Meet the owls that lived in the Smithsonian Castle
These barn owls used to live in the Smithsonian Institution Building, AKA the Castle, in the 1970s.
The Smithsonian Secretary in the 70s, S. Dillon Ripley, was an ornithologist and thought the owls could hunt the rats attracted to the new garbage cans on the National Mall. He named them Increase and Diffusion—a nod to the Smithsonian’s mission of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge”—and they lived in the building’s west tower.
The pair hatched three owlets in the spring of 1977. One of those new owlets fell out of the tower, but was recaptured and brought safely inside by a staff member. After raising their family, the owls departed and never returned.
This Smithsonian Institution Archives photo shows one of the pair refusing to take a message.
(Not to be confused with the previous Castle owl residents, who were known to crash into windows and swoop down on guards on the National Mall at night, and whose extensive droppings caused the collapse of the floor of a tower. They remain nameless.)
In honor of International Owl Awareness Day
The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders at our quaint spirits.
At This Once-Secret Exhibition, the Met’s Security Guards and Staff Display Their Own Art
For the first time since 1935, the show is finally open to the public
Every two years, staff members at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art get the chance to display their own creations on the institution’s hallowed walls. Since the tradition started in 1935, the exhibition has been something of a secret, open only to employees and their guests, Hyperallergenic’s Elaine Velie reports. But now, for the first time, the show is open to the public.
“Art Work: Artists Working at the Met” features hundreds of pieces—including paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and digital installations—made by guards, librarians, conservators, educators, registrars and others who work at the Manhattan museum. More than 450 of the Met’s 1,700 employees contributed to the exhibition, which is held in the space next to the museum’s ancient Greek sculpture hall, Hyperallergic notes. The show accepts all staff-made submissions, which are installed by Met staff members working extra hours.
Daniel Kershaw, a Met exhibition design manager who has overseen the show’s curation for more than two decades, says he identifies themes that unify the disparate submissions, grouping pieces that work well together (for example, landscapes go next to other landscapes). This year’s show includes a photograph of Cuba, an oil painting of a partially frozen pond, a series on Black life in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, and jars and cans painted to look like tiny monsters, among other works.
Until this year, museum officials and employees were extremely furtive about the exhibition—so much so that the New York Times’ Corey Kilgannon struggled to find sources for a 2012 story on the show. When he visited the Met and asked guards about it, they told him they were forbidden to discuss it with the press.
After some more digging, Kilgannon found a few guards willing to talk, including Peter J. Hoffmeister, who expressed concerns about the secrecy around the event. “It’s complicated to have artists working for you who want their art on the walls—I understand that,” Hoffmeister told the Times. “But as an artist I think it should be public, because keeping it private defeats the purpose of having an art show.”
Some of the Met’s employees are artists who work at the museum to supplement their income, while others make art as a hobby, according to Hyperallergic. But everyone who submits to the show is balancing their art with their day jobs.
Back in 2012, one such individual was Christoper Boynton, a painter, photographer and museum guard. At the time, Boynton didn’t know why the show was closed to the public. “Maybe it’s because they would have to insure the art in the show,” he told the Times. “Maybe it’s that, if someone’s artwork is shown at the museum, people may think it’s being sanctioned by the museum.”
yesterday was national donut day and somehow i missed it
but i’ll be sure to make up for it today!
Keeping it highly academic on the day after National Donut Day. The photo above is from the Sally L. Steinberg Collection of Doughnut Ephemera (that’s its real name) in the Smithsonian National Museum of American HIstory’s Archives Center.
Steinberg describes herself as the “doughnut princess”— her grandfather Adolph Levitt was America’s original “doughnut king.” He developed the automatic doughnut-making machine, opened the first retail doughnut chain in the country and founded the modern American doughnut industry.
She gathered this collection while researching a 1987 book on the history of the doughnut, (not surprisingly called:”The Donut Book.”)
Why, you ask after looking at the decreasing size of the hole trend in the photo, is the hole not totally gone? Somewhere in the 80’s, the trend of the hole shrinking stopped and the outer rim began collapsing inwards, getting sweeter as it diminished. This became known as the “supernova” era of donuts and continues today.
Sources: Smithsonian Museums, Sally Levitt Steinberg, The Donut Book , Storey Publishing
The Smithsonian was officially created on August 10, 1846,
and one of the first things on the to-do list was constructing a building.
The 1850 glass lantern slide above
is the earliest-known photo of the Smithsonian Institution Building,
known as the Castle, and the only image of it under construction.
Smithsonian Explorers, c. 1862-63, Smithsonian Institution Archives
From the enchanting to the eccentric, the Smithsonian has an extremely rich past. There was even a group of rowdy scientists who used to live in the Smithsonian Castle. In 1857, a zoologist named William Stimpson formed a club of young naturalists aiming to build the Smithsonian’s collection. Their meetings were held in the Smithsonian Castle, and many of the members lived there.
Stimpson named the group the Megatherium Club, after the giant extinct sloth that once roamed South America. Over the years, the club developed somewhat of a rambunctious reputation among neighbors (they were known to drink beer late at night, and had sack races down the Castle halls). They called themselves “great beasts,” much like the sloth that they named themselves after.
Despite their mischief, these men were a dedicated group of naturalists, and we owe them a great deal for contribution their descriptions, classifications and specimens to American science, the Smithsonian, and many other institutions in the U.S.
“science doesn’t have all the answers,
but it is good at spotting the important questions
when they are camouflaged against a background of common sense.”