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.

John Rhoden papers: Weekly Roundup

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

Kelin and Jahna sorting photographs of John Rhoden’s art.

What we accomplished:

  1. Sorted the archive’s manuscripts at item-level
  2. Created an inventory to help fine-tune the intellectual arrangement
  3. Ordered materials in order to complete the physical arrangement
  4. Published our first blog posts
  5. Started brainstorming for our digitization plan

Next up:

  1. Complete sorting the archive’s photographs and artworks
  2. Re-write the intellectual arrangement according to what we have learned while sorting
  3. Finalize digitization plan
  4. Start digitizing

Lessons:

One thing I learned this week is how helpful an item-level organization can be to understanding the story of the archive as a whole. We decided to physically organize the individual items in each folder by date. In doing so, we were able to make connections between the items and, in turn, better understand the stories present in the papers. The size of this archive is manageable enough to arrange the individual items by date, but it is large enough that having the items organized to such a degree is crucial to making them accessible and comprehensible.

Discoveries:

The most interesting discovery this week is not an item or theme in the archives, but rather how the archive’s team has become attached to the people represented. Kelin is absolutely enamored with John and Jahna has fully fallen for Richenda.

John’s photos, correspondence, and documents paint a picture of an ambitious, professional, kind, and joyous man. Lacking the aloofness characteristic of sculptors, John was a sharp businessman. From what I have been exposed to, it seems his professionalism served as the perfect compliment to his talent in cultivating a successful career as an artist.

Furthermore, everyone who met John adored him. Reference letters for his various grants and fellowships share absolutely glowing reviews of a man who is equal parts passionate, professional, talented, and enjoyable. He received heartfelt thank you notes from children he taught and was always greeted with great warmth in both personal and professional correspondence.

Richenda’s primary presence in the collection comes in the form of photographs with her cats and Christmas trees. These photographs initially bonded me to Richenda and served as inspiration to explore her story further. As I dove deeper into her papers I learned that she is much more than just John’s partner. The content of her correspondence and photographs are full of personal information that illustrate a radical woman. 

Aside from her letters, Richenda’s records consist of undergraduate papers, photographs, and some newspaper clippings. She did not keep many of her own things but what little we have is powerful.  They tell a story of a woman who was creative, playful, intelligent and loved by all. Richenda was a self-proclaimed dreamer. She was an artist like John and her paintings were inspired by her Native American heritage, her travels with John, and her studies in anthropology and Asian art history. What we have in the collection only allows us to see small parts of who Richenda was, but I am now completely enthralled with her life and want to learn more about who she was as a person and as an artist.

John Rhoden papers: Weekly Roundup

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

Each Friday, we intend to publish a summary of what we accomplished, learned, and discovered in our work during the week leading up to it in the Weekly Roundup series. Here’s the first of many!

Rhoden project assistant archivist, Jahna Auerbach, hard at work organizing travel photos.

Accomplished so far:

  1. Completed preliminary survey
  2. Completed Processing plan
  3. Completed preliminary Intellectual arrangement
  4. Begun physically sorting objects

Next up:

  1. Complete sorting
  2. Finalize physical arrangement
  3. Inventory of photographic items
  4. Select  items to be digitized

Week 1(ish) Lessons:

One thing we learned in creating the preliminary intellectual arrangement is how dynamic an intellectual arrangement can be. One of PAFA archivist Hoang Tran’s catchphrases is “things they don’t teach you in archives school” and the level of depth and complexity that can be included in an arrangement is certainly not something I was prepared for.

I had initially created an intellectual arrangement that was separated into series based on John Rhoden’s life: Professional, Personal, and Artist Series. The professional series was then separated by major milestones in his career. Straight away, I liked this series because I felt it rendered the items more accessible as they were grouped with what would likely be most relevant to researchers. However, I quickly became afraid of the arrangement. Lessons from archives school about avoiding charging items with meaning, limiting their understanding, and ensuring that an arrangement is fully neutral started to come back to me. As a result, I created a second (very safe, very textbook) intellectual arrangement that separated the materials by document type – correspondence, contracts, personal documents, etc.

When presenting these two arrangements to Hoang and Rhoden Curator Brittany Webb, I was reassured that the more dynamic arrangement was more suitable. Brittany reassured me that organizing the papers according to career milestones rather than document type would be far more useful to a researcher. Furthermore, Hoang taught me that the way archivists handle collections will vary depending on the context. For our purposes, the PAFA archives are used for art research, primarily by high-level students and weathered scholars. This environmental context can then inform how an archivist approaches the intellectual arrangement.

With the help of Hoang, I ultimately created a preliminary intellectual arrangement that included the following series: exhibitions, commissions, fellowships/grants/awards, press, teaching, gallery sales, artwork, and personal. We did away with the restrictive professional, personal, and artwork series while keeping the emphasis on his career milestones.  It is much longer than my “safe” (document type focused) intellectual arrangement was, but it also better contextualizes the material and makes it more accessible.

Going forward, we expect the intellectual arrangement to evolve as we continue to become familiar with the collection. Furthermore, since the creation of the preliminary intellectual arrangement assistant archivist Jahna Auerbach joined the team and her perspective and input will no doubt help the arrangement evolve.

Week 1(ish) Discoveries:

Having the privilege to process a collection of a person as well-traveled as John Rhoden has proven to be both fun and challenging. Rhoden traveled to over twenty countries with the U.S. State Department between 1955 and 1959 and has piles of photographs documenting his numerous journeys. The majority of his photographs are unlabeled, which means that we have to rely on landscapes, architecture, and various other vague context clues to identify where the photographs were taken.  A large portion of our research has consisted of targeted searches about visual topics such as South Asian sculpture, architecture terms for temples, and whether or not sail boats are common in Egypt. Some questions we have are dry, but some spark conversation between PAFA employees across disciplines.  This has turned sorting photographs into a complex puzzle that we are constantly trying to put the pieces together. It also has taught us that some things are unknowable, if only temporarily, and that working with a large archival collection requires a focus on the big 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.