The EPA can either do the right thing and continue to hold GE accountable for continued clean up, or they can side with big polluters and let GE off the hook for its responsibility to clean up PCBs in the river.

 “We refused to allow PCB contamination to continue to jeopardize the health and safety of our communities for generations to come. We hope and expect that the EPA will join us in ensuring the full completion of the cleanup.”

I suggested Wheeler visit “Hudson Rising”.

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical’s mission is to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), www.nyhistory.org.

See for Yourself: Hike the Hudson River School Art Trail

Walk in the footsteps of the Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American landscape artists, literally walking into their paintings, and appreciating their work in an entirely new way.

New York State created the first “viewshed” – a protected view – at Frederic Church’s Olana, Hudson NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See what inspired Thomas Cole, his art and his passion to save the Hudson Valley environment, when you visit his home and art studio. Visit Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Olana,  walk the gorgeous trails and see the very first protected “viewshed”  (Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.) Hike the trails that take you up to where the Catskill Mountain House would have stood, to Sunset Rock, to Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, just as the Hudson River School painters did, often with markers that show the paintings that were created from that very same vantage point.

The view from Sunset Rock in the Catskill Preserve, one of the hikes on the Hudson River School Art Trail, the same view as Thomas Cole painted © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Hudson River School painters believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. In large-scale canvases of dramatic vistas with atmospheric lighting, they sought to capture a sense of the divine, envisioning the pristine American landscape as a new Garden of Eden. Their work created not only an American art genre but also a deeper appreciation for the nation’s natural wonders, laying the groundwork for the environmental conservation movement and National Park System.”

Most of the stops on the trail are within 15 miles of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, in Catskill. (Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, thomascole.org)

_____________________________

© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘Harry Potter: A History of Magic’ is Spellbinding Exhibit at New-York Historical Society

Capturing the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, on view at the New-York Historical Society through January 27, 2019, explores the historic and traditional foundations underpining “Harry Potter” as well as her creative process © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, the newly opened exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library only on view until January 27, is a must-see on so many levels. It isn’t just for fans of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal series, where you get extraordinary insights into her creative process through glimpses at original hand-written drafts and drawings, but insights into the history of magic – the centuries of folklore, myth and legend –  that provided the foundation for her stories. Here you see the original documents and artifacts which make you realize (for the first time), how Rowling drew on history and tradition, and how magic and witchcraft actually provided the foundation of science and discovery.

“Abracadabra,” we learn, is an incantation believed to have healing powers, first recorded by Quintus Serenus Sammanicus, physician to the Roman Emperor Caracalla. He prescribed that the word be repeatedly written out, each time leaving off one letter. The charm was then worn as an amulet around the neck to drive out fever. We see it described in “Liber Medicinalis,” a 13th century book from Canterbury.

The invisibility cloak that Harry Potter wore? There actually was an incantation for invisibility that we can see in a mid-17th century spell book owned by a contemporary of Shakespeare. A 4th century papyrus scroll turns out to be an ancient Greek handbook of magic that contains a love charm.

Mandrake roots really do look like men (or women) and the legend of them screaming when pulled out by the roots, causing insanity, was documented across cultures. We get to see a mandrake root, which looks like a shriveled old man in anguish.

The Philosopher’s Stone that plays such a key role for Harry Potter (it was renamed the Sorcerer’s Stone for American readers)? This was the quest of alchemists, who sought to create the elixir of immortal life and turn ordinary metal into gold – in essence, harnessing the energy of the universe and its power. The “recipe” for the Philosopher’s Stone was believed to be prescribed in The Ripley Scroll. We get to see an actual Ripley Scroll, from around 1570 England, exquisite in its color, unfurled over 20 feet, one of only 22 known to still exist. This one is on loan from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

The Ripley Scroll provided alchemists with the “recipe” to make the Philosopher’s Stone, the key to the elixir of life (immortality) and for turning ordinary metal into gold © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The scroll takes its name from George Ripley, a canon at Bridlington Priory in northern England and author of “The Compound of Alchymy.” The scroll, full of mystical symbolism, supposedly gives clues to how to make the key red, white and black stones that together would form the Philosopher’s Stone. Rowling wove these symbols into her characters: Rubeus Hagrid (rubeus is Latin for “red); Albus Dumbledore (albus is Latin for “white”) and Sirius Black, Harry’s three father figures.

We get to see a copy of Culpepper’s Herbal, describing the medicinal properties of herbs, the first medical text to be published in English (instead of Latin), so as to break the monopoly of wealthy, educated in having this knowledge. Culpepper was accused of witchcraft in 1642, but acquitted. The book is still in print and we learn from Rowling that she possesses two copies.

We get to see the actual tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, an actual person! who a landlord and bookseller in medieval Paris who married a rich woman and became a philanthropist. His interest in alchemy, according to Pottermore, was apparently sparked after he obtained a mystical book was written by a man called Abraham the Jew in Greek, Hebrew and other languages. Following his death in 1418, rumors began to circulate that Flamel was an alchemist who had discovered how to make the Philosopher’s Stone, and turn metal into gold. He was buried in the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la Boucherie in Paris, his grave marked by this tombstone. But years later, when the body was exhumed, there was no body. Some believe he escaped to India, and with the elixir, still lives.

The actual tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, rumored to be an alchemist who had discovered the Philosopher’s Stone, who died in 1418 © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition, a cerebral celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the US publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. Based on Harry Potter: A History of Magic, a British Library exhibition, with some special New York twists, it combines century-old treasures—including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the British Library, New-York Historical Society, and other collections—with original material from Harry Potter’s U.S. publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives, never before collected in one place, and items that have never been shown before. And this exhibit is the only other place where it will be shown, before the items go back to their respective museums, which include the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, in Cornwall.

The entertaining aspect is in the exhibition’s presentation, as if you are wandering through Hogwarts, with the galleries organized around the Hogwarts’ curriculum for witches: Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures – each one showing the historical and cultural traditions that underlie Rowling’s fantastical world and her creative process.

It is as if instead of J.K. Rowling inventing the Hogwarts curriculum, she graduated from it. It also means that all of us, children and adults, who were so enrapt in the Harry Potter saga of witchcraft and magic 20 years ago, have a whole new dimension for appreciating Rowling’s masterpiece from a mature perspective.

The exhibit, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” at the New-York Historical Society is laid out as if you were walking through Hogwarts, with the galleries themed for the different subjects: Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit is captivating on so many levels – Rowling’s personality and creative process, you get so many insights into her as a person, and the connection to history and tradition at the heart of mythology. Also, we get to see the evolution of science from magic and spiritualism.

Rowling faithfully represented these traditions – even the names she chose for her characters relate back to these traditions, symbolically or literally.

Professor Severus Snape, presides over the Potions gallery at New-York Historical Society’s “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In Potions & Alchemy, we see a copy of Jacob Meydenbach’s 1491 edition of Hartus Sanitatis (Latin for “The Garden of Health”), the first printed cyclopedia of natural history, which actually includes a hand-colored woodcut illustration of a potions class.

One of the plants described, blue hellebore, was the plant Harry Potter forgot to add in his Draught of Peace.

We see an actual bezoar stone, which was believed to be an antidote to poison, first introduced into medieval Europe by Arab physicians. They were expensive to buy and owners often kept their stones in elaborate cases. Here we see a bezoar stone in a gold filigree case from the 17th century.

The Herbology section is particularly fascinating: Here we see an illustration from a 15th century illustrated herbal by Giovanni Cadamasto that describes mandrakes (mandragara) that could cure headaches, earache, gout and insanity. Just as Rowling depicted, the plant was said to be particularly hazardous to harvest because the shrieks from the roots cause madness. “The best way to obtain it safely was to unearth its roots with an ivory stake, attaching the plant to a dog with a card. A horn would sound, drowning out the shrieking, startling the dog and causing it to drag out the mandrake.” We actually get to see a mandrake root and how much it resembles a prone shriveled man who appears anguished. The description of mandrake is also from a 14th century Arabic text, originally in Ancient Greek by Pedanius Dioscorides, a botanist.

We see implements of “magical gardening” of bone and antler, on loan from the Museum of Watchcraft & Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall.

There is an original copy of a book by Elizabeth Blackwell (one of the first women physicians), “A Curious  Herbal,” published in London in 1737-38. She was desperate to raise money to spring her husband Alexander from debtor prison, so made drawings that she took to Alexander to identify, which she then published weekly, eventually detailing 500 plants.

An 1807 edition of Robert John Thornton’s “The Temple of Flora,” an elaborate botany book that nearly bankrupted Thornton to produce (it was originally titled, “The New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus”). There is an illustration of Dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris), also known as stink lily, which reproduces the smell of putrefying meat to attract flies for pollination.

In Charms, we see a copy of Cotton Mather’s “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” published in London in 1693 (from the New-York Historical Society Library), in which he justified the Salem witchcraft trials.

This is the area which gives some attention to the way witches were depicted, when in essence, they were shaman, healers, who were extraordinarily connected to the natural world, and in fact, the first scientists and doctors.

We see the earliest printed illustration of a witch, from 1489, depicting witches as powerful and dangerous. “The Iconography went on to influence image of witches for centuries. The printing press was new – like video of the time.”

Here we see a colorful broomstick belonging to Olga Hunt, a 20th century witch of Manatan, Devon (from the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle). The broomstick is closely associated with the Western image of witches, but has roots in pagan fertility rites. The connection with witchcraft and broomsticks developed during the witch hysteria of 16th and 17th century Europe. Olga was supposed to have used it to leap around Dartmoor on a full moon.

We also see Rowling’s original, handwritten draft of the Sorting Hat Song, sung at Harry’s sorting ceremony in his first year, with some crossings out and additions, and her sketch of Argus Filch, the Hogwarts caretaker (Argus is a name from Greek Mythology of a man-eyed giant who is “all seeing.”)

In Divination, there is a major archaeological find on view: oracle bones some 3,000 years old from China that proved the existence of the Shang Dynasty, which had only been known in legend. The bones offered not only the earliest examples of Chinese writing, but showed that the culture worshipped ancestors – the Oracle Bones were a means of communicating with ancestors, who could send back messages.

A witch’s cauldron is on view in “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” at the New-York Historical Society © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a black moon crystal ball used by “Smelly Nelly,” a 20th-century British witch who used strong perfume to attract the spirits she believed helped her to see the future (on loan from Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Cornwall). Nelly is reflected in Rowling’s character of Sybill Trelawney, Hogwarts Divination professor.

There is also a 19th century fortune-telling doll from New-York Historical’s collection.

Astronomy features a 1699 celestial globe by famed cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli, pages from a notebook compiled by the artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci that show the sun and moon revolving around the Earth, and a 13th century astrolabe thought to be one of the oldest geared instruments in existence, from the American Museum of Natural History Library.

Defense Against the Dark Arts features an actual wand, in the shape of a snake (snakes were magical because they were thought to have the ability to regenerate, and a wand in the shape of a snake would have been very powerful), and we learn that there are still wandmakers today who go to the woods where trees speak to them to be selected. There is also a magic staff (1998) carved from timber.

The basilisk in mythology didn’t look like the snake-like creature in Harry Potter but was depicted as a strange chicken, the size of palm, but its stare would kill you, and the way to defeat it was not by sword but by weasels.Care of Magical Creatures features a 13th-century bestiary manuscript depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes, a narwhal tusk, and John James Audubon’s original watercolor of snowy owls, just like the snowy owl that Hagrid gave to Harry Potter.

Care of Magical Creatures section of the “Harry Potter” exhibit features the New-York Historical Society’s John James Audubon’s original watercolor of snowy owls, just like the snowy owl that Hagrid gave to Harry Potter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the oldest description of a Hippogriff: 16th century book on vellum paper given to George III –a magical creature that has the front legs, wings, and head of a giant eagle and the body, hind legs and tail of a horse. It is very similar to another mythical creature, the Griffin, with the horse rear replacing the lion rear.

We see examples of unicorn (loaned from the Explorer’s Club), as well as an actual merman – a Japanese creation made by combining two fish with wire and cloth (worthy of P.T. Barnum).  This is the first time it has been displayed outside the United Kingdom.

This fascination with these strange new creatures reflects the era of exploration into strange new lands and discovery of new creatures.

This section features Rowling’s hand-written draft of “Deathly Hallows”, with her crossings out, notes to self and ”x” where she needed to add more providing this amazing insight into Rowling’s creative process. There is also her own illustration of Harry and Hagrid going to Gringots and Jim Kay’s drawing of Hagrid.

These items were collected for the exhibition, basically tracing and providing original artifacts that underlie Rowling’s Harry Potter narrative, but it seems as if Rowling had already undertaken the Hogwarts curriculum herself. The exhibit brings together the source material that informed her inspiration.

In the section, Past, Present and Future, one of the most fascinating items is Rowling’s own draft for the “Order of Phoenix” and her meticulous outline of plot and where the characters are, what they are doing. You see original cover art by Brian Selnick for the 2018 (20th anniversary) series, in which he unifies the seven covers as a single image that tells the story of the Boy Who Lived, which had never been displayed before, and models of set designs for the “Cursed Child” on Broadway, as well as an autographed screenplay of “Fantastic Beasts,” and an edition of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as “Sorcerer’s Stone” was titled in United Kingdom).

The New York presentation of  the British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition is special because it features Mary GrandPré’s pastel illustrations for the cover artwork of Scholastic’s original editions of the novels; Brian Selznick’s newly created artwork for the covers of the 20th anniversary edition of the Harry Potter series published by Scholastic; cover art by Kazu Kibuishi featured in Scholastic’s 15th anniversary box set; and the enormous steamer trunk used to transport a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the Queen Mary to the U.S. The exhibition also includes costumes and set models from the award-winning play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Original art for “Harry Potters and the Order of the Phoenix” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also on display for the first time in the U.S. are Rowling’s handwritten first drafts of The Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows, her hand-drawn sketch of the Hogwarts grounds, and portraits and sketches of some of the Hogwarts’s professors and magical creatures created by British illustrator Jim Kay. John James Audubon’s watercolor of Snowy Owls, a 1693 publication defending the Salem witch trials, a study of the Woolworth Building—the landmark New York location featured in the film Fantastic Beasts—and other artifacts from New-York Historical’s collection.

I love the origination story – worthy of fiction – how in 1990, J.K. Rowling was sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London when an idea popped into her head fully formed: the character of Harry Pottery, a boy wizard with messy black hair, glasses and a lightning shaped scar on his forehead. Over the next five years, she planned out seven books, writing mostly in longhand and amassing a mountain of notes, many on scraps of paper (some we get to see).

She presented a scroll of the draft of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as it was titled in the United Kingdom), to Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury, who handed it to his eight year old daughter, Alice, to read. His daughter’s review, “‘it’s probably one of the best books for 8 or 9 year old could read,” encouraged him to publish. The initial print run was just 500 copies, typical for a children’s book by a first-time author. The book turned into a worldwide phenomenon – over 500 million books sold, printed in 80 languages. We see various editions lining the corridor.

The New-York Historical Society exhibition also includes costumes and set models from the award-winning play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s so much to absorb – I went through the exhibit twice, and used the Audible guide they make available for free, and after three hours, could have spent considerably more time there.

There is a superb Family Guide for “A History of Magic” that turns the exhibit into an interactive activity.

New-York Historical is also presenting a wide variety of exhibition-related events for grown-up Harry Potter fans throughout the run of the exhibition, including trivia nights, art workshops, creative writing classes, social meet-ups, open mics, book clubs, and engaging courses that explore the Hogwarts curriculum. Programs include an onstage conversation with illustrators Mary GrandPré and Brian Selznick, and a special evening with actor Jim Dale, known for his narration of all seven Harry Potter U.S. audiobooks. Family activities feature History of Magic family days with hands-on activities and crafts, a Harry Potter family book club, historical Hallowe’en celebration, and trivia for families. Additional programming information is available at harrypotter.nyhistory.org.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is sponsored by Audible and a special audio tour to accompany the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at New-York Historical, featuring Natalie Dormer, will be available to ticketholders as a free Audible download, offering in-depth content on fascinating objects throughout the exhibition galleries.

This is the only other exhibition of this collection outside of the British Library. After finishing here on January 27, the artifacts will be returned to the museums and institutions to which they belong. Poof, it’s vanished.

Timed-entry tickets for the exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic are $21 for adults, $16 for seniors (65+), $13 for students, $6 for kids ages 5–13, and free for children ages 0–4; tickets include admission to the rest of the Museum. Harry Potter: A History of Magic is on view through January 27, 2019, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 10 am–6 pm; Friday 10 am–9 pm; and Sunday 10 am–5 pm. The last entry is 45 minutes before closing.

Visit harrypotter.nyhistory.org to purchase exhibition and programming tickets in advance.

Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow 

“History Matters,” is the New-York Historical Society’s motto, and that is clearly on view.

There is so much to see at the New-York Historical Society – it never fails to offer fascinating and provocative exhibits – you need a couple of extra hours beyond the time visiting “Harry Potter.”   I went through “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” exhibit which is hard-hitting and in your face discussion of how the Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War, and most significantly, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, led to an institutionalized system of terror and subjugation of African Americans, including a series of Supreme Court decisions dating back to Dred Scott, that perpetuated subjugation (on view through March 3).

Thomas Waterman Wood’s painting, “A Bit of War History: The Cantraband, The Recruit, The Veteran”, 1865, depict one man over time, as a runaway slave, a volunteer in the Union Army, and wounded veteran, is part of the exhibit, “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, the relatively new “Gallery of Tiffany Lamps” is not to be missed – this permanent display of 100 illuminated lamps is breathtaking for its beauty and exquisite presentation (by architect Eva Jiricna), and you even get the opportunity to design your own Tiffany lamp shade. You also learn the “hidden history” behind the lamps: about Clara Driscoll, the woman who up until now was virtually unknown and unheralded but was the artistic genius behind many of his designs, who headed the “Women’s Glass Cutting Department.”

There are also two films that are shown in a fantastic theater, each shorter than 20 minutes: “We Rise” about women and social movements that were incubated, flourished and pollinated from New York City (narrated by Meryl Street) and “New York Story,” how and why it grew to be the commercial and cultural capital of the world and remains inextricably connected to the world.

There is a lovely café at the Society.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.

_____________________________

© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New-York Historical Society Examines ‘Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.’

Juxtaposed portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Schiller’s photo taken just days before RFK’s assassination, open the exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy are tethered together in peoples’ minds, and not only because they both were assassinated within two months of each other in that fateful year of 1968. A new, remarkable exhibit that has just opened at the New-York Historical Society commemorates the 50th anniversary of those events, examines their conjoined legacy and makes some interesting discoveries: their lives had a kind of parallel trajectory, yet, they consciously steered separate courses, intersecting finally in death.

On view through May 20, 2018, Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. showcases 61 photographs and 30 documents and artifacts that reveal the relationship between these historic figures. The exhibit is based in part on The Promise and the Dream, written by Vanity Fair contributing editor and New York Times writer David Margolick and produced by Lawrence Schiller for National Geographic Publishers. Schiller, a photojournalist who covered many of the significant events throughout the 1960s, conceived of the project and collected 21,000 photographs, sifting them down to 3,000, then 2,000, and ultimately, over the course of just three days, laid out the photographs that are presented much like a 20-page photo essay in Life Magazine, where Schiller worked, would have produced.

Lawrence Schiller, a photojournalist since the 1960s, recalls a fateful day when he was 26 years old: “The elevator opened to reveal Oswald, who was only 24 years old. It shocked me that evil could be in such a person – a kid my age had caused this tragedy.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But in the course of gathering that material, an essential question arose: why were there so few photos of King and Kennedy together? The exhibit has just one where the two men were at the same event, with then-Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Another instance where they would have been together was when King testified to a Senate Committee which included Robert Kennedy, in which he stated that the millions of dollars that were being sent to support the war in Vietnam should better be spent to revitalize America’s ghettoes (a photo is taken from behind King). Significantly, while Kennedy supported the idea of spending more in cities, he was forced for political reasons (like the fact that his brother, as President, dramatically escalated America’s role in Vietnam) to disassociate himself from King’s anti-Vietnam stance.

Margolick, who researched and wrote the book in a mere seven months time, started off with no pre-conceived notion, but wanted to come up with some original construct about these two lions of American history.

Indeed, if news is the first draft of history, books provide the room for reflection and context.

The big idea of the book and the exhibit is that “Robert Kennedy was a political person and Martin Luther King Jr. a spiritual person; they respected one another but there was a limit how closely they could ally,” Margolick said at the press opening of the exhibit.

The two men had reason to be wary of one another.

Robert Kennedy was at his core a politician from a political family; on top of that, his brother, as president, had made key decisions including significantly involving the US in war in Vietnam, and was skittish about making civil rights a key focus of his administration; as JFK’s Attorney General, Robert Kennedy had signed off on J. Edgar Hoover’s request to surveil King, whom Hoover was convinced was a Communist. But Kennedy also sent US Marshals to force school integration.

King, for his part, was a spiritual man for whom civil rights was not merely a political issue but a matter of everyday survival for millions of people who could be brutalized without repercussion under a Jim Crow regimen.

“They were initially wary of each other,” Margolick said. “There was an enormous chasm which gradually shrank, but did not entirely disappear.”

Bobby Kennedy on the cover of Time Magazine © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

“RFK felt MLK a liability, he couldn’t get close.” There was that special night, when Robert Kennedy, who made a concerted effort to embed himself into black communities when he realized he did not have more than a superficial understanding of issues, was in “black” Indianapolis for a campaign speech and gets notice that King has just been killed, and instead of rushing away, he spoke compassionately to the crowd. “That was a special night. Death was the only time Kennedy actually embraced [the idea] of King. Kennedy was dead two months later. There was no time to carry torch of MLK.

“But even in limited time, Kennedy was reluctant to embrace King. The Kennedys were politicians King was a spiritual man. Kennedy considers the political implications of everything. Part of the purpose of this book is to examine and correct the revisionist idea that were together – really was there was always space between them.”

They also came from completely different worlds: Kennedy chose to take up the fight; the fight chose King.

Over the course of researching the book, Margolick said, “my point of view was constantly evolving. I wanted it to be as original as it could. I looked at newspapers no one had; primary documents not examined before. I came to realize the most precious thing was to talk to dwindling supply of people who knew both men – very few knew both: Andrew Young, William Vanden Heuval and some behind scenes intermediaries.

Margolick realized that an excellent source would be the photographers who photographed both – including Harry Benson, Steve Shapiro – who could even describe how differently they interacted with crowds.

“Both men had a sense of their mortality – they knew they were doomed.” One of the photographers, he thinks it was Harry Benson, said that when King was in a crowd, he would look it over carefully, mindful of his safety. He never stayed in one place longer than he had to.”

But, he adds, “Robert Kennedy didn’t care. He had a premonition of death but approached it differently. He told his security force he didn’t want precautions. There were reporters who never left RFK’s side because they expected he would be assassinated and wanted to be there when it happened.”

David Margolick with the Time Magazine featuring Robert Kennedy on the cover © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lawrence Schiller, who organized the project and curated the exhibit, was one of those photographers who helped document history beginning in the 1960s. He was assigned to Robert Kennedy and followed him for the last 40 days of his life. Schiller was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night that Robert Kennedy delivered his last speech, tried to hurry out by going through the kitchen, where he was met by Sirhan Sirhan who shot him dead. (The portrait that opens the exhibit was taken by Schiller on board Kennedy’s plane en route to California just days before the speech.)

He was just 26 years old working as a photojournalist on a fateful day in 1963 when he was summoned from Los Angeles to Dallas after President John F. Kennedy was shot. He was in the police station when, as it happened, the police were booking Lee Harvey Oswald.

“The elevator opened to reveal Oswald, who was only 24 years old. It shocked me that evil could be in such a person – a kid my age had caused this tragedy.”

Schiller, who has several photos in the exhibit, called upon many of the photographers he knew who are represented, but there are many which had not been published before.

The exhibit is laid out chronologically for the most part, but in some cases “emotionally chronologically”, as when a portrait of Robert Kennedy, photographed on Feb. 26, 1962, with a movie slate, is juxtaposed next to a police mug shot of King from Feb. 22, 1956, upon which someone had scrawled “DEAD 4-4-68”; and in a case with artifacts, the Time Magazine editions with each on the cover, is displayed. ”King’s ‘Man of the Year’ drove people crazy,” Schiller remarks.

Parallel lives: portrait of Robert Kennedy, photographed on Feb. 26, 1962, juxtaposed next to a police mug shot of King from Feb. 22, 1956, upon which someone had scrawled “DEAD 4-4-68” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked which photo was the most impactful, Schiller points to one of a man with a broom, sweeping the blood from outside King’s hotel room in Memphis, a photo which he said had never been published; another shows the hotel room. Schiller says that people came in and collected vials of blood to keep as a memento.

The exhibit starts with Rosa Parks and ends in a field after Kennedy’s assassination, where people are holding a sign, “So long Bobby.” Several of the photos don’t feature King or Kennedy at all, but provide context: the KKK, US Marshals, Freedom Riders, the march after Medgar Evers was assassinated in June 1963, just five months before JFK was assassinated, in eerie similarity to the one-two King-Kennedy assassinations.

There is great intimacy of the experience – the photos, which were printed all at the same time in the same lab from negatives and then scanned –  are 8 x 10 and smaller, the room is compact, so you are close to the images, can easily read the captions and notes.

“The insight we came to early on emerged from the question: Why were there not more photos of the two together?” Margolick said. “The book tries to fill the gap, why there were no more photos of the two together. They kept apart. We are documenting, explaining the absence of something.”

One notable absence is a still photo of Robert F. Kennedy addressing a black audience in Indianapolis the night that King was killed, which in itself, says a lot.

“No one knew how important that speech by Kennedy would be, the night MLK was killed,” Margolick said. “The event that became so important was so scantily covered, there were just two still photographers there from local papers. It was only a 6-7 minute speech, but there is no film of the entire speech.” But it was at that point that Kennedy most fulsomely embraced King. (A portion of the video is displayed.) There’s a monument in Indianapolis commemorating the event.

Born Worlds Apart

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) and Robert F. Kennedy (November 20, 1925 –June 6, 1968) were born worlds apart—culturally, geographically, racially, financially, and politically—but by the time they were killed within months of each another in 1968, their worlds had come together. As their concerns expanded beyond civil rights (King) and organized crime (Kennedy), their ties deepened to encompass shared interests in supporting the poor and opposing the war in Vietnam. This unprecedented exhibition explores the overlapping paths of their lives through images taken by some of the most renowned photojournalists of the era, including Bob Adelman, Danny Lyon, Henri Dauman, Jacques Lowe, Spider Martin, Steve Schapiro, Lawrence Schiller, and Paul Schutzer, alongside original correspondence, publications, and ephemera.

“The year 1968 rocked the nation in many ways, but it would be difficult to point to anything that shocked and sickened Americans more that year than the senseless and tragic deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Fifty years later, the legacies of Kennedy and King still reverberate. This timely exhibition underscores the two men’s lasting impact on our nation while drawing attention to the ways in which their lives intersected. ”

Author David Margolick, Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, and Lawrence Schiller, photojournalist and curator of “Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Exhibition highlights include images of King and his son looking at the charred remains of a cross the Ku Klux Klan burned outside his Atlanta home in 1960, King’s mug shot after being indicted for the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Kennedy being swarmed by an adoring crowd during his 1968 presidential campaign. Also on view are posters reading “Honor King: End Racism!” and “I Am a Man” that were carried in a Memphis march led by widow Coretta Scott King and her children on April 8, 1968, as well as a black and white “Kennedy/King” button worn by a New Yorker in memory of the two slain leaders.

An adjunct display showcases the bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr.―one of five existing casts created by Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Alston (1907– 1997), on loan from the Community Church of New York.
Rebel Spirits is based in part on The Promise and the Dream, written by David Margolick and produced by Lawrence Schiller for National Geographic Publishers. The exhibition was curated by Lawrence Schiller, Cristian Panaite, and Marilyn Kushner. It was produced by Wiener Schiller Productions, Inc. in association with Susan Bloom International with support from Getty Images, The Jacques Lowe Estate, and Steve Schapiro.

Published by National Geographic and written by  David Margolick, The Promise and the Dream: The Interrupted Lives of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. features an introduction by historian Douglas Brinkley. The book is available at the NYHistory Store.

Several public programs will provide further insights into the exhibition and its time period. On March 6, eminent legal experts survey the evolution of the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretations of the 14th Amendment—in commemoration of its 150th anniversary—and civil rights throughout American history, highlighting landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education. On April 23, scholar Randall Kennedy discusses the Supreme Court and Martin Luther King Jr. On May 21, journalist Chris Matthews sits down to explore the rebel spirit of Robert Kennedy.

Vietnam War

The New-York Historical Society has a variety of fascinating exhibits, some short term and some ongoing.

The Vietnam War: 1945 – 1975, on view through April 22, 2018, is particularly timely in conjunction with the “Rebel Spirits.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Vietnam War: 1945 – 1975  on view through April 22, 2018 is particularly timely in conjunction with the “Rebel Spirits.” Featuring interpretive displays, digital media, artwork, artifacts, photographs, and documents, the exhibit provides an enlightening account of the causes, progression, and impact of the war. Spanning the duration of U.S. involvement in Indochina, the narrative incorporates perspectives covering both the home and the war fronts. Displays touch upon the Cold War, the draft, military campaigns initiated by both sides, the growth of the antiwar movement, the role of the president, and the loss of political consensus. The exhibition explores themes of patriotism, duty, and citizenship. Key objects include a troopship berthing unit, interactive murals, vibrant antiwar posters, artwork by Vietnam vets, a Viet Cong bicycle, the Pentagon Papers, and news and film clips.

Gallery of Tiffany Lamps

Step into the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, a permanent exhibit which is the centerpiece of a newly designed fourth floor, and you are aglow in light and beauty. The exhibit features more than 100 illuminated Tiffany lamps from N-YHS’s  spectacular collection displayed within a dramatically lit jewel-like two-story space (the glass staircase is exquisite).

Step into the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, a permanent exhibit which is the centerpiece of a newly designed fourth floor, and you are aglow in light and beauty. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The presentation is breathtaking, and so insightful: it was only in the last decade that it was learned through a series of letters that some of Tiffany’s most famous and prized lamps, featuring nature imagery like wisteria, dragonflies, spider webs, were designed by Clara Driscoll, who headed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department of some 45-55 young  women (mainly 16-17 year olds who would work until they went off to be engaged).

It was only in the last decade that it was learned through a series of letters that some of Tiffany’s most famous and prized lamps were designed by Clara Driscoll who headed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department of some 50 young women © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.comThe collection comes from Dr. Egon Neustadt. an Austrian immigrant enamored with all things American, who purchased his first Tiffany lamp in 1935 for $12.50 (by then, Tiffany Lamps were no longer in favor, the company closed, Tiffany went bankrupt in 1932 and died in 1933) and went on to amass the largest and most comprehensive Tiffany lamp collection ever assembled. The docent explained that he bequeathed half his collection to the N-YHS and half to the Queens Museum. She points out what would have been the most valuable lamps: the wisteria would have sold for $450; the cobweb for $500, at a time when you could buy a brand new car for that amount. On the mezzanine level, you not only can look down onto the lighted lampshades, but can try your hand at designing your own.

Learn how Tiffany Lamps were made at the New-York Historical Society’s Gallery of Tiffany Lamps © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The redesigned fourth floor also offers exhibitions and interactive media that explore American history. Themed displays in the North Gallery present a variety of topics—such as slavery, war, infrastructure, childhood, recreation, and 9/11—offering unexpected and surprising perspectives on collection highlights. Touchscreens and interactive kiosks allow visitors to explore American history and engage with objects like never before. When I visit, a docent is discussing the Industrial Revolution with high school students.

Women’s Rights & Social Activism

 A new Center for Women’s History enables visitors to discover hidden connections among exceptional and unknown women who left their mark on New York and the nation with the multimedia digital installation, Women’s Voices, and through rotating exhibitions in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery. Objects from the Billie Jean King Archive are also on view. 

Celebrating the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York and on view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, Hotbed brings to life the neighborhood’s bohemian scene and energetic activist spirit © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotbed, a special exhibit on view through March 25, 2018, is about Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, when it was a hotbed of political activism and social change—where men and women joined forces across the boundaries of class and race to fight for a better world. At the heart of the downtown radicals’ crusade lay women’s rights: to control their own bodies, to do meaningful work, and above all, to vote. Celebrating the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York and on view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, Hotbed features immersive installations and more than 100 artifacts and images—drawn from New-York Historical’s archives and several private collections—that bring to life the neighborhood’s bohemian scene and energetic activist spirit.

Collecting the Women’s Marches, on view through June 3, 2018, documents  January 21, 2017, when hundreds of thousands rallied at the Women’s March on Washington for diverse issues including women’s rights, racial equality, and the environment. Counting more than 500 sister marches across the United States, it was the largest single-day protest in the nation’s history. As part of its History Responds program, the New-York Historical Society collected a range of artifacts, including signs, sashes, pussyhats, and colorful props, to document the moment. One year later, Collecting the Women’s Marches highlights some of the political and visual themes that emerged, as well as the efforts of individuals and groups that worked behind the scenes. An adjunct display of protest clothing by Olek (Agata Oleksiak), an artist who works in crochet, and Brick x Brick, a public art performance group, is also on view. It is odd to have an exhibit of a major historic event so recent, and to actually have been there.

New York through the Lens of George Kalinsky on view through June 3, 2018 is an amazing photo exhibition of some of New York’s most iconic cultural moments over the past 50 years as captured by George Kalinsky. Serving as Madison Square Garden’s official photographer, Kalinsky has turned truly memorable moments―sporting events, legendary performances, and notable occasions―into lasting images that have defined the city. Among the quintessential photographs on view are Pope John Paul II hoisting a seven-year-old child onto the Popemobile in Madison Square Garden, Bill Bradley celebrating a New York Knicks victory, Sloane Stephens winning the 2017 US Open, and Jesse Orosco falling to his knees on the mound as the Mets won the 1986 World Series.

Collector’s Choice: Highlights from the Permanent Collection, ongoing: Since 1804, the New-York Historical Society has been welcoming to its collection some of the most esteemed artworks of the modern world. Collector’s Choice: Highlights from the Permanent Collection showcases a selection of paintings that reflect the individual tastes of several New York City collectors who donated their holdings to New-York Historical. Joining Picasso’s Le Tricorne ballet curtain are featured American and European masterpieces spanning the 14th through the 21st centuries from Luman Reed, Thomas Jefferson Bryan, and Robert L. Stuart, including colonial portraits of children, marine and maritime subjects, and an installation showcasing recently collected contemporary works.

Picasso’s Le Tricorne ballet curtain is part of the New-York Historical Society’s permanent collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 10 am – 6 pm; Friday: 10 am – 8 pm; Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm; Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm  Admission: Adults: $21; Teachers and Seniors: $16; Students: $13; Children (5–13): $6;  Children (4 and under): Free. The museum has a pay-as-you-wish policy on Fridays from 6-8 pm.

Check the website for special events and lecture.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), New York, NY 10024, www.nyhistory.org, (212) 873-3400. 

_____________________________

© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures