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.

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.

Under Maintenance!

The PAFA Digital Archives site is currently under maintenance. We are sorry for any inconvenience this might cause. Check back in with us soon to access our digital collection!

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: Where in the world is John Rhoden?

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

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

Every detail is a clue

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

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

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

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

Part Archivist // Part Detective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits:

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

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Project Update: Digitizing the John Rhoden papers

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Project Director and Director of Archives

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Merry Christmas from the Rhodens!

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

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

Christmas 1994

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Introducing Lawrence Kay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correspondence from Kay to Richenda Rhoden from October of 1943.

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

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Happy Holidays from PAFA!

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

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

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

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

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

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