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

Geraldine Katherine White papers

Geraldine Katherine White P0080797

We are happy to announce that the Geraldine Katherine White papers are now open for research!

Geraldine Katherine White (1903-1985) was an Indiana native who grew up in St. Joseph County, Indiana. She enrolled at Indiana University in September 1922 and graduated in 1926 with a B.S. in Commerce. During her time at IU, Geraldine was involved in a number activities associated with the School of Commerce and Finance (now known as the Kelly School of Business). The school, which was established in 1920, was still new at the time and gave Geraldine the opportunity to take part in the early formation of what would become one of the consistently high-ranking business schools in the nation. She was Vice-President of the newly established Girls’ Commerce Club, a group composed of advanced students in the commerce program. The young woman was also a charter member of IU’s Phi Chi Theta, a society for women majoring in Commerce, and was on the Executive Board for the Hoosier Journal of Business. During her senior year, she joined an inaugural pledge class for the Alpha Beta chapter of the now-defunct Beta Sigma Omicron.  She also received the honor of joining the Mortar Board, a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for their achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service.

Notes from Geraldine’s “Representative Painters” art history class

The collection contains course notes from various classes Geraldine took from Spring 1924 through Spring 1926 and two scrapbooks that hold items associated with White’s social life while at IU. The two scrapbooks, which date from 1922-1923 and 1925-1926 respectively, provide a more personal look into Geraldine’s social activities and the campus community. They contain sports schedules, pamphlets from events, bylaws and other information associated with the sororities and professional organizations that she was involved in, and pictures of friends and events.

Geraldine attended IU during the early years of the Memorial Campaign Fund, an initiative to raise money for the construction of multiple buildings on campus and to simultaneously honor the men and women from the University who had participated in World War I (for more on this see our Memorial Fund Campaign Records and a previous blog post by Alessandro Meregaglia). The new building for Geraldine’s school was a part of this campaign fund and is highlighted in her scrapbook:

School of Commerce and Finance
1924 Show Down Pamphlet
1924 Jordan River Revue Pamphlet

In addition to more items related the Memorial Campaign Fund, researchers will also find a wide array of pamphlets from theater events like the Jordan River Revue (a popular musical variety show put on by the Garrick Club, an organization that promoted University dramatic endeavors), the annual “Show Down” (another variety show hosted by the Garrick Club geared toward fraternities and sororities), and comedy shows. Music events and dances are also very popular themes in her scrapbooks. The pages are also filled to the brim with handwritten notes from friends recalling various memories during their time at IU.

If you would like to view the Geraldine Katherine White papers for yourself, please feel free to contact the IU Archives to set up an appointment.

Gerardo Gonzalez, the briefcase, and the University Archives

Earlier this summer whilst attending a “Lunch & Learn” hosted by the Office of the Bicentennial, I had the pleasure of meeting Gerardo Gonzalez, Dean Emeritus of the IU Bloomington School of Education (2000-2015). He mentioned that he had a memoir coming out later this year and he had some related family papers. They needed a permanent secure home – was the Archives interested?

Gerardo Gonzalez, 2014
Gerardo Gonzalez, 2014. IU Communications

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that we collect quite broadly to document Indiana University and the people affiliated with the institution. But for those that may not or just for further information on our processes – indeed, the mission of the IU Libraries University Archives is to collect, preserve and make available university records of enduring value (as I tell classes, that is clearly something I have written down somewhere and have repeated several times, ha!). In pursuit of that mission, we focus on collecting records created and collected by IU Bloomington offices, departments, centers, institutes, as well as any campus offices with system-wide responsibilities. In addition, we seek out the records of student, faculty, and staff organizations. But we also extend our collecting priorities to the personal papers of IUB faculty, staff, and alumni. With these papers, we have areas of focus within each and they all tend to be on those materials that reflect their time at the university. But we also sometimes choose to go beyond that so that in the end, we have a collection that paints a fuller picture of the creator and his or her life.

So my answer to Dr. Gonzalez was an immediate affirmation. The papers he offered were very precious to him, as they were all related to his family’s emigration from Cuba to the United States shortly after Fidel Castro took power. Just a child at the time, Dr. Gonzalez only learned of the existence of the surviving telegrams, correspondence, plane tickets, etc. many years later when his father presented them in the briefcase in which they had been housed for safekeeping over the years.

This is the first telegram sent to Dr. Gonzalez’s parents. It threw them into a panic, as they had requested permission for their family of four to emigrate; this telegram instructed Gerardo’s younger sister – only 5 years old – to report to Havana for departure to the United States. Only Martiza. Nonetheless, his father began to explore possibilities so that at least Martiza could leave. Much to the family’s relief, later that same day they received a telegram that granted permission for their whole family to leave. In two days. IU Archives Collection C694

And now, we are responsible for their safekeeping, and they will allow us to tell a fuller, richer story of one of Indiana University’s most respected administrators and educators who began his life in the United States a shy, frightened refugee.

Gerardo Gonzalez, 1956. IU Archives P0082433

A finding aid for Dr. Gonzalez’s papers can be found on ArchivesOnlineIf you would like to view the collection, contact an archivist but note that we have fully digitized the small collection – click on the small cameras next to each item – as well as a few of the photographs! In addition to that, Dr. Gonzalez’s memoir, A Cuban Refugee’s Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education, is now available through the IU Press! I just received my own copy, a gift from the author (thank you, Dr. Gonzalez!) yesterday, and I look forward to learning more about his journey.

Rites of Spring – Indiana University May Festival

As springtime bloomed across Indiana University in 1908, an Indiana Daily Student reporter eagerly previewed an upcoming campus event. “Dainty maids in the picturesque garb of the English peasant or the flaxen-haired Norwegian will dance the complex, but graceful folk dances of long ago.” Who were these “dainty maids” and what was this dazzling-sounding spectacle? The new Indiana University May Festival collection (C693) at the University Archives tells us a history of a vernal campus tradition. Importantly, the Indiana University May Festival became an active space for female student participation in the early twentieth century.

A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives photograph. Eight women dance in a field.
A scene from the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives no. P0026270

The IU May Festival began in earnest in 1905, when the IU Lecture Association organized an event featuring orchestral and choral performances in the Men’s Gymnasium. A cantata rendition of “The Swan and the Skylark” and ballet music from Faust evoked a springtime feeling. Despite glowing reviews, the IULA-hosted May Festival suffered from poor student participation. An Indiana Daily Student reporter expressed disappointment in 1906: “The small attendance is inconceivable. If the singers of Bloomington and the University knew what the chorus is doing, there would be a regular attendance of 200 instead of 30 or 40.” The event satisfied a Bloomington audience, but didn’t impact enough IU students at the time.

Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives
Section of the program for the 1905 May Festival, IU Archives C693

Beginning in 1908, the Women’s Athletic Association and Department of Physical Education for Women hosted the event in the Women’s Gymnasium for an invitation-only audience. Female students demonstrated exercises like dumbbell handling and club-swinging “with all the vigor and skill of their brothers,” as an IDS reporter noted. In the afternoon, they transformed into “dainty maids” to dance and wind cream and crimson streamers around a tall May Pole. Interestingly, the IDS also notes that only a small number of male students received invitations to the 1908 event.

This iteration of the May Festival was a staple of campus life by the 1920s. By 1922, the Women’s Self-Government Association (WSGA) sponsored an integral feature of the event: the election and crowning of a May Queen. The 1924 May Festival program names Mildred Wight as May Queen, with her heralds Ethel Budrow and Dorothy Tousley. Following a procession with flower girls, crown bearers, maids of honor, and other attendants, “The newly crowned May Queen is entertained by the joyous peasants.” IU students in pastoral garb performed six folk dances for the May Queen, followed by the mythical dance program “Fantasy of Dusk and Dawn.” The programs in this collection show how the all-female May Festival committee staged a mythological renaissance for modern day Bloomington.

Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693
Program for the 1924 May Festival, IU Archives C693

By the 1922 May Festival, the WAA and WSGA had moved proceedings to Dunn Meadow. Rather than an invitation-only event in the Women’s Gymnasium, the May Festival had turned into a public performance. This collection also includes a 25-cent ticket for “Sylvia” to attend the Dance Drama portion of the festival at Dunn Meadow in 1927. IDS articles from this time also list the delightful box lunches served to attendees (who could say no to shrimp and mayonnaise sandwiches?) at no cost. One reporter indicated that the WAA and WSGA prepared 800 of these lunches—enough for a huge crowd. The May Festival shows how women at IU transformed a small musical celebration into a popular event that highlighted their talents as athletes, dancers, singers, and artists.

It appears that the WAA and WSGA ceased sponsorship of the May Festival after the 1920s. The last program contained in this collection is from 1928. IU women, however, carried on celebrating the tradition into at least the 1940s, as documented in the IU women’s residence halls scrapbooks. Collection C631, which contains 82 such scrapbooks from 1925-1959, is open for research and offers images from these later unofficial celebrations.

May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from "The Towers" (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory.
May Day Festival participants Betty Higbee and June Hiatt, 1937. This image scanned from “The Towers” (yearbook / scrapbook / photograph album) compiled by residents of East Memorial Hall when it was a dormitory. IU Archives image no. P0052722

To learn more about the May Festival collection or to view the collection yourself, please feel free to contact the University Archives to set up an appointment.

A Sword in the Archives: New Additions to the John D. Alexander papers

John D. Alexander was the oldest living IU graduate from 1929 until his death in 1931

In a Sincerely, Yours post from July 2016, we introduced you to John D. Alexander, an IU alum who rose through the ranks of the 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers to ultimately become Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade of the Union Army. His collection was donated to the Archives in 2015 and contains dramatic letters written to his parents as he marched with Sherman’s army to the sea. In a letter from Camp Anderson, Georgia on December 18, 1864, he writes, “My Dear Parents, I am still alive, for which, I can thank the Good Lord.” Not only did Alexander survive the Civil War, he lived long enough to become the oldest living graduate of Indiana University from 1929 until his death on February 27, 1931.

Since the collection was first opened to researchers last spring, the collection has been popular with faculty and students for use in history and folklore classes. The collection provides a great local context to a larger national event, the Civil War.

With the rich research value of the collection, you can only imagine how excited we were to learn that the Archives would be acquiring additional materials to add to the collection. Because Alexander and his wife did not have any children to pass along their belongings to, their materials were separated among close family friends and more distant relatives.

In April 2017, the Archives learned that we would be receiving a scrapbook, a pair of Chevalier Paris binoculars, Alexander’s Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia, and his Captain’s sword.

A pair of Paris Chevalier binoculars owned by Alexander with case
John D. Alexander’s Union Army Captain’s sword
Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia (post-Civil War regalia)

These new additions provide researchers with a deeper connection to the man behind the Civil War letters. In his post-Civil War life, Alexander served as a prosecuting attorney in Greene, Owen, and Morgan counties in Indiana and was the representative of Greene County in the Indiana General Assembly of 1887. He was also highly active in the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Union Army veterans, and attended nationally encampments in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Toledo, Columbus, Boston, Buffalo, and Atlantic City. He served as State Commander of the Indiana G. A. R. from May 1908 to May 1909.

Alexander’s interest in the G.A.R. and veterans’ issues are reflected in the scrapbook he filled with newspaper clippings about Civil War monuments, G.A.R. encampments, patriotism, and Indiana G.A.R. activities starting in 1907 until the late 1920s. Papers found tucked within the scrapbook also offer a distinct look into Alexander’s life. These pages include correspondence to distant relatives who named their son “John Alexander,” a page from a family Bible detailing birth and death dates, and even Alexander’s personal research regarding George Washington’s potential affairs.

We’ve enjoyed learning more about one of IU’s most distinctive alumni and hope that you will consider a visit to the Archives to see these new additions. The collection is partially digitized and can be viewed here. Please contact the IU Archives if you would like to learn more about the life of John D. Alexander.