Museums and Exhibits

November 11, 1957 – Eero Saarinen-Designed War Memorial Center Dedicated

War Memorial Center, Milwaukie, Wisconsin

War Memorial Center, Milwaukie, Wisconsin. Photo: Milwaukee War Memorial Center website

On November 11, 1957 – Veterans Day – the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center opened and was dedicated to the men and women who had served in the United States Armed Forces.  Designed as a floating cruciform structure by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the magnificent building features cantilevered portions and has since been named a Milwaukee Landmark.  On the west-facing facade, a 1,440,000-piece mosaic mural by Air Force veteran and Milwaukee resident Edmund Lewandowski displays Roman numerals honoring those who gave their lives in World War II, the War on Japan, and the Korean conflict (1941-1945, 1950-1953).

On this Veterans Day, on behalf of grateful Americans everywhere, 1957 Time Capsule wants to express a most heart-felt thank you to all veterans and service members of United States Military forces past and present, at home and around the world.  I am grateful for your service and your sacrifice for us and for your country.

May we never forget.

Memorial Mosaic by Edmund Lewandowski

Memorial Mosaic by Edmund Lewandowski. Photo: Milwaukee War Memorial Center website

Vintage 1957 – Discovery of the Mysterious Vinland Map

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

In the fall of 1957, rare manuscript dealer Laurence Claiborne Witten II, of New Haven, Connecticut, stumbled upon the cartographic find of the century. He was browsing in the antiquarian shop of Nicolas Rauch, a rarities dealer in Geneva, when he discovered two vellum documents bound together which appeared properly ancient and highly intriguing. One was a map and one was a text, both on old vellum, and both incorporating seemingly authentic pigments, watermarks, wormholes, and symbols. The bound volume seemed to date from 1430 to 1450. The map displayed the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It also included Greenland and portions of the coastline of Canadian North America which were startlingly accurate for the time period. And beyond this – the map indicated that Vikings had in fact visited that Canadian coastline between 985 and 1001. If the map were authentic, it would topple Italian Christopher Columbus’ claim to fame as the discoverer of the new world.

That little word “if” developed into a decades-long quest, drawing in all manner of experts in the field of geography, cartography, and ancient documents. Big guns from Yale University and the British Museum and many other research facilities have weighed in over the years. The map came to be known as the Vinland Map, since the Vikings had coined that name for the farthest reaches of their explorations to North American shores.

Simon Garfield gives us a lively view into the discovery of and controversy surrounding the Vinland Map in his delicious collection of geographic tales, On the Map. He translates the highly technical and esoteric investigations of the map into an accessible whodunit, charting the course of ups and downs, excitement and disappointment, thrills and chills. Debate on the provenance and meaning of the map continues. The bottom line? it’s all in the ink, and the experts don’t agree.

Who discovered America First? Columbus? Leif/Erik/Ragnar? I know, I know – my hand’s in the air! It was the ancestors of the Inuits who crossed the (now-submerged) land bridge from Siberia millennia ago.

October 23, 1957 – Christian Dior and Fifties Fashion in France

Designer Christian Dior and models in London, April, 1950.

On October 23, 1957, one of France’s foremost couturiers passed his haute torch to a young prince who would come to dominate the houses of Paris’ eighth arrondissement. The dying monarch was Christian Dior and the coming king was Yves Henri Donat Matthieu-Saint-Laurent. Dior’s father, a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer, hope his second son would become a diplomat, but uncooperative Christian loved art. During the years that father Maurice’s business flourished, Christian managed a gallery and exhibited works by the likes of Pablo Picasso. After the onset of the Great Depression and the loss of his subsidized gallery, Christian went to work for designers Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong. At the end of World War II and the French Occupation, Dior opened his own atelier in 1946. His first collection was presented in February, 1947.

Harper’s Bazaar then-editor-in-chief Carmel Snow captured the essence of Dior’s creations with the phrase, the “New Look.” With wartime fabric shortages becoming a thing of the past, Christian produced voluptuous styles, shapes, and silhouettes. Smoothly-fitted bodices, narrow waists, and flaring skirts gave society’s style-setters a most feminine and curvaceous appearance.

The house of Dior was highly successful through the 1950’s. Young, upcoming designers would join the atelier to learn and contribute their vision and skills. One such young man came to Paris in 1953 as the winner of the International Wool Secretariat designer contest. He stayed on in Paris to study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and won the Secretariat competition again (beating out, among others, a young Karl Lagerfeld). On the strength of his sketches, and his shared sensibilities about fashion, Yves Saint Laurent was accepted into the Dior studio and began careful tutelage as a new apprentice.

Over time, more of Saint Laurent’s designs found their way into each season’s offerings at Dior. By August, 1957, Christian had decided that young Yves was the man to fill his slippers when the time came for a successor. He revealed his choice to Saint Laurent’s mother, who found the revelation confusing, since Dior was only 52 at the time.

Then, on October 23rd, Christian Dior passed away on holiday in Italy. Several conflicting reports as to the cause of his death have never been fully resolved. At 21 years old, Yves Saint Laurent took the reins at the grand house of Dior. His highly successful early collections were described as a softer version of Dior’s New Look, including the famous “trapeze dress.” Toward the end of the 1950s, Saint Laurent became interested in his world’s version of street style, the “beatnik” look. The press was not amused. After conscription and a brief stint in the French army, Saint Laurent came back in the 1960s and 1970s with his own atelier to become one of Paris’ powerhouse designers, with accomplishments and innovations almost too numerous to list. He was a bona fide member of the international jet set and a force to be reckoned with in haute couture for decades.

“Les Annees 50: La Mode in France” (The Fifties: Fashion in France, 1947-1957) opened last July 12th at the Palais Galliera in Paris. The multitude of pieces on display – basques, petticoats, corolla skirts, pointed shoes, bright floral prints, wasp-waisted or straight suits, strapless sheath dresses, cocktail, dresses, crystal embroidery, feathered hats with veils – “retraces the evolution of the female form through the decade 1947-1957: from the birth of the New Look to the death of Christian Dior and the advent of Yves Saint Laurent.” French fashion dominated the fifties closet-scape not only because of Dior and Saint Laurent, but also due to the contributions (included in Les Annes 50) of Jacques Heim, Chanel, Shiaparelli, Balenciaga, Jacques Fath, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Griffe, Hubert de Givenchy, and Pierre Cardin. Mary Hawthorne, writing for The New Yorker in their September 16th issue, contrasted the fashion on display with the clothing choices she observed among the exhibit-goers and the hijab-wearing demonstrators on the streets. If you are a fashion-loving fifties fan, plan to attend Les Annees 50 soon. The exhibit closes November 2nd.

October 16, 1957 – Margaret Mead Collects Schoolchildren’s Sputnik Drawings

Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux look at children’s drawings of Sputnik 1. Photo: Arthur Herzog, Library of Congress.

On October 16, 1957, 13-year-old Kathryn Leonard of Saratoga Springs, New York, completed a school assignment – draw an image of the recently launched Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1.  Her drawing survives, and was collected and included in a project by American anthropologist Margaret Mead, famous for her earlier studies of sexuality and the adolescent experience of teenage Samoan girls.  Horrified by the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mead set out in the 1950’s to study American perceptions of science and space exploration.  Mead and her partner, Rhoda Metraux, decided to study “images of the scientist” among American students.  After the launch of Sputnik 1, they expanded their project to include children’s reactions to the history-making event.  Essays and drawings were collected from across the United States, and also around the world.  Mead and Metraux also conducted interviews and administered questionnaires for their collection, which is currently held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

The driving force behind Mead’s research was her desire to find a “model for living in a radically changed world, a world in which human beings could destroy themselves.”

Sputnik drawing by student Kathryn Leonard. Image: Library of Congress

 

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1. Photo: NASA

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

Vintage 1957 – Hundred Flowers Crushed in China

Self portrait (interviewing Maoist victims) by Wang Xu. Photo: Art Gallery New South Wales

Self portrait (interviewing Maoist victims) by Wang Xu. Photo: Art Gallery New South Wales

Give us your thoughts, Mao Zedong asked China’s citizens in 1956. How shall we reform this most promising of republics? “Our society cannot back down, it could only progress . . . criticism of the bureaucracy is pushing the government toward the better.” China’s best and brightest minds in the arts and sciences could make vital contributions toward improvement, as long as they were “constructive” (or “among the people”), rather than “hateful and destructive” (or “between the enemy and ourselves”).

The Hundred Flowers Movement – the gathering of intellectual thought – bloomed first in 1956. Named for the poetic theme “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” Mao was looking for a way to promote socialist ideology through new forms in the arts and new cultural institutions. His hidden agenda? Root out all dissent. Entice those who disagreed with his program to expose themselves and their non-party-line thinking. Then, spring the trap.

Much skepticism greeted the Chairman’s introduction of a neutral “suggestion box.” Mao even accelerated the process by announcing in the spring that criticism was now “preferred.” The trap began closing in the summer of 1957. Those prominent individuals who had been brave enough to register criticism of Mao’s policies were condemned to prison labor camps and, in many cases, executed. Over 550,000 people were branded “rightists’ and sentenced to death by starvation, hard physical labor, and suicide.  Across the People’s Republic, many individual rights were lost and Maoist orthodoxy would rule, unquestioned in any significant way until the time of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

An exhibit by artist Wang Xu, Archibald Prize winner for 2013, will open this weekend at the Verge Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Wang was born in China and trained in brush and ink painting in Beijing. He emigrated to Australia shortly after the Tiananmen Square uprising. “While enjoying a life of personal security in Australia,” Wang says, “I am still deeply affected by the terrible social and political injustices that continue to occur in China.”

In 2009 and 2012, Wang interviewed and filmed more than 140 survivors of Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign. The survivors are now in their 70s and 80s and have never received acknowledgement or compensation for their sufferings. “Self-portrait (interviewing Maoist victims)”, a work of oil and acrylic on board, will be on display at the gallery. The 8′ x 12′ panel includes 30 portraits of Hundred Flowers victims, and a depiction of Wang holding a video camera.

One issue of conflict in Mao’s 1957 campaign made the headlines this week in the Wall Street Journal. Ilham Tohti, an economics professor in Beijing and a moderate, articulate voice for the minority Uighurs in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, was sentenced to life imprisonment and the government seizure of all his property. WSJ reporter Josh Chin quoted Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang: “It’s a shocking verdict, extremely harsh even by China’s standards. By handing down a life sentence, the government is burning its one and only bridge to moderate Uighurs in China. This will only exacerbate the heightened Han-Uighur tensions.” In the days before Tohti’s conviction, a series of explosions in the Xinjiang region killed six and injured 54. Police response left forty more dead in the ongoing  and violent separatist movement.

Thank you, Wang Xu, for documenting and giving voice to those who dared to speak up and lost almost everything, and those who spoke up and whose voices are lost forever.

August 15, 1957 – Remembering the Virginia of Sagadahoc

On August 15, 1957, the United States Post Office issued a 3¢ stamp commemorating the 350th anniversary of the first sea-going ship built in the New World.  The Race to Space was on. Rockets, satellites, and ICBMs were in development, and next-generation fighter jets and remote control helicopters were setting records and making news.  But on this day, stamp collectors took note of another form of transportation – the 30-ton pinnace Virginia of Sagadahoc, built and completed by British settlers of the Popham (or Sagadahoc) Colony in 1607.

Popham Colony, near Phippsburg, Maine on the mouth of the Kennebec River, has a fascinating history.  (Sagadahoc, the other name for the area, was the Native American name for the Kennebec.)  Founded in August, 1607, only a few  months after the more successful and famous Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, Popham was named for George Popham, its leader and president.  With a charter granted by King James I, roughly 120 colonists ventured to the new continent to trade precious metals, spices, and furs, and build ships with wood from the extensive New World forests.  The colony experienced hunger, hostile relations with Native Americans, destruction by fire, and extreme cold during its first winter.  After a year, the colony disbanded when George Popham inherited his family’s estate in England.  The colonists remaining at that time returned home with  him.  The Virginia was one of the ships used by the colonists for that voyage.  She made another trip across the Atlantic in 1609 as part of a supply mission to Jamestown.  During that passage, she survived a massive three-day storm which may have been a hurricane.  The Popham colonists had built her well.

The exact location of Popham Colony was lost in the decades following its abandonment.  A map by “draughtsman” John Hunt of the colony, showing 18 buildings which may or may not have been completed, aided searchers who were able to discover the site in 1994.  Jeffrey Brain of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, headed up the excavation of the fairly undisturbed site, which has yielded invaluable artifacts and structural remains testifying to the early  history of our inventive and hard-working nation.