Smithsonian Galaxy - Edition 26, November 29, 1979

Web Video Text Tracks Format (WebVTT)


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Ann Carroll: Afro-American folk culture — a study in survival. This is Smithsonian Galaxy. I'm Ann Carroll. All over the country in recent years we've seen a new flowering of ethnic pride. No longer a melting pot, America is now seen as a mosaic, a checkerboard of contributions by immigrants from England or Poland or Japan. And now a new exhibit, organized for the Cleveland Museum of Art, by Professor John Michael Vlach, fills in the remaining blank.

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John Michael Vlach: When historians have heretofore looked at Africa, they said, 'Well, they came empty-handed, or empty-headed.' That just isn't true. There has been survival. We haven't seen it as well as we should have until now.

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Ann Carroll: Currently at the Smithsonian, after touring six cities, the exhibit points out the African influences on Afro-American decorative arts. From basketry to music, quilting to architecture, the threads aren't always obvious. The great tradition of African sculpture, for instance, found new expression in the New World.

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John Michael Vlach: The only sculpture that would make it in this new context where there's a lot of prohibition, they're only allowed to be decorative in a way that white masters accept as being worthwhile, and that would be on a walking stick, rather than making a statue to venerate an ancestor or to appeal to an African deity.

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Ann Carroll: Slave owners also prohibited the making of drums, for fear that they would be used to send messages. But the exhibit includes a rice mortar that was good for more than husking rice.

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John Michael Vlach: You could take and stretch a leather cover over the rice mortar, and when the master isn't around you could actually have a full-fledged drum, so that we have an adaptive strategy there — a way to beat the system.

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Ann Carroll: Professor Vlach also says that the shotgun house, with its narrow design common to millions of row-houses, had its beginnings in Africa, as did the popular banjo.

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John Michael Vlach: I think it's shocking, and I think it's important, that we can say, 'Wait a minute. Those white bluegrass musicians who play at old-time fiddle contests are in fact perpetuating an African tradition.'

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Ann Carroll: Professor John Michael Vlach spent years researching the exhibit, for he feels that much racism stems from the lack of this kind of knowledge. Now, he says, it's time to give credit where credit is due. Reporting from the Smithsonian Institution, I'm Ann Carroll.

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[[Galaxy theme music]]
Ann Carroll: Rock carving photographs may give us clues about the early history of North America. This is Smithsonian Galaxy. I'm Ann Carroll.

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Long ago, primitive images of boats, men, animals, and the sun were etched into the granite slopes of Sweden's countryside. Today, these rock carvings survive the Bronze Age men who carved them some 4,000 years ago.

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Swedish photographer Pehr Hasselrot has captured the fine detail of the rock carving in a photography exhibit now at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

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At first, he says, the carvings were not that easy to find.
Pehr Hasselrot: There are rock carvings all over Sweden,

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but anthropologists and archeologists they just make a note of it and put it in the archives and then it's forgotten.

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The local people, they know about it, so they might go there sometimes, but for people from outside, it's not too easy to find.

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Ann Carroll: Mr. Hasselrot is the first to successfully photograph these carvings, which vary in size from 10 to 60 feet.

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His secret is a special lamp which highlights even the most delicate line.
Pehr Hasselrot: Before, they used to take pictures of these rock carvings with car headlights, which means you use spotlights, but they were very hard to control. This lamp covers the whole surface with a very even light, and that hasn't been done before.

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Ann Carroll: For the best lighting effects, Mr. Hasselrot shoots only at night.

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Pehr Hasselrot: I use a fine-grain film and sometimes a wide-angle lens, and I work from a top of a ladder because if I don't take it from above, I get the wrong impression of the details.

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Ann Carroll: Rock carvings have recently been discovered on the east coast of North America. They are so similar to the Swedish ones that Mr. Hasselrot feels there must be a connection.

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Pehr Hasselrot: The rock carvings on the east coast could be made by Scandinavians. The Vikings came here, obviously. Why couldn't the Bronze Age people about 2,000 years earlier come here?

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Ann Carroll: Swedish photographer Pehr Hasselrot whose rock carving photographs are now on view at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Reporting from the Smithsonian Institution, I am Ann Carroll. [[Galaxy theme music]]

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[[Galaxy theme music]]
Ann Carroll: Alfred Eisenstaedt, a great photographer says part of it is luck. This is Smithsonian Galaxy, I'm Ann Carroll. For 36 years, Alfred Eisenstaedt brought us some of the finest and best known pictures in Life Magazine. He's known as the Father of Photojournalism and he's photographed famous events and people around the world.

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Through his pictures, you almost feel you know his subjects. At the Smithsonian recently, I asked Eisenstaedt how he achieved that closeness.

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{SPEAKER name= "Alfred Eisenstaedt"} Because I approach people in a very relaxed mood and they trust me and the lesson is don't be in awe of anybody and the higher the person is in rank or personality, the easier it is to talk to him.

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Ann Carroll: Perhaps Eisenstaedt's most famous picture shows a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on the day the Japanese surrendered in 1945. Some have wondered if he staged the picture, but Eisenstaedt says no.

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{SPEAKER name= "Alfred Eisenstaedt"} It was great luck because that sailor kissed every girl and every woman everything in sight but no one looked good in the picture. My great luck was that the woman he grabbed at that time was a slim looking nurse dressed in white. She just appeared there, but I ran ahead of them and anticipated something may look good.

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Ann Carroll: Eisenstat has had no trouble with most of his subjects, but then there was the time he photographed Ernest Hemingway. The writer showed up bare chested and Eisenstaedt asked him to put on a shirt. Hemingway answered, {SPEAKER name= "Alfred Eisenstaedt"} "Why do you want a shirt?

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What do you need a shirt for? You look at me, my strength, my muscles, my looks, they all women love me, my lady Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, they love my body." I says, look I want to tell you something. I have muscles, too. Just see look here. This impressed him very much. "Murray, Murray, come look at this little papa here." [[background laughter]]

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He called me little papa, anyway, I got along fine.
Ann Carroll: Yes, Eisenstaedt got along fine and modern photography has been the richer for it. Recently turned 81, Alfred Eisenstaedt is now taking pictures for the new LIfe Magazine. Reporting from the Smithsonian Institution, I'm Ann Carroll. [[Galaxy theme music]]

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[[Galaxy theme music]]
Ann Carroll: How an anthropologist solves crimes for the FBI. This is Smithsonian Galaxy. I'm Ann Carroll. All anthropologists are detectives, in a sense. But at the Smithsonian, there's one who often seemed like a real detective. His name is J. Lawrence Angel, and he says it all started in the early '50's.

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J. Lawrence Angel: "J. Edgar Hoover asked Dr. T. Dale Stewart, who was then head of physical anthropology, if he and his colleagues would assist the FBI at any time when they found unidentified human skeletal remains. Apparently, in the 1950's, more skeletons started to turn up, and that was the reason, I think, for the request to Dr. Stewart."

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Ann Carroll: Dr. Angel himself got involved almost the moment he arrived at the Smithsonian.

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J. Lawrence Angel: "I came here in 1962, and the first day I reported for work there was a skeleton, which the FBI had brought in, of an unknown murder victim, together with the skeleton of her unborn fetus, which is quite a unique finding. I've never known another one like this."

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Ann Carroll: Dr. Angel studied the skeleton to learn all he could about the victim — her age and build, any special features, and her injuries. In this case, and many others, he presented his findings in court testimony.

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J. Lawrence Angel: "This case didn't come to trial until nine years later when the supposed and later convicted murderer was located and the trial was held."

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Ann Carroll: In recent years, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been sending over about thirty skeletons a year, and Dr. Angel and his colleagues have provided their services free.

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J. Lawrence Angel: "In this respect, I and other anthropologists are really rendering a very massive financial service to these various agencies. They'd have to pay a lot more if they hired pathologists to do this."

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Ann Carroll: J. Lawrence Angel, a man who's helped the FBI solve some of its toughest cases. Dr. Angel is head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Reporting from the Smithsonian Institution, I'm Ann Carroll. [[Galaxy theme music]]