Welcome back!

Two weeks ago, the Center for the Study of the American Artist welcomed its first class visit since its closure due to COVID-19. Professor Renee Foulks scheduled an appointment for her Low-Residency MFA class.

PAFA’s Low-Res MFA Class visit, August 2021.

The students selected a number of works from PAFA’s permanent collection for closer examination and discussion. Works included:

Thomas Anshutz – [Lady standing at window, with cat]

[Lady standing at window, with cat]
1971.8.69
Gift of Mrs. Edward R. Anshutz

Bruce Samuelson – Untitled

Untitled
2002.9.22
Gift of Benjamin D. Bernstein and Robin J. Bernstein

Mickalene Thomas – Interior: Blue Couch and Green Owl

Interior: Blue Couch and Green Owl
2017.31.1
© Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

More information about the Center for the Study of the American Artist can be found here.

Archives Summer Hours

The archives will be closed from June 9th to 22nd.

For the rest of the summer (June 21, 2021 – August 3, 2021) , the archives will be operating on a limited schedule:

Monday-Wednesday: Closed

Thursday-Friday: 9am-5pm

Don’t forget to visit PAFA’s Digital Archives for digitized records and additional online resources.

COVID-19 Updates

Next week will mark one year that the archives will be closed due to the pandemic. A majority of PAFA staff have continued working remotely, including the archives. Fortunately, we managed to remain productive during this time.

  1. The project team completed the Rediscovering John Rhoden grant project.
    • Completed the digitization right before closure.
    • Completed cataloging over 3900 items.
    • Completed the collection finding aid.
    • Completed the John Rhoden digital portal. We are currently doing a round of edits before we publicly promote and launch the digital portal and finding aid.
  2. Updated and created a number of online resources on PAFA’s history.

Goodbye from the John Rhoden papers team!

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

John and Richenda Rhoden, Christmas, 1984

This week, our journey with the John Rhoden collection comes to an end. A year of full immersion in the life of John and Richenda Rhoden has resulted in a project that will soon be open to the public, for researchers, the curious, and everyone in between. 

Anyone who works closely with a human subject – archivists, curators, historians, authors, researchers – can relate to the level of attachment that we, the John Rhoden papers team, feel towards John and Richenda Rhoden. 

As sad as we are that our journey with the Rhodens has come to an end, we are immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to work so closely with their remaining legacy. Working with their archives, we get a glimpse of how charming and interesting people they truly were. They both lived fascinating lives together.

The physical remnants of one’s life can be incredibly powerful. Though it will never be the case, we feel we knew them personally after connecting with the records they left behind. From the collection, we have been fortunate enough to learn that John Rhoden was a sharp businessman, resilient, joyful, and aware of how he could use his skills to help others. He created a path and a career for himself in an America that did not lend itself to his success. 

John Rhoden with Drago Trsar, Ljubljana, Slovenia, circa 1958-1959

The documents and the photographic materials come together in this collection to create a full picture of who John Rhoden was. The papers are deeply rooted in his professional life, but photographs of him smiling and of the way he interacted with those around him hint at the kind of man he was. Like many of us, John loved to document his travels by taking photographs. Browsing through the images, one not only gets transported back in time, but also gets to view the world through John’s lens and perspective–underexposed and all.

The records revealed how kind, joyful, and charismatic both John and Richenda were. They seemed to be the type of people who commanded the attention in a room, and whose presence lifted the mood. What seems to have struck people about the couple was their warmth, openness, and generosity. Both were successful artists and professionals, but what seems to have stuck with people most was their character. 

Another notable aspect of this collection is its expanse. Not only does it tell the stories of John and Richenda, it offers a full-color glimpse into the world in the 1950s, it tells the stories of many artists, lost and forgotten to time, it creates connections and networks among people, places, and things that might otherwise have nothing in common. In addition to telling the story of its primary subject, it contains seemingly infinite threads and tangents waiting to be fully explored.

John Rhoden drinking from a porron, France, 1952

As we now open the collection to public use, we wanted to thank the NEH and the incredible support system at PAFA that not only made our work possible, but downright enjoyable, through a global pandemic no less. Furthermore, we want to thank Hoang Tran and Dr. Brittany Webb for being the most incredible collaborators and leaders that two young professionals could ask for. 

Though our official work with the Rhodens is ending, we are looking forward to using Hoang’s Rhoden portal and visiting Brittany’s John Rhoden exhibition many times when it opens! 

John Rhoden and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, 1991-1992

A note from Assistant Archivist, Jahna Auerbach:

The portion of the John Rhoden papers that has had the biggest impact on me is contained in just one box, Richenda Rhoden’s personal papers. From the beginning, I had a personal connection to Richenda because of all of the incredibly endearing photographs of her posing with her various cats. 

Richenda Rhoden, 1930s-1940s

As we started digitizing her records, we discovered that this one box of papers is connected to many different parts of history, as discussed in previous blog posts and on the Rhoden portal. Richenda’s parents met at the Carlisle Indian School and her father was the first Native American judge in the state of Washington. Her first husband, Lawrence Lew Kay, who was tragically killed in WWII, has a rich family history rooted in China, and the Chinese community in Seattle, WA.

Richenda was not just defined by the men in her life. She was an incredible person in her own right. She has been described as head-strong, wanting to do things on her own terms, chic, and striking in beauty. John and Richenda never had children, but they dedicated their lives to the community. They always welcomed people into their house whether it was for an annual Christmas party or for the public to see their studio and art that was constantly on display. 

Richenda Rhoden, circa 1951-1959

Richenda was an artist like her husband. She only showed a few times in her life, but she painted every day.

Richenda’s portion of the archive has made me question a lot about evidence in the archive. What is present, what is missing, and what does that mean? Richenda lived alone at 23 Cranberry Street for almost 15 years, and yet, we have very little of her own records. Despite all of this we have been able to find a rich history of a woman. Without a doubt, Richenda’s presence is evident and her history is recorded throughout the archive, whether it is in photographs, or labels she put on travel slides. 

As Kelin and I wrap up this project, we are floored by the people on our team and members of the community that have helped us. From co-workers, family members translating Mandarin for us, to neighbors of the Rhodens sharing their stories. Lastly, huge thank you to Hoang Tran and Dr. Brittany Webb, who have been helping us and guiding us from day one.

Richenda Rhoden, Indonesia, 1963

This project, Rediscovering John W. Rhoden: Processing, Cataloging, Rehousing, and Digitizing the John W. Rhoden papers, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency.

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 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.

This project, Rediscovering John W. Rhoden: Processing, Cataloging, Rehousing, and Digitizing the John W. Rhoden papers, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency.

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.

This project, Rediscovering John W. Rhoden: Processing, Cataloging, Rehousing, and Digitizing the John W. Rhoden papers, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency.

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.  

This project, Rediscovering John W. Rhoden: Processing, Cataloging, Rehousing, and Digitizing the John W. Rhoden papers, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency.

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.