Rhoden papers discovery: Penn Station South development

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

John and Richenda Rhoden’s studio and home at 23 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn, NY played a major role in their artistic and personal lives. It was their home base, as well as their work space. It was where they held social events, community gatherings, and even a wedding. It housed most of their artwork and decades of memories.

Richmond Barthé’s 1952 lease for the apartment he shared with John.

But before the Rhodens settled into their Brooklyn townhome, John and Richenda lived and worked in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. They occupied the fourth floor of 285 8th Avenue in Manhattan, NY. John first moved into this home and studio space in the late 1930s with fellow artist and mentor, Richmond Barthé. 

In 1956, the area surrounding the Rhoden’s home in Chelsea was subjected to Title I of the Housing Act of 1949 – a slum clearance project widely criticized for being discriminatory against minorities. This project, known as Penn Station South, cleared the vast majority of the structures between 8th and 9th Avenues and West 23rd and 29th Streets, displacing around 2,600 families. 

The project for a cooperative housing development was sponsored by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union and was first proposed in 1956. The project was endorsed by the state of New York in June of 1956 and was recommended for federal funding by August of that same year. In June of 1959, the New York Times reported that the residents would have to be fully relocated by July 1960. The project came to a total cost of $34,000,000 and $500,000 of the sum was allocated for relocation of the original tenants. Tenants relocating themselves would receive $275 when vacating a 1-3 room unit and up to $500 when vacating a 6+ room unit. 

Many of the original residents of the Penn Station South/Chelsea area organized to protest the I.L.G.W.U. project. The development was slated to displace roughly 7,500 people and the Title I relocation measures were deemed to be inadequate. Many of those subjected to Title I relocation reported that they were relocated to inferior dwellings or that they were relocated to other sites already scheduled for demolition by the Housing Act and were subsequently forced to move again. 

The original Chelsea residents withheld their rents from their new landlord, the I.L.G.W.U. and demanded that the project be halted until enough low-income housing was made for them to relocate to. Despite early success on the part of the residents, which saw the project leaders conceding to the community and agreeing to preserve two (ultimately four) churches that were to be demolished, the community organizations were ultimately unable to stop the project. The Citizens Watchdog Committee was rife with tension and ultimately dissolved and other vocal community supporters were accused of being influenced by communism. 

Draft of John’s letter to David Dubinsky from 1959.

During this time of unrest in the neighborhood, John was travelling the world. As the project was announced, John was just completing a world tour with the State Department, and by the time it was announced that the residents were going to be displaced, he was halfway through a tour of the Soviet Union with the State Department. This worldly perspective led John to advocate for promotion of and assistance for artists. 

Despite facing struggles in finding his own housing to relocate to, in December of 1959, John wrote to David Dubinsky, the president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, requesting that he consider providing housing and workspace for artists in the cooperative development (above). 

John and Richenda received compensation for their relocation due to the Penn Station South project in 1960.

Ultimately, John and Richenda relocated to their forever home at 23 Cranberry Street by 1960 and there is no evidence that Dubinsky ever even acknowledged John’s request for artist housing. Regardless of the role he played, it is interesting to note John’s involvement in these interesting moments in history. We will be sure to highlight more of these connections between John Rhoden and historic moments for your entertainment as we are all laying low during this difficult time. 

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 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.

John Rhoden papers: (Not so) Weekly Round-Up

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

Here in the Rhoden papers, we have been elbow-deep in the nitty-gritty work of digitization and cataloging. We are approaching the five thousand digitized objects mark and, as we are nearing this milestone, wanted to re-commence our regular posting.

Archives Director Hoang Tran and Assistant Archivist Jahna Auerbach photographing John Rhoden’s sketchbooks.

What we accomplished:

  • Finished digitizing all prioritized documents, photographs, and slides
  • Photographed bound volumes such as sketchbooks and exhibition catalogs

Up next:

  • Finish cataloging all digitized objects
  • Scan all non-priority manuscripts

Thoughts:

We began the digitization and cataloging process by establishing digitization priorities. In our first pass, we digitized all documents with clear informational value – names, dates, processes, plans, prices, etc. – a criteria that depends more on our judgment as archivists than on hard and fast rules. We additionally decided to digitize all black and white photographs of John’s military service, exhibitions, commissions, travel, family and friends, and home and all color photographs of John’s commissions and exhibitions. Finally, we decided to scan all good-quality color slides from John’s travels. (Good-quality simply refers to anything that is not blurry or dark to the point of negating an informational or aesthetic value.)

Above is an example of a prioritized document. It provides specific information on where John was and who he was with during his travels.

As of this week, we have digitized all of the above items and have finished cataloging them.  With this in mind, our next step is to return to the manuscripts and scan all of the remaining documents. The manuscripts are simultaneously the smallest and most informationally rich portion of the collection and, as such, I am extremely excited to be able to provide easy access to all of them. Providing access to the entirety of John’s documents ensures that the physical remnants of his story are presented in the most robust manner possible and that each document can be contextualized to the fullest extent.

On a different note, one thing I have learned as a project archivist is that hitting a numerical goal is daunting. It is easy to become fixed on the number and prioritize that goal over others (such as blogging). However, now that we are through the thick of it, I have learned not to become overwhelmed by numerical goals but rather to allow them to serve as a framework for planning a balanced project.

Up next, a post from Assistant Archivist Jahna about photographing John’s sketchbooks!

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.