Members only: Private clubs in New York City

Clubs have been a part of New York City for centuries. How else are you expected to find like-minded people in such a bustling metropolis? In the early 19th century, the Hone Club was the preeminent dinner-giving club for upper class merchants (the eponymous member was Mayor Philip Hone); James Fenimore Cooper founded the deliciously-named Bread and Cheese Club (which was sadly not devoted to food, but rather literary pursuits); The City Club was  described as an “anti-bad-city government club”; and who could forget the Thirteen Club, whose stated purpose was “to combat superstitious beliefs” by hosting dinner parties with 13 guests on the 13th of the month? My favorite is the anti-club Club. Who said Gilded Age New Yorkers didn’t have a sense of humor? For the most thorough and exhaustive list, please see the King’s Handbook of 1892: pages upon pages of descriptions of every kind of club imaginable await you  here.

Some clubs were more exclusive than others. The private gentleman’s club, based on the English model, has had a long history in the five boroughs. Men socialized, dined, and drank with other men of their social class in beautiful surroundings. Membership to these clubs was (and still is) difficult to obtain: money, power, and the right connections are all must-haves. But thanks to the City Museum’s fabulous photo collections, we can pretend that we are members of some of the most exclusive clubs in town.

On June 30th, 1836, invitations were sent to various gentlemen of good social standing – Astors, Van Cortlandts, Stuyvesants, van Rensselaers, basically a roll call of every influential Dutch New York family – to join the newly founded Union Club, the first club devoted to wealth and social standing in New York. For decades it set the tone for every other club. As you can probably guess, the Union Club became very popular, very quickly and there was soon a waitlist to join.

The two images below are of the club’s clubhouse on 51st and Fifth Avenue, which it occupied from 1903-1933. Designed by Cass Gilbert, its facade is a sober statement of the conservatism and wealth of the club.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 51st Street and Fifth Avenue. The Union Club. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.3127

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 51st Street and Fifth Avenue. The Union Club. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.3127.

Unknown photographer. Main Stairway [Union Club, 1 East 51st Street.] 1930. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.123.9

Unknown photographer. Main Stairway [Union Club, 1 East 51st Street.] 1930. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.123.9.

Their current clubhouse on Park and 69th, designed by William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich and pictured below, was described by Christopher Gray as, “chunky with rusticated limestone and a huge angled mansard roof so big it looks like a Fifth Avenue mansion gone wild.” With five dining rooms and humidors stocked with cigars, it’s clear that the Union Club is still catering to the wealthy and connected of New York.

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Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho (1875-1971). The Union Club, 701 Park Avenue. General exterior. 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 88.1.1.3769

 

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Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho (1875-1971). The Union Club, 701 Park Avenue. Foyer to entrance. 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 88.1.1.3756

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Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho (1875-1971). The Union Club, 701 Park Avenue. Dining room, general view to portraits. 1935.Museum of the City of New York. 88.1.1.3760

New York society, however, is nothing if not fluid. After the Civil War, there was a huge influx of newly wealthy men who wanted access to the prestige of the Union Club. The older members of the Union Club were not impressed. They blocked the membership application of two men: John King and Dr. W. Seward Webb. Bad move. It turned out that John King was connected with J. P. Morgan and Dr. Webb was married to Eliza Vanderbilt (William Kissam’s Vanderbilt’s little sister). Morgan and Vanderbilt were so angered, they did the only sensible thing: they founded their own private club.

Dubbed the Millionaire’s Club by the press, the Metropolitan Club was singly focused on money. By 1892, 700 invitations were sent out and that alone was enough to ensure the club’s financial success. The next step was a clubhouse that alerted passers-by to the wealth of those inside. Morgan enlisted Stanford White, who told the New York Times: “The club house will stand unrivaled in its size, and although the style will be in the severest and simplest character of Italian Renaissance and the feeling of severity and solidity will be carried through the interior, the scale of the building and the nature of its materials will give it an appearance unlike that of any building in New York.”. Well, let it never be said that Stanford White didn’t have confidence in his abilities. The clubhouse was completed in 1893, on what was once the 8th Duke of Marlborough’s land. (As a interesting historical sidenote: William K. Vanderbilt’s daughter, Consuelo, would marry the 9th Duke of Marlborough, for more information read Lindsay’s fabulous blog post about dollar princesses here.)

Metropolitan Club, 5th Ave. & 60th St.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). Metropolitan Club, 5th Ave. & 60th St. 1929. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.29.221

 

[Metropolitan Club, 1-11 East 60th Street.]

Edmund V. Gillon. [Metropolitan Club, 1-11 East 60th Street.]. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.2.2006.

Another way that the Metropolitan Club was progressive was that they had an annex where wives and daughters of the members held events. You can almost feel the collective shudder of the Union Club.

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James L. Breese and Carbon Studio. Interior Views of the Metropolitan Club House [Grand staircase.]. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.44.4.3

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James L. Breese and Carbon Studio, Interior Views of the Metropolitan Club House [Possibly the West Room.] 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.44.4.4

Not all clubs were based entirely on money and family lines. Here are glimpses of other privates clubs.

The University Club was began by Ivy League graduates whose goals included, “promotion of Literature and Art by establishing and maintaining a Library, Reading Room and Gallery of Art, and by such other means as shall be expedient and proper for such purposes.” Thanks to a beautiful clubhouse designed by McKim, Mead & White, you can see just how well they accomplished those goals.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 1 West 54th Street. University Club. Interior, game room. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7948

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 1 West 54th Street. University Club. Interior, game room. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7948

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 1 West 54th Street. University Club. Interior, library. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7938

The Players Club is a different kind of club than the ones mentioned previously. Founded by Edwin Booth and located in a Gramercy Park South townhome remodeled by Stanford White, the private club was home to, as one contemporary quipped, “… gentlemen trying to be actors,” and its members come from the highest social groups of both the theater and business worlds. Here you can see the two most important parts of a gentleman’s club: the billiards table and  the bar (with the very attentive Connelly awaiting your order).

Josephine Barry. Player's Club, founded by Edwin Booth - 16 Gramercy Park Southern. 1947. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 75.43.85

Josephine Barry. Player’s Club, founded by Edwin Booth – 16 Gramercy Park Southern. 1947. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 75.43.85

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). [Players Club. Billiard room.] ca. 1939, Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17081

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). [Players Club. Billiard room.] ca. 1939, Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17081

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 16 Gramercy Park South. Interior, The Player's Club with Connelly, barkeeper. 1935, Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6542

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 16 Gramercy Park South. Interior, The Player’s Club with Connelly, barkeeper. 1935, Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6542

And finally, we have this perfect picture of members of the Yale Club, obviously having a fabulous time at a 1904 Bachelor’s Dinner.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Dinner - Bachelor 1904 Yale Club 30 West 44th St.  1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.3979.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Dinner – Bachelor 1904 Yale Club 30 West 44th St. 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.3979.

For more images of club life in Gilded Age New York, please visit out Collection Portal here.

 

 

Unidentified: Lingering mysteries in the Theater Collection

Since fall of 2013, the City Museum has been involved in a large scale digitization project to digitally capture and describe over 30,000 images of theatrical production. It gives me great pleasure and supreme pride to announce we now have over 15,000 images freely available to view on the Museum’s Collections Portal. Cue streamers, balloons, fireworks, and all other celebratory ephemera.

15,000 images is a lot, and our powerhouse cataloging team has done an excellent job identifying the productions and people in each photograph. Every once in a while, however, a mystery emerges, and there is no way to know just who or what is in the photograph.  Let’s take a look at some of these mysteries: unidentified people or productions that deserved to be known.

Friedman-Abeles. [[Unidentified actress during rehearsal for Flora, the Red Menace.] 1965. Museum of the City of New York. 92.52.5.24

Friedman-Abeles. [Unidentified actress during rehearsal for Flora, the Red Menace.] 1965. Museum of the City of New York, 92.52.5.24.

The first mystery image comes from the 1965 Broadway production of Flora, the Red Menace. This musical not only marked the Broadway debut of Liza Minnelli, but was also the first collaboration between composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, the duo that went on to create Chicago and Cabaret.  In the above photograph, we see a dancer captured mid-air during a rehearsal.  Who was she and what was her role in Flora? The mystery endures.

Unfortunately, many of the unidentified persons are dancers, who as any lover of A Chorus Line will tell you, are no less deserving of recognition than the stars of the show.

Edward Thayer Monroe. [Unidentified dancer in "Bombo".] 1921-1922. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.923.

Edward Thayer Monroe. [Unidentified dancer in Bombo.] 1921-1922. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.923.

These two dancers (above and below) come from the 1921 musical revue Bombo. Built around the talents of star Al Jolson, these beautiful photographs beg the question of identity. What kind of pose is the dancer striking? Are those blonde curls a wig? So many questions.

Maurice Goldberg. [Unidentified dancer in "Bombo".] 1921-1922. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.917.

Maurice Goldberg. [Unidentified dancer in Bombo.] 1921-1922. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.917.

The passage of decades might perhaps explain the missing names of the Bombo dancers, but even a more recent production such as the 1971 musical Follies leaves gaps in knowledge when it comes to the some of the dancers.

Martha Swope. [Unidentified showgirl in "Follies".] 1971-1972. Museum of the City of New York, 92.52.26.33.

Martha Swope. [Unidentified showgirl in Follies.] 1971-1972. Museum of the City of New York, 92.52.26.33.

Showcasing the stunning costumes of Florenz Klotz, the identity of these Follies showgirls remain a mystery even amidst a musical about showgirls.

Martha Swope. [Unidentified actress in "Follies".] 1971-1972. Museum of the City of New York, 92.52.26.42.

Martha Swope. [Unidentified actress in Follies.] 1971-1972. Museum of the City of New York, 92.52.26.42.

Most of the mysteries in the theatrical production photographs revolve around the identity of the person in the picture. On rare occasions, however, the person is known, but the production remains unidentified.  In the photograph below, we know the performer is Dorothy Dickson, but we don’t know what she’s performing.

Hixon-Connelly. [Dorothy Dickson in an unidentified production.] 1917. Museum of the City of New York, X2013.42.797

Hixon-Connelly. [Dorothy Dickson in an unidentified production.] 1917. Museum of the City of New York, X2013.42.797.

This photograph was originally filed with Caliban of the Yellow Sands, but it does not at all resemble other photographs from that production. It possibly was mislabeled, but what is it then? Besides terrifying, I mean.

Unknown. [Unidentified performance.] 1900-1950. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.1328.

Unknown. [Unidentified performance.] 1900-1950. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.1328.

On rarer occasions still, we are totally stumped.  Dorothy Mackaill is identified in the dinner scene below but her companion is not.  Originally, the photograph was part of the the file for the 1912 play,  The Bird of Paradise, but Ms. Mackaill never appeared in that show. Also, the setting does not match the description of the play or particularly its Hawaiian setting.  It is even possible that this photograph could be a movie still. (Gasp!)  We just don’t know.

Unknown. [Theater still from an unidentified production.] ca. 1915-1935. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.776.

Unknown. [Theater still from an unidentified production.] ca. 1915-1935. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.776.

If you have any information, dear reader, about the above images (or any other unidentifieds you may have come across on the Collections Portal), please do not hesitate to email us at collections@mcny.org or leave a comment below..

Digitization of theatrical production photographs is made possible by the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Frederick Loewe Foundation. And we are not done yet, so stay tuned for more Portal uploads, more blogs, and possibly more mysteries. Cue eerie music and curtain.

Photographing Fragments of New York City’s Past

Archaeological collections preserve a rich record of places and objects. In New York City, the recently opened Archaeological Repository holds a labyrinthine collection of more than 350,000 objects, including material culture (man-made) and environmental specimens. Since the 1970s, archaeological excavation has been a routine part of construction at hundreds of sites across New York City. Based on a policies enacted by Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), artifacts are continually being extracted and preserved on a minute level.

Level S4C3, Snug Harbor, Matrons Cottage (1987)

Snug Harbor, Matron’s Cottage (1987), Level S4C3. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

The Museum of the City of New York has partnered with LPC to create a digital archive based on a significant sampling of over 28,000 of these objects, with the ultimate aim of freeing them from their dark boxes and unlocking the stories they hold for the public. During the past months we have photographed over 1,500 objects using state-of the-art digital technology. The photographs detail specific collections by displaying objects in a range of variations based on specific excavation layers, materials (ex. metal, glass, etc), as well as shots of individual artifacts.

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Stone Street (1998), Shell. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Visual documentation is integral to both the practice of archaeology and of photography. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the two disciplines have developed side by side. Photography has a knack for creating records rich in information. Point your lens at a local church and you will most likely record much more than a church building. The camera automatically gathers often-unintended details that contextualize a photograph’s intended subject: human activity, vehicles, homes, natural elements (or lack thereof). The resulting document becomes its own archive of information; a simple snapshot is transformed into a historical document, a sociological artifact, or a piece of evidence. In fact, photography is quite closely related to archaeology, which is the practice of gathering a vast cross-section of materials related to a specific place (many of which were probably not expected to be preserved or recorded by their original owners).

 Johann Gustav Hoch, Seventeen large and small tropical kaurie shells, ca 1726 - 1779. Rijksmuseum, RP-T-1881-A-105.

Johann Gustav Hoch, Seventeen large and small tropical kaurie shells, ca 1726 – 1779. Rijksmuseum, RP-T-1881-A-105.

The combination of art and archaeology dates back far earlier than the invention of photography. Early depictions of natural and material culture, such as the Antiquaries of the 16th century, were largely fixated on the anomalous or unique, but beginning in the 17th century, the scientific revolution spurred the proliferation of private collections and profusely illustrated texts that attempted to visualize nature and impose order on the world through measurement and comparison. At this time, groupings of similar objects emerged as a tool for observational examination. This method for creating visual order is known as ‘typology.’

The creator of a typology sorts through the complexity of the chaotic material world, isolating objects of a specific ‘type’ based on their physical characteristics. Typologies offer a way to organize and visualize archaeological evidence. For example, by grouping objects according to material–bones, ceramics, glass, shell, or metal–patterns emerge, and superficial signifiers such as color, texture, and shape can be isolated amidst the initial disarray of a mass of data.

Typologies

Various material typologies. Images courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York.

Mundane everyday materials such as nails or glass become visually arresting when placed in a larger arrangement.  Since the 19th century, archaeologists have been using photography to document their findings visually. In our case, visualizing the collection at the city’s Archaeological Repository is essential to preserving the objects, and will allow archaeologists and non-experts alike to understand their significance. By using cutting edge digital technology and the highest standards of museum photography, common objects affected by corrosion, decay, and the unpredictable patterns of breakage are optically elevated by revealing subtle differences in texture and color.

Transfer Print, Snug Harbor, Matron's Cottage (1987)

Snug Harbor, Matron’s Cottage (1987), Transfer Print. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Paired together, photography and archaeology create a time capsule, synthesizing both science and aesthetics. The visual assemblage of these collections creates a dynamic archive in which layers of cultural importance can be continuously revealed. The decisions that we make as archaeologists, catalogers, and photographers will affect how people understand and interpret these objects for years to come, which is both an opportunity and a responsibility.

WSC, College Point, DogBurial, Box 21, Wisniewski-Solecki Collection

Wisniewski-Solecki Collection, College Point, Dog Burial, Box 21. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

But it’s broken: What can we learn from very small things?

Many of the same pieces help archaeologists understand which types of dishes were most popular at a given time. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Many of the same pieces help archaeologists understand which types of dishes were most popular at a given time. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Although most curators and museum- goers engage with objects that are largely intact, archaeologists commonly work with fragments. In New York City, excavators may find a mix of intact and fragmented artifacts, and even very important sites can be filled with small pieces of glass, metal, and ceramic.  That is, most of the time archaeological work in New York City focuses on things that are broken. These pieces can elicit a lot of information about New Yorkers of the past.

What can we learn from something that is in very small pieces, though? On excavations, where there are large quantities of similar pieces, some may be candidates for “destructive analysis,”

Bricks with drill holes removing sections for chemical analysis. Image courtesy of the author.

Bricks with drill holes removing sections for chemical analysis. Image courtesy of the author.

in which artifacts may be ground, drilled, or carved with lasers to reveal their chemical makeup. Such work can reveal what substances were stored in a particular vessel, or where a particular type of clay comes from.

In some cases, these broken pieces provide more information than they could if they were whole. On a broken piece, we are able to see a cross section of the composition of the clay or other material the object is made from. This helps archaeologists determine how and where the artifact originated.

Stoneware excavated at City Hall Park. Even though these objects are broken, it is possible for archaeologists to recreate their size and shape by looking at details such as a the curve of the bases and rims. Image Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

Stoneware excavated at City Hall Park. Image Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

Even though these objects are broken, it is possible for archaeologists to recreate their size and shape by looking at details such as a the curve of the bases and rims. In many cases it takes only a very small fragment to understand the shape of an artifact’s intact form.

Because of the curve of these rim fragments, archaeologists are able to identify them as part of a 19th century baker. Image courtesy of the author.

Because of the curve of these rim fragments, archaeologists are able to identify them as part of a 19th century baker. Image courtesy of the author.

Small pieces may form a larger whole once cataloged and analyzed in the lab. Sometimes, bones or other artifacts that did not appear related or that were difficult to “read” in storage bags are much more easy to understand once laid out offsite.

Bones excavated on an archaeological site can sometimes be difficult to understand. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Bones excavated on an archaeological site can sometimes be difficult to understand. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Fragments of a dog found together allow archaeologists to reconstruct the dog's skeleton. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Fragments of a dog found together allow archaeologists to reconstruct the dog’s skeleton. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

In looking at groups of fragments, archaeologists are able to ask questions about the “life” of these objects – were they broken in this way before they were deposited or was damage caused by shifting in the ground? Was this artifact or group of artifacts abandoned, or was it thrown away because it was broken? Why makes artifacts found in Manhattan different from ones found in Brooklyn? What does all of this tell us about past New Yorkers?

Fragments from a wide range of stoneware and earthenwares. These utilitarian wares were commonly imported to New York from England and Germany, as well as made locally. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Fragments from a wide range of stoneware and earthenwares. These kinds of vessels, when intact, were commonly imported to New York from England and Germany, as well as made locally. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York.

Sometimes what matters most is the very fact that they exist, and that they were unearthed together. In addition to rarity, visual beauty, and age – it is the relationship between the pieces and their archaeological context (that is, where in the ground were uncovered) as well as their relationship to one another that is the subject of most archaeological analysis.

Fragments glued together can form a nearly complete vessel. Image courtesy of the author.

Fragments glued together can form a nearly complete vessel. Image courtesy of the author.

In New York City, the long term density and diversity of residents has resulted in wide ranges of archaeological artifacts. Excavations often unearth fine porcelains from China, utilitarian bottles from Germany, and/or decorated ceramics from the United Kingdom. Such pieces did not arrive by accident: they were the result of long sea journeys that could have been interrupted by trade disputes or wars. That these objects made their way to New York and ended up mixed together with locally made artifacts speaks to the complexity life in New York City in the past.

Some of the finest cups and bowls unearthed at City Hall Park come from England and China.

Fine and common fragments of cups and dishes unearthed in the same context at City Hall Park. Image courtesy of Museum of the Cit of New York.

Why undertake such detailed analysis of such small objects? To quote anthropologist James Deetz: For in the seemingly little and insignificant things that accumulate to create a lifetime, the essence of our existence is captured. We must remember these bits and pieces, and we must use them in new and imaginative ways so that a different appreciation for what life is today, and was in the past, can be achieved. (Deetz., J. In Small Things Forgotten:An Archaeology of Early American Life. New York: Anchor, 1977/1996 pg 260)

These artifacts, and many more, are being cataloged and digitized by the Museum of the City of New York in 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 may be found here.

The Civilian War Effort in New York City During World War I and World War II

This week, we have a guest post from one of our Collections interns, Emily Arbuckle.  Emily is completing her Masters Degree in Information and Library Science and Archives Certificate at Pratt Institute, and just finished reprocessing the Museum’s World Wars I & II collection as part of our NEH funded ephemera project.

Over the past 15 years New Yorkers have come together in times of hardship, in the aftermaths of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. New Yorkers also banded together for the greater good during World Wars I and II, as evidenced by the materials in the Museum of the City of New York’s ephemera collections. The following selections from the Collection on World War I and World War II is a sampling of materials documenting the myriad of volunteer opportunities available to New Yorkers during these periods of international turmoil.

Licensed Chauffeur, New York, 1920, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 03.89.4.

Licensed Chauffeur, New York, 1920, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 2003.89.4.

In response to World War I women began to take on new responsibilities in the war effort. The Motor Corps of America provided the opportunity for women to learn to drive and maintain vehicles. Here we see buttons and signage from a New York City Motor Corps volunteer named Dorothea Harnecker, donated to the City Museum by her daughter Mrs. Beatrice Stone.

Dorothea A. Harnecker, New York, N.Y., Motor Corps of America, ca 1917, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 03.89.3.
Dorothea A. Harnecker, New York, N.Y., Motor Corps of America, ca 1917, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 2003.89.3.

The Motor Corps of America was a volunteer  effort established by the National League of Women’s Services and the Red Cross. The organization provided transportation and ambulatory services to military personnel. The Motor Corps was one of the most demanding divisions of the league and required a chauffeur’s license, mechanic’s license, and many hours of training.

Motor Corps of America, Doro Harnecker-Momsen, 1917, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 03.89.2.

Motor Corps of America, Dorothea Harnecker-Momsen, 1917, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 2003.89.2.

 

Red Cross, U.S. Army Muffler, 1943, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York.

Red Cross, U.S. Army Muffler, 1943, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York.

Not all volunteer opportunities required such a high level of technical skills.  One way people of all ages helped the war effort was by knitting wool goods for service men overseas. During this time period knitting was a more common skill for an American to possess, and an easy way to volunteer one’s time. The Red Cross distributed patterns for clothing such as socks, mufflers, sweaters, and wristlets. Here is a pattern from 1943 for a U.S. Army muffler. Knitting circles using these patterns could be found in schools, churches, and homes all over New York City during the first and second World Wars.

In 1940, Mrs. Natalie Wales Latham founded one of these knitting circles in New York City as a World War II relief campaign called “Bundles for Britain,” an organization advertised on the pencil below.  Mrs. Latham began the organization by knitting wool goods for British sailors with a small group of women.  “Bundles for Britain” eventually grew to 1,900 chapters across the United States and began shipping out other items needed by the British troops such as medical supplies and ambulances.

Bundles for Britain, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York.

Bundles for Britain, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York.

During World War I the United States recommended reduced consumption of food in order to send more overseas and avoid mandatory rationing at home. Many Americans responded by cutting back on meat, wheat, sugar, and other critical foods. The Lawyers Club of the City of New York responded to the problem by funding a farm in the city called Club War Farms, Inc. This poster from 1917 invites recipients to a Harvest Festival Dinner Dance just after Thanksgiving to celebrate the harvest.

Harvest Festival Dinner Dance, Club War Farms, 1917, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 40.90.211.

Harvest Festival Dinner Dance, Club War Farms, 1917, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York. 40.90.211.

War Ration Book No. 3, , Joyce Swartz, 1943, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. 03.18.1c.

War Ration Book No. 3, Joyce Schwartz, 1943, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. 2003.18.1c.

Food shortages in the United States were even more pronounced during World War II, and mandated food rationing was unavoidable. Each American received a book of stamps, with particular stamps for each category of  rationed food, such as meat or canned goods. One could not buy the rationed food without providing a stamp. This ensured that food was distributed evenly throughout the country. Above is an example of one of the ration books in the museum’s collection.

Along with the shortage of food during World War II, New York City was also experiencing a shortage of workers. Men were being sent overseas and New York was considered a prime target of attack, necessitating extra protection at home. In 1942 City Patrol Corps was founded as a reserves police force.This handout urges New York citizens to join the City Patrol Corps in manning the additional posts during wartime as well as protecting New York citizens from “additional menaces.”

Front Line of City Defense from the City Patrol Corps, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York.

Front Line of City Defense from the City Patrol Corps, in the Collection on World War I and World War II. Museum of the City of New York.

CityPatrolCorpsCover

These items and more are being digitized as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and you will be able to view this collection and many others in the online Collections Portal in the coming months. Continue to check this blog for more selections from the ephemera archives as the Museum of the City of New York continues with the digitization project.  In the meantime, please check out at the finding aid for the Collection on World War I and II.

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.

Using the Museum’s Collections to Teach Photography

The Photography Collection at the Museum of the City of New York is an incredible resource for anyone interested in photography, architecture, social history, New York City, and any number of other topics. Over 300,000 prints and negatives make up the collection, and thousands of these images have been digitized and can be seen on our online Collections Portal. The Museum’s collection contextualizes the present within the larger picture of New York City’s past, creating a rich visual database that reflects the vastness of our metropolis and its complicated history. Children as well as adults can use this visual database to explore and interpret the past and draw inspiration in their own lives. The City Museum offers educators classroom guides to the collection, and our new photography classes put cameras into the hands of young people–inviting them to expand their own vision of the city.

Isabelle Abel, Age 11, Faces and Feelings, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

Isabelle Abel, Age 11, Faces and Feelings, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

Using the collection, students learn that photography is a visual language that can be investigated and discussed to make new connections and discoveries about the world around them. Students begin to see that their daily interactions with photography through cell phone pics, selfies, and social media only scratch the surface of the medium’s potential. Included here are sample images taken by elementary-age City Museum photographers who explored this potential by photographing the City’s built environment and its people alongside some of the images from our collection from which they took inspiration.

 Ratcliffe. Produced by Foto Seal Co., Looking South from Observation Roof of R.C.A. Building, ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2011.33.1151.

Ratcliffe. Produced by Foto Seal Co., Looking South from Observation Roof of R.C.A. Building, ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2011.33.1151.

Caroline Cole, Age 9, My Hometown, Top of the Rock, 2014.

Caroline Cole, Age 9, My Hometown, Top of the Rock, 2014.

Here a student used re-photography to create a new image of the skyline inspired by a 1930s postcard, comparing and contrasting the past and the present. The class discussed how postcards mailed all over the world contribute to the identity of a city. The Postcard Collection includes over 5,500 images dating back from the late 19th century through the present.

Maria Cerini, Tiny Skis, 2014.

Maria Cerini, Age 10, Tiny Skis, 2014.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. Rosemary Williams, Show Girl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12302.9A-F.

Stanley Kubrick. Rosemary Williams, Show Girl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12302.9A-F.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students also staged environmental and studio portraits, collaborating with their subject to tell a story and express a range of emotions. Using contact sheets such as this one by Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine, they learned that it takes many shots to get the perfect picture.

Samuel H. Gottscho, New York City views. RCA Building floodlighted, 1933. Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.2.2267.

Samuel H. Gottscho, New York City views. RCA Building floodlighted, 1933. Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.2.2267.

Marin Wells, Age 9, Entering the G.E. Building, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

Marin Wells, Age 9, Entering the G.E. Building, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

By using close-ups, zooming out, and shooting from ‘bird’s-eye’ and ‘worm’s-eye’ views students saw a single subject transformed through a range of perspectives, learning the impact point-of-view can have on a subject. Here the student displays how impressive a landmark can be made by shooting it from below.

I Spy Exhibition

I Spy NY Exhibition, Museum of the City of New York

The City Museum’s Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center is now hosting an ongoing exhibition of youth photography. Students worked with museum professionals to curate, edit, mat, frame, and label their pieces.

Educators can download guides to the collections portal. Over 165,000 images can be used to inspire stimulating conversations about photography.

Exciting new photography classes (cameras provided) include:
Field Trip- Capturing the City Through the Camera for Grades 5-8
I Spy New York: Capturing the City Through the Camera for Grades 2-3
Portrait of a City: Photographing Landmarks for Grades 9-12

Spring Exhibition Preview: Saving Place

An exhibition like Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks is not only the kind of thought-provoking show the Museum of the City of New York is adept at presenting, but also one that I personally love to organize. That’s because the show takes a topic rooted in the city’s history and gives it contemporary relevance.

Astor Place, Iwan Baan

Astor Place, 2014  © Iwan Baan

Co-curated by me and Andrew S. Dolkart, associate professor and director of the historic preservation program at Columbia University, the exhibition will open in April of 2015—the 50th anniversary of the pioneering legislation that established New York’s Landmarks Law. While the show will display a wealth of historic documents, photographs, and building fragments that we’ve researched and gathered from individuals and institutions, it will also explore the city’s historic landmarks in action.

Under commission from the museum, Iwan Baan, one of the world’s leading photographers, traveled the entire breadth of the city over a two-week period last October. He traversed all five boroughs during the day and the night, equipped with a Google map of landmark sites. He even rented a helicopter to capture aerial views that provide his street views with panoramic context.

Aerial view, Manhattan

Aerial view, Manhattan, 2014 © Iwan Baan

Iwan’s photographs, a small selection of which are shown here, will be featured in the exhibition as well as an accompanying book.

All told, they underscore how landmark structures and districts, some of which house remarkably innovative, new buildings, contribute to New York’s dynamic mix of old and new.

Mott Haven, the Bronx, Iwan Baan

Mott Haven, the Bronx, 2014 © Iwan Baan

Iwan’s images also demonstrate how civic and business leaders, grassroots activists, and design professionals have come together over the last 50 years to create a living New York that respects the city’s heritage and advances its future.

–Donald Albrecht, Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of the City of New York

Beyond Digital: The Photographs of Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

At the turn of the 20th century Kodak famously marketed their easy to-use-cameras with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.” Today, digital cameras have made it easier than ever to capture our world. Yet, as we see in the exhibition, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao’s New York: Assembled Realities, on view at the City Museum through March 15, 2015, when technology is paired with creativity a photograph can become an impressionistic work of art.

Duffy Square, Times Square, Manhattan, 2011 by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

Since 2004, when he began his Habitat 7 project, tracing communities along the No. 7 train line from Flushing, Queens, to Times Square, Manhattan, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao has created photographs that embody the complexity of New York’s five boroughs. As an immigrant who arrived in 1999 from Taiwan via Canada, Liao has an acute sensitivity to the qualities of the city that make it so distinct: the continually changing built environment and the diversity of the people who live and work in this metropolis.

Every photograph for Liao is a process. He typically spends days in advance of a shoot trying to get a sense of a particular place. He observes the people, traffic patterns, changing light and shadows, and how the weather alters the mood of a neighborhood. When it comes time to photograph, Liao sets up his tripod at a particular site, then, over several hours, produces dozens of exposures he’ll later condense into a single panorama containing all the energy and activity observed. Once a day’s worth of shooting is complete, the photographer heads back to his digital darkroom and stitches together these vignettes. The finished products often depict the architecture of the city combined with the subtle interactions of the people on the streets.

5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, 2004, by Jeff Chien Hsing Liao

5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, 2004, by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

Initially, Liao used large format film to capture his desired subject, but he’s since switched to a digital camera. Though he has always acknowledged that his work compresses time, his images created with film, such as 5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, 2004 were fairly subdued and could easily be mistaken for single-shot images.

Since switching to digital, works such as Opening Day, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013, bring the compression of time into the foreground and provocatively use selective focus, trails of light, and blurring. The illusion of documentary photography has fallen away in service to the photographer’s constructed vision.

Opening Day, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013

Opening Day, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013 by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

For further illumination of Liao’s process, this video provides an approximate recreation of the image Duffy Square, Times Square, Manhattan, 2011 (see first photo above). The image gives an impression of the photographer’s process as he culled through some 207 frames, stitching together more than 80 images to achieve the final realized work. The resulting large-scale print has a visual sweep often associated with cinema, inviting the viewer in, and providing a strong sense of place.

 

Buffalo Bill’s New York

Running up and down Brooklyn’s Seventh Avenue in 1894, little boys snatched their mothers’ clotheslines, fashioning them into lassoes to rope their younger sisters [1]. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was in town, and the young boys were eager to imitate the show’s star performer.

31_130_14_BB in buckskin suit

William F. Cody, Stacy, 5th Ave and 9th St, Brooklyn, ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 31.130.14

By the time William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, reached Brooklyn, he had already achieved prominence as a cultural icon of the American West. He began his show in 1883 and toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe for over 30 consecutive years. While the show took various forms over the years, it generally portrayed the triumph of civilization over savagery in unique acts that simultaneously showcased skills like horseback riding and sharp shooting. In honor of his passing in January 1917, we dedicate this blog post to his show’s success in New York City.

45_271_96_BB with Native American

Sitting Bull and William F. Cody, photographyer unknown, ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 45.271.96

In the summer of 1886, Cody brought his show to Erastina, an amusement ground on Staten Island [2]. The festivities began with an elaborate parade through the streets of Manhattan on June 26th [3]. Quickly, the entertainers’ camp became as popular as the scheduled performances. Families from Manhattan and Queens chatted with cowboys and marveled at Native Americans who sat in hammocks and roasted hotdogs for supper [4]. The show closed in September, yet promptly found a new home at Madison Square Garden, where the company premiered Drama of Civilization for the 1886 winter season. A souvenir booklet from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection offers a few detailed glimpses of that season. For instance, the book records the death of sixteen buffalo due to “lung trouble” during the show’s Garden run. Despite this setback, the season was successful. As Louis S. Warren notes in his book, Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show, Cody’s performances at Madison Square Garden signaled “the ascension of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to middle-class entertainment and respected cultural institution” [5].

In 1894, Cody and his managing partner, Nate Salsbury, returned to New York with the hope of capitalizing on the show’s success in Chicago during the previous summer [6]. Collaborating with the Thirty-ninth Street Ferry company, they leased a twenty-four-acre parcel of land in Ambrose Park, Brooklyn. Hordes of Manhattanites and other New Yorkers crossed the Brooklyn Bridge or rode the ferry directly to the show ground. The souvenir booklet indicates that only one show was cancelled due to heavy rains, resulting in a total of 126 performances.

IMG_6189

Official Souvenir: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.1

F2014_45_1_BB Book_page 276

Official Souvenir: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.1

F2014_45_1_BB Book_page 277

Official Souvenir: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.1

Cody’s rise to fame at Madison Square Garden also coincided with technological innovations aptly suited for the urban environment. For instance, the Statue of Liberty was illuminated in the same year that stage lights electrified Cody’s Drama of Civilization at Madison Square Garden [7]. Similarly, an illustration called “The Little Tented City” from an 1898 program emphasizes the relationship between nature and technology in the Wild West show [8]. It depicts the buffalo pen next to the electric generator needed to power the large camp. Likewise, the chief engineer’s tent sits across from the Indians’ tepees. The large urban population and infrastructure of New York City allowed Cody’s show to grow into an elaborate spectacle.

41_50_714_BB and crew

[Buffalo Bill’s Wild West], photographer unknown, ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 41.50.714


 

45_271_156_BB in buckskin suit

[Buffalo Bill on horseback], photographer unknown, ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 45.271.156

Buffalo Bill’s legacy often blurs the line between fact and fiction; yet he truly did establish himself as a talented marksman and scout on the frontier before he transformed into a charming showman. His Wild West show subsequently relied on his knowledge of the West to gain popularity, but he also depended on urban environments, like New York, which allowed his spectacle to flourish. In the end, he was a man at ease in the saddle or in a suit.

37_298_12_BB on Horse

William F. Cody on Horseback, photographer unknown, ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 37.298.12

45_271_151_BB in suit

William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), Marceau, ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. 45.271.151

[1] Warren, Louis S., Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 441.

[2] Ibid., 254

[3] PBS, Wild West in New Yorkhttp://www.nps.gov/thri/theodorerooseveltbio.htm (December 31, 2014)

[4]  Warren, Louis S., Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 255.

[5] Ibid., 256

[6] Ibid., 437

[7] Ibid., 443

[8] Ibid., 439

Martin Wong’s papers: a deeper look at the graffiti art collector

This week, we feature a post from one of our Collections Interns, Houda Lazrak.

As shared in a post from earlier this year, artist and collector Martin Wong donated his graffiti collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994. Made up mainly of works on canvas and piece books from the City’s most influential graffiti writers, the collection also included an assortment  of archival material.  When I began processing the Martin Wong Papers, I found publications, correspondence, and photographs that shed light on his work, his relationships, and his everyday life.

Martin Wong, September 1992, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26400, box 2, folder 33.

Martin Wong (1946-1999), a painter and a native of San Francisco, moved to New York City in 1978.  Here, he established his new home and art studio in a tenement building at 141 Ridge Street on the Lower East Side. He rapidly became active as an artist, collector, and curator in the East Village art scene and befriended many teenage graffiti writers while working at a local paint shop.  Wong gained their trust and began buying their personal sketchbooks and art.  In August 1989, Wong opened a graffiti art museum on Bond Street in Soho.  He envisioned his “Museum of American Graffiti” as a space where graffiti could be admired by a larger public and officially join the broader art historical dialogue.  Below is a description of Wong’s intended mission for the institution, typed on the museum’s customized stationery paper.

Museum of American Graffiti announcement, undated, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 2, folder 22.

Martin Wong’s papers contain several legal agreements for the transfer, lending, and purchase of artworks between various parties, including an official loan form from the Whitney Museum of American Art for some of Wong’s personal paintings to be featured in a 1992 exhibition titled Power of the City/City of Power; and a hand written receipt from Patti Astor from her well-known Fun Gallery in the East Village, a seminal art gallery that promoted aerosol art in the early 1980s.  Wong also drafted deeds of ownership transfers from artists, giving him full custody of the works and allowing him to use them as he pleased, including a hand written form signed by legendary graffiti writer Tracy 168 for the transfer of a piece book.  These documents are superb examples of Wong’s versatility within the art world and re-emphasize his talents as a cultural broker.

Whitney Museum of American Art Loan Agreement,  July 1992, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. folder 29.

Whitney Museum of American Art Loan Agreement, July 1992, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 2, folder 29.

Fun Gallery Receipt, March 1983, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. folder 29.

Fun Gallery Receipt, March 1983, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 2, folder 29.

The collection also includes 42 handwritten letters from the prolific graffiti artist Angel Ortiz.  The correspondence reveals the personal relationship between the two artists, as well as Ortiz’s dedication to his art and Wong’s support. Ortiz signs each letter with variations of his personal tag, either LAII or LAROCK, which both stand for “Little Angel.” Some letters include colorful hand drawn cartoon characters on the envelopes.

Correspondence from Angel Ortiz, January 1993, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26877, box 3, folder 38.

Wong also donated dozens of graffiti related publications.  They range from European museum catalogs to local mainstream art magazines to underground aerosol zines such as IGTimes or International Get-Hip Times.  IGTimes documented the graffiti culture in New York City from 1983 to 1994 and includes photographs, interviews, profiles, collages, editorials, etc.  Martin Wong may have used them as sources to learn about the latest movements or happenings in local aerosol art culture.  The zines provide insight into the materials Wong  collected but also shed light on the zeitgeist of the graffiti art world during the 1980s and 1990s.

IGTimes or International Get-Hip Times, undated, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 1, folder 8.

You can learn more about Martin Wong by visiting the finding aid for the archival material here, or visiting the online Collections Portal.