Meet Richenda Rhoden!

Contributed by Jahna Auerbach, Assistant Archivist for the John Rhoden papers

Richenda Rhoden (1917-2016), born Richenda Phillips, was a Native American woman from the Cherokee and Menominee tribes. She was given the Menominee name Paytoemahtamo at birth, which means “Great Woman”. Throughout her life, Richenda would come to exemplify this apt title.

Richenda painting, Undated.

Richenda studied anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle. While she was a student, she met her first husband, Laurence Kay, who she married in the early 1940s. Their correspondence during World War II clearly shows their deep bond and love for each other. However, Laurence did not come home from WWII; he was killed while on a ship in Northern Africa on November 27, 1943. In Richenda’s papers, there are many letters to her regarding to her husband’s whereabouts.

After the Laurence’s death, Richenda moved to New York City to start anew, where she became a hat model. During this time, Richenda enrolled in Columbia University to study Asian Art. At Columbia, Richenda met John Rhoden. They were married in Rome 1954, while John was studying at the American Academy.

Portrait of a young Richenda, undated.

In 1960 the Rhodens bought their house on 23 Cranberry Street, Brooklyn, New York. It was originally a livery stable, and the Rhodens poured all of their energy into renovating it. The house was complete with an elevator, and indoor and outdoor garden, and studio space. Inside their house was filled with their art. To get to know her neighbors, Richenda set up a little table selling crafts. This eventually turned into the Cranberry Street festival and prompted Richenda to found the Cranberry Street Association. Richenda loved Cranberry Street and saw the neighborhood as her extended family.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Richenda traveled all over the world with John. Because she was also a gifted artist, she was featured in many international news articles and was particularly well-covered by the German press. One article in particular wrote about her background and her artistic inspiration. The article talks about her connection to animals as a Native American. She is quoted saying that “I have always been a dreamer”.

Tribute to Chagall, undated.

Richenda was an artist like John, but instead of sculpting she spent her days painting. She was inspired by folklore and mythology. Many of her works picture Native Americans as well as animals, nature and sacred geometry. While abroad with John, Richenda would take photographs of the people she met and collect their stories. She was also influenced by Marc Chagall, evidenced by one of her own paintings titled “Tribute to Chagall”. Over the years Richenda’s work fluctuated from being figure-based to being more abstract. That said, Richenda’s beautiful and powerful use of color remained present in her work throughout her life.  

Richenda lived to be 99 years old. She painted almost everyday and due to limited mobility at the end of her life, she converted the freight elevator in her house into her studio. After she passed, Richenda had a retrospective at Soloway in Brooklyn New York, curated by Emily Weiner.

Richenda’s papers are only a small part of the John Rhoden Papers, but her presence is strong. From photos, it is easy to glean her personality. She loved her rooftop garden, traveling, and being surrounded by people and animals. Richenda was a radical woman of her time and an amazing artist in her own right. We hope through John’s papers we are also able to share Richenda’s story with the world.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.


Thank You Veterans!

Contributed by Kelin Baldridge, Project Archivist for the John Rhoden papers

We wanted to take the opportunity this Veteran’s Day to thank those who have served in the United States Military.

John Rhoden with his completed portrait of Major General H.R. Harmon in 1943.

John Rhoden served in the Enlisted Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army from 1942 until he was honorably discharged in March of 1946. His military career was dedicated to providing entertainment for servicemen headed to active combat. According to copies of his military records (housed in his archives), John’s military occupational specialty was entertainment director.

In this role, John was in charge of arranging art classes, entertainment, and social functions for soldiers departing overseas. He also did interior design work in service clubs and created portraits of Major General Hubert R. Harmon, Assistant Chief of Air Force Personnel, Major General Ralph Royce, Commanding General of Personnel Distribution Command, Brigadier General Michael F. Davis, Commanding General, San Antonio Cadet Center, and other high ranking officers.

John Rhoden sculpting a portrait of Brigadier General Michael F. Davis in 1944.

If you are interested in supporting veterans today, one of the many options for giving is the Disabled American Veterans Charity. Their giving page is found at the following link: https://www.dav.org/ways-to-give/

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

John Rhoden papers: Weekly Roundup

Contributed by Kelin Baldridge and Jahna Auerbach, the John Rhoden papers processing team

Kelin and Jahna sorting photographs of John Rhoden’s art.

What we accomplished:

  1. Sorted the archive’s manuscripts at item-level
  2. Created an inventory to help fine-tune the intellectual arrangement
  3. Ordered materials in order to complete the physical arrangement
  4. Published our first blog posts
  5. Started brainstorming for our digitization plan

Next up:

  1. Complete sorting the archive’s photographs and artworks
  2. Re-write the intellectual arrangement according to what we have learned while sorting
  3. Finalize digitization plan
  4. Start digitizing

Lessons:

One thing I learned this week is how helpful an item-level organization can be to understanding the story of the archive as a whole. We decided to physically organize the individual items in each folder by date. In doing so, we were able to make connections between the items and, in turn, better understand the stories present in the papers. The size of this archive is manageable enough to arrange the individual items by date, but it is large enough that having the items organized to such a degree is crucial to making them accessible and comprehensible.

Discoveries:

The most interesting discovery this week is not an item or theme in the archives, but rather how the archive’s team has become attached to the people represented. Kelin is absolutely enamored with John and Jahna has fully fallen for Richenda.

John’s photos, correspondence, and documents paint a picture of an ambitious, professional, kind, and joyous man. Lacking the aloofness characteristic of sculptors, John was a sharp businessman. From what I have been exposed to, it seems his professionalism served as the perfect compliment to his talent in cultivating a successful career as an artist.

Furthermore, everyone who met John adored him. Reference letters for his various grants and fellowships share absolutely glowing reviews of a man who is equal parts passionate, professional, talented, and enjoyable. He received heartfelt thank you notes from children he taught and was always greeted with great warmth in both personal and professional correspondence.

Richenda’s primary presence in the collection comes in the form of photographs with her cats and Christmas trees. These photographs initially bonded me to Richenda and served as inspiration to explore her story further. As I dove deeper into her papers I learned that she is much more than just John’s partner. The content of her correspondence and photographs are full of personal information that illustrate a radical woman. 

Aside from her letters, Richenda’s records consist of undergraduate papers, photographs, and some newspaper clippings. She did not keep many of her own things but what little we have is powerful.  They tell a story of a woman who was creative, playful, intelligent and loved by all. Richenda was a self-proclaimed dreamer. She was an artist like John and her paintings were inspired by her Native American heritage, her travels with John, and her studies in anthropology and Asian art history. What we have in the collection only allows us to see small parts of who Richenda was, but I am now completely enthralled with her life and want to learn more about who she was as a person and as an artist.

John Rhoden papers: Weekly Roundup

Contributed by Kelin Baldridge and Jahna Auerbach, the John Rhoden papers processing team

Each Friday, we intend to publish a summary of what we accomplished, learned, and discovered in our work during the week leading up to it in the Weekly Roundup series. Here’s the first of many!

Rhoden project assistant archivist, Jahna Auerbach, hard at work organizing travel photos.

Accomplished so far:

  1. Completed preliminary survey
  2. Completed Processing plan
  3. Completed preliminary Intellectual arrangement
  4. Begun physically sorting objects

Next up:

  1. Complete sorting
  2. Finalize physical arrangement
  3. Inventory of photographic items
  4. Select  items to be digitized

Week 1(ish) Lessons:

One thing we learned in creating the preliminary intellectual arrangement is how dynamic an intellectual arrangement can be. One of PAFA archivist Hoang Tran’s catchphrases is “things they don’t teach you in archives school” and the level of depth and complexity that can be included in an arrangement is certainly not something I was prepared for.

I had initially created an intellectual arrangement that was separated into series based on John Rhoden’s life: Professional, Personal, and Artist Series. The professional series was then separated by major milestones in his career. Straight away, I liked this series because I felt it rendered the items more accessible as they were grouped with what would likely be most relevant to researchers. However, I quickly became afraid of the arrangement. Lessons from archives school about avoiding charging items with meaning, limiting their understanding, and ensuring that an arrangement is fully neutral started to come back to me. As a result, I created a second (very safe, very textbook) intellectual arrangement that separated the materials by document type – correspondence, contracts, personal documents, etc.

When presenting these two arrangements to Hoang and Rhoden Curator Brittany Webb, I was reassured that the more dynamic arrangement was more suitable. Brittany reassured me that organizing the papers according to career milestones rather than document type would be far more useful to a researcher. Furthermore, Hoang taught me that the way archivists handle collections will vary depending on the context. For our purposes, the PAFA archives are used for art research, primarily by high-level students and weathered scholars. This environmental context can then inform how an archivist approaches the intellectual arrangement.

With the help of Hoang, I ultimately created a preliminary intellectual arrangement that included the following series: exhibitions, commissions, fellowships/grants/awards, press, teaching, gallery sales, artwork, and personal. We did away with the restrictive professional, personal, and artwork series while keeping the emphasis on his career milestones.  It is much longer than my “safe” (document type focused) intellectual arrangement was, but it also better contextualizes the material and makes it more accessible.

Going forward, we expect the intellectual arrangement to evolve as we continue to become familiar with the collection. Furthermore, since the creation of the preliminary intellectual arrangement assistant archivist Jahna Auerbach joined the team and her perspective and input will no doubt help the arrangement evolve.

Week 1(ish) Discoveries:

Having the privilege to process a collection of a person as well-traveled as John Rhoden has proven to be both fun and challenging. Rhoden traveled to over twenty countries with the U.S. State Department between 1955 and 1959 and has piles of photographs documenting his numerous journeys. The majority of his photographs are unlabeled, which means that we have to rely on landscapes, architecture, and various other vague context clues to identify where the photographs were taken.  A large portion of our research has consisted of targeted searches about visual topics such as South Asian sculpture, architecture terms for temples, and whether or not sail boats are common in Egypt. Some questions we have are dry, but some spark conversation between PAFA employees across disciplines.  This has turned sorting photographs into a complex puzzle that we are constantly trying to put the pieces together. It also has taught us that some things are unknowable, if only temporarily, and that working with a large archival collection requires a focus on the big picture.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Meet John Rhoden!

Contributed by Kelin Baldridge, Project Archivist for the John Rhoden papers

Work on the John Rhoden papers is well underway, so it seems appropriate to give the man himself a proper introduction.

John Walter Rhoden was born on March 13, 1916 in Birmingham, Alabama. He attended Industrial High School where he was mentored by sculptor William Grant. At age 16, John completed a portrait bust of the school’s principal, Arthur Parker, who the school is currently named after.

John Rhoden with portrait bust of Major General H.R. Harmon, 1943.

After high school, John attended Talladega College from 1934 to 1936. There he met Hale Woodruff, who was already an established muralist and painter at that time. Woodruff encouraged Rhoden to visit New York where he met fellow sculptors Augusta Savage and Richmond Barthé. By 1942, Rhoden was a private enlisted in the Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army. During this time, Rhoden completed portrait busts of several high ranking members of the military, including Major General H.R. Harmon. After his service, Rhoden attended the New School for Social Research and then Columbia University from 1947 to 1950 where he won the 1st Prize for Sculpture three times. Also, at Columbia, John met classmate and painter, Richenda Phillips (also spelled Richanda in the archives).

John and Richenda at their 1954 wedding in Rome.

Richenda was a Washington native of Cherokee and Menominee descent. She first married her University of Washington in Seattle classmate, Lawrence L. Kay, who was killed in World War II. After the war, Richenda moved to New York City where she modeled and attended Columbia University in pursuit of a master’s degree in Asian art. After meeting, she and John moved in together in Greenwich Village, at which time Richenda taught painting at Stuyvesant High School’s evening program. In 1954, John and Richenda were married in Rome.

After his time at Columbia, Rhoden spent a year at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine before attending the American Academy in Rome from 1951 to 1954 on both a Fulbright Fellowship and the Prix de Rome.

John Rhoden working on woodcarving in Indonesia, 1963.

John was then selected by the United States Department of State to serve as an artist ambassador from 1955 through 1959 as a part of the International Cultural Exchange and Fair Participation Act of 1956 (ambassadors were sent as early as 1954), best known for its jazz ambassadors. During this service, he visited over 20 countries in an official capacity. After his time traveling with the State Department, John and Richenda returned to New York City and purchased their forever-home at 23 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn in 1960. Shortly thereafter, John left for Indonesia on a Rockefeller Foundation Grant to set up a bronze foundry at a university in Bandung.

John Rhoden at the installation of Nesaika, 1976.

With their professional traveling largely behind them, John and Richenda settled into New York City life where they both taught and exhibited extensively. During his later career, John notably exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. He also completed several major commissions including Monumental Bronze for the Harlem Hospital in New York, Monumental Abstraction for the Metropolitan Hospital in New York, Nesaika for the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Mitochondria for the Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, and Frederick Douglass for Lincoln University.

Though there is so much more to his story, we will end the introduction here. From breaching the Iron Curtain to living the high life with the likes of Richmond Barthé, Cab Calloway and Bill Robinson, John’s life was rich and exciting and we hope you will follow along with us as we discover what his archive has to tell! 

John Rhoden in his Cranberry Street studio.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Happy National Cat Day!

Contributed by Jahna Auerbach, Assistant Archivist for the John Rhoden papers

While sorting through John Rhoden’s personal photographs, we stumbled upon photos of several family pets. Though their names are unknown, they were dearly loved, particularly by Richenda. Peppered throughout the hundreds of photographs and negatives are three beautiful cats that Richenda would pose with–in their garden, in front of the Christmas tree, dressed up, and on leashes. How lucky these cats must have been!

National Cat Day is a day to raise awareness of homeless cats. To learn more about the holiday and what you can do to help homeless cats, head on over to the National Cat Day website: https://www.nationalcatday.com/

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

IMLS Project Update: PAFA’s New Digital Archive

Contributed by: Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ (PAFA) Dorothy & Kenneth Woodcock Archives is excited to announce the public beta launch of its new online Digital Archives. With the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Archives was able to develop a comprehensive plan to digitize and disseminate some of the Archives’ most significant holdings. For the one year pilot project, the Archives selected a high value/high risk collection—the Annual Exhibition Photograph collection—to test and develop proper workflows, guidelines, and best practices.

To increase the searchability and discoverability of digital resources, images were cataloged using widely adopted metadata standards. To ensure we reproduced high quality digital surrogates, we developed a digitization workflow that adhered to national standards and guidelines. The results from the pilot project will help guide future digitization projects.

As the IMLS Grant Project comes to a close, we are happy to announce that we have exceeded the initial goal of the pilot project. This past year, we were able to develop internal guidelines for digitization and cataloging, rehouse 100% of the photograph collection, digitize, catalog and provide free online access to over 3,600 images, and even develop a new online database.

The project is also significant as it provides us the ability to better serve our patrons. We are aware of the changing trends in research methodologies and how scholars have come to expect online access to primary sources. We will use the momentum created by the success of the pilot project to continue developing digitization projects. Please continue to visit the Digital Archives for newly digitized items and collections.

IMLS Project Update: That’s a wrap!

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

I want to wrap up by extending my thanks to IMLS for the grant that made this project possible. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the work I did here at PAFA, and there are so many images that I can’t wait to send to people to discuss, once everything is up and running online. (That old adage that ‘everyone has a twin’ is more true than I thought – I’ve lost count of how many double takes I’ve done, thinking the subject of a painting from over a hundred years ago was actually a friend of mine now. Also, there are so many adorable dogs the world deserves to see.)

Even aside from all the technical (that is, marketable) skills I’ve learned, working with these materials has been an object lesson in how small the world can be – for example, the first time I saw the painting “Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, was not in installation photographs from the 1912 Annual Exhibition, but hanging in the main library of my alma mater six years ago, dourly watching over thousands of undergrads going about their academic lives. It’s little things like that that were, for me, the most exciting part – those moments of connection between Back Then, and Now.

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“Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp

IMLS Project Update: Lessons Learned (Cataloging and Metadata)

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

The cataloging and metadata assignation portion of this project was the facet most relevant to my immediate career goals – I’m aiming for a career in cataloging, and I applied for this job in large part because it would expose me to cataloging standards I hadn’t yet had a chance to work with (i.e. standards for materials other than books). I hadn’t had much cause to use the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus before now, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to expose myself to controlled vocabulary outside of the Library of Congress Subject Headings (although I wish I had dived into Getty a bit earlier in the process – it would have saved me a lot of nitpicking at the end!).

One of the downsides of cataloging when you love it, I’ve found, is that it’s often difficult to know when to stop. There are a handful of photographs that I was unable to identify, both of gallery installations and of individual works, and it was very, very easy to slip into a Detective Mode Spiral and devote altogether more time than was wise trying to figure it out. Given the fact that most of the artwork depicted in the photographs is of ‘lost art’, it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have been able to identify a particular piece no matter what, but for a completionist like me, admitting defeat is quite frustrating.

IMLS Project Update: Lessons Learned (Digitization)

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

So many lessons learned from this project about digitization! I came into it a complete novice to the practice, and over 3500 images later, I think I’ve got a handle on the basics, at least. I’d only ever used a scanner for text-based documents and the occasional photograph, but I’d never had to scan to archival standards before, so the training I got at the beginning of the project was vital. Understanding the choice of color profiles and dpi to scan with, and Hoang’s explanations of debates among archivists on the topic, definitely helped me get a grasp on what the end result should look like, and what it would be used for.

If I could go back and start it all over again, I would definitely, definitely make sure the scanner was as calibrated as it could be before I got started. The main issue I ran into while digitizing was that of color – although the bulk of the images are black and white, the photographs are very old and most have gone yellow or red with age, whereas the scanner was producing images with a distinct green tinge. This was relatively easy to correct, by adjusting histograms before scanning, or doing a bit of a touch-up in Photoshop afterwards if necessary, but color correction took up a lot of valuable scanning time.