Woody Internship – Taft Museum of Art – Blog 6

I can’t stop saying this, but I’ll say it again: time is flying this summer. It’s already the end of July (what?), and I only have two weeks left in my internship at the Taft. Time flies when you’re having fun, as they say.

Yesterday, I give a presentation about my research at the monthly staff meeting. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the work I’ve done this summer — and panic mildly when I realized how much material is out there that I still haven’t read. I figured I would share that presentation on this blog.

I’ve put my presentation slides in the blog post, and accompanied them with a version of what I said during my presentation. This is your window into Taft Museum of Art staff meetings — as Lin-Manuel Miranda would say, the room where it happens

Slide 1

 

Slide 1: Who am I?

My name is Hannah, and I am a rising junior at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. At William & Mary, I am a double major in history and film and media studies.* Within the field of history, I am interested in cultural history: the media that is produced and consumed during different eras in the past. This includes art, but it also encompasses other mediums, such as theatre, music, films, and television shows.

I am also an aspiring museum professional. Though I haven’t entirely made up my mind on what I want to do in the future, I’m considering pursuing the curatorial track. My passion is for the research and interpretation of the past, and I am hoping to one day land in a position where I can do that at a history museum.

* This is not 100% true. I am actually self-designing my second major, but I don’t have a name for it yet and Film and Media Studies is the closest thing to it. “Pop culture and mass media” might be a more appropriate description of major no. 2.

Slide 2

Slide 2: What am I doing here?

I’m from Delaware and I go to college in Virginia, so why Cincinnati? The answer is the Woody Internship in Museum Studies. The Woody internship is a program founded by Carol and Robert Woody (pictured during their visit to the Taft in June) to give undergraduate students the opportunity to gain practical experience in museum work. The Taft is one of five sites around the country where interns are placed every summer. The Taft is also the newest; it was added just this year, so I am the first (hopefully, of many) Woody interns in Cincinnati.

Slide 3

Slide 3: What is the project?

This is the point of the presentation: what am I working on? I am doing research for the bicentennial digital reinterpretation project at the Taft. This means I am using online databases to cull information about five research subjects: Martin Baum, Nicholas Longworth, David Sinton, Anna Sinton Taft, and Charles Phelps Taft. I am primarily looking at historical periodicals — meaning I spend all my time reading old newspaper articles, it’s actually quite fun — and focusing on these individuals’ art collections as well as their social and personal lives.

I am organizing this information into an annotated bibliography with a citation for every source, as well as notes on its relevance and pertinent information. I am also compiling a library of PDF versions of every source consulted. At the end of the summer, I will be handing over all my research for use in the digital reinterpretation project in the coming year.

Regarding the illustrations: these are examples of some of the quirky things you find in this kind of research. They are illustrations from a poem published to celebrate the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Nicholas and Susan Longworth (or “Golden Wedding,” as it was then known). They are symbolic representations of episodes in Nicholas Longworth’s life, and I think they are charming in a really weird sort of way.

Slide 4

Slide 4: What have I found?

Good question. I’ll tell you.

Slide 5

Slide 5: The search thus far.

In eight weeks, I have read a total of 569 sources.** Broken down into categories, I have read 543 articles from historical periodicals, thirteen other primary sources (including poetry), five book chapters, four articles from academic journals, three reference entries, and two dissertations. Don’t worry, I didn’t read the entire dissertations. Just the relevant parts.

To give a sense of the kind of stories I’ve turned up in my research, I’ve been asked to share some fun anecdotes about each of my research subjects.

The illustration here is another from the aforementioned Golden Wedding poem. It’s an artistic representation of the Baum-Taft house as it looked when the Longworths lived here.

** Also inaccurate. I read 26 more articles yesterday afternoon, bringing the total to 595 sources.

Slide 6

Slide 6: Starting with Martin Baum. 

Did you know the historic house is earthquake-proof? As it turns out, Martin Baum lived through the devastating effects of an earthquake that struck Cincinnati in 1811, and he kept these effects in mind when building his home in 1820. According to an article published in the Wisconsin State Journal in September 1886:

“…the walls are of cubic dimensions sufficient to sustain at least a hundred times their present weight, and iron girders and stout iron braces in every corner render the building proof against the lateral movements which were the most destructive feature of the earthquake of 1811.”

So, if there happens to be a freak earthquake in Cincinnati, we know we’ll be safe. At least those of us in Curatorial and Learning & Engagement, because our offices are in the historic house.

Slide 7

Slide 7: Nicholas Longworth.

Before I get started on Longworth, I would like to say that I think research subjects should be like your children: you shouldn’t pick a favorite. That said, I totally have a favorite, and it’s Nicholas Longworth. He was a let’s-just-say-eccentric old man, and the newspapers are full of interesting stories about him. This is one that cropped up in a slew of newspapers both during and after Longworth’s life. It goes like this:

As a young lawyer, Nicholas Longworth defended a horse thief in court. After the trial, the thief couldn’t afford to pay Longworth, so he offered him two secondhand copper stills as payment. The problem was, the stills were in use by another guy, Joel Williams. Williams didn’t want to give Longworth the stills, understandably, because he was, you know, using them. In exchange, williams offered Longworth 33 acres of land he owned in an area called Western Row. At the time, this land was basically useless, but Longworth accepted it. As it turned out, this was an excellent choice. By the time Longworth died in 1863, this land was worth more than two million dollars.

I like this story because it exemplifies Longworth’s path to wealth. In addition to his law career and successful winemaking business, Longworth essentially bet on the future of Cincinnati via real estate. He came to Cincinnati in the early nineteenth century when it was little more than a town on the Ohio River and bought up land throughout his life, counting on Cincinnati growing into a city and the land appreciating in value. Considering Longworth died the second richest man in the United States at the time, it’s safe to say his bet paid off.

Slide 8

Slide 8: David Sinton.

Next up: David Sinton. David Sinton, like Nicholas Longworth, was many things: a multimillionaire, an industrialist, and a philanthropist.*** Did you knew he was also an inventor?

In 1880 and 1881, David Sinton filed two patents for “smoke-consuming furnaces.” These devices used a combination of arches and grates to reduce the smoke emitted by coal-burning furnaces. Sinton developed them by tinkering with the furnace of one of his business properties on Vine Street, and he sought to address the problem of coal smoke that was plaguing Cincinnati in the latter half of the 1800s.

The pictures here are from the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office for 1880 and 1881. They are the actual listings for Sinton’s patents, numbers 233,168 and 239,635, with descriptions and diagrams of the devices.

*** I didn’t say this during my presentation, but I was thinking of that line from The Avengers: “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” I’m not saying David Sinton was Cincinnati’s nineteenth-century Iron Man, but he did make his money in the pig iron industry, so…

Slide 9

Slide 9: Charles Phelps & Anna Sinton Taft

That brings us to the Tafts. I’ve compiled an abridged list of charities and organizations supported by the Tafts as I’ve found in my research. The full list is long, but even the short version includes notable organizations such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Zoological Garden, and Medical College, as well as a working women’s hotel and a women’s training school in Covington, Kentucky.

So why does this matter? We know the Tafts were charitable; the Taft Museum of Art wouldn’t exist if they weren’t. I find this list interesting because it illustrates the connections between this house and its inhabitants to the bigger story of Cincinnati history, which is the overarching theme I’ve noticed throughout my research.

Slide 10

Slide 10: The Taft Museum & Cincinnati History

At the end of the summer, I’ll be going back to Virginia. I won’t be in Cincinnati to see the reinterpretation project realized, so it’s not my place to develop a thesis synthesizing all this information, nor a report summarizing it. That said, I have come to two conclusions which I would like to share.

First, the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House is a crossroads of Cincinnati history. Second, Cincinnati would not be the Cincinnati we know today without this house and the people that have lived in it.

(As a real film nerd would say:) FIN.

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