John and Richenda Rhoden: Pillars of the Community

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

John Rhoden’s later career was buzzing with artistic activity. From the 1970’s onward, he exhibited extensively and completed several major commissions. He exhibited at the University of Pittsburgh, the Whitney Museum, LACMA, the Birmingham Museum of Art, among many others. He completed Nesaika for the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Mitochondria for the Bellevue Hospital Center, Frederick Douglass for Lincoln University, and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. 

However, despite this later career chock full of high art commitments, John’s main priority seemed to be his community. He worked for the New York Board of Education, taught classes, shared his artistic knowledge, and, along with Richenda, hosted tours of his home and studio, and organized festivals for the community. 

John and Richenda with students from P.S. 8, 1975
Students touring the Rhoden studio and carving pumpkins, 1970s

The Rhodens’ later careers and lives seemed focused on community, friendships, and togetherness. These priorities are a major departure from their early lives as borderline-nomadic jet-setters immersed in the international art scene. 

John’s work as an educator is prominently documented in the John Rhoden papers. He was evidently beloved in the community and school system. He seemed to champion the students often underserved by the education system. Time and time again, he is showered with praise for his contributions: 

John leading a tour of the Rhoden studio for students of the East Harlem Career Academy, 1977

“Your selfless concern for these students is an indication of your professionalism and your obvious commitment to them. You are an outstanding example of the many fine and dedicated teachers in our system.” – Frank Macchiarola, Chancellor of the New York Board of Education, October 28, 1982

A mural by John Rhoden for the East Harlem Career Academy’s Career Day, 1979

“Through your dynamic leadership, each of these students involved in your projects grew tremendously as students and as persons. It has been a pleasure to work with such a renounded individual such as you. Not only have you given insight into your extensive knowledge of the arts, but into your unselfish devotion to the cause of education for minority students.” – Nellie Jordan, Director of East Harlem Career Academy, June 28, 1977

One of the most touching items from John’s work with the community comes in the form of a two-page, handwritten letter from a student moved by John’s contributions and work in 1978. As the student, Frank Conception, points out, Rhoden had already made it in the art world, and as such, his work with the younger generation is a truly selfless act. He wanted only to share his knowledge and help a new generation of artists (and people) rise up.

Outside of their work in education, the Rhodens maintained a prominent community presence with the founding and organization of the Cranberry Street Festival by Richenda. The Cranberry Street Festival was born from Richenda’s craft stands with the intention of celebrating diversity and bringing together the community. In 2015, she explained what she loves about the festival to the Brooklyn Eagle: “getting people to work together…When they put the thing on it gives people the opportunity to meet together. I like it that a lot of different types of people and nationalities get so they can understand each other.”

Contact sheet with scenes from the Cranberry Street Festival, undated

It is so easy to focus on the major moments in an artist’s career at the expense of their daily contributions to the world around them. John and Richenda Rhoden seemed to commit their careers and lives to improving their community, bringing people together, and lifting up those around them. This personal mission is worthy not only of highlighting, but celebrating as one of the Rhodens’ most significant accomplishments.

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 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’s Workspaces

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

John Rhoden’s studio at 23 Cranberry Street is his most iconic workspace. He worked there almost exclusively for over four decades. The studio space permits and even demands large, physical, and active sculpting. It was filled with tools, planning sketches and models, sculptures in progress, and sometimes even heavy equipment such as scaffolding. It gives a sense of how John worked and the environment he was comfortable in.

However, the John Rhoden papers show that John was adaptable and had many different work spaces during his early career. He did not always have the capacity for the monumental sculptures of his later years. Images in the archives show that John was able to work with and flourish in whatever space he could obtain.

Below is a look at John’s different sculpting studios, as represented in the archives. We will first start with his home-base workshop at 23 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn, N.Y. to get a sense of his personally-curated space, and then get a view of the many places he worked in over the earlier years.

23 Cranberry Street (1960-2001)

John Rhoden in his studio at 23 Cranberry Street, circa 1970s.

23 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn, N.Y. served as Rhoden’s home and studio from 1960 through John’s passing in 2001 and Richenda’s passing in 2016 (with the exception of their stint in Indonesia from 1961-1963). The space was unique in that it was formally a mechanic’s garage equipped with a freight elevator. The home was spacious enough to create large scale sculptures, store works of art, and all the necessary sculpting tools and supplies.

In the images below, one gets a sense of John’s preferred work space. There’s an element of chaos. It feels more like a construction site than the stereotypical artist’s studio.

In this studio is where John was able to really expand the scale of his artworks. His monumental sculpture commissions, such as Mitochondria for the Metropolitan Hospital (lower left) and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (lower right), were all conceived in this space.

Early Spaces (1938-1959)

John Rhoden working in the Baille Studio in New Jersey, 1946.

The archives do not reveal much about John’s early sculpting studios. John’s earliest work was carried out as a student in various schools, most notably Columbia University. It appears that his association with universities and faculty mentors provided him access to larger spaces and a wider variety of tools than would otherwise be possible, as evidenced by the photograph to the right. His first real studio in New York City was shared with Richmond Barthé in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in 1938.

Italian Work Spaces (1951-1954)

John’s studio at the American Academy in Rome more closely reflected what one might assume an artists’ workspace would look like: blank, open, bright spaces. These studios were sparsely decorated with white walls and little clutter. In this space, John did not create monumental works of art, as evidenced by the modest size and absence of heavy-duty tools and equipment. Coincidentally, immediately following this period we see John’s only documented phase of gallery representation, where he sold modestly-sized pieces to private collectors.

Work Spaces Abroad with the U.S. State Department (1955-1959)

Kenya, circa 1955-1956.

John did not have a formal workshop while on his international tour with the United States Department of State, but that didn’t stop him from creating. In fact, during this period John was able to experiment and learn local techniques, broadening his sculpting knowledge and skills. Many images from this time period show John visiting artist communities to learn and perform demonstrations.

We do not have evidence of any of the sculpture that he created during this time, but it is interesting to note that, wherever he was, John always seemed willing to get his hands dirty, both to teach and to learn.

Above, John is crouched on the ground working on a wood carving with basic tools and materials in Kenya. Given the clothing and setting, this seems to have been an impromptu demonstration.

Philadelphia Work Space (1956-1957)

An outlier in John’s workspaces arose from his sculpture commission for the Philadelphia Sheraton Hotel. Due to the nature of the project, John had to do his work directly in the hotel’s construction site. The space and tools provided by this experience led to one of the first examples of John’s large-scale sculpture, Zodiacal Curved Wall.

Indonesia Work Space (1961-1963)

John spent several years in Indonesia, during which time he occupied one of his two long-term international studios (the other was in Rome). It seems John mostly worked on a patio outside of a home in Bandung.

He was there on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to set up a bronze foundry at the Bandung Institute of Technology. However, due to conflict in Indonesia that arose around the time of his arrival in 1961, John was unable to access any of his sculpting materials. As a result, he had concentrated time to experiment and work with what was available to him – wood. During this time, John made some of his largest and, in my opinion, most captivating wood sculpture.

I hope this serves as an interesting introduction to John’s work spaces over the years and as an example of one of the many ways an archive can be used to gain a better understanding of its subject!

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: Recent Discoveries

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

Hello! This is Jahna Auerbach and I am so excited to be back working on the Rhoden project for the first time since we took a pause in March. In my first week back, I have had great luck in identifying more artists that John Rhoden met during his time in the Soviet Union. 

William Arthur Smith in Saint Petersburg, Russia circa 1958-1959.

One of the biggest breakthroughs was discovering the William A. Smith Archive in the National Gallery of Art (NGA) Image Collections.  William Arthur Smith was an American photographer, illustrator, and painter, who traveled with John Rhoden in the Soviet Union under the auspices of the United States Department of State. 

John’s travel slides include many images of himself and William A. Smith. The John Rhoden papers contain no correspondence between the two men, but it is evident in the images we have that the two were close. 

John Rhoden and Stojan Batic in Ljubljana, Slovenia circa 1958-1959.

The subjects of the images digitized by NGA have all been identified and some of the images that William A. Smith captured mirror the ones in the Rhoden papers. Because of this correlation, we were able to identify artists as Stojan Batic, Lazar Vujaklija, and Martiros Saryan, as well as several works of art in just one day. 

Martiros Saryan in Armenia circa 1958-1959.

Identifying people and places has become one of my favorite parts of being an archivist. I always try to carve out some time to research the unknown in the Rhoden papers. This week’s discovery has lead me to ask, what else can we find in archives? For example, could there be images of John Rhoden that have not been digitized in the William A. Smith Archive at NGA? I also discovered that William Arthur Smith has a large archival collection at the Hobart and William Smith College Archives, which I hope to explore as well. 

These discoveries are one of the many reasons it is so important to digitize archival collections and create finding aids and inventories.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.