Visual Culture in the John Rhoden papers Part 2: John Rhoden’s Style

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

We recently posted a look into Richenda Rhoden’s personal style. In doing so, we noted that archives have the ability to give greater insight into the visual culture of the past and, more specifically, a realistic view of what people actually wore.

At the airport in Birmingham, AL, 1949

Now, I want to explore John Rhoden’s personal style. It is easy to think that men’s fashion does not change that much over time. A suit is a suit, cuts may vary, but overall it seems that men’s fashion is pretty much linear and homogeneous. However, archives show that is not true. The John Rhoden papers show how much color photography can reveal about men’s personal style from the past, and how much casual wear serves as self expression and a way of breaking out of the suits-only connotation of traditional men’s fashion.

Some of the best examples of John’s fashion come from color slides of him at work. His outfits varied greatly depending on the kind of work he was doing. Smaller-scale sculpting and clay modeling found John wearing smart casual outfits, including the traditional artist’s black turtleneck and beret and patterned collared shirts and hats. For larger scale and monumental sculpting, John wore workmen’s type outfits, such as coveralls and thick durable materials.

The most varied and interesting examples of John’s style come from the collection’s travel slides and photographs. He regularly wore smart suits and comfortable but polished casual wear. He also often incorporated traditional or local styles and items into his ensembles, such as a Russian Ushanka hat and an Indonesian sarong (both pictured below).

The images of John’s go-to outfits for commission unveilings and events show that John seemed to have a personal uniform: he repeatedly wore checked and plaid sports coats with plain slacks, a button down or turtleneck, and occasionally sunglasses. However, his choice of uniform is an expression of personality and charisma. It’s evident that he’s unafraid to stand out in a crowd.

Finally, the way John dressed at home reveals his appreciation for a put-together ensemble and comfortable but rich fabrics.

While John was not the most outlandishly dressed artist in history, the John Rhoden papers show a unique perspective on the personal style of a man in the mid and late 20th century. We see not only his put-together professional looks, but also his working attire, his loungewear, some novelty outfits, and, most importantly, the variety of looks he seemed comfortable in. It is a welcome departure from the lack of fashion diversity we are used to seeing from men of times past.

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.

Visual Culture in the John Rhoden papers Part 1: Richenda Rhoden’s Style

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

The John Rhoden papers have not only given us historical insight into John as an artist but great visual insight into American and international culture from the late 1930s through the 1990s as well. I wanted to take the time to highlight one of my favorite aspects of the collection, the clothing and fashion. We’ll start with the best representation of fashion over time in the collection: the outfits of Richenda Rhoden. 

Brooklyn, 1964

I first became interested in Richenda through the many photographs and travel slides in the collection. These images aren’t just fun to view; they also give context for how Richenda expressed herself as a Native American woman during the 20th century. By viewing event photos, candid shots, and hundreds of travel slides, we can see more than ‘Richenda Rhoden the model,’ or ‘Richenda Rhoden, John’s wife.’ Instead, we see a strong and insightful woman, an artist in her own right and a person unwilling to hide her own beauty and style.  

Below, we explore her travels, see her at home, and a personal favorite, in her bikinis and endless leopard print. Instead of looking at the fashion of bygone celebrities or Vogue, archival depiction of fashion reveals how everyday people dressed. It captures the personality and variety in a way that the established fashion resources can’t. Not everyone updates their closet every year or throws out an outfit once it’s out of style, so it’s only natural that the fashion authorities might not have their finger to the pulse of what real people wore.  

When Richenda traveled with John in the ‘50s and ‘60s she wore many classic silhouettes common to the era. Some of her favorite outfits were blouses with a full skirt, often paired with a headscarf and belt. Many of her travel outfits also include fitted blazers and suit sets, as well as full-skirted dresses.

The 1960s fashion was dominated by innovation and bohemian style inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and youth culture. For the most part, Richenda did not follow these trends. However, she did have a few staple outfits that fit the decade in her bathing suits and leopard print outfits. 

Leopard print was made famous by celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. Richenda’s leopard print catsuit reflected real 1960’s fashion, exuding style while still being comfortable.

Indonesia, 1963

Throughout her life, Richenda kept many staples from the 1950s in her wardrobe. For example, Richenda’s swimsuit in Bali is more reminiscent of a 1950’s bikini, with high waisted bikini shorts and a matching bra top. 

Some of Richenda’s best outfits were worn in her own home. She was regularly photographed in the garden, posing with her art, or with the family Christmas tree. Her at-home clothing choices do not reflect a period in fashion. Instead, they show how Richenda expressed herself – primarily in boldly patterned dresses. 

After taking the time to study Richenda’s fashion, I’m left with more questions than answers. I wish more than ever that I could sit down and have a conversation with her. I would gain insight into how she dressed as a Native American, how her travels in Europe and Asia affected her self expression, and how she wanted to present herself as a woman, artist, and partner to John Rhoden.  

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: Why was John in the Soviet Union?

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

John Rhoden and Drago Tršar in Ljubljana, Slovenia, circa 1958-1959.

One thing that surprised me while processing the John Rhoden papers was that John Rhoden traveled extensively in the Soviet Union during 1958 and 1959. As someone born in the 1990’s, the Cold War is very much history to me. As such, I was utterly unaware that American Citizens were able to enter the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Because of this, I decided to do a bit of research into how John found himself behind the Iron Curtain for several months in the late 1950s. 

John’s trip to the Soviet Union was the result of a socio-political phenomenon known as the Khrushchev Thaw. In the mid-to-late 1950’s, after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, the tensions of the Cold War came to a temporary decline. This was due in large part to the more relaxed social ideals of the new leader, Nikita Khrushchev, and the joint efforts for peace between Khrushchev and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In this time period, both leaders were more willing to cooperate to find an understanding between America and the Soviet Union. 

John Rhoden and an unidentified man in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, circa 1958-1959

Khrushchev believed that the Soviet Union could match the Western world’s living standards, and as such, permitted exposure to Western culture within the Soviet Union. He allowed a relative amount of freedom in the arts and, most notably for John’s story, allowed Westerners to travel to the Soviet Union and vice versa. 

In 1955, Khrushchev and Eisenhower met and in that same year, they agreed to start exchanging written materials. In 1956, Eisenhower made a speech at the People-to-People conference advocating contact between Soviet and American citizens in the search for a cross-cultural understanding. By 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union came to the United States-Soviet Cultural Exchange Agreement of 1958, also known as the Lacy-Zarubin Agreement. 

The Lacy-Zarubin Agreement permitted cultural, educational, and scientific exchange between the two nations. This agreement opened the doors for John’s work as an art specialist touring the Soviet Union under the auspices of the United States Department of State. 

From left: William A. Smith, John Rhoden, Franklin C. Watkins, and Lamar Dodd arriving in Moscow in 1958.

In the Fall and Winter of 1958-1959, John visited the Soviet Union as a part of a team of artists, including painters William A. Smith, Lamar Dodd, and Franklin C. Watkins. Once in the Soviet Union, Dodd and Watkins followed separate programs, and Rhoden and Smith stayed together as travel companions. 

The pair traveled extensively within the Soviet Union, visiting numerous countries, including Armenia, which, at the time, was not open to Western-visitors. They were granted special permission only after meeting and forming friendships with several Soviet representatives and artists.

During this tour, the pair focused on forming relationships with artists in the Soviet Union. They made the decision not to arrive with examples of their own work, so as not to be presumptuous, but brought slides showing American art. They visited countless art schools, artists’ studios, and museums. John reported that the Soviet artists and citizens were reserved at first, but were ultimately very curious about America and Americans. Overall, it seems that John had an excellent time with his Soviet peers. 

William A. Smith sketching for a crowd in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, circa 1958-1959

The final aspect of John’s work with the Soviet Union, and the culminating point of the efforts for understanding between the U.S. and Soviet Union in this era, was the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. This exhibition was accompanied by a Soviet Exhibition, held in New York in 1959. Both exhibitions displayed the presenting nation’s cultural and scientific innovations in an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding between the nations. Of course, ulterior motives existed. These exhibitions were used as opportunities for covert intelligence collecting through KGB and CIA operatives, posing as members of the exchange groups. Furthermore, they were intended to serve as propaganda for each nation’s way of life and system of government. 

John’s experience in the Soviet Union resulted in him having a minor role in the planning of the exhibition. Due to his experience, the exhibition planners asked him to write a series of questions and answers relating to American sculpture. These questions would be processed into an IBM RAMAC electronic machine and displayed at the exhibition, along with questions and answers about other aspects of American life.

John’s time in the Soviet Union seemed to be the result of a hopeful blip in history. In October of 1964, just five years after John visited the Soviet Union, as an aging Khrushchev grew increasingly erratic and undependable, a conspiratorial plan was carried out by Leonid Brezhnev and the Central Committee to force Khrushchev to resign. Khrushchev’s removal from his position as the leader of the Soviet Union led to the break down of the decreased USSR/US tensions resulting from the Khrushchev Thaw.

This, of course, is a simplified account of a very complex moment in history. However, I hope it serves to provide some context surrounding John’s time in the Soviet Union. John’s small, but not inconsiderable, role in this historical moment is yet another example of his historical and cultural relevance, so it seems both interesting and important to examine the larger 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.


A Tale of Perseverence in the John Rhoden papers

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

During our three months away from the John Rhoden papers, we had one brief respite in the form of a Zoom lecture with our education department. During this lecture we spoke about John Rhoden, the John Rhoden papers, and the archive as storytelling. I noted one thing the archives tell us about John Rhoden that I would like to return to and elaborate on. 

From the Rhoden papers, we learn that John was an ambitious businessman, far more so than one might expect from the stereotypical understanding of an artist. He was an active self-promoter and a highly successful networker. 

The point to which I wished to return is that John was also resilient and persistent. He had a highly successful career and was recognized with some of the most notable accolades in the art world. However, he was no stranger to rejection.

John did not seem to be discouraged by rejection. In fact, he seemed to use it as fuel for his fire and an opportunity to improve and prove himself. The John Rhoden papers have several examples of John repeatedly applying to the same thing he was once rejected from, each time accumulating an ever more impressive band of advocates and curating a successful career that was impossible to ignore. 

The best-documented case of John’s resilience in the Rhoden Papers is his journey to earning the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship. In the Rhoden papers, we have evidence that John applied for the Guggenheim fellowship in 1945-1946, 1949-1950, 1954-1956, and in 1959-1961.

John Rhoden’s first rejection letter from the Guggenheim fellowship, 1945.

In 1945-1946, his first time applying to the fellowship, John was a young artist seeking educational support. He had yet to enroll at Columbia University, and his only experience to date was at Talladega College, The New York School of Art, and the New School for Social Research. A rejection letter in the Rhoden papers reveals that  the Guggenheim fellowship was not meant for one “to study art as a pupil.” John simply hadn’t acquired the experience and knowledge to earn the fellowship. 

By the next time he applied in 1949-1950, John was nearing the end of his time at Columbia University and had been awarded a fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund in 1948. He had met many of the people who would serve as references on his behalf and had built a resume to include several first prizes in sculpture at Columbia. His artistic knowledge and experience had advanced and he was once again ready to apply to the Guggenheim fellowship. 

He applied with an impressive round up of references, including Oronzio Maldarelli, William Zorach, Hugo Robus, and Peppino Mangravite, who all taught John at Columbia, Harlem Renaissance greats Richmond Barthé and Alain Locke, and early supporters from Talladega College, Hale Woodruff and Margaret Montgomery. 

We do not have his rejection letter from 1949 to 1950, but it is clear that, while he was on the right path to being qualified, John was still somewhat green in his career. 

By John’s next application in 1954-1956, he had accumulated a Skowhegan School scholarship, a Tiffany Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, and the Prix de Rome. He had studied under many notable people and had begun to travel the world for his artistic endeavors. Oronzio Maldarelli once again served as a reference, and was joined by the likes of curator of paintings at the Met, Robert Beverly Hale, art historian Bernie Weinberg, artists Arthur Osver, Franklin Watkins, and Francis Scott Bradford, the dean of Fine Arts at Columbia, Leopold Arnaud, director of Galleria Schneider, Bob Schneider, and director of the American Academy in Rome Laurance Roberts. 

Despite an impressive resume and a long list of highly regarded references, John, once again, was not awarded the Guggenheim fellowship. It is unclear if this was of his own volition, however, as his travels with the U.S. Department of State were extended through the latter half of the 1950s. 

Finally, in 1959, John Rhoden writes to Dr. Henry Allen Moe of the Guggenheim Foundation, requesting that his application be reopened. At this point, John has received some of the most recognized fellowships and awards in the art world, studied at some of the most highly regarded institutions, and traveled the world serving as a representative of American art, accumulating international knowledge and spreading his passion and talent with every corner of the globe. Though we do not have his final application, it is no mental leap to assume that he had a round up of enthusiastic and recognizable references as well. 

A letter from the Guggenheim Foundation awarding John Rhoden a fellowship in 1961.

On May 22, 1961, John Rhoden was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to cover two periods of time to “devote himself to creative sculpture.” 

John’s journey with the Guggenheim Foundation fellowship is a beautiful story in perseverance and achieving success beyond one’s wildest dreams. Looking at the remaining evidence of this journey, I can’t help but think that each time John must have thought, “what else can I possibly do to be worthy of this?” 

He went from a well-connected young artist with a respectable education to an Ivy League educated and decently recognized young professional to a highly educated, highly rewarded, internationally recognized, artist-representative of the United States. Each phase of his life expanded his world and each ceiling he broke opened new possibilities. When his achievements were not “enough” he kept pushing forward until his career surpassed anything the John that first applied in 1945-1946 could have imagined. 

This story is one that shows both how relatable and how special John was. It is a beautiful lesson in how not to allow rejection defeat you, but rather inspire you to assess where you are, where you could be, and what you could do to get there. 

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.

An interesting find in the John Rhoden papers!

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

In a folder of unsorted 120mm color slides, we discovered some slides from a trip John and Richenda took out west. They give a glimpse into a 1965 Sullivan Chevrolet car dealership. John must have been fascinated with this building because there are multiple images of the interior, exteriors and the cars inside. At this time, Chevrolet was one of the most popular cars in America – one out of every ten cars sold in America was a Chevrolet. We hope that you find this blast from the past as interesting as we do! 

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.

Update: John Rhoden papers

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

Time has flown by working on the John Rhoden papers, and we are quickly approaching our 5,000 digitized items goal. As such, our work for the last few months has largely consisted of scanning and cataloging – not the most riveting activities to report on.

In the absence of captivating and varied activities, we have provided some photographs from the collection of John Rhoden at work for your viewing pleasure!

Next up, Assistant Archivist Jahna Auerbach will report on an exciting discovery she made this week!

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’s circle: Ana Bešlić

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

One thing that has become evident in processing the John Rhoden papers is that Rhoden met a lot of people. Everywhere he traveled, both in America and around the world, John made connections and friendships with many other notable artists.

John Rhoden and Ana Bešlić in Bešlić’s studio on December 6, 1958.

In order to highlight the breadth of his circle, we thought it might be interesting to do a series of introductions to the many people John encountered during his career, as evidenced by the John Rhoden papers.

First up is Serbian sculptor Ana Bešlić. John met Bešlić during his trip to the Soviet Union as an art specialist working with the United States Department of State between 1958 and 1959. In Serbia, John visited artists’ studios, likely at the University of Fine Arts in Belgrade, on December 6, 1958. During this visit, he met notable Yugoslav artists including Bešlić, Sreten Stojanović, Mića Popović, Miodrag B. Protić, Olga Jevrić and Olga Jančić.

Bešlić in her studio in Belgrade surrounded by her sculpture.

Bešlić was born in Bajmok, Serbia in 1912, at which time the town consisted primarily of Hungarians, Bunjevci, and Germans, with a much smaller population of Serbs. Bešlić was of Bunjevci heritage. She was the daughter of Lazo Bešlić, a landowner in Zagreb, Graz, and Vienna. Ana Bešlić attended school in all three of those locations.

Bešlić’s career as an artist did not begin until after she was married. In 1939, she was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, though her studies were paused during World War II. She went on to become integral member of a group of artists who, in the 1950’s, served as a pioneering force in contemporary Yugoslav art.

Several sources tie this movement of the 1950’s to a few pivotal moments in Yugoslav culture including Miroslav Krleza’s speech at the Writers’ Congress of Ljubljana in 1952 and Henry Moore’s 1955 exhibition in Belgrade. Krleza argued that Yugoslav Socialist art should be free from constraint and come in an array of styles. This speech made avant-garde, abstract, and modernist art (as opposed to realism and the re-working of traditional Western styles) a matter of patriotism. Moore’s exhibition provided the artistic inspiration for many notable Serbian artists of the time. This movement culminated in the establishment of the Contemporary Art Museum in Belgrade in 1958.

Bešlić with fellow artist and John’s travel companion, William A. Smith.

As noted above, Bešlić was an integral character in this movement and the cultural moments above seem to have had a clear impact on her art. Moore’s influence in particular is evident in Bešlić’s penchant for monumental sculpture and her series of “associative forms,” completed in 1959, which are directly reminiscent of Moore’s numerous connected forms. In addition to outside influences, Bešlić found the whiteness of her sculptures to be deeply important and also referred to her abstract figures as deep studies of the female form.

Bešlić’s associative forms were exhibited at the Rodin Museum in Paris in 1961, the Yugoslav Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition in Paris and Rome in 1961 and 1962, and at a solo exhibition in Belgrade in 1963. She additionally exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1962. She won the October Prize of Belgrade (likely related to the October Salon, Belgrade’s largest contemporary art exhibition) in 1979, the Pro Urbe Prize in 1997, and the Ferenc and Forum Prize of Bodrogvari.

Much of her work now resides in various locations in Subotica, Serbia, including the City Museum of Subotica, Palic Park, and the Subotica Theater.

Bešlić observing a photograph of John Rhoden’s sculpture, Laika (Russian Space Dog).

Check back in for more profiles on the many interesting people in John Rhoden’s circle!

Sources:

  • Örökszárnyaló: Ana Bešlić szabadkai Pro Urbe díjas szobrászművész halálhírére : https://web.archive.org/web/20110714021537/http://archiv.magyarszo.com/arhiva/2008/01/31/main.php?l=b11.htm
  • Designers & Creators Directory: Ana Beslic: https://www.spomenikdatabase.org/ana-beslic
  • Yugoslav Art and Culture: From the Art of a Nation to the Art of a Territory: http://www.yuhistorija.com/culture_religion_txt01.html

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 digitization update: How to digitize books!

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

Jahna and Hoang photographing John Rhoden’s sketchbooks.

Archival collections can range from standard mediums such as papers, photographs, and books to less standard materials like large pieces of art, framed documents, photo albums, etc. Most of the time we are able to digitize items on a flatbed scanner, but other times we need to utilize a copy stand and digital camera setup.

Objects that usually need to be digitized with a camera are bound materials (books). This is because the only way to lay a book flay on a scanner would involve breaking the spine. At PAFA we had to capture John Rhoden’s sketchbooks and exhibition catalogs with a digital camera. 

An example of a book cradle used for digital capture. These cradles can cost thousands of dollars so many archivists figure out alternative processes.  (https://www.digiscribe.info/)

When photographing books, it is important to avoid distortion of the pages, have even lighting, eliminate any shadows that could occur, and ensure everything is in focus. 

To accomplish this, we mounted a digital camera onto a copy stand so that it is oriented straight down. A copy stand is a very sturdy alternative to a tripod. We have lights on either side of the book and include the Kodak Color Control Patches in each frame to standardize proper black and white values. Without a ‘V cradle,’ pages can easily look distorted because the pages have a natural curve. To eliminate distortion we photograph the books with the page we want to capture flat while holding the book at a 90-degree angle. 

Then Hoang, Kelin and I had to work together. I handled the camera settings and focus, Hoang helped keep the pages flat and straight, and Kelin monitored the images in Lightroom.  

(Diagram of Recto and Verso from http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Recto_and_verso)

What may be surprising is that, to save time, we first capture the recto (the front side) of each page, and then the verso (the backside) of each page. In post-production I will have to edit and merge these images so that a viewer can “flip” through the book digitally.

As tedious as photographing can be, it was a fun change of pace to work together, which is something we haven’t been able to do now that we are primarily cataloging and digitizing records on the flatbed scanner. Now, all we have to do is digitally process the images and we have digital images of a book! The finished digital book will be available as a part of the John Rhoden papers, accessible through PAFA’s Digital Archives.

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.

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