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

Capturing Memories, Sharing Experiences: A Story of Two IU Generations by Hunter Staskevich

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Photograph of Herman B Wells with Peruvian students taken by William Oglesby. March 3, 1959. Indiana University Archives, P0063511.

“President Wells would often have groups to his house for a meeting, open house, etc., and wanted a photo of the group to document the event, for PR, or to send a copy of the group to each of the participants. We would regale the group on the steps of the staircase in the foyer of his home, making sure to capture every face, and have auxiliary flash to supplement an otherwise somewhat dark scene. Wells was always on the front row, usually in the center of the group. The trick was to get everyone smiling and looking at the camera, so Herman would say something like, ‘I think my profile would look much better, if these two ladies would stand a little closer.’ Everyone of course would laugh, and that was my cue to trip the shutter. We always managed to get an excellent group picture!” – William B. Oglesby

We all are told many stories throughout our lives by family. Memories of the past told with the hope that a lesson will be taught or that the shared experience will bring about a closer bond. This is a story of how two journeys crossed paths. In 1935, Indiana University decided to establish the Audio-Visual Center (it would be later called Photographic Services) in an attempt to document the University’s history through visual media. The institution did this mainly through photography, and graduate students often assisted in fulfilling photo orders for various groups in and around campus. In 2000, the photographic negatives that were created as a result of this work were transferred to the Indiana University Archives and added to the photograph collections. The thousands of images are presently being digitized and uploaded online in the Archives Photograph Collection.

The story begins with William B. Oglesby, a graduate student at Indiana University from 1958-1961, who worked for Photographic Services as a photographer. He took hundreds of photographs covering a wide variety of topics during his time there. He told me stories about his experiences, such as the quote with which this post opens. I suppose this is the part where I should mention he also happens to be my grandfather.

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William Oglesby at the Photolab Christmas Party. December 19, 1958. Indiana University Archives, P0063320.

My part in the story actually starts with these talks I had with my grandfather. It was early 2016, and I had just informed him that I would be heading to Indiana University to pursue my MLS. I knew vaguely that he had gone to IU for his Masters in Audio-Visual Studies, but I never inquired deeply about it and it had never come up in conversation. Later that fall when I told him I was working in the Indiana University Archives with the photograph collection, he casually mentioned he had shot some photographs for Indiana University (not mentioning in what capacity) and that if I had time I might see if the Archives had any. His expectations were low, but I looked into it.

Bill Oglesby employee card. Indiana University Archives.

As you can probably guess, I found them…a lot of them, over 1400 images in fact. It started with my supervisor showing me the employee cards of people who worked in Photographic Services and from there it was a matter of just going through the correct dates in the collection and finding all the image envelopes that had “Oglesby” written on it. I scanned all those images and by Fall 2017, all of the images were available for viewing online in the Archives Photograph Collection.

It was about this time it was suggested to me that I conduct an oral history with my grandfather as part of Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project. I accepted and interviewed him in January 2018, where I learned all about his time at IU and the stories behind the photographs I had just digitized. It was this interview that inspired me to tell his story, and I happened to be planning an exhibition at the time. I took the opportunity to curate an exhibition using my grandfather’s photographs and implementing quotes from his oral history for context.

I find that photographs have the unique ability to document moments in time and capture emotion, since they are both a historical object and a form of art. When paired with oral history, the tale behind each image provides new perspective and greater appreciation for that captured moment. “Through the Lens: Documenting Indiana University Bloomington Photographically,” is an exhibition that takes these concepts and puts them into practice.

The images cover a wide range of topics including:

-Construction of iconic buildings on campus such as Memorial Stadium and the Lilly Library

-Campus groups such as the Marching Hundred and Jacobs School of Music events

-Various group and individual portraits

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Photograph of the Marching Hundred by William Oglesby. October 15, 1960. Indiana University Archives, P0071516.

To discover what it was like to work for Photographic Services from a student perspective and what was going on at IU during this time, please visit  “Through the Lens: Documenting Indiana University Bloomington photographically,” in person before Monday, July 9th, 2018!

The exhibition is located at:

The Office of the Bicentennial

Franklin Hall 200

Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; weekdays

601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405

 

 

Sincerely Yours: The Origin Story of Folklore at IUB

For a vast majority of the world, 1942 was a year to remember.  However, history wasn’t just being made overseas fighting in World War II; it was also being made right here at Indiana University Bloomington.  During the summer of 1942, Indiana University was host to what would be the first of many Folklore Institutes. The Institute was created by Professor Stith Thompson, who had long-held the dream of bringing together like-minds from all over, both faculty and student, to meet and discuss the field of folklore; both folklore itself and the future of the field.  This eight-week gathering was so successful that they continued to meet every summer.

This edition of ‘Sincerely Yours’ showcases correspondence with Herman B Wells  following the conclusion of the first Institute in 1942.  The first piece of correspondence comes from Jacob A. Evanson, Special Supervisor of Vocal Music for Pittsburgh Public Schools.  His letter describes the success of the first Institute as “historic” and notes it as a cultural progression.  This letter provides a perspective of the importance and impact of the Folklore Institute outside of Indiana University.

Stith Thompson, May 1955, Archives Image no.
P0021913

The main correspondence is from Stith Thompson to Herman B Wells.  The correspondence opens with a list of resolutions from the members of the first Institute.  These resolutions include the declaration of a “permanent” Folklore Institute of America, and that the Journal of American Folklore be declared the official channel of news distribution.  Also included is the Institute’s purpose statement: to  bring together faculty, students, and fellow workers to create a “professionally-minded group” for study and consult not included in ordinary curricula.

This letter also contains an impassioned speech by Thompson in which he reflects on the experience of the Institute.  Additionally, Thompson briefly discusses the issues at present within the field of folklore, and plans for the future of folklore in terms of professional organization, public relations, and academic development .   He talks about the need for researchers to cease their reclusive ways and come together in circles like the Institute to help the field prosper through internal collaborative efforts and understanding, and by forming relations with the public.  Also discussed is the implementation of proper techniques surrounding the  collection and classification of folklore, from the individual collector to the establishment of a fully functional national archive.

Thompson’s description of the impact of folklore from a local to a national stage, and even a global one is captivating.  He states that the support of local folklore organizations can help to further the development of larger, national folklore directives by organizations.Also addressed is the presence of folklore in the academic field.  Thompson states that the presentation of folklore by universities should be done in such a way that will “infect” students and whether they be teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc., they should show interest in the traditions of their community.

Thompson closes his letter by reaffirming the purpose of the Institute by saying that research rather than teaching is the main goal, and that its value lies in its existence as the only place (at the time) to foster collaborative and individual research,and the overall growth of the folklore field.

The best part of this correspondence lies in its last few pages in the form of a poem.  Nearing the closure of their time together, this group of scholars pooled their creativity to construct a retelling of events of events that they could carry with them in memory.  The result of their collaborative efforts was a poem reminiscent of famous epics of the past such as the Odyssey and Aeneid.  This goes to show that even heavy scholars have a humorous side, even if it may be a little high-brow.

From C213 President’s Office records – Herman B Wells, Folklore Institute 1941-42 folder. 

The Folklore Institute would go on to meet yearly until the early 1960’s. It was at this time, and through the endeavors of professors Richard Dorson and Stith Thompson, that the Folklore Institute became an established department at Indiana University under the same name of the Folklore Institute.  Though not in the same manner as its origin, the Folklore Institute is still present at IU Bloomington and is known by scholars throughout the world.  To learn more about the Folklore Institute from its beginnings to today, visit the IU Archives in Wells Library to see the current exhibit, ‘Collecting Folklore: The History of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University.‘  This exhibit will be up until January 26th, 2018.

 

 

Chill before slicing: A Recipe for “Herman B Wells Cake”

Tomorrow (June 7th) would be former IU President and Chancellor Herman B Wells’ 115th birthday! To celebrate, visit the Wells Library tomorrow between 12-2pm for a piece of cake on the big day. Also if you’d like to make Hermie’s favorite dessert in the comfort of your own home, see the recipe below!

An older Herman B Wells blows out candles on his birthday cake in front of friends and staff
76th Birthday Party for Herman B Wells, June 8, 1978.

This culinary masterpiece involves a LOT of fruit and whipped cream and makes a pretty generously-sized cake, so scaling down the recipe is definitely recommended!

“Herman B Wells Cake”

Ingredients:
3 lb. white cake mix
6 oz. oil
2 lb. water
5 lb. green tip bananas
3 pints strawberries
16 cups whipped cream


Instructions:
Mix cake mix and 2/3 lb. water on low speed. 2 mins. Scrape down and mix with 2/3 cups more water on medium speed. 2 mins. Add last 2/3 cups water, oil, mix medium speed 2 mins. Bake 375 for about 30 mins. Cool and chill. Split cake in half. Spread top of split layer with whipped cream. Cut bananas and place on top of whipped cream. Spread more whipped cream on top of bananas. Layer strawberries over that layer. Spread more whipped cream on top of berries. Place other half of cake on top and spread more whipped cream on top of that. Chill before slicing.

Sincerely Yours: “Dear Mr. Lilly, I am happy to present the library…”

While the Lilly Library will celebrate its 57th birthday this October, planning for the exceptional library began over 60 years ago. Herman B Wells was dedicated to developing a great library that would house rare books and manuscripts at Indiana University and provide access to these materials. Wells states in his speech at the library’s dedication, “We rejoice in this day for many reasons. Not the least of these is the fact that many of the rare books and manuscripts housed in this new building have for years been stored in the University’s central Archives, unavailable for use. At long last they may now be used!” Access and use of special collections was important to Wells, and the Lilly Library is still known today for its open access policy.

Josiah Kirby Lilly was also very excited about the prospect of his own impressive collection being housed in a library with his namesake on the Indiana University campus.

David Randall was appointed as the first librarian for the Lilly Library well before its opening in 1960. Prior to his appointment, Randall worked in the antiquarian book trade, where he met Mr. Lilly. Randall was an important figure not only in the planning of the library, but in the custodianship of collections. He knew the materials well, and he knew what to collect; moreover, he had established connections to book dealers. Below is a letter discussing the acquisition of the Mendel Collection, one of the Lilly’s many notable collections.

Mr. Lilly even notes in a letter to Randall “you are as good a purchasing agent as you formerly were a salesmen – far excellence!” in regards to a new acquisition (possibly the Mendel Collection) he secured.

Herman B Wells delivering a speech at the Lilly Library dedication, October 3, 1960. P0027349.

The dedication of the Lilly Library was October 3, 1960. Many people were in attendance, and speeches were delivered by Herman B Wells and Frederick B. Adams, Jr., Director of the Morgan Library. Wells stated, “It is, therefore, a source of satisfaction for this entire Midwestern region, as it is for the nation, that here in the heartland of America has been established another one of our great national depositories of the written treasures of our culture -which we trust will take its place in due course alongside the most famed such centers of our Atlantic and Pacific coasts.” Wells’ foresight was right, as the Lilly Library has undoubtedly taken its place alongside the renowned special collections libraries.

Herman B Wells and J. K. Lilly opening the doors to the newly dedicated Lilly Library. October 3, 1960. P0056007.

“Mr. Lilly, I am happy to present to you this key to the Library so that you may now unlock its doors–and so that you may be able at any time to enter the Lilly Library and be with its books!” – Herman B Wells