Project Update: Where in the world is John Rhoden?

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

When the processing team began organizing the John Rhoden papers we were challenged with identifying over 2,300 slides from John Rhoden’s travels. A majority of the slides were unlabeled and unorganized. At best, some slides included labels inscribed on the physical slides with the name of the country or city name, usually misspelled. To create useful and meaningful descriptive catalog records, we have been researching the places John visited for the past few months.

Every detail is a clue

To physically arrange the slides, we first took a broad approach–identifying and organizing the slides by continent and then by country. This step required multiple passes between Kelin and I. The process included a significant amount of research, including looking up obscure architecture, street signs, traditional dress, flora and fauna, types of alcohol, types of transportation, and lots and lots of translation. Anything could be a clue. One day I spent hours looking at Soviet Era street lights in hopes of identifying a small town. 

Other days were spent identifying countries by different languages that were found on street signs, store fronts, and license plates. In order to translate these clues, we not only used Google translate, but we sent images to family and friends who were from the countries that John had visited in hopes that they could help translate, identify languages, or identify alphabets.

Once we were able to identify the countries represented in a slide, we began identifying specific locations, typically historical sites and buildings. This meant spending lots of time in Google street view walking from, for example, one Russian cathedral to the next, trying to see if we could identify where John was from the smallest clues. Luckily, many of the sites John visited still exist!

Our job is to identify who she is! (taken between October 1958 and December 1959)

Part Archivist // Part Detective

John Rhoden’s travel slides are color positive, 35mm film, and mounted between two pieces of cardstock. To identify certain places we had to utilize light boxes, magnifying glasses, digital scans and even Photoshop to create more sharpness and contrast between letters. 

Here is an example of how we would identify a location on an unlabeled slide (above):

  1. The slide is unlabeled, but the characters on the stone sign/marker reveals it is more likely East Asia, based on Rhoden’s travel history.
  2. The characters resemble Japanese characters, so at this point we compared these images to other images we have that Rhoden labeled Japan.
  3. The subject of the image is a group of people (family) having their photograph taken in front of a stone relief sign. We deduced that it is likely a tourist area.
  4. After failing to find a tourist site in Japan with a matching sign we asked a family friend to translate the writing on the sign . We eventually learned that it says “National Treasure Great Buddha of Kamakura” 
  5. Then we revisited Google maps to make sure we have the correct place. On google street view there is an identical sign, but it is in a different location and has a different base. (Image: below left, the stone marker in its current location.[1])
  6. Next we had to try to find images of the Great Buddha of Kamakura from the 1950s-1960s. Only through finding those images were we able to find confirmation of the stone sign, with the same base, near the Great Buddha of Kamakura. (Image: below right, In this photograph from 1968, the stone marker matches that of the slide.[2])

This is just an example of the identification process for one slide. But finding the identification for one slide can help identify many others. By identifying this one slide we now know that John traveled to Kamakura, Japan. There is a strong possibility that other slides from the area are also found in the collection, or at the very least, we can definitively label the slides “Japan”.

For other slides the subject may be somewhat generic. When a slide only shows, for example, a close-up of a roof or a cycle rickshaw, our Google searches tend to look like the following: “blue roof Russian cathedral Moscow” or “Indonesian cyclo”. We make educated guesses as to the location and continue to do so until we make an identification. Throughout the process, we gain new knowledge and awareness of specific regions, cultures, architecture, and geography. In fact, as we continue to learn more and more about certain countries, we become “subject specialists”: Kelin specializes in Europe; Hoang specializes in India and Italy; and I specialize in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Above is an example of a close-up image of architecture with little-to-no context given. We were able to identify this image as the roof and south tower of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. This identification led to a precise date, 1952, when Rhoden was in Austria.

Cataloging these slides have made me feel as if I have walked the streets of so many countries. I have also learned that many countries have developed so much over the last 70 years. For example, Seoul, South Korea in 1958 is unrecognizable compared to Seoul 2020, while other places have barely changed. 

We would also like to use this blog post to thank everyone who has taken the time to help us translate and identify John travel photos. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without you! 

For reference, the following is a list of countries John traveled to between 1951 and 1963: (in alphabetical order) Armenia, Cambodia, Croatia, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Jerusalem, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Monaco, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sardinia, Scotland, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Tibet, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zanzibar.

Image Credits:

  1. The Great Buddha of Kamakura from Google Maps. Captured by Google in 2010.
  2. Sparrow, L. (1968) “Great Buddha of Kamakura,” [digital image]. Retrieved from: https://www.fotolibra.com/gallery/977126/great-buddha-of-kamakura/?search_hash=744c19a5b3a19e0562dfc5cee5e8007a&search_offset=0&search_limit=100&search_sort_by=relevance_desc

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.

Project Update: Digitizing the John Rhoden papers (follow-up)

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

As a follow up to the previous post, the following is a more visually-focused update on our progress to date!

The largest deliverable of the John Rhoden papers project is 5,000 publicly-available digitized items from the collection. With that said, our recent work has been focused on digitizing and cataloging. At the time of posting, we have digitized 2,610 physical records, totaling 3,275 individual scans.

We have worked our way through the manuscripts and black and white photographs and are currently scanning Rhoden’s color slides. Scanning the slides has proven to be an interesting challenge and our resident digitization expert, Jahna, has a post in the works explaining those challenges and solutions. Overall, however, digitization and cataloging is fairly straightforward work. So, in order to keep things interesting, we have included some gems discovered during the process below!

First, we have John and Richenda’s trip to Egypt touring some of the most iconic pyramids in the world to (precariously) riding camels and donkeys. The Rhodens clearly had the time of their lives!

The slides also introduce countless new artists to the collection, both known and unknown. One of the most interesting is Hasan Kaptan, the Turkish prodigy who is largely unknown in the modern era. Born in Ankara, Turkey in 1942, Kaptan exhibited throughout Turkey, had a one-man (boy) show in Paris, and exhibited in the Galerie St. Etienne in New York (Paintings of a Ten-Year-Old Turkish Painter on October 29, 1952) by age ten. Throughout his adolescence, he continued to exhibit around Europe and in the United States. His story and work was featured in Time and Harper’s Bazaar. As an adult, Kaptan seemingly stepped away from exhibiting and selling his art and has largely been obscured from history.

In 1954, John enjoyed the beaches of Sardinia, taking a break from his hard work at the American Academy in Rome.

Rhoden also visited the Waterford Crystal factory in Waterford, Ireland and photographed the workers during the crystal making process.

Worker at the Waterford Crystal factory, circa 1955-1959.

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.

Project Update: Digitizing the John Rhoden papers

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Project Director and Director of Archives

The team reached a project milestone this past week! We have digitized 2500 items! That means we’re 50% done with the digitization portion of the project.

Photographic prints and color slides make up the bulk of the records that have been digitized so far. Since Rhoden traveled extensively through Europe, Africa, and Asia, it has been an amazing experience viewing the exotic locations. The team also began cataloging portions of the digitized records which has been a great team building activity! For instance, since many of the slides were only identified by the country, we spent some time searching for the exact locations John visited. This required us to examine the smallest details within the images–signs, monuments, clothing, bus colors, trolley cars, license plates, etc. We also used Google Street View and Google Translate to help us figure out the specific sites/cities Rhoden visited.

Jahna (Assistant Archivist) was in charge of digitizing the slides documenting Russia. She was enamored with the country’s architecture. We all learned that “Onion Dome” was typically associated with Russian Orthodox churches.

As we continue digitizing Rhoden’s travel slides, we’re excited to get a chance to explore and learn more about the countries he visited (over 35!). Although the countries have changed so much since the 1950s-1960s, many of the buildings, landmarks, and monuments still remain.

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.

Merry Christmas from the Rhodens!

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

If the John Rhoden papers are any indication, the Rhodens really loved Christmas, so it seems only right to celebrate this holiday season with just a few of the dozens of Christmas portraits present in the collection.

Christmas 1994

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.

Introducing Lawrence Kay

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

Lawrence Lew Kay found his way into our archives through his wife Richenda’s (wife of John Rhoden) papers. Lawrence was Richenda’s first husband, and through letters and newspaper clippings, we were able to understand his life.

Lawrence was born in 1914 and lived in Seattle, Washington with his family. It is unclear through records if he was born in America or in Tangshan, China, where his family originated. Lawrence was a highly educated man; he received his B.A from Lingan University, China in 1937 and graduated from Harvard University in 1941 with a degree in Business Administration. Lawrence and Richenda Phillips met at the University of Washington in Seattle. They married each other soon afterward, just mere weeks before Lawrence was enlisted in the Air Force and sent to China as an American representative. Kay’s journey to China included a ship to Northern Africa, where he spent roughly a month. Unfortunately, Lawrence would never arrive in China.

While processing the papers, I was deeply enthralled by the many letters that Richenda received from Shan Yan Leung, nicknamed ‘Bird,’ who was a friend of Lawrence’s. Through these letters, we can understand Richenda and Lawrence a little better. It seems that Richenda and Lawrence married only a few days before he was deployed. It appears that Richenda did not know Lawrence’s family very well. It was Shan Yan Leung who gave her their address, and he asked Richenda to inform them of Lawrence’s status as missing in action.

Lawrence writes to Richenda in detail in several letters while he is away. In these letters, he tells her about his travels to Northern Africa. What is most notable is the lack of food on the ship–Lawrence discusses in great detail how there was always a shortage of meals.

Even on land, Lawrence writes about hunting for food and locals offering him food. Lawrence tells Richenda about teaching fellow officers Mandarin and giving lectures about China. In his last letter to Richenda, Lawrence describes meeting locals and a young girl who is an artist. He asks Richenda to send him supplies for her. His last words to Richenda, “As for my future letters, it might be sometime before you hear from me again. In the meantime, remember that I love you so very much, and I think of you whenever I see anything I like or do anything. Take good care of yourself and keep well, my dearest. With all my love to my Dearest, My lovely sweetheart. – Lawrence” (MS_2019_01_1006i)

Kay’s last letter to Richenda Rhoden from November of 1943.

Lawrence died on November 27, 1943, at the age of 29 on the Rohna, a British troopship, which was attacked and sunk by a fleet of German planes in a coordinated surprise attack. The Rohna was scheduled to arrive in China where Lawrence would begin his service. Lawrence Kay was one of 1,015 America and British soldiers who died in this surprise attack. The attack on the Rohna marks the highest amount of America casualties in a naval attack in WWII, taking months for the American government to receive accurate information about the attack.

With the lack of constant contact, Richenda was left to wonder what happened to Lawrence. She began to hunt for answers, setting out to contact survivors of the Rohna. Through letters, Richenda learned that Lawrence escaped the initial barrage of missile fire with only minor injuries, but he was ultimately reported missing. For months she hoped he survived and was in an Allied hospital, unable to contact her due to his convalescence. As the months went on, it became clear that Lawrence had not survived the attack, and it is assumed that he tragically drowned after escaping the brunt of the German attack. Lawrence Lew Kay’s name was inscribed in a memorial for fallen Chinese American soldiers of World War II, located north of Hing Hay Park in Seattle, Washington.

Correspondence from Kay to Richenda Rhoden from October of 1943.

Lawrence Lew Kay had a fascinating life, regardless of how short it was. It is clear from his accolades and accomplishments that he would have made a significant impact on both the domestic and international stage. While there are still many unanswered questions about his life and death, we hope to continue uncovering more about his life in the Rhoden papers.

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 Holidays from PAFA!

PAFA (museum) staff photo with artist Kambal Smith and his large-scale building sculpture of PAFA’s Frank Furness building.

We’d like to wish everyone the warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

A quick update on our holiday hours. The archives will be closed December 23, 2019 through January 2, 2019.

The Museum galleries will be operating on a holiday schedule as well:

  • Closed: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
  • Open: New Year’s Eve, 10:00am-5:00pm
  • Mondays: Closed
  • Tuesday-Friday: 10:00am-5:00pm
  • Saturday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm

For more information on visiting the museum, please visit our website.

Rhoden papers highlight: Beings Anthropomorphic

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

Over here in the archives, we recently stumbled upon this enormous planning sketch for one of John Rhoden’s sculptures. The figures depicted in the sketch looked familiar, so we decided to do some digging within the papers to see if we could contextualize it.

Archives staff with the planning sketch for John Rhoden’s Beings Anthropomorphic.

Photographs in the collection revealed that this sketch was for a sculpture titled Beings Anthropomorphic. Captions on the photographs indicate that this sculpture was created specifically for the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1975. There are no documents or correspondence directly related to this artwork and, as such, we have been unable to confirm the information on the photograph captions.

A label on the photograph suggests the sculpture was installed at the African American Museum in Philadelphia in the mid to late 1970s.

From the photographs, we do know that the artwork was completed and installed somewhere, but we cannot be sure that it was actually installed in the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the sculpture’s current whereabouts are unknown. However, what we do have relating to the sketch could potentially reveal something about John’s artistic planning process.

Small-scale model for Beings Anthropomorphic.

Above is a photograph of a small-scale model of Beings Anthropomorphic. It is evident that this was an earlier model given the slight differences in the figures. Below is a photograph of John with his planning sketch. It is interesting to note the grid imposed on the sketch as well as the inclusion of the weight and cost of the figures.

Having evidence of multiple objects produced in the process of creating an artwork gives an interesting view into both the evolution of Rhoden’s ideas and his creative and logistical artistic planning. John’s papers are full of items that contextualize each other, and give a more complete picture of John’s life and work.

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.

Congratulations to the CCL Class of 2020!

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

A BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Dr. Anna Marley, PAFA’s Curator of Historical American Art and Director of the Center for the Study of the American Artist (and my boss!). Anna has been named a Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellow for 2020!

Dr. Anna Marley, Curator of Historical American Art and Director for the Center of the Study of the American Artist
Dr. Anna Marley, Curator of Historical American Art and Director for the Center of the Study of the American Artist

The Fellowship includes instruction from Columbia Business School faculty, exposure to real-world challenges faced by cultural institutions, and a week long residency shadowing a Director at another major museum.

I am extremely proud of Anna and all her accomplishments (she recently celebrated her 10-year work anniversary at PAFA this past March). Anna is one of the strongest proponents of PAFA’s Archives program and much of her work affirms PAFA’s place in the American Art canon. I am grateful to have an amazing and supportive mentor here at PAFA! My favorite Anna quote, “There is no American Art without PAFA.”

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.