Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Field directors (older in age than their students) may be horrified by such insular forms of entertainment; so we encourage the students to go out there, practice the language, socialize with the natives, live the culture. But if contemporary archaeological practices are so integrally tied to the computer (digital notebooks, photography, databases, GIS, graphics, project websites, electronic field reports, etc.), how surprised can we be that entertainment uses the same tools of labor?
Forms of archaeological entertainment seem to be most indicative of forms of archaeological thinking. Turning back, once again, to the 1930s, I want to reveal one fascinating form of entertainment: creating silhouettes. It became clear to me coincidentally, while reading the catalogue of a current exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson (Washington, D.C., 2007).
In her essay "Quick, Casual, Modern 1920-1939," Sarah Kennel discusses the emergence of a new photographic form promoted by Kodak through advertisement, the making of silhouettes (left, The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978, pp. 77-79). By placing a light source behind the photographic subject, the amateur produced a compelling black figure framed by the white background of a sheet or a white wall. This became extremely popular, a combination of "theatricality and youthful sociability." Kennel uses the example of an album, "Silhouettes, Ooh! Phi-Oh Meeting" from August 7, 1931. College-age men and women take humorous and often sexually suggestive poses. I show you one snapshot where a young lady poses with a Greek vase (at the beginning of the post). The photographic practice was based on a slightly older drawing tradition, projecting a silhouettes onto a sheet of paper and tracing it by hand.
How does this connect with American archaeology? Last summer, the American School's archivist Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan showed me a set of silhouettes that have not been identified. I was researching the drawing collection of George Peschke, and Natalia wanted to check whether Peschke may have been responsible for them. The silhouettes are clearly the product of the same youthful and theatrical entertainment popularized by Kodak, but executed with older graphic medial. The silhouettes were made by the ASCSA's 1930s youngsters stuck in Ancient Corinth with nothing to do after hours. What proves the connection is a passing reference made by Doreen Canaday Spitzer in the obituary of her dear friend Gladys Davidson Weingberg: "Evening entertainment at the excavation house was simple: tracing by lamplight the profiles of resident Corinthians and the visitors" (Akoue, Winter 2003, p. 18).
The conceptual implications of silhouetting are intense. It is a form of entertainment that seeks to inscribe the physical identity of the player onto a permanent record (drawn or photographed). It allows the players to optically caress the bodies of their friends, while maintaining a safe social distance. It is a form of autobiography, created by highly visual individuals who have devoted their lives to the graphic duplication of a buried, invisible, secret world. Their books become their faces and their faces become their books. And let's not forget that this is the 1930s, when the documentary mode overtakes all creative forms in American life from the WPA photographs, to Dos Passos U.S.A. See William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America (New York, 1973)
Overwhelmed by the power of these silhouettes, I try to organize my thoughts into six directions that I share with you below.
1) The youthful Corinthian archaeologists spent much of their work drawing precise profiles of the material culture they were excavating. Whether studying architecture, sculpture, or pottery, the technical medium of representation involved the tracing of objects (the world) into inked outline, thus guaranteeing orthographic truth and numerical measure (though which the archaeological reader could reproduce the world). The extension of a work-habit into a leisure-habit, bonds the object of scholarship (the pot) with the subject of scholarship (the face of the archaeologist). Think how the modern student seamlessly navigates from digital documentation to digital identity-making, in the websites of social networking (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) This doesn't seem much different than silhouetting.
2) Silhouetting means less to us today, but in the 1900s it reverberated with the experimentation of Isadora Duncan, the celebrity dancer who un-knotted classical ballet with movement copied from ancient vase painting. Isadora Duncan's dances imitated the flat representations of antiquity, a process that liberated the body into a more natural predicament. I'm sure that many of the contemporary American Schoolers had seen Duncan perform her silhouetted dances in the Theater of Dionysus in Athens, where she would unravel her "happenings."
3) The relationship between ancient vase painting and the visual arts has an even longer and fascinating history. We cannot speak of silhouettes without mentioning the art of the Enlightenment. Artists such as John Flaxman (1755-1826) used the simplified flattened graphics of Greek vase painting or (freshly excavated) Pompeiian frescoes to devise a new pictorial space. In the hands of David, Ingres, or even Canova, Flaxman's silhouetted space was radical. See Thomas Crow's excellent survey in Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History, ed. Stephen F. Eisenman (London, 1994), pp. 14-50. A newer edition of this book is out, but not yet available, I'm lucky to have received a review copy. It's a MUST for all visually literate classicists. Another great new book on Pompeii/Herculaneum and modernity, is Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum, ed. Victoria C. Gardner Coates and Jon L. Seydl (Oxford, 2007). Look out for Jon Seydl, a dear friend, who has left the Getty and is now Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I mention him gratuitously because he is responsible for getting me hooked on . . . Facebook!
PS. After reading this post, Jon Seydl brought to my attention the "Corinthian maid" tale, which was intensely popular in the 18th c, in the discussions over the origins of art, etc. The story originates in Pliny the Elder's Natural History:
"Dibutades, a potter of Sicyon, first formed likenesses in clay at Corinth, but was indebted to his daughter for the invention. The girl, being in love with a young man who was soon going from her into some remote country, traced out the lines of his face from his shadow on the wall by candle-light. Her father filling up the lines with clay formed a bust, and hardened it in the fire with the rest of his earthen ware."
Our young Corinthians were reenacting the origins of art.
4) Silhouetting should also be seen as a necessary prerequisite to collage and the aesthetics of fragmentation. Since I just read the novel, I cannot resist sharing the opening scene of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927), where Mrs. Ramsey's young boy cuts away pictures and collages them: "James Ramsey, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores." Of course this is a technical metaphor for Woolf's own collaged narrative, but in this opening scene the cutting promises the future success of adulthood: "his mother, watching him guide his scissors neatly round the refrigerator, imagined him all red and ermine on the Bench or directing a stern and momentous enterprise in some crisis of public affairs." (Harcourt paperback edition, New York, pp. 3-4). Sorry about the literary digression.
5) Even more specifically, the leisure of silhouettes provide some additional context in understanding Piet de Jong's famous caricatures of the archaeological scene, beautiful published in Rarchel Hood's Faces of Archaeology in Greece: Caricatures of Piet de Jong (Oxford, 1998), and recently revisited in John Papadopoulos ed., The Art of Antiquity: Piet de Jong and the Athenian Agora (Princeton, 2006). The caricatures are hence a masterful extension of the leisure activity. We might even wonder whether de Jong began his drawings by actual silhouettes. That would make his caricatures the equivalent of death masks.
6) Silhouetting reminds me of another related medium of scholarly documentation, racial profiling. In his study of skeletal material from the Agora, Larry Angel published an eerie morphological catalogue of Modern Greek skull types with frontal and profile viees, J. Lawrence Angel, "Skeletal Material from Attica," Hesperia 14 (1941), pp. 279-363, pl. XL. This may appear shocking to us today, but racial typology was a standard practice in 1930s physical anthropology. One cannot but wonder, whether the silhouetting of the Corinthian students implied some kind of racial recognition. This would be particularly sensitive, I presume, with the Jewish minority of the ASCSA, with Gladys Davidson Weinberg, for instance, whose father was an important scholar in New York's Jewish Theological Seminary. We cannot forget that the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany began in 1933.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
One of my greatest intellectual pleasures at the American School at Athens this summer was to sit next to Ben Millis on a cigarette break from work at the Blegen Library and the Archives. In particular, I wanted to brainstorm with Ben on the history of the Corinth excavations because he has gone through endless notebooks in preparation for his updating of the Corinth Guide (see Akoue , Winter 2004, pp. 4, 16). Discussing the connections between 1920s ASCSA members and modernist art, Ben remembered that he had seen some reference to Joan Vanderpool's time in Paris and a famous portrait that had recently gone on sale. The next day, Ben provided all the necessary documentation. Indeed, a young 19-year old Joan Jeffery found herself in Paris with her fiancé, Rufus Bush. This was a relationship of industrial magnitude between the granddaughter of Thomas B. Jefferey, creator of the Rambler automobile company and the son of Irving T. Bush, the industrial magnate of the Bush Terminal Company and builder of the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn (1902), the Bush Tower in New York (1918), and the Bush House in London (1925). In Paris, the couple met the Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka and commissioned Joan's portrait that was completed in 1929. After a short-lived marriage, the couple divorced and Joan Jefferey Bush left for Greece and put her portrait in storage where it staid hidden for 60 years. "The Portrait of Mrs. Bush" was sold at Christie's on May 4, 2004, for $4.59 million (see, Souren Melikian, "Art: Impressionists Blaze at Christie's," International Herald Tribune, May 6, 2004). Better known to American archaeologists is the marriage between Joan and Eugene Vanderpool, which lead into an incredible life in Greece. The 1934 Agora staff photo below shows Joan sitting in the middle and "EV" standing at the right corner (scanned from, Craig A. Mauzy, Agora Excavations, 1931-2006: A Pictorial History, Princeton, 2006, p. 110, fig. 240)
Thanks to Catherine Vanderpool's obituary (in Akoue, Summer 2003, p. 18), I was fascinated to learn that Joan Jeffery Vanderpool studied with Alexander Archipenko in Paris and was friends with Paul Manship, whose most famous sculpture we regularly see on television, the Prometheus (1934) in front of Rockefeller Center. Mrs. Vanderpool was involved in the Delphic Games, organized by her Bryn Mawr friend Eva Palmer and Angelos Sikelianos. While reading through Alison Frantz's archive, I realized how close the Greek and American avant-garde came together through the friendship between the Sikelianos and the Vanderpool families. I regret that I missed all these connections in my article "Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s–1930s," Hesperia 76 (2007) pp. 391-442. I've also missed another most amazing discovery related to Carpenter's Folly, the house museum of Byzantine sculpture in Ancient Corinth. The Vanderpools went a whole extra step in the re-use of medieval/post-medieval buildings. In 1956, Eugene Vanderpool renovated an abandoned 17th-century monastery and converted it into a home. The house of Pikermi was an incredible example of re-inhabitation, heralded in the contemporary Greek architectural press, see "A 400-year-old house in Attica is adopted by an American family," Architektonike 7 (1958), pp. 16-21. Demetris Philippides, the modern architectural historian, discusses the house (and includes a plan) in a fascinating new book, Athens Suburbs and Countryside in the 1930s (Athens, 2006), p. 92.
Clearly, the Vanderpools were collectively one of the strongest links between aesthetics and archaeology, and I look forward into researching the connections further. But first, we must pause and take a moment of pure aesthetic indulgence. We must simply fall in love with a 19-year-old Mrs. Vanderpool, clothed in a silky red coat over a dark green dress, shockingly short for its time, declaring autonomy and liberation. Limpicka situates her subject in its appropriate New York context and the skyscraper cult, which Bush's father assisted in creating. Bush Tower in New York is a Gothicizing Deco skyscraper on West 42nd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. http://www.nyc-architecture.com/MID/MID137.htm. Parenthetically, Limpicka had infamous and scandalous social life (including an affair with the Fascist poet Gabriele D'Annunzio). In 1929, she came to the United States to do the Bush portrait but also for a show of her works at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh. In her daughter's memoir, we read how Bush approached the painter: "Please, Madame de Lempicka, I'm from America, and I have been over here attending Oxford University. I am going home to be married. I would like you to come to America and do a portrait of my fiancée" (Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 1987, p. 99). A study for the portrait was included in the 2004 retrospective at the Royal Institute of Art, Tamara de Lempicki: Art Deco Icon (London, 2004), p. 132. Interestingly enough, Lempicka also did a portrait of Queen Elizabeth of Greece, the Romanian wife of King George II (married in 1921, divorced in 1935), a painting that I have not yet seen.
Although Mrs. Vanderpool may have wanted this masterpiece concealed, for the obvious personal reasons (regarding Rufus Bush), we can rejoice in being able to see it again and marvel not only at the subject, but also at the aesthetic complexities that surround the scholars of the 1920s. Much more for them than for us (sadly perhaps), the scientific study of Greek culture was clothed in a red overcoat, a commitment to art as life. How wonderful and unexpected to spend an otherwise lonely caffeinated evening with Mrs. Vanderpool at Greenville's Barnes and Noble.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
There is no need to enumerate here the long and significant accomplishment of Morgan's scholarly career including his directorship of the Corinth excavations (1936-1938); for that, I direct you to his obituary, written by Homer Thompson, in the American Journal of Archaeology 88 (1984), pp. 439-440. Rather, I want to answer one question. What was Morgan’s economic background? Going through the official history of the ASCSA (Louis E. Lord, 1947) and the ASCSA’s administrative records (ADMREC Box 318/4, Folder 1), it is clear that Morgan’s father financed the purchase and excavation of Saint John’s at the Central Area of Corinth in 1937. Since J. P. Morgan Jr. had financed excavations in
The two Morgan families were in fact genealogically related as cousins, but Charles H. Morgan’s family had made its name in
One can, therefore, say that the metal industry indirectly financed the 1937
Finally, it is interesting to consider the following. By 1937, Worcester had a sizable Greek immigrant community that included Christos Gatzoyannis, husband of the famous Eleni Gatzoyannis, whose 1948 execution was immortalized by their son Nicholas Gage (in the 1983 best seller Eleni, as well as granddaughter Eleni N. Gage's 2005 memoir North of Ithaka). I have no idea if any Greeks, in fact, worked in the Morgan mills, but it would be fascinating to contemplate that through their labor, Greek immigrants may have contributed to the excavations of Saint John's in Ancient Corinth.
My Blog List
- 1930s (52)
- Americana (30)
- ASCSA (25)
- Athenaica (36)
- Byzantine (69)
- Cinema (11)
- Cities (6)
- Details (22)
- Family (10)
- Food (9)
- Funerary (13)
- Geography (7)
- Greek American (30)
- House Stories (5)
- Houses (15)
- Islamic Philadelphia (11)
- Lancaster (59)
- Letterform (27)
- Literature (27)
- Modern Architecture (109)
- Modern Art (57)
- Modern Greece (103)
- Music (28)
- Peloponnesiaca (33)
- Philadelphia (70)
- Punk Archaeology (38)
- Singular Antiquity (9)
- Street Art (6)
- Teaching Thursday (28)
- Television (3)
- ► 2016 (24)
- ► 2014 (19)
- ► 2013 (50)
- ► 2012 (55)
- ► 2011 (100)
- ► 2010 (71)
- ► 2009 (123)
- ► 2008 (64)