Sculptures Available from NMAH

Stephen Hansen Sculptures Available to Affiliates from the National Museum of American History


One of the former sculptures in the Information Age exhibition, available for Affiliate adoption.

One of the sculptures in the former Information Age exhibition, available for Affiliate adoption.

The Information Age might seem like too serious a topic to loan itself to humor, but this is what happened when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History commissioned artist Stephen Hansen to design the entrance to its path breaking exhibition in 1990. Hansen’s take on how “new technologies” were overtaking our lives, resulted in a rotating tableau of nearly life-sized sculptures caught in moments of whimsy, anger, and existential befuddlement.  Since that time Hansen’s reputation has skyrocketed and his works have been displayed in museums, galleries, and embassies around the world.


These sculptures, all made out of papier-mâché, are one-of-a-kind and are available, through transfer of ownership, individually or ensemble as shown in these pictures.  The receiving Affiliate will be responsible for arranging pickup from the National Museum of American History and shipping.  The sculptures come uncrated.


Enliven your space with artistry that appeals to all and reminds us to laugh as we plod our way through  technology-driven lives.  Contact your National Outreach Manager at for further information.




looking for something?

Romare Bearden, Bopping at Birdland (Stomp Time), from the Jazz Series. 1979. Smithsonian American Art Museum

Romare Bearden, Bopping at Birdland (Stomp Time), from the Jazz Series, 1979. Smithsonian American Art Museum

Imagine you’re a curator at the American Jazz Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Kansas City, Missouri.  You’re putting together a future exhibit and trying to find objects to include that are both new and fresh while complementing your collections.  How do you begin to explore what the Smithsonian might possibly have to contribute to this project?   Instead of having to search each individual collection at the Smithsonian you can now utilize the Collections Search Center where over 2 million object records from across the Smithsonian are catalogued.

A quick search on “Jazz” yields over 1,600 documents throughout the Smithsonian.  Perhaps you’re looking for something artistic, like any of Romare Beardon’s Jazz Series paintings, housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Maybe you’re looking for some classic photographs of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, or Ornette Coleman which can be found in the National Portrait Gallery.   The Postal Museum’s collection of stamps may lead you to illustrate how jazz is commemorated in this country through the issue of stamps depicting famous jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald or Duke Ellington.  Even the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries could lead you to some materials on the life of jazz legend Nina Simone.  One of the best aspects of this search capability is that it may lead you to museums you might not have thought would have jazz-related collections.   For example, the Hirshhorn Museum’s collections focus on modern and contemporary art and sculpture, but there you find a fantastic portrait of Big Joe Turner, a blues singer from Kansas City.

Within minutes of searching the Smithsonian’s vast collections utilizing this one-stop searching environment, you have found sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, interviews, sound recordings, sheet music, stamps, medals, letters and correspondence – all pertaining to jazz and legendary jazz performers.

So… try it out!  And let us know what you find.

Included in the Collections Search Center are records from the following Smithsonian units:

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American Indian
National Museum of Natural History
National Portrait Gallery
National Postal Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Archives of American Art
Archives of American Gardens
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Human Studies Film Archives
National Anthropological Archives
Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies
Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory – Chandra X-ray Observatory

Thanks to Christopher Teed, Program Coordinator at the Visitor Information Center in the Smithsonian Castle for this guest post.

Rubin Museum finds rare treasures in Smithsonian library

Thanks to the Rubin Museum of Art’s curatorial assistant Tracey Friedman for this guest post.  Here, Tracey explains what happened when she came to Washington to research medieval cosmology in the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library for their upcoming exhibit, Visions of the Cosmos.    

Rubin Museum curatorial assistant Tracey Friedman researches medieval cosmology at Smithsonian Library.

Rubin Museum curatorial assistant Tracey Friedman researches medieval cosmology at the Smithsonian's Dibner Library.

We started with the questions:  How did we come to be? What is beyond the earth? How did the universe begin? How has man conceived of his place in the universe throughout history? The human condition is marked by an awareness of a mortal self and a curiosity about the surrounding world, giving rise to certain questions that have been answered by myths, philosophies, and mathematics.  The Rubin Museum of Art’s (RMA) upcoming exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, will explore the different systems, both religious and scientific, that have developed in Eastern and Western cultures to explain man’s relationship to the universe.

 As the curatorial assistant for this exhibition, I was charged with providing the research for the Western portion of the show. I had help from a greatly accomplished astrophysicist in putting together a preliminary list of potential objects, but it wasn’t nearly enough to narrate the Western tale of the cosmos.

We turned to the Smithsonian.  As a new Affiliate, we relied on the help of our liaison, Jennifer, to set up the appropriate avenues to research a new subject area. She believed the best outlet to meet our needs was the Dibner Library. I was a bit skeptical because I had never heard of this library and felt the allure of other more well-known Smithsonian museums and research centers. Jennifer sent me a list of relevant books held by the Dibner, available from their online catalog (another great resource for Affiliates). I had a list of remarkable pieces to start with, many of which were housed at the Dibner itself, inside the National Museum of American History. I decided that I needed to see these pieces for myself and find the images that would illustrate our story.

Within two weeks I had an appointment and traveled the four-and-a-half hours to Washington D.C. When I arrived, the staff at the Dibner Library had all of the books I requested, and more, set out for me. To my pleasant surprise, the librarians took my topic and ran with it. I was presented with numerous books dealing with an assortment of corresponding themes that they had extracted from my original list. I was impressed by the effort that had been put into this scholarly search, and thankfully, one of the librarians explained their research strategies and rationale with me upon my arrival. I was then led into the cozy, dimly-lit reading room and sat down with my pile of books for the rest of the day. Each time I reached the maximum limit of books allowed in the room, the pile would rotate out for an equally large stack. I was thumbing through each of the books, making notes and marking pages of interest. Instead of drawing my typical makeshift renderings of the images, the librarian made a copy of the pages I selected. I was elated.

I am so pleased with the final selection of books that we are borrowing from the Dibner for our show. The section of the show I researched will trace how Western medieval anthropocentric cosmology, which envisioned humans at the center of a static universe, was replaced in the Renaissance by a heliocentric universe, giving rise to our present, evolving astrophysical worldview. Among the 6 rare books we borrowed from the Smithsonian are texts ranging from the 10th – 17th centuries, representing great scientists and philosophers such as Galileo, Oronce Finé, and Joannes de Sacro Bosco.

My experience made it clear that my institution’s new affiliation with the Smithsonian will be a great tool for us.   I hope that my experience inspires other Affiliates to create similar partnerships and take advantage of smaller Smithsonian entities like the Dibner Library.

To read more stories about discoveries and collections at the Smithsonian’s network of 20 libraries, check out their blog and website.

what can your toaster teach you?

Design your Life

“Design Your Life is an utter pleasure, like a delicious tray of warm brownies that also happen to be nutritious.” – Kurt Andersen, author


Design is not my thing.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’d sooner jump out of a plane than wander through a shop like Target or IKEA where rows and rows of modern gadgets remind me that I’m just not chic enough.  I have a feeling I’m not the only one.  So in my search for uniqueness in an overwhelmingly mass-produced world, I found Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things by Ellen and Julia Lupton (St. Martin’s Press, May 2009). 


Ellen and Julia argue that design is more than the stuff we buy at these high end stores or the modern look that moves products at Target and IKEA.  It’s about critical thinking and looking at the world and wondering why things work and why they don’t.  It’s about finding the beauty in the mess of everyday life. 


Covering the pitfalls of the modern toaster, the challenges of a ‘smart’ kitchen, what’s wrong with rolling luggage, and why no one wants to read your blog, this thoughtful book examines the highs and lows of everyday design in a brainy and delightful way that is sure to leave you thinking differently.


And now Affiliates can have the opportunity to meet Ellen Lupton in person!  Ellen is curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.  She is interested in traveling to Affiliates to speak about design to anyone who will listen.  Contact your Smithsonian Affiliations Outreach Manager today to see about inviting Ellen to your museum.


Read the review in the Washington Post.  Or even better, read the blog that inspired the book. 

“An Open Smithsonian, all around”

An interesting blog post by Gunter Waibel of RLG Programs, (a group which supports research institutions in collaboratively designing the future) commenting on the Smithsonian’s hot topic – how to “diffuse knowledge” in the 21st century with the creation of a web and new media strategic plan: 

As part of the process for arriving at the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media strategic plan, Michael Edson created a Wiki on which Smithsonian staff discuss their points of view in plain site of anybody who is interested in listening in. This experiment in radical transparency is in and of itself noteworthy, and so is the content which surfaces on the Wiki. Encouraged by @mpedson’s tweet, I particularly took note of two short talks arguing in favor of open access to museum content. The first paper (titled “Publish Everything!”) is by Betsy Broun (Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum); the second paper (titled “Make Content Freely Available”) is by Lauryn Guttenplan (Associate General Counsel at the Smithsonian). Both papers were presented as part of the Smithsonian 2.0 Forum on April 21, 2009. One reason why I found these notes remarkable is because those who are speaking represent the class of professional who oftentimes is perceived to be scuttling plans for making data more openly available – not in this instance!

Here are the outtakes I would have marked yellow if I had actually printed the pieces instead of saving a tree and reading online.

Publish Everything! – Betsy Broun (Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

I’m here today to advocate for publishing everything online. To the extent allowable by law, the Smithsonian should digitize and post online all our images and data, as well as the ideas and speculations that have accumulated in our files. We should let users help us sort and correct the information, and comment as they wish, from their own perspective.

What every expert knows [. ] is that knowledge is always advancing but never wholly correct. What we publish is the latest current knowledge, but tomorrow will dawn, with incriminating evidence that some of what we posted yesterday already is wrong.

[D]espite [our] good work, each year we actually lose ground, as many times more data and information is constantly coming in to our files, to remain buried there.

Why not push everything in our files online, including old outdated information and new information that hasn’t yet been validated? We’ll never have the perfect expert in every subject, but somewhere out there, that expert exists.

Bran Ferren argues that raw data is alive in all its imperfections, inviting testing and response. Authenticated data, by contrast, is more or less inert and monolithic. It commands respect but invites little interaction or questioning.

Make Content Freely Available – Lauryn Guttenplan (Associate General Counsel at the Smithsonian)

Position: We are a public entity and non-profit and we should make our content freely available to the extent we can.

It’s ironic, I think, that a lawyer – the one person most likely to tell you all the reasons you can’t give away content freely – is here to advocate this position, but my views on this issue have changed over the past 18 months [. ].

[The] Digital Media Use Working Group conducted a survey of SI staff. Over 600 of you responded and 91% agreed that digital assets should be available, and 84% said there should be unrestricted access for educational and non-commercial use.

[W]hat about the vast amounts of content that we can make available but choose to restrict because we want to use it exclusively or because a third party wants to use it for commercial purposes? In the survey, over 70% of you opposed making our content available for commercial purposes.

The Powerhouse Museum in Australia recently experimented with an open source initiative and, not only did they not lose licensing revenue, early statistics have shown that open access actually drove sales upward through awareness of the collection which, in turn, generated knowledge about other museum resources.

I have come to believe that control represents the world of Smithsonian 1.0 and if we want to keep up, remain relevant, fulfill our mission and even achieve greatness, we need to let go. So let’s control our destiny, as Secretary Clough said earlier, not our content.

I encourage you to explore the discussions on this Wiki, and follow the Smithsonian as they negotiate pressing issues facing not just museums, but cultural heritage institutions across the LAM spectrum.

Follow Gunter at

What is trade literature anyway?

Funny you should ask!  The Smithsonian Libraries have one of the most outstanding collections of trade literature in the United States.  Affiliations staff were honored recently to get an up-close, personal view of some samples that were presented by three of the collection’s experts.

Playground equipment cover  What is it?  Trade literature is mass produced by manufacturers to promote and explain their products to wholesalers and retailers.  The Smithsonian’s collection numbers at least 400,000 pieces (it’s still being catalogued!), with the bulk of the collection dating from 1880-1950.  Because this genre of books, pamphlets, brochures, et al, were meant to be discarded (some manufacturers even encouraged an annual purge), the ephemera is quite rare. 

And beautiful.  And surprising.  And revelatory.  The Smithsonian’s seed catalogs feature wildly colorful botanical illustrations.  Some appliance catalogs from the 1950s explain “what women really want,” an illustrative glimpse into social mores of the period.  Floor and wallcovering sample books reveal startlingly modern designs linking them to Art Deco and Bauhaus sensibilities.  World War II era catalogs exemplify how American manufacturers contributed to the war mobilization effort.  Catalogs of turn-of-the-century fountains harken back to Renaissance drawings in their precision. 

Why do we collect this?  Mostly because Smithsonian curators use these to decipher the uses, specifications, and contexts (social/political/economic, among others) of the artifacts in our collection.  It comes in handy for other folks as well;  for example, the National Park Service regularly consults our collection when restoring its historic structures.   Lawyers use it frequently for patent cases.

How can Affiliates use these?  In many ways as it turns out! 
1) Research.  Do you have a 19th century carriage, and want to know more about it?  It’s likely we have the manual that accompanied its distribution.  Same with cameras, automobiles, sewing machines, silos, bicycles, wagons, scientific equipment, on and on and on! 
2) Images.  The wonderful Libraries staff can scan images and send you a high resolution .tif file.  With the proper paperwork, these could serve as graphics in your exhibition or in interpretative & education materials.
3) Loans.  Although rare and fragile, some of the specimens can travel and be exhibited.

I encourage you to explore this fascinating collection further, and as always, never hesitate to ask us questions about it!