Tag Archives: Photography

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.

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.

 

Adolph Green: The boy from the Bronx makes good

Some things

Bob Golby. [Adolph Green performing in A Party with Comden & Green.] 1959. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.5440.

Last Tuesday, December 2, 2014, marked the 100th birthday of Adolph Green, writer and lyricist. With his creative partner Betty Comden, Green composed lyrics for over 200 songs, wrote ten Broadway musicals, and penned nine screenplays including Singin’ in the Rain and big screen adaptations of Broadway hits On the Town and Bells Are Ringing.  Whether you saw NBC’s broadcast of Peter Pan Live! last week, or watched the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle, or are a fan of the television show Glee, you’ve enjoyed the lyrical stylings of Adolph Green.

Sheet music for "New York, New York" from On the Town, 1944. Museum of the City of New York, 70.22.141B.

Sheet music for “New York, New York” from On the Town, 1944. Museum of the City of New York, 70.22.141B.

Born in the Bronx (“New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down”), Green attended DeWitt Clinton High School. After graduating, he spent time working various odd jobs while trying to make it as an actor. During one summer job as a camp counselor, Green befriended the young Leonard Bernstein, who was working as the camp’s music counselor. The most important meeting of Green’s career, however, would happen in 1938, when he was introduced to Betty Comden. A drama student at New York University, Betty Comden began a creative partnership with Green that would last over 60 years. Together with friends John Frank, Alvin Hammer, and Judy Tuvim (later known as Judy Holliday), Comden and Green formed a cabaret act called The Revuers.

Unknown. [The Revuers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, John Frank, Judith Tuvim, Alvin Hammer.] ca. 1943. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.4.

Unknown. [The Revuers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, John Frank, Judith Tuvim, Alvin Hammer.] ca. 1943. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.4.

Performing songs and sketches at the legendary Village Vanguard, the troupe often featured the young Bernstein as a somewhat impromptu accompanist. Below is an excerpt from a Revuers skit poking fun of the Tin Pan Alley song writing machine.  In the sketch, the great composer Cole Porter becomes Cole Warter.

Page from "Tin Pan Alley" sketch performed by The Revuers, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York, Comden and Green papers.

Page from “Tin Pan Alley” sketch performed by The Revuers, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York, Comden and Green papers.

Window card for A Party with Comden & Green, 1958-1959. Museum of the City of New York, 68.100.241.

Window card for A Party with Comden & Green, 1958-1959. Museum of the City of New York, 68.100.241.

Comden and Green worked with their good pal Bernstein to write the musical On the Town about three sailors on leave in New York City.  The musical opened on Broadway December 28, 1944 and was an immediate hit, putting the names of Comden, Green, and Bernstein on the musical map of New York. Comden and Green went on to write the book and/or lyrics for such shows as Applause, Bells Are Ringing, Do Re Mi, Subways are for Sleeping, On the Twentieth Century, and Wonderful Town. Their collaborators included Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, Hal Prince, and composer Jule Styne.  In 1958, Comden and Green performed their own material in the two-person musical revue A Party with Comden & Green. The show was such a hit that they revived it in 1977. Adolph Green passed away on October 23, 2002 in New York, New York (it’s a helluva town). Betty Comden died exactly four years and one month later. But with On the Town currently in revival at the Lyric Theatre and On the Twentieth Century set to open at the American Airlines in March, the party with Comden and Green goes on.

[Adolph Green and Betty Comden.] ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.5438.

Friedman-Abeles. [Adolph Green and Betty Comden.] ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.5438.

Chantecler, a Barnyard Fantasy

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.65.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.65.

While digitizing the vast collection of over 30,000 photographs that make up the theatre production files at the Museum of the City of New York, a project generously funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, there oftentimes come to light incredible images that are unusual and dream-like, seemingly attached to a time and space very distant from a typical 21st century production. One example is the photographs by White Studios of the 1911 Broadway production of Chantecler, a Verse Play in Four Acts, by French poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand, adapted by Louis N. Parker. Rostrand had dealt with 10 years of writer’s block before writing the script and the production was particularly contentious: the public was shocked that such an elaborate production featured chickens; the original Paris production was postponed due to a great flood; and the American version was surrounded in controversy over the casting of a woman (Maude Adams) as the male protagonist.

Act 4 of "Chantecler" - "In the Heart of a Wood", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.53.

Act 4 of “Chantecler” – “In the Heart of a Wood”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.53.

The plot centers around the existential struggle of the rooster Chantecler (meaning ‘clear singing’), who is convinced that his crowing is solely responsible for the sun rising. There is much conflict among the barnyard animals:  jealousy, deception, denial of the possibility Chantecler could emit a call so beautiful it could command daylight. Chantecler defends his belief in his life-summoning art, even placing its importance above the affections of a beautiful young pheasant (who eventually learns to accept his dedication to deliver the dawn after he nearly gives his life for it).  Although it is revealed that the sun does rise regardless,  Chantecler maintains his conviction that it is his duty to signal the new day to every creature and to call attention to the radiant rays of light that shield the farm’s inhabitants from birds that prey in the darkness.

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.73.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.73.

Although peculiar in its approach and aesthetic, Chantecler was unanimously heralded as a great work of philosophy and artistic accomplishment. Most of the tickets were sold in advance, due to the public anticipation as to whether Maude Adams could take on such a symbolic masculine role. The casting was seen as a publicity stunt by legendary producer Charles Frohman, who preferred Adams in gender-atypical roles, previously casting her in 1905 as Peter Pan. Chantecler premiered at the Knickerbocker Theater (Broadway and 38th Street), January 23, 1911. “The demand for seats was unprecedented. A line began to form at four o’clock in the afternoon preceding the day the sale opened. Within twenty-four hours after the window was raised at the box-office as high as $200 was offered in vain for a seat on the opening night.” (1) The play ran four months with nearly 100 performances, and subsequently toured more than 60 cities.

Maude Adams in the title role of "Chantecler", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.52.

Maude Adams in the title role of “Chantecler”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.52.

“To Miss Adams’s mind the most violent misconception of ‘Chantecler’ is the idea that the chief character should be absolutely masculine…The whole play, in a nutshell, to her way of thinking, is the story of an idealist going forth into the world and getting the edges rubbed off his ideals by the stern realities of life. But she believes that the cock’s steadfastness to these ideas, even when he learns that his part in the scheme of things is not as important as he thought it was is the most lasting lesson in the play, sending men and women out of the theatre determined to do their level best in their various undertakings.” (2)

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.58.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.58.

It was the combination of pure spectacle with the humbling nature of the pastoral scene that made Chantecler such a unique phenomenon. The passions and aspirations of the ego in search of artistic expression and authenticity were reflected by literally stripping the stage of the human presence.

A review in the Indianapolis Star describes the impact of the unusual use of scale in the production:

“Chantecler…doesn’t look to most spectators more than twice the size of a real rooster and not more than half the height of Maude Adams. The transient effect is produced by an enlargement of the inanimate objects in sight…a haystack in the background is a mountain; a wheelbarrow fills the space of an oxcart…. That method of belittling the beasts and birds is feasible throughout, as no glimpse of a human figure is given in he whole play. A usual oak in a forest is a thick at the trunk of a California wonder tree.” (3)

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.60.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.60.

Upon observing the bewildering beauty of the production photos, it should be  no surprise that producer Frohman assembled a production design team of extraordinary ingenuity. Documents from the stage manager’s manual depict the cutting edge technology used to engineer the production. Remember, electric (tungsten) stage lights had only recently been invented!

Stage equipment for "Chantecler", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.77.

Stage equipment for “Chantecler”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.77.

Much of Chantecler’s stagecraft was developed by J.M. Hewlett, A.T. Hewlett, and Charles Basing under the direction of W.H. Gilmore. J.M. Hewlett (formally of McKim, Mead & White and founder of Lord and Hewlett) is perhaps best  known for designing notable buildings such as the Brooklyn Masonic Temple (1907) and Brooklyn Hospital (1920), to name a few. As a team, Hewlett and Basing were responsible for the design and execution of the infamous celestial ceiling in Grand Central Station, as well as many other important public works, including the eight historical murals at the Bank of New York and Trust Company building.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_23

“Chantecler” Press Clipping, 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

A description under a press photo (above) describes the way the special effects were achieved:

“Viewed from the auditorium this is a stage setting done in the regular way. It shows a superb and realistic forest full of color and atmosphere. In reality, however, there is no color there at all except what is thrown on from colored lights. The trees are only pieces of white gauze and the back drop, with its apparent elaborate distant perspective, only a plain black curtain.”

Below, a few documents from behind the scenes reveal  the technical skill ‘behind the curtain’ that went into producing this microcosmic wonder:

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_03

“Chantecler” Stage Manager’s Script, Act 1. 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_06

“Chantecler” Stage Manager’s Script, Act 1, Positions of Lights. 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

To read the original synopsis of the Chantecler play, view the  story card that was handed out to Knickerbocker Theatre audiences:

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_19

“Chantecler” Knickerbocker Theatre Play Synopsis (recto). 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_20

“Chantecler” Knickerbocker Theatre Play Synopsis (verso). 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Click here to explore even more images of Chantecler. Click here to see all of the Broadway production photographs digitized to date under the IMLS grant.

(1) Frohman, Dainel and Marcosson, Issac F.,  Charles Frohman: Manager and Man, 1916.

(2) Fitzgerald, J.A., Chantecler Comes, Crows, and Conquers, Maryland Evening Post, Feb. 2, 1911

(3) Fyles, Franklin, Chantecler, Not only a Novelty in Gotham, Indianapolis Star, Jan. 29, 1911.

 

Jack Stewart and the documentation of early graffiti writing

When graffiti first began to appear on subway cars in New York City in the late 1960s, Jack Stewart (1926-2005) became one of the first, along with Jon Naar, to photograph and document it. From late 1972 through early 1973, he photographed subway cars every weekend, documenting the rapidly evolving style of the graffiti writers.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart  was born in Atlanta, GA in 1926 and earned a BFA degree at Yale University, where he studied painting with Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning. He moved to New York City in 1949 and began designing and executing mosaic murals on commission. In order to better understand how to work with architects on these commissions, he enrolled in the Columbia University Evening School of Architecture. He also exhibited his paintings throughout his life. Stewart later enrolled as a graduate student at New York University in order to study graffiti more formally, earning his Master’s degree in 1975 and completing his Ph.D. in 1989. His dissertation, Mass Transit Art Subway Graffiti, was published by Abrams in 2009 under the title Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s. It was the first academic study of graffiti.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Stewart photographed graffiti throughout the 1970s, but he felt the style peaked around 1973. His work predated Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, both of whom began documenting the scene a few years later, and he covered graffiti in more depth than Naar. Over the years Stewart taught at almost every major art school on the east coast, including Pratt Institute, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the New School, the Rhode Island School of Design, and others. In the last decades of his life, he held positions in many professional organizations, such as New York Artists Equity Association, the National Society of Mural Painters, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, and the National Academy of Design.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

The City Museum recently acquired 31 of his photographs through a generous gift from the Green Foundation. You can see all of them on the Collections Portal. And, through Labor Day, visit the Museum’s exhibition City as Canvas to see several of Stewart’s photographs on view.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

 Stewart’s papers are at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

The Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic

It’s a sweltering July evening in 1915 and the lights have just come up after the finale of a Ziegfeld Follies show at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. You dread walking out into the muggy night and long for a cool escape. But you’re in luck tonight because it’s the premiere of Flo Ziegfeld Jr.’s new revue, the Danse de Follies! You take the elevator from the theatre lobby up to the rooftop garden (you’ve heard it called “the meeting place of the world”) and as the doors open you are met with dancing and the sound of champagne being uncorked. The show starts at midnight and you have work in the morning, but a late night of revelry to escape the stuffy New York summer seems like a small price to pay for the exhaustion of tomorrow.

214 West 42nd Street. New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.195.

214 West 42nd Street. New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.195.

Earlier that year, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., tired of seeing his audiences leave after performances of the Ziegfeld Follies to spend money at other people’s nightclubs, staged a second late-night revue in the New Amsterdam Theatre’s underused 680 seat roof-top level with tables, complete with box seats, and a balcony. Ziegfeld mechanized the stage so that it rolled back to reveal a dance floor, and installed a glass walkway that would allow chorus girls to dance right above the customers seated below. Later called the Midnight Frolic, the show was a bit more risqué than the Follies. The girls shimmying down the glass walkway above the audience were reportedly cautioned to wear bloomers but oftentimes the rule wasn’t followed very closely. Audience members were asked to vote for the young lady he or she considered the most beautiful and to state why on cards handed out by the usher. The young lady receiving the most votes during the run of that Frolic series had her salary doubled. One of the audience favorites was the “balloon girls,” who encouraged male patrons to use their cigars to pop the balloons covering the majority of their costumes.

Sybil Carmen in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1915. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 59.271.16.

Sybil Carmen in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1915. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 59.271.16.

To keep out the rougher elements, Ziegfeld charged a hefty $5.00 cover (roughly $117 today) on top of the ticket price – first row seats went for $3 (approximately $55 today), while orchestra seats went for $2.50 (about $46). Upper class theatre-goers were delighted with the Midnight Frolic’s party-like atmosphere, and the revue became an annual event after its premiere in 1915. Insisting that theater-goers would have sore hands after applauding so much, Ziegfeld provided little wooden hammers at Frolic tables, so audiences could bang out their appreciation.

Souvenir - wooden applause hammer from Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic atop New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York, 62.215.53.

Souvenir – wooden applause hammer from Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic atop New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York, 62.215.53.

The Midnight Frolic often received rave reviews from the New York Times: “The latest edition of Florenz Ziegfeld’s ‘Midnight Frolic,’ which had its first presentation Monday midnight before an audience that embraced all who live and move and have their being in Broadway, out-Ziegfelds all its predecessors. It is like the others only more so. It is a Ziegfeld-Urban-Wayburn show of beautiful women, frocks and tableaux designed for the business man who is too tired to go home after the play… One might search the world and not find anything quite as unique or lavish as this midnight revue.”

The show was broken up into different comedy, singing, and dancing acts featuring stars like Frances White, Teddy Gerard, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields.

Stage ensemble from the Midnight Frolic with Will Rogers (center), 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.51.

Stage ensemble from the Midnight Frolic with Will Rogers (center), 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.51.

Frances White in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.31.

Frances White in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.31.

During the twenty-five minute intermission between the acts, audience members were welcome to dance, drink, and dine. For .75 cents to $1.00 (from $17-$23 today) guests could partake in a cold beer or soda, and for those willing to pay $2.75 ($64 today) there were small bottles of champagne readily available. The Ziegfeld kitchens were most known for their steak dinners, but also popular was Beluga caviar for $2.00 a serving ($47).

There was no limit to the extravagance of the Midnight Frolic, even after the US entered World War I. The New York Times reported in 1917 that, “For fear some one will think that he has adopted a policy of retrenchment because of the war Mr. Ziegfeld calls attention to one novelty, a chiffon scene in which the chiffon alone cost $3,000. He also wishes to state that the cost of production approximated $100,000.”

Teddy Gerard in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 62.100.211.

Teddy Gerard in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 62.100.211.

The club stayed open year-round for seven years and while World War I couldn’t stop the Midnight Frolic, Prohibition was ultimately what led Ziegfeld to end the show in 1922. He commented on this to the New York Times in 1921: “The best class of people from all over the world have been in the habit of coming up on the roof … and when they are subjected to the humiliation of having policemen stand by their tables and watch what they are drinking, then I do not care to keep open any longer… But occasionally some of my patrons have brought liquor of their own, and recently two men were arrested on the roof. When these things can happen I think it is time to close.”

That first midnight performance back in 1915 closes to a sea of hammers and cheers. You shuffle out with the crowd, your feet sore from dancing and the bright white lights of Broadway shining on your face. You feel tired, but you know there will be no way for you to fall asleep now after seeing the sensation of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic.

Be sure to keep an eye out for photos like these and more with the IMLS Broadway Production Files digitization project.

Prepping the girls for “As the Girls Go”

Since October the Theater department has been busy preparing 30,000 images of theatrical productions for digitization and cataloging. Images will eventually be made available on our Collections Portal thanks to the support of a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  In the process of getting objects ready for digitization, our archival intern came across these rough proofs and final images prepared by the Lucas-Monroe studio for the musical As the Girls Go.  The photos offer a glimpse at photo manipulation  before the digital era.

Lucas-Monore [Scene from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.172

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Scene from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.172

As the Girls Go opened in 1948 at the Winter Garden Theatre, but it was set five years in the future, with the inauguration of America’s first female president. Opponents of the President attempt to drum up scandal by throwing a bevy of beautiful women into the path of her husband, played by vaudeville comedian Bobby Clark.  Lucas-Monroe put out a series of publicity shots featuring the tempting beauties.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified actress preparing for photo shoot] 1948. 80.103.190

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified actress preparing for photo shoot] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.190

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl and with possibly Edward Thayer Monroe] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.189.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl with photographer, possibly Edward Thayer Monroe] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.189.

The Lucas-Monroe studio began as Lucas-Pritchard in the mid-1930s. Photographer George W. Lucas and business manager Irving Pritchard formed a partnership that was later joined by portrait photographer Edward Thayer Monroe. The studio became known as Lucas-Monroe and captured hundreds of Broadway productions  until the company was dissolved in 1952. Lucas actually died ten years before, but Monroe was able to carry on the business successfully. (For more biographical information visit the excellent site on early Broadway photographers created by Dr. David S. Shields and hosted by the University of South Carolina.)

Of course, what beauty couldn’t use a little help here and there? Print alterations and image manipulations were standard practice in 1948.  See the rough proof below and the identified “problem” areas.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Rough proof of unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. 80.103.192

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Rough proof of unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.192

The finished proof follows, and it is easy to see how the woman’s upper right arm was slimmed down, the sides of her torso sliced, and hair frizzies minimized.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. 80.103.191

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.191

Even famed beauty and socialite Gregg Sherwood was unable to escape critique.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.194.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.194.

Her jacket is smoothed out, waist shaved, and anything close to tired eliminated from her face. Even the toe of her shoe was altered.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.193.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.193.

Alterations could be made a number of ways including re-touching with paint, ink, or airbrush, and manipulation of prints and negatives in the dark room. Digital camera technology and programs like Photoshop have made photo manipulation  infinitely easier and more prevalent.  So prevalent, in fact, that the debate on image alteration has been going strong for several years. Just last month a GIF of Jennifer Lawrence’s 2011 Flare cover surfaced online showing how much of the actress was cropped, cut, and shifted for the magazine’s final publication. The techniques for altering a model’s image have come a long way since As the Girls Go opened in 1948, but the practice hasn’t changed much and we have yet to elect a female President.

Stay tuned for more updates as we prepare, digitize, and catalog a wealth of images from the plays and musicals of the New York stage.

The Great Bygone Museum Tour

Museums of New York, July 9, 1939

Museums of New York, [Museum Map and Guide], July 9, 1939, Museum of the City of New York, 98.52.15

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Verso of ticket to the National Academy of Design’s 22nd Annual Exhibit, 1917, Museum of the City of New York, 38.237.1

Ladies and Gentleman! Step this way! My dear blog readers, please accompany me on a tour to discover the unique and marvelous history of museums in New York City.  Be sure to leave your parasols and walking sticks with the attendant. We will be traveling through Scudder’s cabinets of wonder, to see the Great Ajeeb, and even into the apartment of the fabulous Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and her confidant Juliana Force. My cherished, curious guests! I know you will be delighted to hear that there is a reception at the conclusion of our expedition.

Scudder's American Museum

Scudder’s American Museum, 1825, Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1895

Let me first lure you to the proprietorship of former sailor Mr. John Scudder, the preeminent naturalist, taxidermist, and scholar of the bizarre and beautiful. He had gallantly taken up the reins of the “American Museum” initially established by Tammany Hall for their very own members in 1791.  (Among other things, the collection included guillotines used during the French Revolution for the demonstration of decapitation on wax models.) Renamed Scudder’s American Museum, it was relocated by the City rent-free to the second floor of New York’s first almshouse in City Hall Park in 1812. Working late? No worries, Scudder’s stayed open by candlelight until 9pm several days a week. Visitors could take in the aroma of live mud turtles and other exotic species and then wander down the hall to rest their eyes on the bed linens of Mary, Queen of Scots. There were over 150,000 objects in Scudder’s domain, not to mention a bona fide zoo and performance hall.

New York Historical Society, ca. 1845, George P. Hall and Son,  Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1748

New York Historical Society, ca. 1845, George P. Hall and Son, Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1748

Another resident of a former almshouse in City Hall Park (a center for museums in the mid-19th century) was the New~York Historical Society, established in  1804. Its Board was a preeminent  assemblage of notables, socialites, and politicians whose vigorous collecting contributed to building a valuable repository of many of the United State’s most treasured documents and works of art. To your left you will see the Historical Society in its later quarters uptown on 11th Street and Second Avenue (constructed in 1857) which would remain its home until 1908.

Peale's Museum

Peale’s Museum, 1825, Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1863

Next stop: 252 Broadway, Mr. Rubens Peale’s Museum (which opened on the same day as the Erie Canal, October 26, 1825). Peale was the direct competitor of our dear Scudder and son of the great Charles Wilson Peale, founder of the Philadelphia Museum. Artist and eccentric, Rubens Peale assembled four floors of paintings, natural wonders, and slightly unnatural wonders (just a few two-headed sheep here and there), cosmoramas (enormous panoramas of exotic locales, one of which is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing), and wax figure displays. Peale specialized in live entertainment and lectures, with subjects ranging from animal magnetism to séances. This was not to say New York’s Peale establishment was pure frivolity and entertainment; these displays and presentations stemmed from a Linnean preservationist’s ardor for the natural world and was in spirit with popular science at that time.

Sleighing in New York

Thomas Benecke, Sleighing in New York, 1855, Museum of the City of New York, 45.271.1

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Ticket to Barnum’s American Museum, 1867, Museum of the City of New York, 10.43.29.40

Let us now journey three blocks through City Hall Park to Broadway and Ann Street in the year 1841. It seems the colossus otherwise known as P.T.Barnum’s American Museum has engulfed both Scudder’s and Peale’s treasures, amassing both collections under one frenzied roof. Barnum was a master marketer both visually and audibly; his PR consisted of a live band playing on the balcony and the most fantastic typography ever to grace the wheat paste poster. The Museum literally screams at you to come in! Barnum acquired ownership of Peale’s building and kept it running just for contrast against his booming establishment of encyclopedic wonders, which at its peak was open 15 hours a day.  See here the “million curiosities”: live freak shows, bizarre and colorful animals (including “sassy monkeys”), and throngs of specimens in outrageous ‘educational’ display. Peale’s American Museum appeared modest and pedantic in comparison.

[Ruins of Barnum's Museum.]

Ruins of Barnum’s Museum, ca. 1865, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.759

Time to lower our hats and journey past dear Barnum’s in 1865, the year of the great furnace fire that shot through from the basement and took the lives of all its living animals in the most horrific spectacle of all.  The New York Times lamented the end of an incomparable collection.  “No public institution in the country pretended even to rival the geological collection of the museum either in extent or value…. Birds of rarest plumage, fish of most exquisite tint, animals peculiar to every section, minerals characteristic of every region, and peculiarities of all portions of the earth, costly, beautiful curious and strange, were crowded on the dusty shelves of room after room, where they attracted the earnest attention and studious regard of the scholar and the connoisseur.” After the fire, Barnum’s would continue on as a side-show museum and move to a more mobile platform as a traveling circus.
Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street.

Byron Company, Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street, ca. 1899, Museum of the City of New York, 41.420.413

Ok, enough with the depressing part of the tour. What is this here? A battleship wedged between two buildings on 23rd street?  No need to duck the cannon fire, this is the Eden Museé, an astounding palace of wax figures and automata. Their oily waxen faces were not conversational, but they were considered to be excellent listeners. Eden opened its doors in 1884 and was considered a premier establishment for family entertainment, though its reputation was somewhat diluted when it came to the basement “Crypt” (a motley assortment of execution scenes). A  New York Times review reported it “incomplete,” having only “four or five tableaus.”

Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street.

Byron Company, Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street, ca. 1907, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.15517

Meet the Mysterious Ajeeb. He was the preeminent resident and chess champion at the Eden Museé. The wise Ageeb has played chess with Sarah Bernhardt, Edgar Allan Poe, and other notables, including celebrity chess players. Do you dare to challenge him? Be careful not to shake his clockwork hand upon defeat, you may find the warm grasp of his operator Mr. Charles Edward Hooper, who worked inside Ajeeb, quite unsettling.

Museum of Safety Appliances.

Byron Company, Museum of Safety Appliances, 1908, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.7045

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The American Museum of Safety Exposition Booklet, ca. 1914, Museum of the City of New York, 81.146B.3

The Museum of Safety, located in the Engineering Societies’ Building on 29 West 39th Street focused on a different kind of conservation than that of artworks and artifacts. The ‘conservation of human life’ was the foremost concern. No exotic fantasies here, only the stark realities of industrial injury. As accident prevention became a big industry, the exhibitions not only educated workers, but also served as advertisements for safety equipment. The transition into an electrified city of telephone lines and automobiles was not met without some unintended tragedy for those uneducated in the dangers these modern wonders .

[American Museum of Natural History.]

Harroun & Bierstadt, American Museum of Natural History, ca. 1877, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.1234

Now we proceed uptown to visit some of the city’s most beloved and ever-thriving institutions in their most rudimentary state. The 1870s was a golden era for museology in New York City. Philanthropists of the Gilded Age bequeathed great sums to create institutions that would hold their own against European models. Virtually unrecognizable, this view of The American Museum of Natural History (above) depicts the original Victorian Gothic building designed by J. Wrey Mould and built between 1874-1877. At this time the surrounding Central Park looks more like an industrial wasteland than the current wooded landscape and austere skyline, since it was still mostly un-developed farmland.

[Obelisk with Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

Adolph Wittemann, Obelisk with Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1890, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.1512

Here is an early incarnation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although the grid system existed then, many roads remained unpaved and the landscape was largely rural. (Untapped Cities does an excellent job of  describing the secret history of the Met’s architecture). The Egyptian government gifted the obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle, in 1881 and shipped it from Alexandria on the Steamship Dessoug. There was a grand Masonic ceremony attended by over 9,000 Masons and 50,000 spectators to celebrate the installation.

Buildings, Brooklyn Children's Museum, Brooklyn Ave. & Park Plac

Byron Company, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Ave. & Park Place, 1924, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.16737

Please devote a few brief moments to pay homage to this building, known once as the Adams House. This idyllic Victorian mansion was transformed into the original Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, the world’s first children’s museum established in 1899.

Gracie Mansion, first home of the Museum of the City of New York

Gracie Mansion, first home of the Museum of the City of New York, ca. 1923, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.14217

[Gracie Mansion, Interior, Showing Old New York Costumes.]

Arthur Vitols, Byron Company, Gracie Mansion, Interior, Showing Old New York Costumes, The mannequins with old costumes in the Museum of the City of New York when its home was Gracie Mansion at 88th Street & East River, 1927, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.3.566

Did you know that before Gracie Mansion became the home to New York City’s mayors, it was the original residence for The Museum of the City of New York? Preservationist Henry Collins Brown secured and restored the mansion to include domestic period rooms showcasing the blossoming collection. The City Museum differentiated itself from the New York Historical Society by focusing its acquisitions solely on New York City. Eventually the collection outgrew the historic home and the construction of the building at 1220 Fifth Avenue was spearheaded under the direction of James Speyer and completed with much celebration in 1932.

Juliana R. Force [residence]. Living room to window.

Samuel H. Gottscho, Juliana R. Force Residence. Whitney Museum of American Art, 1932, Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.1.2332

Time to pay a visit to the original Whitney Museum of American Art, originally situated in three adjoining Greenwich Village residencies at 8–12 West 8th Street. It was the first manifestation of The Whitney as a museum as well as the home of its founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and her assistant, Juliana R. Force, who amassed an unprecedented collection of contemporary American Art.

Museum of Modern Art, birds-eye view from 41st floor of Rockefel

Wurts Brothers, Museum of Modern Art, birds-eye view from 41st floor of Rockefeller Center, 1941, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.8137

Our tour now ends at the Museum of Modern Art. While still standing at the same location since the first permanent building was constructed in 1939, it has doubled in size and gone through several physical incarnations. Entertain yourself with this birds-eye of the then newly constructed MoMA  and then follow me downstairs to an opening reception.

John Vachon, Frank Bauman, Stanley Kubrick, Museum of Modern Art [Art opening.], 1949, Museum of the City of New York, X2011.4.12063.71

John Vachon, Frank Bauman, Stanley Kubrick, Museum of Modern Art [Art opening.], 1949, Museum of the City of New York, X2011.4.12063.71