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

Cattle Punching on a Jack Rabbit: The Frank de Caro and Rosan A. Jordan papers

The Frank de Caro and Rosan Jordan Papers contain the personal papers and research of Frank de Caro and his wife Rosan Augusta Jordan.  De Caro, an IU alum and professor emeritus of English at Louisiana State University, has authored several books on Louisiana folklore.  He has also served as editor for several folklore journals such as Louisiana Sojourns: Travelers’ Tales and Literary Journeys. The collection includes research, correspondence, and manuscripts for his publications, as well the teaching materials and Day of the Dead research of his wife Rosan Jordan.  Jordan studied folklore at Indiana University and taught at Louisiana State University until the early 2000s.  

What really caught my interest, however, is the plethora of postcards the pair compiled over the years.  

Folklore is more than legends and myths from the distant past, but something that is constantly expanding and surrounds us all the time; popping up in odd places and through unexpected forms. One form that many may not consider a purveyor of folklore would be that of a postcard. Postcards can be a way to capture bits of information to tell stories. Whether it’s a text description of the lore surrounding the dogwood tree, or a photograph depicting the day-to-day life of pottery making, the ability to appreciate lore and practices from multiple cultures can be found in postcards.  

Since the mid-1800s, postcards have been a way for people to send written messages along with a unique image to give it a little something extra. Postcards come in many shapes, sizes and materials; some can be very detailed, with elaborate images incorporating cloth, metals, and other things attached, others can be as simple as a reproduction of a famous piece of art.  Postcards can contain images of faraway places we want to visit, inspire us with art or motivational slogans, educate us with historical facts, or provide comedic relief.  

The postcards in this collection provide excellent examples of the seamless ways in which folklore finds its way into everyday life through a variety of subject matter.  While there are the typical postcards with depictions of beautiful landscapes and historic buildings, there are many peculiar postcards. Several cards take the classic American expression “Everything’s Bigger In Texas!” and pair it with humorous illustrations such as those below.

You’ve probably never heard of the Jackalope, or knew the significance of the armadillo to the state of Texas; but if you’d like to know, this is where you’ll find the answer! Continue to scroll through for few more examples and contact the IU Archives to see more from the Frank de Caro and Rosan Jordan papers

 

Septem Muscicidae: The Moss Killers of Indiana University

Over one hundred years ago a group of six students and one IU staff member made headlines– but not for sports or academic achievement. They were the late nineteenth-century version of a resistance to what they saw as outrageous misconduct and immoral behavior on the part of IU faculty members. Their actions uncovered a scandal in 1884, became campus folklore, could be said to have changed the course of Indiana University’s history, and today are largely forgotten except by those who study IU history.

So, who are they? The Moss Killers.

The Moss Killers consisted of six Indiana University students and an IU janitor:

  • James Zwingle Alexander McCaughan, A.B., I.U., 1885
  • David Kopp Goss, A.B., I.U., 1887
  • Joseph Woods Wiley, Ph.B., I.U. 1886
  • Lucian Rhorer Oakes, A.B., I.U., 1885
  • Edward A. Hall who died while a student in the university
  • Morton William Fordice, B.S., I.U., 1886
  • Thomas “Uncle Tommy” Spicer, the janitor.

Together these so-called “Moss Killers” didn’t actually kill anyone (or any fungi), but they managed to uncover and prove a scandal that lead to the resignations of the university president and of a Greek professor. As a result, the University trustees and legislators broke with the past traditions of moralism and classicism and moved toward new educational leadership and an embrace of the intellectual age and academic reform needed for sciences and modern professions that was already present in many other American universities at the time.

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The Moss Killers, 1884. Archives image no. P0024044. (Standing in back row, L to R) James Zwingle Alexander McCaughan, David Kopp Goss, Joseph Woods Wiley, and Rhorer Oakes. (Seated in front row, L to R) Edward A. Hall, IU janitor “Uncle Tommy” Thomas Spicer, and Morton William Fordice. The inscription written in Latin with a lead pencil on the back of this photograph and the English translation of the Latin reads: Septem Muscicidae. Hic videas Septem Muscicidas. Et Aspice Tela Muscicidarum. Seven Moss-Killers. Here you see seven Moss-Killers. And look at the weapons of the Moss-Killers.

Rev. Dr. Lemuel Moss was the sixth president of Indiana University and one of the last in a line of six  “Preacher Presidents,” who served the university before Indiana University followed the lead of other American colleges and began to employ presidents more focused on educational philosophy and public responsibility rather than theology or moral instruction.  Moss was at the University of Chicago before coming to Indiana University, and he had previously served as the Pastor of a Baptist Church.

As University President at IU, Moss was known to be a popular public speaker and a strict disciplinarian. Between 1880 and 1884 he was also a member of the National Council of Education, vice president of the American Baptist Missionary Union, president of the department of higher education, and a part of the National Education Association.  However, his prolific career in higher education was to be interrupted as a result of the Moss Killers.

Miss Katherine Graydon, a young woman in her mid-twenties, began work as a professor of Greek at Indiana University in September of 1883. She was an attractive, charming, and intelligent young woman. The rumors regarding her relationship with Rev. Dr. Moss quickly began soon after the start of her appointment.

After months of suspicion and rumor, the “Moss Killers” formed from a group of undergraduates to find out the facts concerning the relationship between Dr. Moss and Miss Graydon. With the help of Uncle Tommy (the janitor), the  six young men used a hand drill to cut a hole in the ceiling above Miss Graydon’s office and the Greek classroom in the University building. They stood watch to see what happened in the room below.  And eventually they saw what had been rumored to be true.

The Moss Killers then presented sworn affidavits and charges of “improper and immoral conduct” between the University President and Greek professor to the University Board of Trustees on November 7, 1884.

The Minutes of the Board of Trustees reads:

Charges against the President of the Univ.

On motion of Mr. Robertson, the following preamble and resolution were made, the unanimous action of the Board:

Whereas, rumors of a grave character in regard to the relations of Prest. Moss with Miss Graydon, teacher of Greek have been published in newspapers of large circulation, and are common on the streets of Bloomington; and the Board was proceeding to investigate the same

The digitized and encoded Board of Trustees Minutes can be seen and searched here.

IU Board of Trustees Minutes of 1884 Nov. 6

The students told the Trustees that they saw Moss present Miss Graydon with gifts and greet each other in ways that were not at all professional.  What was once rumor was now full blown scandal, and an investigation began by the Board of Trustees. They planned to hear evidence on the matter from both Moss and Graydon on Tuesday November 11, 1884.

But, before a hearing or investigation could commence, both Dr. Moss and Miss Graydon presented their resignations abruptly on November 8, 1884.

Toronto Daily Mail. November 18, 1884.

The story grew and spread, damaging the reputations of Moss and Graydon.  Newspapers carried the affair far and wide.  The Toronto Daily Mail, Tuesday November 18, 1884 (excerpt seen to the left) ran a detailed story entitled A Grave Scandal: Involving the President of Indiana State University. Well Known to Citizens of Toronto. An Investigation to be Held Upon Charges of Unseemly Conduct.

The social repercussions of the scandal were more problematic for Moss and Graydon than they were for the university. Some say that the newspapers inflated the story before Moss resigned. In any case, the damage had been done.

After her resignation and after a later attempt to rescind her resignation, Katherine Graydon moved to Indianapolis permanently.  She was the member of two prominent families, the Merrills and Ketchams, who became extremely defensive of her even when the congregation of her church became involved in the public judgement. In the end however, her defenders won and Miss Graydon became a well respected professor at Butler University and went on to have a long career there.

Dr. Moss was not so lucky. After his resignation he quickly left Bloomington. He spent some time in Chicago at a manufacturing firm, then worked editing a religious magazine, later spent time in Philadelphia, and was also a professor of Christian sociology at Bucknell. Dr. Moss died in New York in 1904 at 75 years old.

The Moss Killers, the scandal and affair they uncovered, and Dr. Moss’s resignation created some chaos at Indiana University. The role of president was filled temporarily by Elisha Ballantine, much to everyone’s approval. The University then went on to search for the right new president. The Board of Trustees needed to keep up with the times, and they needed a university president who could lead Indiana University into the new age of American intellectualism and science. The Moss Killers may not have killed anyone really, but their actions damaged one man’s reputation permanently, and ushered in a new era of leadership at Indiana University.

 

Daniel Read: The Professor Who Saved the Universities

Do you often wonder about the name behind a building? Most buildings on campus are named for someone, but most people probably do not know who those mysterious persons are. Some of them may have been more recent donors or some, such as Daniel Read, may be figures from the early years of the University.

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Photograph of Daniel Read

Daniel Read, for whom Read Hall is named, was born in Ohio in 1805. He attended Ohio University, from which he graduated in 1824. He went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in 1827 and then an honorary LL.D. in the 1850s from Indiana Asbury University (which is now DePauw University). He was technically a lawyer, but he never practiced. During the 1830s, he returned to his alma mater to be a professor of classics (or ancient languages, depending on the source) and eventually vice-president. He was also a visitor at the military academy at West Point.

Eventually, however, Read made his way to Indiana University. There he taught ancient languages from 1843 to 1856, a faculty member during the same time as Robert Milligan. While there, Read made an important contribution to the University, in effect, saving it. In 1850, Read attended a state constitutional convention. The University was in danger of losing its land—granted by the government. Read ensured that the funds designated for the University (the land) would stay with the University. Read had, in fact, saved the University. A few years later, in 1854, he and another professor would travel to Washington, D.C., to successfully petition for land from the federal government. Although not at Indiana University very long—only thirteen years—Read made an impact on the University.

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A speech Read gave at IU

After leaving Indiana University, Read went on to teach at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, and then to become the president of the University of Missouri, from 1866 to 1876. Read had an impact at the University of Missouri as well. He worked to widen the educational opportunities at that university in the form of a normal school and an agricultural and mechanics school. Another important contribution was once again in the form of greatly helping the university as a whole. Read worked to push the General Assembly of the state to recognize the university. Read also felt strongly about women attending universities, working towards admitting women to the University of Missouri. When he had been at Indiana and had attended the state constitutional convention, he had also been a supporter of women’s rights.

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Another letter concerning Theodore’s death

While Read had a great impact on the universities where he worked, his family also had an impact on the world. His sister, Mrs. McPherson, was the head of the Female Seminary. Another famous relation was his great-great-nephew, John Foster Dulles. Sadly, his own immediate family was marked with tragedy. Read, with his wife Alice, had two children, Theodore and Agnes, whose lives ended when they were young adults. Theodore fought in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Brigadier General and surviving most of the war. However, in a tragic stroke of fate, he was killed at Appomattox. Read wrote a moving letter in which he describes how Theodore’s death affected the family:

“[He] proposed in his very last letter to have one of his sisters, after things became regulated, visit him. But it is all over. My family is bereft of him to whom we all looked as our ornament, comfort and support. I can only cry out, O Theodore, my son Theodore. How terrible that this calamity should have come after he seemed to be safe. In my own thoughts and my congratulations with friends I had just said – Well, thank God, it is over and Theodore is living. Just then a dispatch from Major Seward was put in my hands in these words – ‘Brig. Gen. Read was killed on Tuesday 9th heading the most gallant fight of the war’ He was mistaken, I think, as to day, but oh, such glory – Moving glory that takes away all the hopes and comfort of parents, wife, sisters.”

Only the next year, in 1866, Agnes died, having been in poor health for a while. Read himself died in 1878.

Daniel Read, perhaps now lost in obscurity simply as the namesake of a hall, should be remembered as the professor who fought for the rights of women and fought to save universities, one of them being our own Indiana University.

Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project

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Plans for celebrating the Indiana University Bicentennial are well underway, especially with the incoming Class of 2020 arriving this fall. Many Signature Projects have been designed for IU’s Bicentennial, one of which is the Bicentennial Oral History Project. This project aims to collect histories from IU faculty, staff, and alumni university-wide. These oral histories provide a first-person perspective on the history of Indiana University available through no other source. The information collected from the participants can be used for research, teaching, and personal interest. Over 400 oral histories from IU alumni have already been collected as a part of this project. The Office of the Bicentennial and the Oral History Project Team are currently working to collect more oral histories and provide public access to them on the upcoming Indiana University Bicentennial website. The website will launch this week on September 9th.

Katie manning the Oral History booth at Cream & Crimson Weekend.
Katie at the Oral History booth during Cream & Crimson Weekend.

The oral histories are collected through individual interviews either in-person or over the phone. The Oral History Project Team also attends events, where large amounts of alumni, staff, faculty, or retirees are available to share their stories. Recently, the team attended Cream and Crimson weekend to talk about the project with curious alumni, as well as listen to and record their personal histories from their days at IU.

Some of the most frequently asked questions we receive when conducting an oral history are, “Where will this recording go? Can anyone listen to it?” The oral histories collected for the Bicentennial will be uploaded, cataloged, and available on the upcoming Indiana University Bicentennial website, so that they are searchable and accessible to the public. The Oral History Project Team are working to implement software that will enable easy access to the oral histories collected for the Bicentennial.

IU Alumnus, Brian Brase, getting ready to share his story.
IU Alumnus, Brian Brase, getting ready to share his story.

Many people often say, “I don’t really have anything interesting to share. You wouldn’t want my story.” We absolutely do want your story, and the interviewer will kindly walk the interviewee through the process before they begin recording. The interviewer will also ask a set of questions, so that the interviewee is not simply expected to talk on their own. Each individual story plays a significant role in filling an important historical aspect of Indiana University. The oral histories provide a wonderful opportunity to illuminate the peoples’ history of Indiana University from all campuses and from all angles. Listen to and enjoy some Bicentennial Oral History snippets from Indiana University Alumni:

 

Harry Sax, graduating class of 1961. Indiana University – Bloomington.

Gloria Randle Scott, graduating class of 1959. Indiana University – Bloomington.

Michelle Sarin, graduating class 2009. Indiana University – Bloomington.

Sue Sanders, graduating class of 1981. Carlton Sanders, graduating class of 1972. Indiana University – Southeast.

If you would like to learn more about the project or share your story with us, you may contact Kristin Leaman, Bicentennial Archivist, at kbleaman@indiana.edu. You can also receive updates about the Indiana University Bicentennial by following their Twitter and Facebook pages.