ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was May 27 – June 2, 2018

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

We showed a little pride this week with a rare silhouette of an old-fashioned couple and by going ALLCAPS at the Reynolds Center.

Clip art banner with ICYMI in black speech bibble

Visualizing 1968

Behind the scenes with influential graphic artists from 50 years ago

The Washington Post, May 30

1968 Olympics logo by artist Lance Wyman

Who better to represent 1968 visually than a graphic designer from the landmark year?

The job of creating the main image for the 1968 special section was a daunting one. The Washington Post design team came to the conclusion that no single photograph could represent a year so full of explosive change. Instead, the team commissioned 81-year-old graphic artist Lance Wyman, who designed the iconic logo for the 1968 Summer Olympics (and, incidentally, the signs for the Washington Metro) to create an image. Read more from the Washington Post.

A Rare Image of One of the Earliest Known Same-Sex Unions Goes on View at the Smithsonian

The cut-out images of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant features in “Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now.”

ArtNet News, May 30

paper silhouettes of two women facing each other

Silhouettes of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant of Weybridge, Vermont, (circa 1805–15). Courtesy of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

Amid the paper silhouettes on view in “Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now” at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery is a possible art historical first: a portrait of a same sex couple dating to the early 1800s.

The artwork depicts Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant, who met in a small town in Vermont and quickly fell in love. The two women’s heads face each other, their black profile surrounded by a border of hair, braided into a heart. The portrait is on loan from the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History in Middlebury, Vermont, which has described the women’s relationship as “A Vermont Love Story for the Ages.” Read more from Sarah Cascone for Artnet News. 

The New Director of Smithsonian’s African Art Museum on the Importance of Preserving Our History through Art

Gus Casely-Hayford started his tenure to preserve the cultural legacy of the continent through art in February.

Okay Africa, May 29

Black and white photo of Augustus Casely-Hayford

Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. (Photo by Jaimie Gramston)

African art in the ownership of western museums has a controversial history. In April, the Victoria & Albert Museum’s announcement to loan Ethiopia artifacts which England acquired from the country’s ruler, Emperor Tewodros II, painfully echoed the colonialist practice that justified the overtaking of the treasures in the first place. The politics of repatriation of African art impose a prickly moral reckoning for the western institutions in possession of the continent’s artifacts in part due to the importance of arts as key to preserving the African narrative.

At the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., preserving the cultural legacy of the continent through its arts is forefront on the agenda of its new director, Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford.

Casely-Hayford, who started his tenure as director in February, was born in London and is of Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean descent. A widely regarded historian and curator, he has a particular interest in the arts and history of pre-colonial Africa. In a dynamic TED Talk, he explained how the sacrifice African peoples endured—against forces of colonialism, racism, and war—to keep narrative alive are the underpinnings to the African body of material culture. Read more from Nadia Sesay for Okay Africa.

‘Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color’ Review: Vibrant From Any Angle

An exhibition explores the myriad ways we perceive and use color, from Aristotle’s seven-hue spectrum to modern digital prints.

The Wall Street Journal, May 26

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment,” Monet once lamented, while Georgia O’Keeffe noted, “I found I could say things with colors that I couldn’t say in any other way—things that I had no words for.” Decades later, Steve Jobs sounded a sifferent note, saying, regarding Apple’s candy-colored iMacs, “For most consumers, color is more important than megahertz, gigabytes, and other gibberish associated with buying a typical PC.”

Such is the poetry and the power of color. Color pervades our lives, and yet we probably think little about its many facets, which also include theory, history, utility and mystery.

All of those aspects are on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in “Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color,” which explores how we perceive and use color. As visitors climb a staircase to the exhibit—which is drawn from printed materials that belong to the Smithsonian Libraries and design objects that belong to the Cooper Hewitt—they should grasp with a glance the first principle, that color is simply light in different wave lengths, via “Peony” (2014), designed by Karel Martens. As light cast by the chandelier above changes shades, so too does the appearance of this wall hanging, with colors shifting in intensity. Digitally printed, “Peony” consists of thousands of multicolored pixels, imprinted with differing designs and arranged by an algorithm to form the flower. Read more of Judith H. Dobrzynski’s review for the Wall Street Journal. Saturated_ The Allure and Science of Color Review_ Vibrant From Any Angle – WSJ 5.26.18

The Race to Save Historic Plastic Artifacts

Although plastic is a big problem in the ocean, museum conservators are rushing to save spacesuits, animation cels, and other pieces of history.

National Geographic, May 31

Astronaut doll in display case

Spacesuits are among the artifacts in the collection of the Smithsonian that include plastic parts—parts that may degrade over time, even as the world faces a crisis of plastic pollution outside.

Mowgli of Disney’s The Jungle Book and Duchess from The Aristocats are frozen in single frames before Tom Learner’s eyes—pieces of history from an era of hand-painted animation cels. But Learner knows the plastic sheets have come to him at exactly the right time. Learner is a conservator, a chemist, and the top scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, and he wants to save modern materials.

Plastics are materials most often in the news as an environmental disaster. Persistent and pervasive, they have been found to leach chemicals, choke wildlife, and turn up as litter everywhere from mountaintops to the Mariana Trench.

Researchers like Learner, though, see plastics from a very different angle. These scientists and conservators work to understand the destruction and decay of plastic art and artifacts in order to save them for generations to come. Read more from Vicky Stein for National Geographic.

WATCH: Rare Maned Wolves Need A Matchmaker

NPR, May 29

ts huge ears and lanky black legs have earned it the nick name “fox on stilts”. But the maned wolf is neither fox nor wolf. It is a distinct species in the Canidae family.

The wolves live in a vast tropical savanna in South America called the Cerrado, which boasts extraordinary diversity of plants and animals. But that habitat is disappearing due to rapid expansion of agriculture.

According to Smithsonian scientist Nucharin Songsasen, this large-scale habitat loss threatens the future of the maned wolf species. “Eighty percent of these grassland already disappeared. And only five percent of that natural habitat that’s remaining is protected.” Read more from Madeline K. Sofia for NPR.

‘Barbaric’: America’s cruel history of separating children from their parents

The Washington Post, May 31

sketch of mother pleading for her child at slave auction

Sketch of a slave auction. (Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture)

A mother unleashed a piercing scream as her baby was ripped from her arms during a slave auction. Even as a lash cut her back, she refused to put her baby down and climb atop an auction block.

The woman pleaded for God’s mercy, Henry Bibb, a former slave, recalled in an 1849 narrative that is part of “The Weeping Time” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture, which documents the tragic U.S. history of enslaved children being separated from their enslaved parents. “But the child was torn from the arms of its mother amid the most heart-rending shrieks from the mother and child on the one hand, and the bitter oaths and cruel lashes from the tyrants on the other.” Read more from DeNeen L. Brown for The Washington Post.

One of the World’s Most Endangered Species Was Just Born in Virginia

Welcome to the world, baby bird!

Washingtonian, May 31

Kingfisher chick in nest box

At just about two weeks old, the baby’s down is starting to form. Erica Royer/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Forget all that breaking news about US tariffs—there’s a new baby in Virginia, and it just happens to be a member of one of the most endangered species in the world.

A female Guam kingfisher bird was born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute May 17. These birds are the most endangered animals living at the Front Royal site, and a few of the only 140 left on the planet. The group has hatched 19 of the birds since the 1980s as part of its Guam Kingfisher Species Survival Plan. Read more from Mimi Montgomery for Washingtonian.

Caps fans have adopted the National Portrait Gallery steps, and the museum loves it

The Washington Post, June 1

Crowd in front of museum building

Capitals fans congregate on the steps outside the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. (Corey Schaefer for The Washington Post)

This used to be a tradition for Pittsburghers, or at least Penguins fans who live here and take pride in the District’s amenities while rooting against its hockey team.

As the Capitals lost to the Penguins during the Alex Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby era, Penguins fans congregated belly-to-belly (like the Antarctic flightless birds they are) on the steps of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum (the two share a building) to jeer at despondent, red-clad locals trudging back down Seventh Street. Read more from Jacob Bogage for The Washington Post.


Posted: 7 June 2018
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.