Into the Unknown: Theodore Bowie and “The Arts of Thailand”

Theodore R. Bowie, an art historian known for his work in what was at the time an underrepresented field – the history of Asian art- wore many hats during his time at Indiana University. A newly acquired and now-processed collection of Bowie’s papers containing a large number of photographs, letters, lecture notes, publications, and preparatory documents for perhaps the largest undertaking of his career, i.e. a 1960 exhibition named “The Arts of Thailand,” has allowed me a peek into the life of this prolific academic. Partially complete drafts of his memoir paint an inspiring picture of the man whose unflinching eagerness for professional involvement, passion for learning and travel, and unwavering confidence managed to bring the art of Thailand to the United States for the first time in history.

Cover of the softcover catalog for the 1960 opening of “The Arts of Thailand”

Originally educated and trained in the study of French literature, Bowie first displayed the nimbleness with which he moved through his career, throughout a multitude of academic positions and areas of expertise, when he moved into the discipline of art history. Bowie joined the Art Department as an associate professor at Indiana University in 1950. His relative lack of background in the field made him an uncertain candidate for tenure. Noticing his supervisor’s hesitancy in granting tenure, Bowie suggested his own installation as a librarian and guardian of the department’s new Fine Arts Library, a position which provided the ambitious and optimistic professor the opportunity to become involved in curating.

After mounting five shows dealing with the arts of Japan and China, in 1955 Bowie was approached by Henry Radford Hope on behalf of then-president Herman B Wells asking for a show demonstrating the art of Thailand. This request for a Thai art show came at a time when IU was one of multiple state schools participating in an exchange program with the Southeast Asian country. American universities sent faculty in a variety of disciplines and their families to Thailand for eighteen to twenty-four months and, in turn, Thailand sent undergraduate and graduate students to study at its partner universities. Bowie agreed to take on the immense task, despite having no knowledge of Thai art. After inquiring with the National Gallery in DC as a location to inaugurate the show, he was met with a polite but firm “no.” Although “The Arts of Thailand” would go on to travel to a number of large internationally recognized museums across the US, Western Europe, and Japan, contributing institutions agreed that the show would open, for the first time, in Bloomington, Indiana in 1960.

Promotional material for “The Arts of Thailand” at Indiana University.

For Bowie, the formation of his selection committee was critical in facing the large task that now confronted him. He brought on Kojiro Tomita, a specialist in Japanese art from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Alexander Griswold, an archaeologist and paleologist specializing in South Asian art; and Prince Subhadradis Diskul, the curator in chief of the national museum in Bangkok, to assist him in the project and teach him the ins and outs of Thai art. One of the few rules Bowie had in organizing the show was that none of the works were to be on loan from dealers, but rather from personal collections. A large number of the pieces featured, therefore, ended up coming from the collections of the Thai royal family. Bowie writes in his memoirs of the collectors hesitancy to let their best pieces travel, a cautiousness which was remedied by both Griswold’s personal connections and Bowie’s assertion that if Thailand wanted the global exhibition of its art to be on par with those of its East Asian neighbors, he would only accept the best.

Once the loans of the nearly three hundred and fifty works of art, many of which were large sculptural pieces, were secured, Bowie employed a Thai photographer to document them for the catalog. One of Bowie’s biggest challenges with the exhibition was transportation of the loaned pieces. As the show traveled around the world, Bowie was effectively responsible for each piece’s safety for the entire two years for which it toured. The pieces were stored in crates made from native Thai teakwood. During the entire duration of the shows global lifespan, the items were packed or unpacked over twenty times. Transported by large naval ships, the crates had to be stored on the top decks and protected from the elements, as opposed to in the more enclosed holds. This unique accommodation was necessitated by the sacred nature of a number of the items and the belief that to stand or walk above or on an image of the Buddha was sacrilegious. The Thai curators who accompanied the works abroad had never had the experience of traveling works of art across continents, and these logistical considerations provided additional job training and experience for them.

Pieces for the exhibition being transported using ships belonging to the US Navy.

On a local level, Bowie was confronted with the complication that what would become the IU Art Museum was still under construction (part of the present day Fine Arts Building)– a problem which he solved by creating a dynamic show spread across three locations: IU’s Auditorium, The Lilly Library, and the Art Center Gallery (what is now the Grunwald Gallery). The unconventional settings, although facilitating greater access and public engagement, presented security concerns, as the various locations were not equipped with surveillance or guards. The safety of the Thai art work was ensured, however, by a detachment of university ROTC officers who provided twenty-four hour security. The Auditorium held sculptures from a variety of periods, with many of the larger pieces having to be displayed on the floor because of their weight. The Art Center Gallery displayed paintings from the collection of the King of Thailand and theatrical masks, while the Lilly featured displays of Thai books, manuscripts, and richly decorated lacquer cabinets. A number of the visitors to these exhibition areas would have, on their way to other events on campus, stumbled across lobbies for the three exhibition areas decorated in vibrant silks and been enticed to stay and linger with the treasured pieces on display. Well-received by students, faculty, and administrators at IU “The Arts of Thailand” would prove to be a huge success with audiences throughout its two year run, and inspired both a film of the same name and a follow-up exhibition, “The Sculpture of Thailand,” in the 1970s. Recently digitized, the film is part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive and can be accessed here through Media Collections Online.

“Thai Arts Exhibition,” 1960 in the Art Center Gallery (now the Grunwald)

“The Arts of Thailand” was a massive undertaking for its time, fraught with a number of obstacles which Bowie seemed to blithely address in stride. Describing his mindset in undertaking the show, Bowie wrote:

 “I had hoped to talk about it to Henry [Radford Hope] and Herman B Wells, but alas Henry is gone and I will never know whether the thought had occurred to him that here was a non-existent museum, represented by a little known member of his Art Department who was not an authority on anything and had published nothing, who was generally (and loosely ) familiar with Far Eastern Art  but totally ignorant of Thai art, proceeding as an equal with some of the most important museums in the country to bring to this country and circulate a large collection of works of art of all kinds, easily deserving because of the scale and quantity of objects of the term “blockbuster,” …The odd thing is that at [the] time in question, about 1959, I was not in the least fazed by those duties that I had not applied for. I was, however, certain that I could carry it out as expected and never lose any sleep over the matter”

As an aspiring curator and a student pursuing my master’s in art history, the discovery of the life of Ted Bowie has been timely. Coming to the field of art history with, as a former studio major, what felt like less background than my cohort, was daunting. As I am again veering off in a different direction, away from academia and, hopefully, into the field of curating, I often find myself riddled with uncertainty. Starting the grueling process of applying for jobs, I find myself doubting my qualifications. Coming across Bowie’s words, and researching his life, one which progressed not in a straight and proscribed line, but in a joyous meander driven by his passions and ambitions, I am reminded that, perhaps, it is good to wear a few hats throughout one’s lifetime. Bowie’s brazen self-confidence has come as a perfect rallying cry, a reminder to question not whether we are capable, but rather what things we might be capable of.

An undated portrait of Bowie found in his personal archive – The Theodore Bowie Papers

Behind the Curtain: Katie Morrison, Archives Assistant

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. 

What is your role in the IU Archives? Katie works as a processor in the IU Archives.  She helps with the arrangement and description of record collections.

What is your educational background? Katie’s educational background is rather impressive.  In 2012, She graduated with a BA from Purdue University, where she majored in Art History and minored in both English and History.  In 2014, she graduated from the University of Colorado with her MA in Art History.  She is currently working on obtaining her MLS with a specialization in Archives and Records Management. She will graduate in the summer of 2019. She was recently accepted into the PhD program in Information Science at IU and will start fall of 2019!

What previous experience do you have in archives? Her fascination with the archival field began at a young age.  This was due in part to her parents, both of whom are history professors.  This fascination followed her into adulthood, all the way to the University of Colorado.  While working on her master’s thesis, Katie spent a fair amount of time with the Jerome P. Cavanaugh Papers and Detroit Free Press photographs at the Walter Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs.  Though she had enjoyed her previous use of online archival resources, it was this experience that held the greatest impact on her.  “It was pretty much the transformative experience of my life…. that hands-on experience was big for me,” says Morrison.

What attracted you to work in the IU Archives? Katie approached the IU Archives after some encouragement from other student workers to apply.  “I knew this would be the best place on campus to get hands-on processing knowledge, and everyone I met was instantly encouraging and warm”, she says.  It would also seem that she has found camaraderie with several co-workers who also happen to be Boilermakers.  “Go Purdue!”

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives? The Leon Varjian papers are Katie’s favorite collection in the IU Archives.  “IU is fortunate to have such great documentation of counterculture happenings on campus in the 1960s and 1970s. Varjian’s cartoon map of Bloomington as “Fun City” reminds me of some of my favorite irreverent counterculture art collectives like Drop City. It’s smart without being pretentious, funny, and inherently political.”

What project are you currently working on? Katie curated an installed an exhibit here, “Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self,” using materials from his collection (she is also close to finishing the processing of that collection). She wanted to show how Sebeok brought together a range of disciplines in his scholarship. “There remains such a mystique about how academics think and work, and I wanted to demystify that a bit while still acknowledging his prolific intellect.” The exhibit is open through the end of March.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives? Despite being a “cynical person”, Katie says that every week brings a new favorite experience.  “Everything from reading letters written in the 19th century, to installing an exhibition, to encoding finding aids…it’s all a joy,” she says. She particularly enjoys assisting with outreach and class sessions with undergraduates.

What is something you have learned about IU by working in the Archives? Overall, Katie has learned that IU has a deep and rich history.  The knowledge of this history would not be possible without the hard work put in by the University Archives and its affiliates.  “The diversity of materials and stories contained in this archive is extraordinary. People may think a university-centered archive would be a) dull or b) small and boutique-like. Really, it is the opposite! The IU Archives has a kaleidoscope of times, materials, perspectives, and experiences to share.”

Educating the Educators: The I.U.-Thailand Project

 

Course catalog for the College of Education, Bangkok, Thailand. (Indiana University Archives, C347, Box 2.)

Beginning in 1954 and lasting until 1962, Indiana University partnered with education officials in Thailand to bolster the country’s methods of education for new teachers. Working under a contract through the United States government, I.U. provided technical and financial assistance to Thai universities. The project’s overall goal was to “build an institution capable of providing educational experiences which would provide leadership sorely needed in Thailand’s effort to modernize its educational system” by preparing teachers to work in Thai schools, create instructional materials, and perform consultant and research work on problems in education.

The need for teachers with quality pedagogical training stemmed from the rapid expansion of the Thai education system. When Thailand passed its compulsory education law in 1921, the number of children enrolled stood at 241,508 students. By 1954, the year I.U. began offering assistance, the number had significantly risen to almost 2,900,000. While the large number of students was hailed for providing an education to a large number of Thai children, the rapidity meant “expansion was done at the expense of quality… preparation of teachers to teach in those schools.”

Dr. Robert Shaffer speaking at a conference in Thailand. (Indiana University Archives, Accn. No. 2018/116, Box 1.)

Among the I.U. faculty who went to Thailand was Dr. Robert Shaffer, who was Dean of Students from 1955 to 1969. From October 1961 to January 1962, Shaffer served as a consultant to administrators at Chulalongkorn University, providing assistance in the development of personnel services. Prior to Shaffer’s visit, all students at Chulalongkorn University took the same classes, resulting in a rigid curriculum. Shaffer worked to establish a placement bureau, an alumni association, and a counseling office. In a February 2, 1962 article in the Indiana Daily Student, Shaffer noted “we hope that the system of faculty counseling, especially in regard to entering students, will introduce more flexibility into the present program at Chulalongkorn University.” Shaffer’s efforts to create student counseling offices were hailed by officials in Thailand. In a letter to university president Herman B Wells, an official at the American embassy in Bangkok wrote, “Dr. Shaffer’s program has been one of the most successful that any American Specialist has had in this country.”

Cover of souvenir book from Chulalongkorn University. (Indiana University Archives, Accn. No. 2018/116, Box 1.)

By the time the program ended in 1962, the collaboration between I.U. and Thailand resulted in 2,638 students graduating with a Bachelor’s of Education. Bhuntin Attagar, a Director General in the Ministry of Education, wrote, “it is my belief that the Indiana University Contract has done much more in promoting international understanding and cooperation than has ever been done before in the history of Thai education.”

There are a number of records in the Archives related to IU’s work in Thailand. For more information on IU’s partnership with Prasan Mitr College of Education and the Thai Ministry of Education, see the “IU Thailand Project records, 1953-1975.” Want a closer look? Contact the Archives to schedule an appointment!

An Oral History of Falling in Love at Indiana University

The Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project has collected over 1,000 interviews from alumni, current and retired faculty and staff at all 7 I.U. campuses. Voices remembering the good and difficult times at their alma mater provide a rich and often emotional history of the university. Memories of student protests, professors, favorite hangouts, national events, and football games are among the many stories shared over the years. When asked if they remembered a specific event on campus that impacted their life, Ruth DiSilvestro, Audrey Beckley, and Joan Keck had the same answer: they fell in love with their husbands at Indiana University.

Ruth DiSilvestro (M.A. 1971) vividly remembers living in Eigenmann Hall and meeting her future husband in the cafeteria. Listen below to Ruth’s sweet story on how they met:

Audrey Beckley, 1964 Arbutus  
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Ken Beckley, 1962 Arbutus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audrey Beckley (B.S. 1964) remembers meeting her husband, Ken Beckley (B.S. 1962), at the Fall Carnival and marking on Ken’s senior cords with chalk. The Beckleys also established the Kenneth A. Beckley and Audrey J. (Hofelich) Beckley Media Technology Fund at the I.U. Media School and have a studio named after them in the school. Listen below to hear Audrey tell her heartwarming story of how she met Ken:

Joan Keck (B.S. 1956) tells a funny story about how she met her husband, David Keck (B.S. 1956, J.D. 1959) at the Freshman Mixer held in Alumni Hall. While dancing with her date, a young man cut-in; that same young man would become her husband during her senior year. Listen below to hear Joan reminisce about meeting David at the Freshman Mixer:

Joan Keck, 1956 Arbutus
David Keck, 1956 Arbutus

 

Listening to stories of love is a common theme throughout the I.U. Bicentennial oral histories. People express love and gratitude for their friends, family, classes, professors, campus, Herman Wells, and Bloomington; the list could go on.  And as Ruth DiSilvestro says in the last lines of her oral history when reflecting on I.U., “It’s certainly touched our lives in many important ways.”

Eddie Whitehead: Breaking I.U.’s Color Barrier in Baseball

Eddie Whitehead, IU Archives, Image no. P0052290

Throughout 2019, Major League Baseball will honor the centennial of Jackie Robinson’s birth. Robinson made history in 1947 when he broke professional baseball’s color barrier by playing second base for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s courageous actions spurred the racial integration of the sport, ending decades of segregated baseball. In 1956, Robinson’s last year in the majors, Indiana University’s baseball team welcomed its first African American player, catcher Eddie Whitehead. Whitehead, a native of Madison, Indiana, joined as a sophomore and was one of five catchers on the team that year.

Though Whitehead made his debut nearly ten years after Robinson’s debut, a spring break trip through Florida and Georgia from March 26-31, 1956, illustrated the racial disharmony that was still prevalent throughout the country. At the major league level, professional baseball would not be fully integrated until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox became the last team to welcome an African American player on its roster. At the collegiate level, a strict “gentleman’s agreement” prohibiting non-professional contests between African Americans and whites was in force in the South, meaning if Whitehead played, the other teams would not play I.U. According to a March 22, 1956 press release, I.U. entered into the six games without knowledge of this agreement, thereby hindering the team’s ability to pull out of the games. After speaking with I.U. President Herman B Wells, Whitehead decided he did not want to ruin the trip for his teammates by not going, so he decided to make the journey, though he did not play as per the agreement.

In a 2017 Indiana University Bicentennial oral history interview, Whitehead’s daughter, Dr. Dawn Whitehead, recalled the stories her father told her about the trip. Traveling through the Jim Crow south was “a profound experience for him,” she said. “He often didn’t get to eat in restaurants with his teammates, and they would bring food out to the bus.” “He would also sometimes not be able to stay in the same hotels where his teammates stayed,” Whitehead recalled.

Listen to Dawn Whitehead share more memories of her father in this clip from her IU Bicentennial Oral History interview:

In a March 27, 1956, Indianapolis Times article, Eddie stated he had to eat in the hotel kitchen in Harriman, Tennessee. In Cedartown, Georgia, he ate in the car. Both times I.U. baseball coach Ernie Andres joined him. “I stayed with Eddie everywhere we went,” Andres said in an April 18, 1997 article in the Indiana Daily Student. “My only fear was that he would get hurt.”

While I.U. played Florida State, Eddie stayed at Florida A & M, a historically black college. While there, he trained with their baseball team and stayed in a dorm room. Dawn Whitehead stated staying at Florida A & M was the fondest memory of the trip for her father. Coach Andres made arrangements for Eddie to stay with African American families while the team played Florida University and Georgia Teachers. “I don’t think I could ever live down here,” Eddie said in the March 27, 1956, Indianapolis Times article. “I just couldn’t. It seems so different. Too many drawbacks.” “People look at you so cold,” Whitehead said in another Indianapolis Times article from March 28, 1956. “Like you’re something different. Like you were inferior.”

Upon the team’s return to Bloomington, Wells expressed outrage at the treatment of Whitehead. “It’s outrageous the indignities now being suffered in the South by Eddie Whitehead,” Wells stated in a March 28, 1956, Louisville Times article. “This is very distasteful to me. I’m opposed to segregation in any form. Indiana is the leader in the nation against segregation in schools as well as in athletics.” Wells received numerous letters regarding the incident. Some came from supporters, while others came from those questioning his reasoning for allowing Whitehead to go when the team knew he wouldn’t be able to play.

Scorecard from the April 24, 1956 game against Butler. Whitehead went 1-for-2 with a run scored and a triple. (Accn. # 2015/027, Box 306, “Baseball 1956.”)

Whitehead played in 12 games during the 1956 campaign. His most notable game that year occurred on April 24 against Butler. He went 1 for 2, with a triple, one base-on-balls, and two RBIs. I.U. defeated the Bulldogs in an 18-5 thrashing. At the conclusion of the season, he was awarded a varsity letter.

Whitehead graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in 1958. He became a banker, a profession in which he remained for thirty years; he also worked on the statistics crews for the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts. Whitehead passed away on September 10, 2014, at the age of 77.