• Come by and check out The Wolfsonian’s book club, held the first Friday of each month—it’s free for first-time visitors (after that it’s still free, but museum membership is required). The next meeting is April 5 at 7pm. The book? Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which imagines Charles Lindbergh defeating FDR in the 1940 election.
Now you and your refrigerator can both accessorize with Wolfsonian objects, courtesy of the new “objects” t-shirt ($20) and a series of very cool new magnets ($12), each of which features items from the collection. The beige, one hundred percent cotton t-shirt depicts silhouettes in black of several iconic objects from the collection arranged in the shape of a “W.” The magnets come in themed sheets of eight magnets arranged in a five-inch-by-seven-inch rectangle. The themes are Miami Beach, transportation, and metal objects.
“The best way to drink a cafezinho is chatting away with a dear friend!”—Sheila Thomson
With profound sadness, The Wolfsonian remembers and pays tribute to the life of Sheila Thomson (1944–2013), who passed away in January after a short illness. Sheila worked in the museum from 1998 until her retirement in 2005, chiefly in the communications department. After retiring, Sheila continued to work on special projects for the museum, including recent work of helping to populate the new website. Sheila was highly respected at The Wolfsonian for her intellectual agility, her remarkable facility with languages, her skill as a translator and editor, which the curatorial department often put to good use, as well as her early and deep knowledge of website programming. To the world at large, she was widely known for her long-running and encyclopedic website about Brazil, www.maria-brazil.org, which her family plans to continue. Established in 1995, it was the first U.S. website about Brazilian popular culture. In addition to being an authority on all things Brazilian, from music to crafts to food, Sheila was a wonderful writer and photographer, as is evident on her website and the pages of the three e-books she produced: Maria’s Cookbook: A Scrapbook of Recipes and Memories from Brazil, Serra da Capivara National Park: Cave Paintings in Brazil, and Blog da Arara, a journal of her life in Rio de Janeiro in 2007–09 (all are available through blurb.com). Sheila spent decades amassing a collection of Brazilian music, art, handicrafts, books, film, and other materials, which she donated to Florida International University in 2006. This summer the Special Collections Department at FIU’s Green Library plans to mount an exhibition drawn from the collection in honor of Sheila’s life.
Eighteen FIU architecture graduate students are spending a good deal of their spring semester closely examining objects from the museum’s collection as part of their coursework for Space, Society and the Digital: Virtual Worlds and Visual Aesthetics, taught by Winifred E. Newman, associate professor in the College of Architecture + the Arts. While this is a history of technology course, in many ways Newman is asking the students to reconsider the ways in which we typically think of technological development. “We tend to think of technology as progressive and determined and increasing in efficiency. This course wants to undermine that approach, and to begin to understand how things are embedded in multiple systems,” she explains. “What develops over time is not only about function, there are many other factors. There may have been a better bicycle design, but if people don’t use it, it dies over time. Leonardo may have invented the airplane, but there wasn’t a driving need for it at that time, so it wasn’t developed.” As a contemporary example, she mentions smartphones. “Why did Nokia phones first become popular and now the iPhone? They both do the same thing. It’s not just about function, there is something else in effect.”
The Wolfsonian is pleased to welcome new staff members and announce the following promotions:
David Almeida, visual resources photographer
David recently was promoted to the position of visual resources photographer. He works primarily with the library collection, digitizing rare books, ephemeral materials, photographs, and prints. He also updates and maintains the library’s exhibitions website and gifts website. David has worked at The Wolfsonian for six years. With this promotion, The Wolfsonian now has two full-time photographers primarily focused on digitizing the library and objects collections. Prior to joining the museum, David worked as a lab technician at Tropicolor Photo Lab and District Lab; he has also worked with Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on digitization of historic photographs. A native of Portugal, David attended the Instituto Superior de Novas Profissoes in Lisbon. He also attended Barry University, from which he received a certificate in photography.
“The Wolfsonian is an ideal environment for a scholar like me, for anyone who is looking at big issues in the twentieth century,” says Jill Bugajski, a fellow in residence at The Wolfsonian for much of February. A Ph.D. candidate in the department of art history at Northwestern University, Bugajski spent her weeks at The Wolfsonian working on a few different projects, one being research for her dissertation Red Dilemma: America Art, the Red Scares and the Second World War 1939–49, which investigates visual art and exhibitions in the United States in connection to the changing nature of relations with the Soviet Union and the Second World War. In her dissertation she explores how activist agencies and artists promoted Soviet culture in the U.S. through visual media and the reactions of Americans in the art and design worlds.
“I’m investigating the prehistory of the Cold War. I started out as a Cold War art historian but as I got deeper into the field, I realized the origins of the questions I was asking were in an earlier time. I had to go back to the 1940s and I had to address the Soviet Union,” she says. “Instead of investigating what happened during the cultural Cold War, my questions became, ‘How did the Cold War come to be?’ and ‘How did the image of the Soviet Union become construed as an enemy by the U.S.?’ ”
Anyone interested in graphic design is in for a special treat when husband-and-wife designers Steven Heller and Louise Fili appear at The Wolfsonian on March 22 to discuss their latest books: Heller’s 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design, co-written with Veronique Vienne, and Fili’s Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili.
Is body art design? Yes, says Heller, who includes body type in 100 Ideas. Tattoos date back to Neolithic times—Heller calls the tattoo “some of the earliest advertising” and points out that “before t-shirts, there were tattoos.” But why are tattoos so prevalent today? After all, we’re not lacking in t-shirts. “As the computer and the global society make us indistinguishable from each other, people want to individuate themselves,” Heller says. “It’s in keeping with the rise of the DIY sensibility, of hand-crafted goods. There are people who do it for that reason and then others who follow the crowd, lemming-like, not realizing that in fifty years they are going to have an unsightly blemish.”
March 31 is the last day to view Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection. Just three weeks later, Esther Shalev Gerz’s Describing Labor closes, on April 21. Both exhibitions are rich, layered, and provocative, with Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte providing an intriguing glimpse of the lost world of turn-of-the-century Vienna and Describing Labor challenging us to consider—and then reconsider—what we think of when we think of the worker and labor.