She Sells: Advertising to Women.

With another season of Mad Men back on the air, our heads are swimming with iconic images of the American advertising industry in its heyday: cocktails, cigarettes, beautiful secretaries, and big ideas on Madison Avenue. In honor of our consumer-centric society and to explore the history of advertising in America, the Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections of Advertising Collections is a resource like none other. Consisting of many collections in itself, the Advertising Collections the most comprehensive archive of advertisements, and all available online. Some of the more prominent of the sub-collections include Ad*Access, AdViews, Emergence of American Advertising: 1850-1920, and Outdoor Advertising Association of America Archives (OAAA). Ad*Access presents over 7,000 images of print advertisements made available through J. Walter Thompson Competitive Advertisements Collection dating from 1911-1955 and focusing mostly on subjects of radio, television, beauty and hygiene, transportation and World War II. AdViews contains nearly 9,000 TV commercials produced by the advertising agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B) during the 1950s-1980s, all are hosted by the Internet Archive. The Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920  collection includes over 9,000 images that illustrate the rise of consumerism in the United States. The OAAA displays an impressive images of 16,000 billboards, posters, murals, electronic signs and transit ads taken across America.

While roaming through this archive, it is apparent how women have been the prime target of consumerism from the beginning. Women are often seen as the decision makers for household goods and known to spend a lot to look good. Preying on ladies’ insecurities has long been a part of marketing campaigns. Featured here are a selection of some of the more far-fetched strategies.  [Above] Three kids sure take a toll on mom’s hairdo. At Once Stretch Wig will give such effortless perfect locks to bed head moms, they will be inspired to twirl through the grocery store. [Below] Kotex’s “Confessions of a Private Secretary” appeal to those who are slaves to the buzzer and must look good while abstaining from selfishly fretting. Odors must be the culprit behind the single dame. Mouthwash and soap seem to deliver the more cruel messages: if you’re stinky you’ll never be loved. Body odor of the glamorous lounge ladies, heiresses with looks and money, and charming socialites alike will repel everyone, including suitors. And ladies, you can just forget about ever getting married if you have bad breath.

Kotex Company. 1939. Motion Picture Magazine. Ad*Access Collection Courtesy of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections, obtained from:

Palmolive Soap. 1937. Good Housekeeping Magazine. Ad*Access Collection Courtesy of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections, obtained from:

Listerine Mouth Wash. 1937. Unknown Magazine. Ad*Access Collection Courtesy of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections, obtained from:

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Wear it Loud.

The African Activist Archive, which is part of the Africa Online Digital Library supported by Michigan State University, documents the activism in support of African people.  Voices united around the world in the support of the end of colonialism, apartheid in South Africa, and social injustice during the 1950s-1990s. While the African Activist Archive includes documents, oral histories, photographs, video, and posters, documenting this international support, it also hosts a mesmerizing ephemera collection of buttons and t-shirts.  Most of these wear-ables call for the end of apartheid in South Africa and the boycott of Afrikaner led companies. Although it took much time and international advocacy, apartheid officially ended in 1994. Never underestimate the power of a t-shirt, our bodies can be billboards for political change.


1982. Opland. Courtesy of African Activist Archive, obtained from:

1980s. Button. Courtesy of African Activist Archive, obtained from:

Courtesy of African Activist Archive, obtained from:

1980s Button by Coke Boycott Campaign Atlanta, Georgia, United States.


Viva the women of South Africa. 1980s. T-shirt. Courtesy of African Activist Archive, obtained from:

Isolate apartheid, support the front line states! 1980s. T-shirt. Courtesy of African Activist Archive, obtained from:

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Outerwear of the Fashion Plates.

‘Tis the season for frigid temperatures and winter weather advisories aplenty; when the importance of dressing appropriately for the weather is crucial for one’s survival outdoors. These days, cumbersome, heavy coats often damper our appearances with their muted tones and ever evolving synthetic fabrics promising a high-tech shield against the frosty air. While style often takes a back seat to functionality, the Pratt Institute Libraries Fashion Plate Collection shows us some of the most decadent of outerwear, created in the 1920’s Art Deco fashion. The plates appeared in the most influential fashion magazine of its time (1912-1925), the French periodical La Gazette du Bon Ton. Keeping warm never looked so good.

“Coat of English velvet, trimmed with opossum.” Ca. 1920. Courtesy of Pratt Institute Libraries Special Collections, obtained from:

“Sable and silk matelasse coat, fabric by Bianchini.” 1922. Courtesy of Pratt Institute Libraries Special Collections, obtained from:

“Red and brown evening coat by Paul Poiret.” 1922. Courtesy of Pratt Institute Libraries Special Collections, obtained from:

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The Art of Correspondence.

Moses Soyer letter to David Soyer, ca. 1940. Courtesy of Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, obtained from:

Dorothea Tanning to Joseph Cornell, Mar. 3, 1948. Courtesy of Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, obtained from:

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (AAA) is dedicated to gathering and preserving papers and primary records of the visual arts in America. It is the world’s largest and most used resource of its kind, with over 16 million items in its collections and growing. The AAA hosts over 110 fully digitized artist collections and extensive oral histories of American artists in the last 200 years. The essential components to an artist’s archive are typically correspondence, diaries, sketchbooks, photographs, printed materials, film and audio recordings. From browsing the AAA’s holdings, I became captivated with the art of correspondence documented within its collections.

From handwritten notes to carefully selected paper punched with typewriter keys, correspondence on paper is a dying form of communication. Our world has been overtaken by fleeting emails and texts consisting of impersonal and uniform fonts, whereas penmanship connects the style and form of written words to a person. Artists especially know how to craft correspondence to include creative visual expression for an even more enriched, clever message.  This has been captured in the exhibits A Thousand Kisses: Love Letters from the Archives of American Art and  More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Another discovery within the AAA, was my fondness for Ray Johnson (1927-1995), painter, collagist, and correspondence artist. While Johnson’s collection is not completely digitized on the AAA site, his work can be seen in others’ collections, including correspondence, art, and articles on his death. Called his “performance art death”, Johnson committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in Sag Harbor, Long Island and was seen backstroking into oblivion. His dark humor and playfulness are pervasive in his art of correspondence. A transcribed interview with Johnson from 1968 sheds more light on his character. From the start, the interviewer begins to ask factual questions in order to establish dates and locations to Johnson’s life. Johnson finds this boring and rightfully becomes difficult while making accusations of a question-and-answer dictated conversation. When the interviewer asks Johnson when he came to New York, Johnson replies with “I’m inclined to think I’m not here.” Quickly after this head-butting of sorts, there is a pause in the interview. Despite this initial sparing, there is a lengthy dialogue that follows.

Ray Johnson letter to Lucy R. Lippard, 1969 May 3. Courtesy of Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, obtained from:

Ray Johnson mail art to Lucy R. Lippard, 1965 June 29. Courtesy of Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, obtained from:

With both the beauty of correspondence, and my lack of personal communication on paper, I am compelled to turn more to the pen, rather than the keyboard, when reaching out in 2012.  If nothing else, my archive is lacking in this essential category.

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Alan Lomax’s Legacy: Alive and Well.


The tune, You Got to Take Sick and Die sung by Boyd Rivers, is like a cold stare from fate’s steely face.  Its soulful jeers are a reminder that nobody escapes judgment day.  Just as time will inevitably run out for all, with altruistic deeds comes immortality. An exemplary case of this is the tireless and benevolent toil of Alan Lomax (1915 – 2002) which has earned his life’s work eternal existence here on earth.

Alan Lomax was the world’s leading folklorist and ethnomusicologist, spending his life capturing the sounds, images and video of our collective “intangible heritage.”  At the age of 18 Alan partnered with his father, John Avery Lomax, to document Texan folk music from the prisons, churches, and fields of rural communities for the Library of Congress.  This project was also part of the foundation of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

Alan Lomax continued to travel the world documenting folk music for as long as he was able, amassing an archive containing 60 years of his work.  Perhaps most notable of his work was of the American South, ranging from blues and gospel to bluegrass and Appalachian singsong.

Alan founded the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) in 1983 to archive his audio recordingsphotographs, videos.  The ACE hosts a research center including a fascinating comprehensive multimedia archive, lesson plans, interviews and discussions, and much more.

Schoolgirls playing ring game. June 25 1965. La Paine, St. Patrick, Dominica. Courtesy of the ACE, obtained from:

Dancing the fandango. August 19 1952.Zeanuri, Pais Vasco, Spain. Courtesy of the ACE, obtained from:

In 2004, a large collection of Alan Lomax’s work was gifted to the Library of Congress, now most of his collections reside in the American Folklife Center, while the LOC hosts digitized photographs online.

Mexican girls, San Antonio, TX. April 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, obtained from:

Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) and Martha Promise Ledbetter, Wilton, Conn. February 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, obtained from:

Mountain woman in the hills near Austin, Texas. Between 1934 – 1950. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, obtained from:

As a man who understood so much about the essence of mankind, from our joyous exaltation to our heavy-hearted bellows, I’m not sure we understood nearly as much about him.  Various accounts reported Alan Lomax as a southern gentleman with a larger than life force of enthusiasm, although his personal life is somewhat mysterious. Lomax was rightfully deemed a national treasure for his lifelong passion for preserving folk culture. Get to know him better through the Association for Cultural Equity and LOC American Folklife Center.

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A Dramatic Shade of Rose.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has safeguarded the magical and immense moratorium of theatrical treasures that is the Billy Rose Theatre Collection. A glimpse of the imaginative and transporting world of early film has been captured in the lobby cards below.  Lobby cards were smaller than movie posters (11 by 14 inches) and displayed in theater lobbies for promotional efforts.  Typically these cards were created in a set of 6 to 8, capturing several scenes from the movie.  Although this type of promotion is no longer in use, having emerged in the early 20th century and reached extinction by the 1980s, their powers of persuasion are still as vital as ever.  No trailer needed, I’m sold on seeing Blood and Sand, Salomé, and Her Gilded Cage.

Woman and couple. “Blood and sand” 1922. Lobby card. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Billy Rose Theatre Division. Courtesy of The New York Public Library, obtained from:

Nazimova in Salomé. “Salomé.” 1922. Lobby card. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Billy Rose Theatre Division. Courtesy of The New York Public Library, obtained from:

Gloria Swanson in Her gilded cage. “Her gilded cage.” 1922. Lobby card. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Billy Rose Theatre Division. Courtesy of The New York Public Library, obtained from:

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Midcentury Modern: Ghana’s Freedom Fad.

CO 1069-46-23. January, 1957. Description: Exterior of the new Central Library in Accra. Location: Gold Coast, Accra, Ashanti, Sekondi, Ghana. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK. Obtained from:

The National Archives’[UK] Africa Through a Lens is a collection of thousands of images from  Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, taken from 20 African countries starting in the 1860’s through the 1980’s. This date range spanned from colonization to the independence of many African nations. Looking at the collections, the indicators of change are apparent. Having the most notable signs of this transition is the Ghana collection. Among early images of chiefs, tribesmen and villages are photographs from urban Ghana in the mid 20th century with signs of modernization through infrastructure, especially architecture.

During Ghana’s transition from British rule to independence, 1951-1957, the emergence of ‘tropical architecture’ began and continued through the 1960s.   In Mark Crinson’s book, Architecture and the End of Empire, there is a section dedicated to this movement in Ghana, although it was prevalent in much of Western Africa, and discusses its synonymy with liberation from imperial rule.  The excerpt below, from Crinson, describes the progression:

CO 1069-43-55. Location: Accra. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK. Obtained from:

“Everything of the colonial period – a period now past, was to be distrusted and even discarded without explicitly acknowledging it as belonging to a colonial past, nor the possibility of a continuing colonial presence or a rising neocolonial future. 

‘Tropical architecture’, it was hoped, was not so much post-imperial as beyond imperialism, part of another world-view all together. It was part of an imagined world where liberation had already happened, without violence and without social unrest, and in which the job now was all to do with modernization, the opening up of another field for architectural territorialization.  As the old modernist rallying cry had put it, ‘Architecture or Revolution’.”

There were two prominent figures who lead the tropical architecture movement in British West Africa: Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.  Fry and Drew, a British couple, were both leading modernist architects in London. During World War II, Fry was sent to Ghana on a military post. Once the war was over, Fry and Drew stayed to contribute their architectural endeavors in Western Africa and give birth to ‘tropical architecture’.

In this new style, buildings were usually built with cement walls and incorporated elements to cope with the heat and humidity, such as cross-ventilation by the use of pierced screens, verandahs, perforated walls, and wide eaves. The use of African designs in detailing was encouraged, commonly seen banisters and window decorations. Hospitals, universities, museums, libraries, municipal centers, and embassies were some of the likeliest candidates to receive an edifice in the style of tropical architecture.

It should be acknowledged that this revolutionary form of architecture was led by British architects. The colonizing nation’s talent was still dominating planning and creation of the prominent facilities for change while enforcing a European system.  With mostly British contractors using African workforces, the recipients of the largest salaries were most certainly taking funds back to the homeland of their former imperial rule. Despite finding possible flaws with the movement of ‘tropical architecture,’ the sleek, linear structures nestled in the lush Ghanaian landscape were beacons of hope and progress.

The National Archive has hosted Africa Through a Lens on Flickr, so that the public can contribute any information regarding the images since much data is missing. Peruse Ghana, along with 25 other African countries, and look out for the signs of liberation.

CO 1069-43-17. Description: Electricity House, Accra, the new Headquarters of the Electricity Department. Location: Accra. Courtesy of The National Archives UK. Obtained from:

CO 1069-46-9. January 1957. Description: Schoolboys and a teacher in the grounds of the Opoku Ware Boys’ Secondary School at Kumasi, in Ashanti. This boarding school, in its new and modern building, was established in 1952. Location: Gold Coast, Kumasi, Ashanti, Ghana. Courtesy of The National Archives UK. Obtained from:


Crinson, M. (2003). Modern architecture and the end of empire. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate.

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