What’s in an Artifact: Crown Glass

Archaeologists love “unearthing” the mysteries of history. In this post, we explore the fragmented past of crown window glass, a common artifact type connected with the production of glass windows in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Small, flat fragments of glass are often found in archaeological sites in New York City – these fragments could be from bottles, from late 19th century plate-glass windows, or from crown glass windows, which are hand-made and date to an earlier period in the City’s past. But how can we tell one type from another?

An assortment of glass fragments unearthed in City Hall Park. Are they bottle glass? 19th Century  plate glass? Or earlier, hand spun, crown glass? Read on to find out more!

An assortment of glass fragments unearthed in City Hall Park. Are they bottle glass? 19th Century plate-glass? Or earlier, hand spun, crown glass? Read on to find out more! Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

The key to identifying crown glass is in the way it was produced. Crown windows are made by hand blowing glass into a globe known as a “crown”. It would then be flattened by spinning the globe glass into a disk. After several days of cooling, squares would be cut from the disk and made into window panes. These panes would have either been cut by glass-makers themselves or purchased in disks and then cut to fit windows as buildings were being constructed.

Crown Glass being spun flat by glass makers.

Crown Glass being spun flat by glass makers. Image from “Glass in Architecture and Decoration” by Raymond McGrath & A.C. Frost, 2nd Edition, London, 1961 [1937], p. 75 via : http://michaelhockham.com/wp/history-glass-production/ (accessed November 25, 2014.)

When it comes to window glass production, it’s all about trees, trees, trees! Furnaces required a lot of wood to process sand, ash, and lead into molten glass. While colonial New Amsterdam was burgeoning into a major port for trade and production, much of Manhattan island remained heavily forested – creating an ideal environment for businesses that needed to use glass furnaces.

Most early glasshouses were found outside of the city limits, where trees grew in abundance. By the 1640’s, “Glass Maker’s Street” (now South Williams Street) became the first production center for a new method known as crown window glass – located just outside the colonial city wall at present day Wall Street. This method of making window pane glass would continue until the 1850s when other techniques, such as plate-glass making, became easier and more cost-effective to produce the large quantity of glass required to keep pace with a growing city.

But how can you identify fragments of crown glass in an archaeological context? Crown glass varies in thickness because window panes were cut out from different areas of the spun disk. Glass disks were thickest in the center and thinnest near the edge, and had a circular pool in the center. Similarly, the edges may be rounded from having been spun by glass makers. Like snowflakes, no two pieces of crown glass are alike.

Crown window glass fragments of varying thickness

Crown window glass fragments of varying thickness, viewed from the side. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

While it is possible to identify crown glass by its production inconsistencies, this same thing makes dating crown glass difficult. In some cases, we can only assign a date within the time period when crown glass was being produced prior to the 1850s. Do you have a trick for dating crown glass? Let us know in the comments!

These artifacts, and many more, are being cataloged and digitized at the Museum of the City of New York as preparation for public access and long-term care at the Landmarks Preservation Commission Archaeological Repository. Research inquiries can be directed to archaeology@mcny.org. More information on the project can be found here.

Visiting New York City’s Hotels

Excerpt from "Members of Hotel Association of New York City, Rates per Day,"ca 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York.

Excerpt from “Members of Hotel Association of New York City, Rates per Day,”ca 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York.

The holidays are prime tourist season in New York City – we’re coming up on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade next week, department stores are mounting their holiday window displays, and the ice skating rink is open at Rockefeller Center.  As we have continued to prepare the Museum’s ephemera collections for digitization as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, we’ve been able to take a closer look at some the hotels that have housed the throngs of tourists that flock to New York City, not just at the holidays but year round.  The following selections from the Collection on Dining and Hospitality are just a small sampling of what will be available in the coming months via the Museum’s online Collections Portal as part of this project.

One hotel that immediately caught our eye was the Hotel Shelburne, or rather, the yet to be realized Hotel Shelburne II.  The Hotel Shelburne is still in operation at Lexington Avenue at 37th Street, but in the early 1960s they had a much grander vision of their future.  The Shelburne II was scheduled to open on the moon by 1971.

Hotel Shelburne, ca. 1961, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 94.41.2.

Hotel Shelburne (recto and verso views), ca. 1961, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 94.41.2.

If you read the guarantee on the verso of the promotional card above (right side of image), you’ll see that anyone bearing this card is entitled to a free weekend stay at the hotel, since the moon outpost wasn’t completed by 1971. Anyone want to give it a try?

As is to be expected, the collection holds several pieces of ephemera for the city’s more well known hotels, such as the Waldorf-Astoria.  The Waldorf-Astoria produced an entire promotional booklet titled “Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria,” featuring profiles of staff and a look inside the kitchens, housekeeping, the”furniture hospital,”  and the domain of the “key man.” The booklet was donated to the Museum by Victor R. Ruiz, in honor of his mother, who worked in the hotel’s beauty salon for several years.

Excerpt from "Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria," ca. 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.37.

Excerpt from “Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria,” ca. 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.37.

Waldorf-Astoria menu, 1907, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.62.

Waldorf-Astoria menu, 1907, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.62.

The Colonades, Essex House, ca 1937, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 2003.50.2.

The Colonnades, Essex House, ca 1937, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 2003.50.2.

One of the most common objects in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality is the menu.  These vary from day-to-day dinner menus, such as the one pictured to the right for the Waldorf- Astoria, to those for special events such as the one for the Essex House, pictured below.  The Essex House opened in 1931 on 59th Street; its iconic roof sign is still visible today. I wonder if New Year’s Eve of 2015 will compare with the the festivities pictured on the cover of this menu from the 1930s.

One of the oldest pieces of hotel ephemera in the Museum’s collection is this piece of private scrip, or money, from Crook’s Hotel and Saloon, dating to 1852. The Hotel was located at 80 Chatham Street, now Park Row.

Crook's Hotel and Saloon, 1852, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 39.526.2.

Crook’s Hotel and Saloon, 1852, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 39.526.2.

This name of  the establishment, “Crook’s Hotel and Saloon,” immediately brings to mind an image of a “wild west” period of New York City’s early history.  Though actually named for it’s proprietor Samuel H. Crook, the hotel did in fact gain an element of notoriety when Crook committed suicide in his rooms at the hotel in 1890.

Stay tuned for more selections from this and other ephemera collections here at the Museum.  Next time we visit this collection, will take a look at where all of these people – tourists and New Yorkers alike – ate when they were in town.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mysteries in the Costume Collection

The City Museum’s Costume Collection offers a unique lens not just on New York’s history and aesthetics, but its personalities, too. Our most fascinating acquisitions come from those who’ve lived in the city’s spotlight. And from my perspective, the most memorable figures share in one trait: they were beyond passionate about their clothing.

Occasionally, we can trace a garment back to its owner just through looking at the line, color, finishing techniques, plus the unmistakable evidence of scale and proportion. A seasoned curatorial sleuth can assimilate this physical evidence and write the script as to how a garment fit into the life of its suspected wearer.

Elsie Whelen's lavishly embroidered 1906 white cotton mull dress

Elsie Whelen’s lavishly embroidered 1906 white cotton mull dress

Recently, my colleagues and I solved an ongoing quest to identify the elusive “Elsie,” whose trove of breathtaking trousseau lingerie resided without attribution for decades within collection storage. (There are at least three Elsies whose fashions we know from our Gilded Age collections.) The puzzle pieces came together as we fitted a lavish 1906 white cotton mull dress on a period-silhouetted mannequin.

Physical clues led us to Elsie Whelen (1880-1959), daughter of Philadelphia banker Henry Whelen, who was described in the New York Times as being “…six feet tall and of marked beauty of face and person…” A popular debutante, Elsie walked down the aisle with Harvard graduate and future financier Robert Walton Goelet on June 14, 1904. She wore a bridal gown of lace over white chiffon and taffeta silk, its long train trimmed with swansdown. From examining her ravishing portrait in the 1904 “American Book of Beauty,” one can see she was the consummate Gilded Age trophy wife.

Elsie Whelen Goelet – the consummate Gilded Age trophy wife

Elsie Whelen Goelet Clews (1880–1959)

As Mrs. Goelet, Elsie traveled to Japan, China, Scotland, Rome and Paris, assembling an enviable wardrobe produced by the finest couture hands and purveyors of the day. Among her acquisitions was a “summer white” dress, ultra-feminine in design, amplified by its accommodations to her surprising height.

A few years later, Elsie met Paris’s sultan of exoticism, couture innovator Paul Poiret. Poiret found her an obvious muse; her elongated hanger-like body reiterated the slim, sinuous lines of his designs. Under his influence, she assumed a far more daring fashion personality. During this era, Poiret designed for her a pearl-encrusted evening gown that he entitled “Homage à Rousseau” (ca. 1910) and a fuchsia silk opera wrap (1912). Both reside within our collection.

Two garments made for Elsie by Paul Poiret: Left, a tailored promenade ensemble, 1919, Museum of the City of New York, 56.234.2bc; Right: Homage à Rousseau (ca. 1910), MCNY, 52.35.3

Elsie continued to drift from her life as Mrs. Robert Goelet. In January 1914, she divorced her husband, captivating the press and public’s imagination. By December of the same year, she married Henry Clews, Jr., a marine painter and sculptor she had fallen instantly in love with upon meeting him at a Newport dog show. Throughout these proceedings, she remained a devoted Poiret client. The Costume Collection boasts 14 striking Poiret garments made for Elsie some years later, though she had changed her name to Marie Clews – rechristened by her new husband. The garments, dating from 1919 to 1930, attest to the perennial fashion flair of their wearer.

Elsie’s trousseau lingerie was embroidered with her name on the bodice, in various fonts and stylizations.

Return to our present-day dilemma of the unattributed trousseau lingerie. During routine collection maintenance some two years ago, we encountered a 20th century suite of nightgowns, gorgeous camisoles with matching split drawers, corset covers and petticoats, all embroidered with the name Elsie in various stylizations. Of the 22 items, none had been assigned the accession number routinely given to objects as they attain formal status and enter the collection. Suddenly, the mystery made complete sense: who else from that early 20th century period might have possessed and donated such impeccable underpinnings?  An immediate search of our records revealed that yes, a large body of trousseau lingerie custom-made in Paris by Mme. Lavail had entered the Costume Collection as a 1952 gift from Mrs. Henry Clews. Compared with the generous endowment of Poirets that spread over the following six years, the lingerie had not been considered important enough to assign formal status. Today, knowing the full story of our Gilded Age heroine, we beg to differ.

–Phyllis Magidson, Curator of Costumes, Museum of the City of New York

Urban Woodsman: Theodore Roosevelt and his Buckskin Suit

Traversing the Dakota back country atop his horse, a young Theodore Roosevelt arrived at a “desolate, little mud-roofed hut” belonging to Mrs. Maddox [1]. She “had acquired some fame in the region . . . by her skill in making buckskin shirts,” and the future president had arrived at her home to obtain a shirt of his very own [2].

In memory of Theodore Roosevelt’s birth (October 27, 1858), this post offers a glimpse, not at the future New York Police Commissioner or the Rough Rider, nor the New York Governor or future President, but at the young man who strove to model himself as a rugged frontiersman.

Pach Brothers. Theodore Roosevelt, ca. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 32.152.4

Pach Brothers. Theodore Roosevelt, ca. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 32.152.4

Born on East 20th Street in Manhattan, Roosevelt grew up as a sickly, yet privileged boy. Following his graduation from Harvard in 1880, he promptly married Alice Hathaway Lee, his first wife. Three years later, he made his first venture West to the Dakota badlands. Sadly, tragedy struck the following year when his wife and mother, Mittie, both died on Valentine’s Day 1884. Devastated, the young widower recorded his sorrow that night: “The light has gone out of my life,” he wrote in his diary [3]. In search of solace, he returned West to dedicate himself to ranching, while leaving his newly born daughter in the care of relatives.

East 20th Street. Theodore Roosevelt residence, restored.

Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace on East 20th Street in Manhattan. Wurts Bros. East 20th Street. Theodore Roosevelt residence, restored, 1941. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.8170

 

Strohmeye and Wyman. Col. Theodore Roosevelt of the "Rough Riders" after his return from Cuba, 1898. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1078

Strohmeyer & Wyman. Col. Theodore Roosevelt of the “Rough Riders” after his return from Cuba, 1898. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1078

 

For Governor - Theodore Roosevelt, ca. 1899, in the Button Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.184.146

For Governor – Theodore Roosevelt, ca. 1899, in the Button Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.184.146

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914). Theodore Roosevelt when Governor of New York, 1898-1900, ca. 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.2.141

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914). Theodore Roosevelt when Governor of New York, 1898-1900, ca. 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.2.141

 

From an early age, Roosevelt wished to transform his body into a model of strength. As a frail and asthmatic child, Roosevelt worked diligently to follow his father’s advice to “make your body” [4].  Nevertheless, his slight build continued to attract attention when he traveled West. One reporter from the Pittsburgh Dispatch described him in April 1885 as a “pale, slim young man with a thin piping voice and a general look of dyspepsia about him . . .boyish looking . . . with a slight lisp, a short red mustache and eye glasses, [who] looks the typical New York dude” [5]. Given his comfortable upbringing and refined decorum, Roosevelt stood in contrast to the rough cowboys and hardened trappers of the West. Thus, he wished to prove himself as evinced in a letter dated June 1884 to his older sister: “I have been fulfilling a boyish ambition of mine, playing at frontier hunter in good earnest” [6]. Eventually, he would transform: from the tender greenhorn to the tough frontiersman capable of knocking out a drunken gunslinger who made the mistake of addressing him as “four-eyes”; but before that could happen, he needed to dress the part.

For Roosevelt, the buckskin shirt represented a uniquely American form of dress that symbolized the masculine virtues of those legendary figures, such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, who donned the outfit before him. And so, with every stitch, Mrs. Maddox tailored a garment imbued with great personal significance for Roosevelt. It makes sense, then, that he decided to take a photograph while wearing his buckskin shirt.

Print issued by N. Currier. The Prairie Hunter. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, 1852. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.143

This print demonstrates the depiction of buckskin suits in 19th century popular media. Print issued by N. Currier. The Prairie Hunter. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, 1852. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.143

Print issued by Currier & Ives. Life on the Prairie. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, 1862. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.142

In this 19th century print, the hunter’s buckskin suit features prominently and reinforces his ruggedness. Print issued by Currier & Ives. Life on the Prairie. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, 1862. Museum of the City of New York. 56.300.142

For the Christmas season of 1884, Roosevelt traveled east to his sister’s New York house at 422 Madison Avenue. Back in the city, he donned the suit and posed for photographer George Grantham Bain at his studio near Union Square. Clad in his buckskin attire, Roosevelt gazed stoically at the camera with a rifle perched on his lap and a hunting knife tucked in his ammunition belt. His rigid posture, bent foot, and index finger, resting on the trigger, suggest he is ready for action. The painted background, theatrical rocks, and imitation grass, which barely conceal the rug, dramatize Roosevelt’s performance to consciously cast himself as an “authentic” westerner who possessed manly characteristics. The circumstances surrounding this single photograph capture the nuance of who Roosevelt was, who he wanted to be, and who he was becoming: an urban woodsman.

George Grantham Bain (1865 - 1944). Theo. Roosevelt as hunter, 1909. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1093B

George Grantham Bain (1865-1944). Theo. Roosevelt as hunter, 1909. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1093B

 

 

Works Cited

[1] Hagedorn, Hermann, Roosevelt in the Bad Lands (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921), 95.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Felsenthal, Carol, Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), 31.

[4] National Park Service, The Life of Theodore Roosevelt, http://www.nps.gov/thri/theodorerooseveltbio.htm (Oct. 14, 2014)

[5] White, Edward, G. The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989), 83.

[6] Ibid.

Image

Painting the Town Black

In the 1970s, graffiti emerged as a powerful form of self-expression on New York City streets. Our recent exhibition City as Canvas offered a window into the origins of this movement, and its evolution as graffiti artists like Lee Quinones and Lady Pink moved from the streets to canvases and gallery walls – and gained prominence in the art community.

These young ‘writers’ were not the only artists shaping the city’s visual landscape at the time. Trained artists also began to take their practice to New York’s streets, many with themes of social consciousness in their work. John Fekner stenciled messages of urgency and despair (“Decay” and “Broken Promises”) in the South Bronx, Jenny Holzer wheat-pasted Truisms – one-liner phrases such as “A little knowledge can go a long way” – on walls around the city, and Richard Hambleton created a shocking series of fictional murder scenes on the city’s pavement.

Shadowman by Richard Hambleton, New York Photo by Hank O'Neill

Shadowman by Richard Hambleton, New York
Photo by Hank O’Neal

Born in Vancouver, Canada, Richard Hambleton began working in New York’s streets in 1976 with body outlines in chalk dashed with red paint along the city’s sidewalks. He quickly moved on to wheat-pasting life sized photographic self-portraits and eventually settled on a series of street paintings of silhouetted figures called shadowmen. Painting more than 450 kinetic works on the streets in the early 1980s, which verged on abstract expressionist, Hambleton was quoted saying, “I painted the town black.”

Shadowman by Richard Hambleton, New York Photo by Hank O'Neill

Shadowman by Richard Hambleton, New York
Photo by Hank O’Neal

Hambleton went on to explain the open-ended nature of his work. “I’m not trying to make a specific statement with them,” he said. “They could represent watchmen or danger or the shadows of a human body after a nuclear holocaust, or even my own shadow. But what makes them exciting is the power of the viewer’s imagination. It’s that split-second experience when you see the figure that matters.” (Read more on Hambleton in People.)

Shadowman by Richard Hambleton, New York Photo by Hank O'Neill

Shadowman by Richard Hambleton, New York
Photo by Hank O’Neal

Noted image makers Andreas Feininger and Hank O’Neal meticulously documented Hambleton’s street paintings in the context of the urban landscape. For Feininger, a LIFE magazine photographer who had spent more than 40 years working in New York City, photographing Hambleton’s art served as a means to depict the idiosyncrasies of the modern city in the 1980s. For Hank O’Neal, a portraitist and jazz photographer, Hambleton’s paintings fueled his budding interest in street art. O’Neal pursued what became an obsession for him for 40 years. It resulted in the publication XCIA’s Street Art Project, which depicted imagery of public art made around the world.

Andreas Feninger (1906-1999) Graffiti - Shadowman, 1983 Museum of the City of New York, 90.40.86

Andreas Feninger (1906-1999)
Graffiti – Shadowman, 1983
Museum of the City of New York, 90.40.86

Hambleton experienced a rush of interest from galleries seeking to show his street work, but promptly disappeared from the art world by 1985. Only in recent years has he resurfaced. Currently, the Dorian Grey Gallery in the East Village is showing paintings by Hambelton, on view until November 9th.

–Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints and Photographs, Museum of the City of New York

Cracking Jefferson’s Code

Imagine this scenario: The year is 1800. You’re the President of the United States. You need to transmit an urgent message to a diplomat living 3,000 miles across the ocean, but the information has to remain secret – it cannot fall into anyone else’s hands. What do you do?

Thomas Jefferson found himself in just this situation soon after taking office in 1801. He did not have NSA supercomputers to create unbreakable encryptions; there were no covert satellites to ping top-secret communications around the globe. All Jefferson had was a pen, paper, and an enthusiasm for solving problems on his own.

William Holl (1771-1838) Jefferson, ca. 1838 Museum of the City of New York, X2012.57.279

William Holl (1771-1838)
Jefferson, ca. 1838
Museum of the City of New York, X2012.57.279

In conjunction with this year’s 25th Anniversary History Day celebration, the Museum of the City of New York will exhibit a series of eight rarely seen letters written by Thomas Jefferson to Robert R, Livingston, a New York lawyer and Jefferson’s choice as “Minister Plenipotentiary” to France.

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)  Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, ca. 1794  Museum of the City of New York, 66.65

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, ca. 1794
Museum of the City of New York, 66.65

In this remarkable correspondence, Jefferson and Livingston laid out a foreign policy that defined the direction – indeed even the very shape – of the emerging United States.  For virtually all of Livingston’s tenure in France, Europe reeled and stumbled from one devastating conflict to the next. As phenom French general Napoleon Bonaparte rampaged across the Continent, Jefferson and Livingston desperately worked to keep their young and still relatively weak nation from becoming entangled in Europe’s battles. Still recovering from the Revolution, America simply didn’t have the strength or power to get involved.

At the same time, shifting balances of power in Europe could also provide some incredible opportunities. Napoleon’s ceaseless need for extra cash to fund his armies – combined with France’s loss of the sugar island of Haiti to a slave rebellion – convinced the French to part with 828,000 square miles of the Louisiana Territory. The Louisiana Purchase, authorized by Jefferson and negotiated by Livingston, was the largest single land acquisition in American history, encompassing a massive swath of ground from Texas to Montana that would ultimately make up all or part of 15 new states.

Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, February 24, 1801 Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.252 Jefferson asks Livingston to serve as "Minister Plenipotentiary" - or Chief Diplomat - to France

Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, February 24, 1801
Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.252
In this letter Jefferson asks Livingston to serve as “Minister Plenipotentiary” – or Chief Diplomat – to France

But for all their grand historical importance, the most fascinating moment in these documents was not about politics. It was about cryptology. Jefferson knew that he was dealing with challenges and opportunities that would affect the United States for generations to come. He also knew that the information he shared was extremely sensitive and could seriously injure American interests if it fell into the wrong hands.

Jefferson’s solution was a cipher – a special method for scrambling the order of letters in a message that made the document completely unintelligible to anyone who happened to find (or steal) it. Once encrypted, a secret communication might look something like this:

Extract of Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, undated Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.268B

Extract of Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, undated
Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.268B

In order to unlock the code and reconstruct the original message, the recipient needed two 27-digit keys.  Like email passwords today, each key had to be unique and complicated. It also had to be something that both men could remember easily without writing down on paper, because if anyone got a hold of both the message and the key, the whole encryption would be worthless.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802 Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.260 In this letter Jefferson proposes a cipher for secret communications

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802
Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.260
Jefferson proposes a cipher for secret communications

So Jefferson decided to devise a set of keys that was completely original and that either correspondent could recreate at any point he chose. He began by spelling out Livingston’s full name and the full name of Livingston’s home in upstate New York. Together, the whole thing happened to total exactly 27 letters:

R  O  B  E  R  T  R  L  I  V  I  N  G  S  T  O  N  O  F  C  L  E  R  M  O  N  T

Then he divided the 27 letters into three groups of 9:

R  O  B  E  R  T  R  L  I  ¦  V  I  N  G  S  T  O  N  O  ¦  F  C  L  E  R  M  O  N  T

He re-arranged the letters within each group of 9 into alphabetical order and assigned each a single digit number:

1   2   3  4  5   6   7   8   9   ¦    1   2  3  4   5   6   7  8  9    ¦    1   2  3  4   5   6    7  8   9
B  E  C  L  O  R  R  R  T    ¦   G  I  N  N  O  O  S  T  V    ¦   C  E  F  L  M  N  O  R  T

Finally Jefferson put the letters back in order, thus creating an original 27 digit key:

6   5   1   2  7   9   8  4  3    ¦    9  2  3   1   7  8   5   4   6    ¦   3  1   4  2   8   5    7   6  9
R  O  B  E  R  T  R  L  I     ¦    V  I  N  G  S  T  O  N  O    ¦   F  C  L  E  R  M  O  N  T

Fortunately Jefferson’s full name and residence also happened to contain 27 letters, and could be treated the same way:

9  4    7   6   1   8   5  2 3    ¦     2  1   8   9  6   5   7  3   4    ¦   7   6   9  3  1  2  4  5   8
T  H  O  M  A  S  J  E  F    ¦    F  E  R  S  O  N  O  F  M   ¦   O  N  T  I  C  E  L  L  O

Extract from Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802.   Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.260

Extract from Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802
Museum of the City of New York, 47.173.260

Thus each correspondent could reconstruct both original key-codes at any time, without ever needing to write them down permanently.

This moment – Jefferson’s personal explanation of a cipher system – captures the two central themes that make this collection of correspondence truly special. First, to put it frankly, the content of the letters is profoundly important in historical terms. The documents provide a rare, first-hand look into the behind-the-scenes thinking of two men charged with making some of the most meaningful decisions affecting the course of our nation’s early history.  Jefferson knew he was dealing with questions of the utmost national significance. Why else would he prepare a special method for speaking in code?

At the same time, these documents also tell us something powerful about Jefferson himself. Here we have the President of the United States – a man with no shortage of other responsibilities – taking the time to work out his own system for encrypting messages. Why not let somebody else do it?

Jefferson created his own cipher keys for the same reason he drew all architectural plans for his home at Monticello. The same reason he designed new farming implements, or collected the bones of extinct animals like mammoths and sabre tooth tigers, or sent Lewis and Clark to bring back biological samples from the West. He did it because he was interested, because he was curious, because he was fascinated by problems of knowledge. He did it because he thought it was fun.

We hope that students participating in the 25th Annual History Day Competition here at the Museum of the City of New York will be inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s example. We hope they will apply their own energy and enthusiasm to solve the problems that interest them. After all, the first qualification for any good historian is simple: you just have to be curious.

Where’s the bathroom? Uncovering the Almshouse Privy at Tweed Courthouse

Studying historical records can give us only so much information about a specific place. Archaeology offers a unique perspective on the details of everyday life that written records do not fully capture, such as: Where was the bathroom? Privies, or outhouses, were standard for rich and poor alike until indoor plumbing became accessible and also fashionable in 19th century New York.

Today, when archaeologists excavate in New York City, they often uncover the remains of old privies. These remains, in addition to nightsoil (the polite term for human excrement), often include objects lost in the bathroom, garbage tossed into the privy while it was in use, or garbage used to fill in the privy when it was no longer in use and are therefore rich sources of information about a given time period.

One such privy was excavated in City Hall Park by Hartgen Archaeological Associates, Inc. in 2000 and 2001.  This project was conducted under the guidelines of the Landmarks Law of 1965 and the 1977 City Environmental Quality Review Act, laws that require assessment of archaeological resources on city properties that could be impacted by construction work.

Excavating a late 18th to early 19th century privy on the Tweed Courthouse grounds.

Excavating a late 18th to early 19th century privy on the Tweed Courthouse grounds.

These excavations were concentrated on the area around Tweed Court House (built between 1861 and 1881), in the north west section of City Hall Park. This area has long been a center of civic activity in New York City. In 1735, an almshouse occupied the site and housed the homeless, sick, and other New Yorkers unable to care for themselves. This was the first institution of its kind in New York City, and existed in City Hall Park until residents were moved uptown in 1816.

Chamber pot found in the almshouse privy.

Fragments of a ceramic whiteware chamber pot excavated from the almshouse privy.

In one part of the excavation, a privy relating the 18th century almshouse was uncovered. Items such as the shell-edged plate (below) and plain chamber pot (above) that were found on the site are some of the most common ceramics archaeologists unearth relating to this period. They would have been accessible to New Yorkers from all walks of life as they were some of the most affordable housewares available at the time.

Ceramic pearlware dish with green shell-edged design.  Shell-edged dishes were one of the cheapest wares with color decoration during the late 18th to  mid 18th century.

Ceramic pearlware dish with green shell-edged design. As one of the cheapest tablewares with color decoration during the late 18th to mid 19th century, shell-edged plates were frugal and fashionable.  These fragments were excavated from the Almshouse privy.

Archaeologists determined that this privy was in use during the 1780s. One way they know this is though production dates for items such as the ceramics above. Another helpful dating tool is numismatics, such as this Spanish coin (below). It was minted in 1781, so excavators know that the privy must have been in use sometime after this date.

Corulus III Coin (1781) Archaeologists found this colonial Spanish coin at the bottom of the Almshouse privy.  View of back side.

Corulus III Coin (1781) Archaeologists found this colonial Spanish coin at the bottom of the Almshouse privy. View of back side.

Corulus III Coin (1781) Archaeologists found this colonial Spanish coin at the bottom of the Almshouse privy.  View of face side.

Corulus III Coin (1781) Archaeologists found this colonial Spanish coin at the bottom of the Almshouse privy. View of face side.

How does a Spanish coin end up in colonial New York toilet? Post your theory in the comments!

These artifacts, and many more, are being cataloged and digitized at the Museum of the City of New York as preparation for public access and long term care at the Landmarks Preservation Commission Archaeological Repository. Research inquiries can be directed to archaeology@mcny.org. More information on the project can be found here.

Alice in Wonderland: La Gallienne’s Living Pictures

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen, Josephine Hutchinson as Alice, and Leona Roberts as the Red Queen in "Alice in Wonderland".]. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.26.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen, Josephine Hutchinson as Alice, and Leona Roberts as the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.26.

the black and white queen sleeping

Sir John Tenniel. The White and Red Queen Sleeping. Illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. 1865.

Actress, producer, and director Eva Le Gallienne built a reputation for taking classic works of literature and bringing them to life in the theater. In her 1932 production of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this was applied in extraordinary proportions (quite literally). Because Alice was such a beloved childhood staple, Le Gallienne decided upon a visual interpretation that literally translated the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. The script, written with Florida Freibus, was adapted faithfully from text. The resulting product had a magical effect, as if the engravings had been conjured to life. Alice’s costumes and sets shifted seamlessly together, creating a world where drawings moved across the pages of a book on their own.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in "Alice in Wonderland".]. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.26.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.31.

sir-john-tenniel-alice

Sir John Tenniel. Alice Pushes through the Mirror. Illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. 1865.

Between 1932-1933 there were 127 performances at Le Galliene’s own Civic Repertory  Theatre. It became her most personally cherished piece, and was revived in 1947 and again upon its 50 year anniversary in 1982 with an 84-year old Eva playing The White Queen.

[Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Josephine Hutchinson as

White Studio. [Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.24.

Sir John Tenniel. Alice “a-dressing” the White Queen. Illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. 1865.

Le Gallienne was a genius at scouting fresh talent for collaborators, and this production was no exception. In 1931 she commissioned fashion illustrator Irene Scharaff as costume and set designer. Irene Scharaff’s brilliance is strikingly apparent in this first effort on the stage (later she would go on to win five Academy Awards as costume designer for such famous productions as Cleopatra, West Side Story, and Funny Girl.) Together Le Galliene and Scharaff engineered a moving background 400 yards long that unwound throughout the production on two giant rolling drums. Moving platforms also operated in the front. Cut-out spaces allowed the actors and marionettes to move in time, weaving in and out of the scenery. The original 1932 production was operated entirely by man-power; the 1982 revival utilized machines.

[Josephine Hutchinson as Alice, Burgess Meredith as Tweedledee,

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Josephine Hutchinson as Alice, Burgess Meredith as Tweedledee, and Landon Herrick as Tweedledum in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.27.

[Marionette operators for the Walrus and Carpenter characters in

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Marionette operators for the Walrus and Carpenter characters in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.16.

[Marionettes for the Walrus and Carpenter characters in "Alice i

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Marionettes for the Walrus and Carpenter characters in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1932-1947. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.17.

Sharaff collaborated with master marionette maker Remo Bufano to devise costumes, sculptural masks, and puppets. Masks made from papier maché strove to replicate the exact crosshatching line work of the Tenniel illustrations, creating the one-dimensional appearance of a paper collage. The colors were largely restricted to black and white to match the backdrop, adding red, green, and yellow highlights selectively. The proportions of the characters were painstakingly replicated for each scene, evolving with the growing and shrinking of Alice throughout the story. For some characters, up to three actors of various statures were hired.

[Howard Da Silva as the White Knight and Josephine Hutchinson as

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Howard Da Silva as the White Knight and Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. 37.350.25.

Eva Le Gallienne performed the White Queen, a role that required one of the more complicated and cumbersome costumes in the entire production. The heavy costume consisted of numerous balloon tires of descending size. If this was not enough, she also was strapped to a harness in order to fly over the audience in acrobatic scenes (children would reach up to brush their hands against her in awe). Later in her memoir she attributed the success of her role as The White Queen to her mentors, the Frattelini clowns who took her under their wings when she briefly joined the circus as a young woman in France.

[Kate Burton as Alice with the pig in "Alice in Wonderland".]

Martha Swope. [Kate Burton as Alice with the pig in “Alice in Wonderland”.]. 1982. Museum of the City of New York. 86.43.11.

In 1982 Le Gallienne returned to her role for the 1982 revival, just one month before her 84th birthday. The cost to bring Alice back to the stage was much higher in the 1980s, costing an exorbitant $2 million, as opposed to $2,000 in 1932.  Le Galliene is quoted in a New York Times article: ” ‘Alice’ was one of the things I was most proud of,” she said. ”The production was ahead of its time and I don’t think it dates at all. Classics don’t date.” Though scenery and costumes were again celebrated, unfortunately the acting fell flat, garnering negative reviews that lead to an early closing after just 22 performances. It would be Le Gallienne’s last appearance on stage.

These theater photographs were digitized with the generous support of the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Visit the Museum’s online Collections Portal to see more.

Flops: when good theater goes bad

Broadway is a magical place. Through the dreams, combined talents, and sheer luck of a group of people, audiences are transported into another world brought to life right before them. At least that’s the plan. Sometimes things go horribly, splendidly wrong. While cataloging images of the theater production files at the Museum of the City of New York, a project generously funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, we have come across some productions that have truly earned the moniker of “flop”.

In 1929, a young unknown actor was cast in the pre-Broadway tour of Blind Window, produced by the legendary David Belasco.  The Baltimore Sun had this to say about the actor who played one half of a murderously and madly in love convict couple: “Clark Gabel [sic] does excellent work as convict No. 27.” The misspelling of Clark Gable’s name, both in the newspaper and more embarrassingly in the Playbill, was only the first of many clues as to why this production closed after only 24 shows before even reaching Broadway. (Six years later Clark Gable won the Oscar for It Happened One Night.)

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). Clark Gable and Beth Merrill in "Blind Window". 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 37.399.764.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). Clark Gable and Beth Merrill in “Blind Window”. 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 37.399.764.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Clark Gable and Beth Merrill in "Blind Window".]. 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 37.399.778

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Clark Gable and Beth Merrill in “Blind Window“.]. 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 37.399.778.

Clark Gable isn’t the only (now) celebrated actor to find himself in this position. In 1962, a young Stephen Sondheim – fresh on the heels of the success of West Side Story and Gypsy, was having some trouble with his newest musical – Anyone Can Whistle (previously called The Natives are Restless then Side Show). Backers were hard to find, the story wasn’t quite working, and the lead actress, Angela Lansbury, had misgivings about the whole thing.  Despite delaying the opening several weeks to try to fix the problems, Anyone Can Whistle played only 12 previews and 9 performances.

 

Friedman-Abeles. ["Anyone Can Whistle" theater still.] 1964. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4120.

Friedman-Abeles. [“Anyone Can Whistle” theater still.] 1964. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4120.

 In what sounds like a recipe for a palpable hit (to borrow a phrase from Sondheim), in 1966 the beloved Truman Capote novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s was turned into a musical. Riding on the wave of popularity from the Audrey Hepburn film version of it just a few years earlier, and with a book by Edward Albee (!) and featuring Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain – stars at the top of their games- what could possibly go wrong?

Unknown. Richard Chamberlain and Mary Tyler Moore during a rehearsal for "Breakfast at Tiffany's". 1966. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.3968.

United Press International. Richard Chamberlain and Mary Tyler Moore during a rehearsal for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. 1966. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.3968.

 

United Press International. [Mary Tyler Moore during a rehearsal for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.]. 1966. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.3969.

Apparently so many things. The score and script were under constant revision, audiences and critics hated seeing Mary Tyler Moore in a darker version of Holly Golightly, and things got so bad that the producer, David Merrick, took the drastic step of closing the show after only 4 previews (his words) “rather than subject the drama critics and the public to an excruciatingly boring evening.”

Friedman-Abeles. [Richard Chamberlain as Jeff Claypool and Mary Tyler Moore as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.] 1966. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.3946

Friedman-Abeles. [Richard Chamberlain as Jeff Claypool in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.] 1966. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.3952.

In 1982, the hit songwriting duo of Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On the Town, The Band Wagon and many, many others) answered the question that was burning on no one’s mind – what happened to Nora after the end of Henrik Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House? A musical sequel to A Doll’s House, creatively entitled A Doll’s Life: what could possibly go wrong? Again, a whole lot. Jokingly called A Doll’s Death, the show played only 18 previews and five performances. However, despite the short run, the musical still managed to receive three Tony nominations.

Unknown. Betsy Joslyn as Nora and Peter Gallagher as Otto in "A Doll's Life".] 1982. Museum of the City of New York. 92.52.39.97

Unknown photographer. Betsy Joslyn as Nora and Peter Gallagher as Otto in “A Doll’s Life”.] 1982. Museum of the City of New York. 92.52.39.97

So next time you find yourself judging the creative teams behind this season’s under-performing shows, remember: the next Clark Gable may be in the cast! To look at all the theatrical productions we’ve digitized so far, including both huge hits and more flops, please visit our Collections Portal here.

 

Conner and Kubrick’s New York

Illustrator McCauley “Mac” Conner, born in 1913 and still active today at the age of 101, continues to reside in New York City. He arrived during World War II and stayed on to forge his career at a time when the city served as the hub of a burgeoning publishing and advertising industry. From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Conner enjoyed great success as an illustrator for advertisements and for fiction stories appearing in several women’s and general interest magazines. Mac Conner: A New York Life, on view at the City Museum through January 19, 2015, features over 70 never-before-exhibited original paintings and offers a window into this particular moment of New York City history.

Illustration for "Where's Mary Smith?" in Good Housekeeping, June 1950 Gouache and gesso on masonite © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Illustration for “Where’s Mary Smith?” in Good Housekeeping, June 1950
Gouache and gesso on masonite
© Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Conner is a keen observer of people, which manifests in the details of gesture and dress that he incorporates into his illustrations. It is this aspect of the process that attracts him, and that he feels distinguishes his work from that of an artist. “I was never interested in landscapes and that kind of thing,” Conner notes. “I was never an artist, in other words. I liked to paint people.” An artist, he explains, “gets a thrill out of painting that tree or that valley. And I never got my thrills that way. I got my thrills from people doing things, the way [a person] stands … they all had their characteristics, and I liked to paint them.”

A similar sensibility informs the photographs of a young Stanley Kubrick, who worked in the same era as a staff photographer for LOOK magazine. From 1945-1950, before gaining notoriety as a film director, Kubrick captured candid moments of everyday life on the streets of New York City. Both Conner and Kubrick were tasked with providing striking images that would grab the attention of readers, but they differed in their approaches and intent—in part because they provided imagery to distinct types of publications.

Illustration for "How Do You Love Me" in Woman's Home Companion, August 1950 Gouache on illustration board © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Illustration for “How Do You Love Me” in Woman’s Home Companion, August 1950
Gouache on illustration board
© Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Street Conversations [Woman walking down the street.] ©SK Film Archives/Museum of the City of New York.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. Street Conversations [Woman walking down the street]. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10296.50


Conner, like Kubrick, worked on assignment. He was a mainstay illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and This Week Magazine—a newspaper supplement that at its height appeared in 42 papers nationwide and could have brought Conner an audience of as many as 13 million people. But much of his work accompanied stories published in leading women’s magazines, notably the group known as the “Seven Sisters” (McCall’s, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, and Woman’s Day).

Stanley Kubrick. 1949. Vaughn Monroe [Woman reading Billboard magazine.] ©SK Film Archives/Museum of the City of New York.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. Vaughn Monroe [Woman reading Billboard magazine]. 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11807.126F

Publications aimed at women were not new; indeed, Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal were among those that debuted in the late 19th century. But the proliferation and success of these publications in the middle decades of the 20th century coincided with post-war affluence and an explosion in consumerism—and they provided a powerful boon to advertisers who recognized that women comprised a powerful class of consumers.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine, 1947. The 5 and 10 [Women shopping at Woolworth's.]

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. The 5 and 10 [Women shopping at Woolworth’s]. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10254.25E

Daily life inspired and informed Conner’s paintings, which illustrated incidents in fictional narratives. Kubrick found his actual subject in the everyday, generating images that would be published in one of the nation’s preeminent photojournalism publications. Conner’s paintings reflected cultural trends and mores, whereas LOOK magazine deliberately focused on topical political, social, and cultural issues. Kubrick’s photographs from the Museum’s collection, paired with Conner’s illustrations, provide perspective on the atmosphere and style of the times expressed by Conner’s imagery.

Conner illustrated many stories that unfold in New York City, and his depictions both align with and depart from the reality that Kubrick’s photos convey. To situate the leading image of Arthur Gordon’s “Let’s Take a Trip Up the Nile,” published in This Week Magazine on November 5, 1950, Conner capitalized on the ubiquity of fire escapes—and the privacy they afforded young couples.

Illustration for "Let's Take a Trip Up the Nile" in This Week Magazine, November 5, 1950 Gouache and graphite on illustration board  © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Illustration for “Let’s Take a Trip Up the Nile” in This Week Magazine, November 5, 1950. Gouache and graphite on illustration board.
© Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine, 1946.Park Benches - Love is Everywhere [Couple flirting on a fire escape.] ©SK Film Archives/Museum of the City of New York.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. Park Benches – Love is Everywhere [Couple flirting on a fire escape]. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10347.11

Conner portrays an idealized, chaste couple in a carefully constructed scene that is likely based on actuality but modified to enhance the overall design. Kubrick explores similar formal devices, such as the perspective from above and the use of angular elements to create a visually interesting composition. But where Conner’s illustration permits the viewer to passively observe everyman and everywoman—in essence, offering a representative image of mid-century New York City—Kubrick’s lens interrupts and surprises two individuals, intrusively capturing a specific moment in time.

The narrator of “The Girl Who Was Crazy About Jimmy Durante,” a story by Philip Gould that appeared in the September 1953 issue of Woman’s Day, shares Conner and Kubrick’s predilection for people-watching. Conner illustrated this story, and Kubrick’s photograph of the New York City subway reveals his real-life inspiration.

Illustration for "The Girl Who Was Crazy About Jimmy Durante" in Woman's Day, September 1953 Gouache and ink on illustration board © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Illustration for “The Girl Who Was Crazy About Jimmy Durante” in Woman’s Day, September 1953. Gouache
and ink on illustration board.
© Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine, 1946. Life and Love on the New York City Subway [Passengers on a subway.]

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. Life and Love on the New York City Subway [Passengers on a subway]. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11107.100A

Across from Kubrick sits an attractive, smiling, well-dressed woman next to a man deeply engrossed in his newspaper. Each individual engages with an object or with a person outside the camera’s frame; none recognize the voyeuristic presence of the camera/viewer. Conner builds on these components, populating his invented train car with paper-reading gentlemen who convey a sense of quiet rush hour crowds and create a largely gray mass of color that fills most of the canvas. Conner enables the reader to adopt the protagonist’s point of view through this swath of gray-jacketed men and catch a glimpse of the vibrant young lady, fairly sparkling in their midst, who has so captured the narrator’s fancy.

The story’s teller notes all of the details of the young lady’s dress—and how becoming they are to her—and speculates about the details of her life. “She looked too young to be some big executive’s privileged private secretary,” he muses, concluding that she might work along Madison Avenue at one of the advertising agencies. “Have you ever walked along Madison Avenue at dusk?” he queries of the reader. “I wasn’t living in New York before I went in the Army, but I knew some New Yorkers then who used to get that faraway look in their eyes like the rest of us, and now I know what they were daydreaming about, where they wished they were. Madison Avenue at dusk, with all the pretty girls from all the offices and modeling agencies streaming out of the stately buildings on their way home. All the pretty young American girls, still fresh and bright after a long day, their hair shining, their clothes just right.” Kubrick immortalized a transient moment such as the narrator describes: two well-heeled young ladies leaving a large office building on 34th Street, two blocks off Madison.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine, 1946. People Mugging [Women walking out of a building.] ©SK Film Archives/Museum of the City of New York.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. People Mugging [Women walking out of a building]. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10303.114

Like the girls the narrator describes, the women in Conner’s illustrations are impeccably dressed, icons of contemporary style. He based these details in part on simple observation, but he also cites the influence of his agent’s wife, Jessie Neeley, who kept him informed of changing trends in glove lengths, hairstyles, and the cuts of dresses.

Illustration for "Strictly Respectable" in Redbook, August 1953. Gouache on illustration board © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Illustration for “Strictly Respectable” in Redbook, August 1953.
Gouache on illustration board
© Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Conner’s depictions of women are reflections of what he saw, but they also set the fashion. Guest curator Terry Brown relates that “it was not uncommon for ladies to go in to a hairdresser, hold out an illustration torn out of a magazine, and say ‘I want my hair to look like that!’” Conner’s women carry purses that match their gloves, display painted nails, and wear the latest fashions, like the wasp-waisted dresses that emphasized the female form and celebrated the end of fabric rationing following World War II. Importantly, his representations offered a model to which women could aspire that was also plausibly within their reach.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine, 1946. Women Trying on Hats [Woman trying on a hat in a department store.] ©SK Film Archives/Museum of the City of New York.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK magazine. Women Trying on Hats [Woman trying on a hat in a department store]. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10345.46

These publications were a consumer item that in turn advertised products: everything from home decor and lingerie to food items, complete with recipes and lush photographs of the savory results. But they also sold concepts—of family values, of “American-ness,” of womanhood. While the text in the stories often reinforced predominant stereotypes of appropriate gender roles, Conner’s illustrations imbue his female protagonists with agency. (And women are nearly always his protagonists, even if he portrays a moment when a male character speaks.) The curator in the exhibition text describes this characteristic as “a heightened—but self-possessed—femininity.”

Illustration for "The Good Husband" in Collier's, February 4, 1955. Gouache and pastel on illustration board. © Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Illustration for “The Good Husband” in Collier’s, February 4, 1955. Gouache and pastel on illustration board.
© Mac Conner. Courtesy of the artist

Kubrick’s photographs show stylish women on the street, whose discerning fashion sense informed Conner’s work, as well as ladies who frequented stores in pursuit of this seemingly artless elegance. Conner’s is a version of womanliness that fits within the prescribed gender roles of mid-century society while also allowing women individuality, creativity, and power over their self-presentation—a vision that continues to inspire today.