Monday, June 30, 2014

Tales from the Mystery Drawers, Part 1: The World of Tomorrow

New York World's Fair 1939. Color poster.

The Print Room at the Library Company of Philadelphia is a very organized place.  Each box is labeled and lovingly tucked back into its proper slot after a research session.  Each drawer is carefully inventoried and organized by subject matter, size, and accession number.  However, there are still corners of the Print Room where mysterious objects lurk, waiting to be discovered, studied, and processed.  Not only do these graphic works provide stunning examples of prints, maps and photographs, they also give us a glimpse into history.

One such resident of the so called Mystery Drawers is this poster advertising the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  Its vibrant colors leap off the page, saturated blues and yellows demanding the viewer’s attention.  In the lithographic print, a young woman stands in the foreground, her cap at a jaunty angle, her cheeks rosy and her arm raised in an enthusiastic gesture.  Behind her is a large building, its white fa├žade lit by colorful fireworks.  It is composed of two giant structures: a three sided obelisk called the Trylon and a sphere almost 200 feet in diameter called the Perisphere.  The pair, also known as Theme Center, were used in all kinds of promotional material and came to symbolize the Fair’s “World of Tomorrow” theme.  Inside the Perisphere was a model of “Democracity”, a united, organized city of the future.  This optimistic view was reflected throughout the Fair and can also be seen in the Library Company’s 1939 poster.  The woman smiles and raises her arm as if welcoming in the bright new day ahead of her, volunteering to do her part in the World of Tomorrow.

However, the Fair’s forward-looking focus took a turn with the outbreak of World War II.  The hope for a peaceful, unified future stood in contrast with the horrors of war, just as the bright colors and optimistic message of the poster would seem increasingly disparate from the growing tension in Europe. As the war progressed, nations represented at the Fair were wiped off the map.  For example, the Czechoslovakian contingent defied Germany, who had annexed their nation in March, 1939, and went ahead with their pavilion at the Fair.  Many of their exhibitions were confiscated by the Nazis and by consequence the Czech pavilion was unfinished when the Fair opened.  Even in 1939, the effects of war were palpable.  In his review of the Fair, American poet John Peale Bishop wrote a somber description of the Soviet pavilion: “The effect of the whole is like that of a tomb, one of those impressive tombs which in almost every country after the last war were erected about an Unknown Soldier.  No man is buried under the flagstones of the courtyard; and yet I am not so sure that there is not something dead there.  It is hope that lies dead.”

By 1940, the Fair was in its second season and its theme had been changed to “Peace and Freedom.” Rather than futuristic exhibitions like the Trylon and Perisphere, nostalgic historical exhibitions and the amusement area became the most popular areas of the Fair.  The happy World of Tomorrow shown in the Library Company’s poster depicted a fair that no longer existed and a future whose existence seemed almost impossible at the outset of WWII.

Alison Van Denend
IFPDA Foundation Curatorial Intern, Summer 2014

John Peale Bishop. “World’s Fair Notes.” The Kenyon Review 1 no. 3 (Summer 1939): 239-50. JSTOR.

Marco Duranti. “Utopia, Nostalgia and World War at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair.” Journal of Contemporary History 41, no. 4 (October 2006): 663-83. JSTOR.

Helen A. Harrison. “Stuart Davis’s World of Tomorrow.” American Art 9, no. 3 (Autumn 1995): 96-100. JSTOR.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mellon Scholars Program: Exploring the African Diaspora

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

My name is Kwasi Agyemang and though every once in a while I am fortunate to be told how unique it sounds, my name is as common as “James Smith” in Ghana. I spent my childhood in Accra, Ghana, and it led me to believe that I had a firm understanding of black identity. I grew up surrounded by black identities; everyone around me from the bus driver to the President was African. As a kid, being African was as simple as speaking a “home language” and eating jollof rice. It would be awhile before I understood the complexities of black being viewed as an other, and it wasn’t until I came back to the United States for grade school that I began to explore what it truly meant to be part of the African Diaspora.

The journey to figure out what it means to be an African and the connection to black identity has led me towards several internship and fellowship opportunities that have continually pushed me to redefine my perceptions of the Diaspora. As an undergraduate in history at George Washington University, I spent a semester interning with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. During this time, I created the first African American history tour of the U.S. Capitol, named the Philip Reid US Capitol Tour, after a 19th century enslaved artisan. After this experience, I wanted to learn more about the history of early African American identity.

Martina Dickerson. "Original and Selected 
Poetry, Etc." (Circa 1840-1846).
I came across the application for the Mellon Scholars Internship and realized the program was going to be a scholar’s paradise. I applied because I was attracted to the treasure chest collection of rare books and the diverse array of scholars that the Library Company of Philadelphia has cultivated over the centuries. I had to get in and now that I’m part of the “LCP family,” my knowledge of archival research and professional development is growing leaps and bounds. I have been able to test my archivist skills by working on the transcription of a 19th century “Friendship Album” which details the sentiments shared between free middle-class black women. Also, I am working on an independent research project that seeks to clarify the role Martin Delany, a 19th century African American global activist, played in transforming black identity. 
Martin Delany. Official Report of the Niger 
Valley Exploring Party (New York, 1861).

After my internship, I will be entering the Cooperstown Graduate Program in fall 2014 for my master’s in museum studies. I plan to focus on cultural entrepreneurship ventures that will create a sense of mutualism between businesses and cultural institutions.

Kwasi Agyemang
Mellon Scholars Intern, Summer 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Library Company Goes 3D

Concetta Barbera, Curatorial Assistant and Digitization Specialist at the Library Company, viewing “racy” Victorian-era anaglyph stereographs in the “That’s So Gay” exhibition
With the resurgence in 3D viewing technologies in recent years, the Library Company has dared to revive this long-lived pastime through recent exhibitions and collaborations.  3D photographic imaging has existed since the 1840s with mid to late 19th century stereographs setting the trend that would eventually lead to View-Masters, 3D movies and even 3D cell phones and TVs.

After seeing the Library of Congress’s attempt to “3Dify” its stereograph collection, Concetta Barbera, Curatorial Assistant and Digitization Specialist at the Library Company (pictured above), converted several photographs for the viewing pleasure of our visitors to the Library Company’s recent exhibition on ephemera.  In our current exhibition “That’s So Gay: Outing Early America,” visitors can don a pair of 3D glasses and “peek” at an iPad set up in the gallery which showcases Victorian-era stereographs with a voyeuristic theme.

Screenshot of Paul Taylor’s Anaglyph of a street scene stereograph from the Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection at the Library Company:
Most recently, Paul Taylor located stereographs on the Library Company’s Flickr Commons page uploaded by previous summer Print Department intern Kat Poje and is converting them into 3D anaglyph images, making his creations publicly available on his Flickr page.  Taylor has developed a keen eye for stereograph images that really “pop” when viewed, exhibiting a nearly tangible 3D experience.  Those interested can view his creations here (you will need to track down a pair of 3D glasses in order to view the images in 3D):

So join the 3D craze by visiting Taylor’s images (Library Company images are tagged “Library Company of Philadelphia”) or stop by our gallery to view our 3D images displayed in our current exhibition.

Nicole Joniec
Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager