Editor’s note: The Museum is currently conducting a conservation project, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, to improve the accessibility of and preserve our extensive collection of Civil War photographs. Here, the Museum’s paper and photograph conservator Carol Turchan reveals how the project started.
This Civil War photograph, one section of George N. Barnard’s panoramic view of Knoxville, Tennessee, taken in March 1864, is in pristine condition.
During the summer of 2011, a researcher contacted me requesting access to the Museum’s vast collection of Civil War photographs. The request was unusual because it was addressed to me, the paper conservator, not the Research Center. The researcher, Susan Williams, was seeking photographs by Captain Andrew J. Russell, one of the earliest to document the Civil War.
The Museum’s Civil War photograph collection is filed by subject. Finding aids direct researchers to topics such as battles, bridges, camps, and so on. These broad subjects would be of little help for Susan’s detailed search. Few Civil War photographs are attributed to a particular photographer, and to further complicate the issue, Mathew Brady, the best known photographer of the period, has received credit for most of the images. Not only did Brady employ some of the best photographers of the time from his studios in New York City and Washington, DC, but he purchased negatives and rights from photographers who preceded him in the field. Susan would have to view our entire collection, more than eight hundred views of the war, to identify prints by Captain Russell.
During her visit, Susan found this view of Fredericksburg, Virginia, from May 3, 1863. Although the mount attributes the photograph to Matthew Brady, Captain Andrew J. Russell’s signature is marked on the negative, beneath the rifle.
Susan had traveled from one Civil War repository to another in her search to locate and identify all of the work by Captain Russell. One institution recommended that she speak to me about viewing CHM’s collection. In the end, I was more involved with her project than anticipated. She planned to visit for a week in the fall when the designated research specialist would be on vacation, so I offered to lend assistance whenever and to whatever extent possible while she was here.
The assignment had an unexpected benefit: Before her time ran out, Susan viewed all of our oversized prints, approximately five hundred from flat files, and even began to look at smaller images stored in vertical files. She shared tidbits of information about the photographs with me and recognized some previously unidentified subjects, and I enjoyed Susan’s excitement at getting to look at images she had not yet seen, views unique to the Museum’s collection. Also, the degraded condition of so many of the original mounts and albumen prints convinced me that something had to be done to preserve the many photographs that were at physical and chemical risk.
These pontoon bridge views, taken by Captain Russell, were in need of treatment. The mount had suffered small tears, and water had damaged the lower portion of the page.
Reference images taken by staff prior to conservation
Months later, I received another unusual request, this one from a student at an art conservation training program. She wished to follow up her graduate work in photographic conservation with an internship at the Museum and asked if I would be willing to write an application for her for a Kress Fellowship. I immediately settled on the Civil War photograph collection for the internship project. The Museum’s proposal was selected from 138 applications, one of only nine to be awarded a fellowship.
Next up: Meet Katrina Flores, the Museum’s Kress Fellow, and learn about her work.
The Museum gratefully acknowledges support for this conservation project from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation administered by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation.
Although women’s wear was the predominant feature of the Ebony Fashion Fair, Mrs. Eunice Johnson also introduced the latest designs in menswear, including a 1972 sequined evening suit by Guy Laroche. Prior to exhibition, the garment required careful assessment and conservation.
Behind-the-scenes photographs by CHM staff
Costume conservator Julie Benner worked out a treatment plan to secure or replace the suit’s loose or missing iridescent sequins. Over time, many of the sequins had come loose in certain areas of the garment. Here, she meticulously reinforces each with unobtrusive thread.
Intern Yanet Ramirez followed Julie’s instructions to secure sequins that had come loose on the jacket’s matching plaid pants.
Intern Anna Kosters practiced sewing sequins to the muslin cover of the work table before she began work on the garment.
The costume conservator’s tools include special magnifiers, tweezers, and scissors, which they use to make precise, delicate incisions into garments. Because of the fragile state of many of the textiles with which they work, conservators have borrowed tools from the medical field, such as special threads and needles typically used by surgeons.
Guy Laroche (France)
Haute couture, fall/winter 1972–73
Silk/synthetic blend taffeta, plastic sequins
Appeared in Ebony Fashion Fair The Mood of Luxury
May 2013: Charlene Mires. Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations. New York: New York University Press (2013).
When New York was chosen as headquarters for the United Nations, it became the putative capital of the world. Chicago had also been a contender along with San Francisco and Philadelphia. No surprises there, but the Black Hills of South Dakota? The Michigan and Ontario twin towns of Sault Sainte Marie? The placement of the United Nations was a key post-war decision that, until this book appeared, had dropped out of view. Where else will you be able to read about small-town hucksters and polished diplomats all in the same astonishing story?
Mah Jongg. M.J. Mahj. Whatever the name or style of play, the game of Mah Jongg brings people together.
My grandma used to play Mahj with “the girls.” As a child I remember playing in her hallway closet, stacking and clacking the ornate tiles, creating my own made-up games. I inherited her Mahj set. Amazingly, it still has all of its 152 tiles, the back of each painted red with nail polish. Touching the tiles, I remember my grandma, the smell of her perfume, how her hands felt: her nails were always painted, and her hands were always soft. And I have finally learned how to play.
Mah Jongg is an ancient Chinese game made popular in America by Jewish women in the early twentieth century. This May, in conjunction with the Shalom Chicago exhibition, the Museum is celebrating the game. Together with the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago (CAMOC), a longtime community partner, we explore the cross-cultural love of Mahj and the memories the game can evoke.
Mah Jongg set from the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago
All photographs courtesy of Ram and Soo Lon Moy
Ram Moy from CAMOC, a guest speaker for the Museum’s Chinese Roots of Mah Jongg program on Tuesday, May 21, shares his memories of Mahj:
Growing up in Hong Kong in the 1950s and ’60s, I could hear the sounds of Mah Jongg playing every night. The tiles used then were probably one of the biggest kind (about 1 1/2″ x 1 5/8″). The tabletop was wood without a cushion, so the tiles made lots of click-clacking sounds during shuffling. I lived in a flat on the fourth floor with seven bedrooms. There were six families living there at any given time with one family per bedroom. There were always one or two Mah Jongg games going on every night until midnight. I learned how to play probably about twelve by watching my mother and the other adults. The kids in the same flat would attempt to play whenever there was a break between adults for dinner or bathroom. Of course we were chased off every time they returned. The style of Mah Jongg that was commonly played was called the Hong Kong style. People play Mah Jongg for entertainment and gambling, hoping to win some money.
Moy family Mah Jongg game, September 1990
After we moved to the United States when I was nineteen, I did not play Mah Jongg for twenty years, even though there were plenty of opportunities. Life was busy. In the few friendly games I did play, I noticed some differences between the Hong Kong style and the styles played in Chicago. The tiles used here were smaller too; some were even miniature size. Cushioned tabletops were preferred to lessen the noise level.
Mah Jongg with the Moy family, 2005
Later, a few college friends started to play a different style, called the Shanghai or Taiwan style. It was the most complicated style yet. I was hooked. We only played a few times a year when we got together for celebrations. We kept scores of how each game went, who was ahead, and by how much. This style, in my opinion, is the most challenging of all of the styles that I have played. We keep the game rules, “the bible,” and refer to it all the time during play.
Ram Moy (far left) with his Mah Jongg buddies, November 26, 1999
Mah Jongg May is presented in collaboration with:
Henry Horner’s top hat connects us to a most interesting man from Chicago. Horner is best known as Illinois’s first Jewish governor (1932–40) but he had many other accomplishments as well. Born in Chicago, Horner was a descendant of Henry and Hannah (Dernberg) Horner, German Jewish settlers who arrived in the area in the 1840s. He trained as a lawyer and served as a Cook County probate judge for eighteen years, leaving a distinguished record of service. Horner also participated in numerous civic and community activities, serving on the board of directors for Michael Reese Hospital, the Jewish Aid Society, and the Chicago Council of Boy Scouts, among others.
Top hat worn by Governor Henry Horner of Illinois, 1933
Silk beaver with felt band
Gift of Mr. Barnet Hodes, ICHi-67247
As governor, Horner led with integrity during the difficult years of the Great Depression, instituting the state sales tax to match federal funds for various relief efforts. Among his other interests, he developed a lifelong devotion to Abraham Lincoln and amassed one of the world’s most extensive collections related to the sixteenth president. Horner donated his collection to the Illinois State Historical Society shortly before his death. It contains approximately 6,000 items, mostly manuscripts, pamphlets, and books, some of which are now on view at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
Henry Horner, c. 1932
Governor Horner won a second term in 1936 but died while in office on October 6, 1940. A large granite monument to him stands in Horner Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The now-demolished Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex on the near West Side, was also named in his honor.
Henry Horner’s top hat is on display in the Unexpected Chicago case in the Museum’s lobby this May and June.
DePaul University students Jeff Buchbinder, Haley McAlpine, Caelin Niehoff, Sam Toninato, and Winifred VanHaren recently met with Suzanne Franklin of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for this entry in the Museum’s People and Places series. They are students of the Museum’s archivist Peter Alter, as part of DePaul’s public history program.
From the moment we sat down with Suzanne Franklin, the director of Chicago’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), we notice she likes helping people and is happy doing it. “We have a proud history,” Franklin told us, speaking of HIAS, “of not only helping Jewish immigrants, but throughout our whole history we are very proud of the fact that we understand what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land.”
HIAS Chicago Freedom Grove, Lincolnwood, Illinois, 2012
HIAS was founded in 1911 and since then has helped Jewish immigrants and refugees search for employment, community, and a new home in the United States. As immigration patterns to the city have changed, HIAS has also adjusted. Today, Franklin and her organization focus on assisting newcomers from all over the world. HIAS helps, for example, immigrants and refugees achieve US citizenship through intensive classes. The organization also advocates on behalf of immigrants and refugees to influence policy and legislation.
To commemorate its centennial in 2012, HIAS created the Freedom Grove, a beautiful green space in suburban Lincolnwood that includes more than one hundred trees. While the grove certainly represents the organization’s hundred years of assisting immigrants and refugees, the trees also symbolize the roots newcomers plant in the city. “The fact that it is dedicated to all immigrants,” Suzanne explained, “gives everyone the opportunity, hopefully, to share their immigration story and their families’ immigrant roots.”
Watch an interview with Suzanne Franklin, the director of HIAS
Interview by Haley McAlpine; video by Caelin Niehoff.