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October 7, 2019

Here are some spooky manuscripts to get you in the spirit of Halloween this season!

And you thought the Library was boring!

  • Accounts by American journalist Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) of psychic phenomena on the death of her husband and artist Maxim Kopf; as well as a séance with psychic medium Arthur Ford, September 1958. Lisa Sergio papers GTMGamms172 Box 2 folder 37
  • References to psychic phenomena in two letters from Rev. Rowland F. Nye to journalist and radio broadcaster Lisa Sergio, regarding a spiritual message from the latter’s friend Ann Batchelder, September 1956. Lisa Sergio papers Box 1 folder 4
  • Search “Ghosts” in the  Shane Leslie papers GTMGamms163  to find 33 results! Lots of letters from people recounting ghostly experiences. Check out these items: Manuscript: “Ghosts I have known,” Box 39 folder 16; Notebook re ghosts, Box 39 folder 17
  • The diaries of British writer Wilfrid Hugh Chesson (1870-1953) are filled with entries describing planchette sessions, examples of automatic writing, and accounts of his dreams. Wilfrid Chesson diaries GTMGamms335

Chesson spirit writingChesson diary entry showing spirit writings from planchette sessions.
Wilfrid Chesson diaries, GTMGamms335, Box 1 Folder 2.
Click to enlarge.

  • Mesmerism and animal magnetism in 19th-century America. Not a lot of details but interesting that such things are mentioned in the letters of some educated women. Franklin B. Sanborn papers GTMGamms229
  • Cornucopia of supernatural stuff relating to the preternatural interests of Montague Summers (1880-1948), British author of books on ghosts, werewolves, witches, vampires, fairy curses, the Black Mass, and more. He believed!  Montague Summers papers GTM110501

Montague Summers
Photograph of Montague Summers. Montague Summers papers, GTM110501.

Les Lupins engraving by Maurice Sand

“Les Lupins” engraving by Maurice Sand, for the book Legendes Rustiques (1858), by his mother, French author Georges Sand (1804-1876). Montague Summers papers, GTM110501, Box 13, Folder 5.

--Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist

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Time lapse of Milky Way from

John Glenn (1921-2016), a trailblazing astronaut, was the first American to orbit the Earth.  In 1959, Glenn was selected as one of the “Mercury Seven,” the men who became America’s first astronauts.  On February 20, 1962, Glenn orbited the Earth three times in his spacecraft Friendship 7.  A year before, Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin, the first person in space, had orbited the Earth once. John Glenn is remembered as a national hero for his groundbreaking mission.

In 2019, there is great interest in the history of the U.S. space program as July 20, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first-ever walk on the moon.  The Booth Family Center for Special Collections holds a number of photographs of John Glenn.  This post presents five of those images documenting Glenn’s career.

John Glenn

Undated signed photograph of John Glenn sent to Tonita Ridgway Martin, a long-time resident of Georgetown who collected manuscripts and autographs of notable people, including American astronauts.  From the Tonita Ridgway Martin papers, box 2 folder 41.

John Glenn

Signed photograph of John Glenn, inscribed to J. Graham Parsons, U.S. Ambassador to Sweden from 1961 to 1967.  The photograph was taken just after Glenn’s return to Earth after his famous space voyage on February 20, 1962.  Glenn inscribed this particular photograph to Parsons on May 13, 1966.  Glenn had visited the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden in 1966.  From the J. Graham Parsons papers, box 4 folder 43.

John Glenn

John Glenn pictured on the cover of Time magazine on March 2, 1962.  Glenn signed the cover.  From the Frank Dahlhaus collection, box 1 folder 3.  Frank Dahlhaus donated his collection of Time magazine covers to the Booth Family Center.

John Glenn

Undated photograph of John Glenn (left), American astronaut Scott Carpenter (center), and Michael Amrine (right).  Amrine was a prominent American writer on scientific issues, especially atomic energy.  From the Michael Amrine papers, box 33.1 folder 10.

Photograph dated 1959 of American astronauts John Glenn and Walter Schirra, Jr., inspecting samples of materials to be used in the nose of a space capsule.  The materials to be used had to withstand temperatures over 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Photograph by Michael Amrine.  Michael Amrine papers, box 33.1 folder 10.  The Michael Amrine papers contain more photographs of John Glenn in box 33.1 folder 10.

This post about John Glenn complements one written by Ann Galloway in 2016 highlighting a visit Glenn made to Georgetown University on January 11, 1963.

In 1964, Glenn retired from his space career to enter the corporate world and politics.  Glenn was elected a U.S. Senator from Ohio in 1974.  He subsequently won reelection to that post three times.  In 1998, Glenn, at age 77, traveled again in space on the space shuttle Discovery.  On this last mission, he took part in experiments investigating the effects of aging responded to the microgravity environment in spaceflight.

Scott S. Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

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Detail from scrapbook cover

June, 2019

In 19th-century England, scrapbooking was a popular pastime for women of means. The craft has most often been associated with women and domestic matters from this era when the role of women was centered on care of family and home. This perspective persisted at least through the mid-20th century.

The Victorian propensity for memory saving (from alba amicorum to memento mori), and fondness for classifying and preserving information and experiences in albums, Wardian cases, and such, significantly contributed to the legacy of collecting. After all, this was the era of the Great Exhibition in London (in 1851) which was a showcase on the grandest scale for not only innovations but trophies and memorabilia of all kinds.

Scrapbooks were often keepsake albums for a woman’s own sketches and verses; as well as for those drawn and written by friends and others. As examples of material culture, scrapbooks remind us that history is made and lived by actual individuals. They invite sensory experience and unfiltered interpretation. With each century, there has been an increasing loss of the ability to use the full range of our perceptive senses, especially with the ubiquity of mass media telling us what to see, think, and feel. Items collected and preserved in such keepsake albums provide a 3-D insight into the habits and times of the individuals who crafted them.

There is a scene in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre that is a wonderful illustration of the connection between fiction and reality, when Jane’s stepsisters Eliza and Georgiana ask her to contribute sketches to their keepsake albums:

They both seemed surprised at my skill. I offered to sketch their portraits; and each, in turn, sat for a pencil outline. Then Georgiana produced her album. I promised to contribute a water-colour drawing: this put her at once in good humor. ..."  (Chapter 21)

Here are two gems from the women’s collections at the Booth Family Center:


19th-century Cherished Memories Album

Woman’s 19th-century scrapbook: “Cherished Memories” (GTM170130). An example of a pre-printed scrapbook belonging to Miss Teresa Doherty. Includes associations to Irish author Mary Sadlier.

 19th-century woman's scrapbook cover

poem from woman's 19th century scrapbook

Sketch from woman's 19th century scrapbook

Woman’s 19th-century scrapbook (GTM150615). A scrapbook belonging to a British woman, containing cut silhouettes, paste-in watercolors and pencil sketches regarding a European tour and her trip to South America.

Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist

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April 18, 2019

Mary Nimmo Moran is one of the most famous female etchers in history. Less well known is Washington D.C. artist Minnie Briggs Raul, who used the same medium. Although their artistic styles are noticeably different, they both utilized their extraordinary talents in the field of printmaking.

In 2018, Mary Rice, great-niece of Minnie Briggs Raul, donated a large number of her original prints, poems, correspondence, and newspaper clippings which span the many years of Raul’s success. Donald N. Briggs, Mayor of Emmitsburg, Maryland and grandson of Minnie Briggs Raul (1886-1955), donated fourteen of the artist’s etched copper plates, which correspond to the prints generously given by his cousin, Mary Rice.

When I was hired as the Curatorial Intern for Georgetown’s Art Collection, I had the privilege of sorting through this extensive donation of prints and other archival materials in order to catalog them for Georgetown’s records. Coinciding with this cataloging project, I was reading a few articles on Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899) for my American Landscape class, as part of my Museum Studies Masters Program.

I was immediately struck with comparative notes in my brain about the two female artists: although they were from different time periods, something about their styles just resonated with me, and I wanted to know more about them. As I dove deeper into my research into their respective lives and oeuvres (bodies of work), I noticed how although they stylistically contrast, Mary and Minnie showcase the spectrum of female printmaking abilities. Mary’s hard, bold lines and Minnie’s soft, graceful curves encompass a wide range of artistic skills and styles, and this made me really excited to write this comparative analysis.

Another connection was my mom’s Aunt Annie, a watercolorist in Texas.  As soon as I unpacked the Minnie Briggs Raul collection I was immediately drawn to the similarities between them. Aunt Annie loved the Texas wildflowers and birds much like Minnie loved the D.C. wildflowers and birds, and they expressed this love through their art.

Although Aunt Annie and Minnie Briggs Raul used different creative media, their artworks are both delicate and pleasant to look at. However, Mary Nimmo Moran’s work strikes the viewer in a more emotional vein. They also differ in a conceptual sense. Mary Nimmo Moran evolved within the nineteenth-century Hudson River Landscape School of painting, which is evidenced in the panoramic scenery she depicted throughout her career, and she was strongly encouraged by her husband, the successful landscape painter Thomas Moran. As the daughter of noted horticulturist William Dennis Pyles, Minnie showed a talent for drawing wildflowers and trees from an early age, at their home in Camp Springs, Maryland.

These relationships stylistically shaped Mary and Minnie, and the influences are shown through their meticulously crafted artworks. While Mary Nimmo Moran employed the Hudson River School’s approach of depicting more wild, sublime scenery, Minnie Briggs Raul utilized her horticultural background and undertook small (but beautiful) artistic studies of individual flowers, trees, and birds.

Moran's Gardiners Bay

Moran, Mary Nimmo
Gardiner’s Bay
1881, etching

Mary Nimmo Moran initially began experimenting with etching through the encouragement of her husband. She is best known for her poetic, moody etchings of East Hampton landscapes, drawn from life, as she and Thomas built a home studio there on Long Island, where Mary created her artworks. A contemporary critic of Nimmo Moran stated that her prints “would never give away her sex,” due to her being stylistically more masculine than other female printmakers at the time, using deep lines, dynamic compositions, and thorough shading to evoke an emotional response in the viewer. As the first woman inducted into the New York Etching Club and the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers in London, Mary Nimmo Moran is considered a pioneer of female engravers.

Raul's French Marigold

Raul, Minnie Briggs 
French Marigolds
1943-1955, etching

While Nimmo Moran was one of the first women inducted into multiple artistic societies, Minnie Briggs Raul both founded and was the Vice President of the Society of Washington Etchers in the 1930s, and was involved in many other artistic clubs in the District. She spent a lot of time in the countryside of the District, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV), where she drew native wildflowers, trees, and birds. Her artistic style is characterized by free-flowing natural forms, delicately fashioned compositions, and bright but soft colors, extremely different from Mary Nimmo Moran’s powerful lines. Her husband Harry Lewis Raul was a noted sculptor and the Art Curator for the Department of the Interior Museum from 1938 to 1958, and they were reportedly extremely supportive of each other’s artistic endeavors, much like Mary Nimmo and Thomas Moran.

Minnie was also a noted author, known as the “poet-etcher of Washington.” She wrote many poems that correspond with her etchings, many of which are now in Georgetown’s collection. She published Go Lovely Road in 1949, a small illustrated book visually detailing and describing wildflowers of the Holy Land, and in 1951, she created an eighteen-week series of etchings and accompanying articles about specific but well-known trees in the DMV region and throughout the country.

Raul's The Four O'Clocks

Raul, Minnie Briggs
The Four O’Clocks
1943-1955, etching

Mary Nimmo Moran undoubtedly paved the way for Minnie Briggs Raul in the artistic context.  She broke the glass ceiling for female artists in the male-dominated field of etching, and Minnie Briggs Raul continued to broaden the field for women printmakers. In a way, Mary, Minnie, and my mom’s Aunt Annie are all connected through their overt love of nature. It is so beautiful that three very different women from very different time periods can be so connected through their depictions of the natural world around them.

--Frances Williams, University Art Collection Curatorial Intern

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Detail from Aaron Copland letter

April 5, 2019

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was a major American musical composer in the twentieth century.  During his long career, Copland produced a wide array of compositions, including ballets, choral music, film scores, operas, and orchestral music.  The Lawrence Gilman papers contain a remarkable letter from Copland to Lawrence Gilman (1878-1939), an important music critic for the New York Herald-Tribune. In it Copland pondered the relationship between musical composers and their critics.

Aaron Copland letter

The letter, dated May 3, 1932 was mailed from the First Festival of Contemporary American Music at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs.  Copland began the letter by Newspaper article reporting on "feud" between critics and composersreferring to a newspaper clipping (see right, click image to enlarge) reporting on the festival.  The author of the clipping suggested that there was a “long-standing feud” between composers and critics.  The article printed a quote from Copland: “I consider newspaper criticism to be a menace.  We would be much better off without it.”

Writing to Gilman, Copland said that the clipping in question “cannot go uncommented upon.”  He wrote that the purpose of the conference was not to attack critics but to make the composer/critic interaction “more vital and more important,”  and that “the composer needs the critic (just as much as the critic needs the composer).”  Copland lamented the fact that Gilman did not attend the event.  He argued that modern American composers now seek more positive reviews from their critics.  In the postscript, Copland granted Gilman permission to publish this letter.  The composer also stated that his own works had generally been praised by critics.

Lawrence Gilman contributed to American musical criticism in many ways.  He worked as a music critic for Harper’s Weekly from 1901 to 1913, the North American Review from 1915 to 1923, and the New-York Herald Tribune from 1923 until his death in 1939.  He also annotated program notes for the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

American music was changing in the 1930s, as musicians adapted to new forms of technology such as film and radio.  In addition to composing musical works, Copland was an author of articles and books on music.  As this letter to a noteworthy music critic indicates, Aaron Copland sought to improve the relationship between composers and their critics.

--Scott S. Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

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Susan B. Anthony Signature

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2019, you are invited to view a new online exhibition honoring women who have led efforts to end violence and social injustice through peaceful means. This year, I profile twelve extraordinary women from the women’s collections at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections. As writers, journalists, artists, and humanitarians each contributed and participated in the ongoing effort to promote a more just and peaceful world.


Susan B. Anthony

Photograph of Susan B. Anthony. Undated. (Janet Richards papers, GTM540129, Folder 9:1)



Dorothy Day

Photograph of Dorothy Day. Undated. (Gallery of Living Catholic Authors, GTMGamms472, Folder 13:40)



Katherine Biddle

Photograph of Katherine Biddle. Undated. (Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection 2, Gamms430, Folder 1:17)



Eleanor Roosevelt

Photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt. Undated. (Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection 1, Gamms345, Folder 18:11)


--Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist

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Detail from photo of a conference at the national Institute of Panama

Esther Neira de Calvo (1890-1978) was a prominent Panamanian educator, women’s rights advocate, politician, and diplomat.  The extensive Esther Neira de Calvo papers, housed here at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections, document her extensive work as an advocate for women’s rights as well as her interactions with leading American women’s rights crusaders, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Esther Neira de Calvo was born in Panama and studied at the Institut Pedagogique de Wavre-Notre Dame in Belgium, College of Mount St. Vincent, and Columbia University in New York. During her career in Panama, she served as Inspector General of Education (1923-1927), director of Panama’s Normal School for Women (1927-1938), and head of the Lyceum, a university preparatory school for women (1938-1945). In her native country, she also founded the National Society for the Advancement of Women (1923) and the Women’s Patriotic League (1945). As an elected delegate in 1945 to the Third Constituent Assembly, she contributed to the drafting of a new national Panamanian constitution, which was enacted in 1946.  She moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States (OAS) from 1949 to 1965.  The following year, the government of Panama appointed her Ambassador, Alternative Representative to the OAS.  She held that position from 1966 to 1968.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) was an important leader in the American women’s rights movement. In 1900, she replaced Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Owing to her efforts and those of her fellow suffragettes, the U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting American women the right to vote in political elections. Moreover, Catt was instrumental in the creation of the League of Women Voters. After World War I, Catt participated in the peace movement.

photo of a conference at the national Institute of Panama

The Esther Neira de Calvo papers contain a photograph depicting both Catt and Neira de Calvo in Panama (box 6a, folder 23). In the image, dated Tuesday, March 13, 1923, Catt stands at a podium addressing the crowd at a conference at the National Institute in Panama. Catt spoke about feminism in her address titled “For the Women of Panama.”  This speech was a follow-up to the Pan-American Conference of Women held in Baltimore in April 1922, which Neira de Calvo had attended as a delegate of Panama.  In the photograph, Neira de Calvo, the President of the National Society for the Progress of Women, is seated to Catt’s right at the head table. Christine Bradley South, the wife of the U.S. Minister to Panama, is seated to Catt’s left. The man at the head table is most likely Minister South.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), the wife of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, worked actively for equal rights for women throughout her lifetime. She served in the League of Women Voters on the Legislative Affairs Committee. She is also known for her work with the United Nations, and she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Roosevelt often traveled to visit leaders around the world.

photograph of Neira de Calvo with Eleanor Roosevelt

The papers also include a photograph of Neira de Calvo with Eleanor Roosevelt (box 7a, folder 116). In the picture, dated October 10, 1941, Neira de Calvo shakes hands with the First Lady, who awards her an honorary Doctorate of Pedagogy from Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, for her achievements in women’s education. The event took place at an Inter-American convention. At that time, Neira de Calvo was Director of the Women’s Lyceum in Panama and Delegate of Panama to the Inter-American Commission of Women.

As demonstrated by these two photographs, which are 18 years apart, Neira de Calvo’s work on behalf of women’s rights spanned decades. She tirelessly advanced her goals. In the process, she met and cooperated with some of the leading luminaries of women’s rights in the twentieth century.

—Scott S. Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

January 15, 2019

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Detail of Cottonian binding

From long tables displaying bright covers of contemporary bestsellers to late 19th-century gift books within Special Collections, students, readers, and scholars are surrounded by eye-catching bindings. I long assumed decorative bindings like these were bound up in marketing efforts—a book needs to attract sufficient attention to encourage reading, conversation, and of course purchase of the title. “Cottonian bindings” refined my perspective on these relationships.

“Cottonian” binding refers to a portion of the books (still numbering well over a thousand) in the personal library of Romantic poet Robert Southey. These books were covered in pieces of patterned cloth over their plain paper bindings to protect them from wear, at a much lower cost than the calf or gilt morocco leather bindings in which wealthy book owners often had their paper books rebound. The term “Cottonian” was a sly riff on Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, whose extensive and priceless personal library became the foundation for the British Library. The paper-bound portion of Southey’s library was not even sent out to respected binders or covered by the poet himself. The books were covered by some of Southey’s own daughters, as well as other daughters of British Romantic luminaries—Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge.

Cottonian bindings

The printed fabric bindings varied greatly in design and color, but as you can see were kept consistent across volumes of the same book. The relatively subdued deep red cloth covering Antiquarian and Topographical Cabinet first mimics a literal cabinet—whose purpose is to best feature the objects within it. I find it delightful the Cabinet itself becomes part of a larger cabinet of curiosities, because of the unique story of its binding. The book provides a contrast to the floral motifs encasing the other two-volume works next to it.

Cottonian bindingsCottonian bindings

The vibrant floral covers of The Life and Errors of John Dunton and Narrative of a Forced Journey through Spain and France as a Prisoner of War visually present celebratory bouquets to the men whose military and literary achievements are praised within the pages. However, in a preface to The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, his son Charles shares that the bindings chosen by his sisters were “sometimes contriving a sly piece of satire at the contents of some well-known author by their choice of its covering.” For that reason, there is room for consideration of these floral bindings as more ironic commentary by these women toward men who write self-congratulatory autobiographies.

Cottonian bindings

Cottonian bindings

Cottonian bindings do more than uniquely present some of Robert Southey’s extensive collection, speak to the range of costs of bookbinding, or illustrate the role of young women in off-market book production near the beginning of the 19th century. For instance, The Life and Errors of John Dunton is marked with Robert Southey’s name at the bottom of the title page. Yet these volumes were not identified in Southey’s library by his name or even the label with the work’s title pasted to the spine. They became known by the cloth binding the daughters chose, affirmed by how they are referred to by their binding even now. Women rebound, even began to reclaim, these works by physically preserving and aesthetically making the books known by the bindings they fixed to the books.

The social influence of Cottonian bindings did not remain in the space of Southey’s library. According to Michael Sadleir, the bindings made such an impression on the influential literary figures who passed through the Southey library that publishers were inspired to produce their own cloth bindings with embossed floral work and elaborate designs into their books. With this, a female-driven means of thriftily reinforcing book bindings in the space of a home library made its way into the commercial realm of publishing.

If Sadleir’s argument stands, Cottonian bindings are direct precursors to the highly decorative bindings I was familiar with before. Not only are Cottonian fabric covers highly variable and beautiful, providing commentary on the texts within them, they also facilitate consideration from a range of critical angles. Through these bindings, the Southey influence stretches beyond the messaging and technical influence of Robert’s poems into and beyond the unique, re-covered containers of the wide range of books he owned.

--Anastasia J. Armendariz (C’2019), Paul F. Betz Collection Research Assistant, Booth Family Center for Special Collections

December 12, 2018

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Detail from photo of woman painting

Images of Women and a Visual Literacy Exercise

Here are two of my favorite images of women from the women’s collections at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

In gathering these images, I’m reminded of how important it is to recognize the value of visual artifacts such as photographs and graphic images. Visual literacy is the foundation of learning — children learn from pictures before they can read text. Images can provide a more immediate connection because they tend to elicit a more emotional response than reading a textual item. Many people already mentally transcribe textual reading into images in order to facilitate their understanding of information conveyed in words. Examining visual artifacts may reveal aspects not apparent from just reading text, making the development of perceptive and observational skills a valuable part of research. In life, visual literacy—the ability to communicate through images and to make sense of them—helps us to better read an increasingly multimedia world, especially when combined with other sensory literacies, including textual and digital literacies.

Try a visual literacy exercise by applying some of the following questions to the photographs shown here. I have provided the barest information about each. See if you can figure out something about the “who, what, where, and why”. Remember: all images are from collections at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections. Check out the online finding aids for these collections in order to find out more about each woman.

Photo of first woman traffic police officer in U.S.

Leola N. King, the first traffic policewoman in the United States,
on duty in Washington, D.C.
(Cornelius van Engert papers, GTMGamms169, Box 10, Folder 32)


Step 1. Pick an image.

  • Look at it for a few minutes. Avoid reading any caption or accompanying text.
  • Capture your first impression in a few words about what the image shows.
  • Note everything you see in the image.

Step 2. Determine the purpose of the image.

  • Read any existing information that accompanies the image.
  • Who made the picture?
  • Who was the audience?
  • When was image created?
  • Why was the image created?

Step 3. Interpret and Communicate

  • Verify and support your interpretation of the original using reference sources (including the originating collection).
  • Share the picture with a colleague.
  • Compare perceptions. See anything new?
  • Do you agree with each other’s interpretation?
  • If you were provided with only a written description of the image, what would you miss?


Photo of woman painting a poster on skyscraper

A National League of Women’s Service poster painter
in New York City.
(Cornelius van Engert papers, GTMGamms169, Box10, Folder 32)


(Questions adapted from Visual Literacy Exercise by Helena Zinkham, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, June 2004).

--Lisette Matano, Manuscripts Archivist

November 20, 2018

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Detail from untitled woodcut by Kiyoanaga Torri

The ability to print and reproduce artwork was the art world's pre-internet. Printing and sharing images allowed artists to study new styles, merge methods of art production and represent old subjects in new media, revolutionizing the art world. Without the capability of reproducing prints, Iowa born artist Bertha Boynton Lum would have never combined the French subjects of Commedia dell'arte in the style of Japanese woodblock prints.

 Costume Ball, woodcut on paper by Bertha Boynton Lum

Costume Ball (1924)
Woodcut on paper by Bertha Boynton Lum
Georgetown University Art Collection 1111.1.653


Born in 1869, Bertha Lum started her career in the design department at the Art Institute of Chicago at the peak of the fin de siècle style. She returned to the Art Institute in the early 19th century to work with Arthur Wesley Dow, who introduced her to Japanese Woodblock printing. While printing was not popularized in Europe until the 15th century, printing was used in Asia as early as the third century. Lum spent a seven-week honeymoon in Japan and sought a printmaker who could teach her the traditional ukiyo-e method (pictures of the floating world).

Untitled woodcut on paper by Kiyoanaga Torri 

Untitled [3 Women in the rain, two with umbrellas] (ca. 1783)
Woodcut on Paper by Torii Kiyonaga
Georgetown University Art Collection 1111.1.5061


Lum’s work is most akin to the bijin-ga (beautiful person picture) genre. One of the great masters of this genre is Torii Kiyonaga, born Sekiguchi Shinsuke (1752-1815), who passed away around 75 years before Lum’s first visit to Japan. He started out making promotional materials depicting Kabuki actors for theaters. Untitled [3 women in the rain, two with umbrellas] is a prime example of the bijin-ga style.

Toward the end of Lum’s trip to Japan, she discovered a shop that reproduced old prints like that of Kiyonaga’s work. She returned to Minneapolis with the woodcutting tools they sold her and began her practice. Four years later, she returned to Japan for a longer stay, and a professor of the Imperial Art School in Tokyo introduced her to engravers and printers with whom to train. She returned to the United States and printed there until she moved to Peking, China during the 1920s. She stayed in China until 1953 when she moved to Genoa, Italy and died there a year later.

While her work is in the bijin-ga style, Costume Ball (1924) alludes to French lithographs that depict Commedia dell’arte (comedy of the profession), such as the work of Jules Chéret (1836-1932) master of the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era).

lithograph by Jules Cheret 

(Commedia dell'Arte Figures) for Maîtres de l'Affiche (plate 201) (1898)
Lithograph by Jules Chéret
Georgetown University Art Collection 1996.38.6


In this work, (Commedia dell'Arte Figures) for Maîtres de l'Affiche, we see several figures from the Commedia dell’arte. Commedia dell’arte was a theater production originating in Italy known for its masked typed characters. Perhaps the most famous masked type is that of the Harlequin. In Chéret’s figure his Cherette, possibly a Colombina figure (a perky maid), accompanies two Harlequin figures (servant figure known for colorful clothing) and one Pierrot (sad clown wearing a white flowy costume with large buttons). Lum also depicts a Pierrot figure wearing a black mask and a white frock with a ruff. Coincidentally, Lum’s Pierrot figure playing an instrument is highly reminiscent of André Derain’s painting created in the same year, Harlequin and Pierrot (1924), that is housed at the musée de l'Orangerie, thus underlining the French connection.

Lum’s work speaks to the fluid nature of prints. The print’s ability to travel across the globe allowed for Lum, an American woman, to combine French subjects of Italian theatre in a Japanese style.

--Katie O’Hara, University Art Collection Curatorial Intern and Graduate Student in Art and Museum Studies

November 12, 2018

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