30th / VRA 20th
Picturing the World: World’s Fairs and Visual Information
P. J. Most, National Gallery of Art
Greta Earnest, Bard Graduate Center
DeWalt, The Free Library of Philadelphia, “Centennial Exhibition Digital
Barbara Mathe, American Museum of Natural History, “World’s Fair People: The Photographs of Jessie Tarbox Beals at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904”
Amy F. Ogata, Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, “World’s Fairs Peepshows: Architectural Representation and the Souvenir”
Sharon Smith, Missouri Historical Society, “The World Came to Saint Louis: What Was it Like at the 1904 World’s Fair”
Allen, Dallas Museum of Art
Visual Resources Division, Decorative Arts Round Table
Most welcomed his co-moderator and the panel of speakers, then thanked
Innovative Interfaces for sponsoring the session. The world’s fairs represent “the gateway to tomorrow”
filled with all the latest and greatest the world has to offer in design,
architecture, technology, and culture as well as the promise of what is yet to
come. Saint Louis came to represent not only the gateway to westward expansion
but in many ways became the portal to the New World. The photographic
documentation and material generated by this world’s fair and others provide
an excellent vehicle to celebrate this historic joint ARLIS/NA and VRA
conference, “Gateway to the Future: Visual Information in a New Age.”
speakers for this session presented an online resource, a picture collection,
fair souvenirs, and local context.
Free Library of Philadelphia’s Print and Picture Collection holds the largest
extant collection of photographs documenting the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in
Fairmount Park. The first speaker,
Jim DeWalt, presented a digitization project, funded by a National Leadership
Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), for which he
coordinated a multi-member committee. Jim
created the historical background and text for the site.
He presented an overview of the contents, which are extensive and
document 1,283 silver albumen photographs from the Centennial Collection.
The site presented can be found at <http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/index.htm>.
Some of the highlights that the speaker included were the Exhibition
facts section, which is text based, and the Centennial Schoolhouse area, which
was created especially for children. The
tours section is impressive. When
the cursor is placed over a building it becomes a link that you can click on and
get to further information and pictures for that site.
The speaker highlighted Memorial Hall, which was the art gallery. He rounded out the talk by demonstrating some of the search
features and results.
Mathe's presentation described a collection of three hundred photos taken of
anthropological exhibits at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint
Louis by Jesse Tarbox Beals. The
photos as seen through the eyes of today reveal a time of rampant racism and the
belief of western thought as superior. Much
research from Mathe's talk comes from Robert Rydell’s book, All
the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions,
1876-1916. The photo collection, which was described and presented, is
now held by the Museum of Natural History in New York. It documents the people that were exhibited in diorama-like
displays, meant to simulate their native environments, many times showing not
only the exhibit, but also the onlookers (the visitors to the fair).
The displayed people actually lived in their exhibits, some were born
there, while others died there. Mathe
noted that there were many instances over the years where these photos were
published as having been taken in the true, natural setting, when they were
actually retouched fair photos with evidence of the fair being removed from the
background! Some of Beals’
pictures were made into transparencies and hung in the Museum’s Philippine
Hall in 1913. Filtered through
their archival history, where for a time provenance and attribution were lost,
the photographs reflect the social evolutionism of the time of the St. Louis
Fair and the fear (and desire) that the cultures of these peoples might be lost.
F. Ogata’s presentation was about a souvenir of the fairs, the peepshow, which
was a foldout paper construction with printed scenes. Related to the panorama and the stereoscope, the peepshow
offered a selective visual experience that organizers, architects, and engravers
determined. Her research on this
topic will soon be published in the Journal of Design History
presentation surrounded the ideas of moments in time, capturing ideal memories,
the past as an object of longing, the art of looking, and selected visual
Sharon Smith provided a perfect closure to this session. She talked about the transformation of St. Louis (at the time the fourth largest city in the United States) and Forest Park into the site of the World's Fair. She had fascinating facts and images to show. Session attendees saw slides of the first wooden stake that was sunk at the site in 1901 as well as a shovel complete with dirt! She told us about the stock certificates that were sold to raise the first $5 million to develop the site and how the wilderness was transformed into a city. Rail service was added to the location and hotels had to be constructed. The Palace of Fine Arts was built to remain a permanent structure versus others that were temporary—it later became the art museum. For more information on this fascinating time period, Smith referred us to Martha R Clevenger’s book, “Indescribably Grand" : Diaries and Letters from the 1904 World's Fair (Missouri Historical Society Press, 1996).