Category Archives: From the Archives

Squeezing is Believing


Detail of cuneiform squeeze. Ernst Herzfeld papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

Larry DeVore is a retired lawyer who became a docent at Freer|Sackler twenty years ago. Shortly thereafter, he began volunteering in the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. For the last fourteen years he has been working with our paper conservators, first Martha Smith and now Emily Jacobson. He has been involved in many different projects, including the repair of a collection of “squeezes.”  

A squeeze is a paper cast of an inscription or picture that has been incised on an outdoor monument or building. In this way the inscription, which could become eroded or destroyed over time and cannot be moved to another location, can be preserved. Large sheets of wet paper are pounded into the recesses of the inscribed surface and once the wet paper dries it is peeled off the surface.

The F|S Archives was given more than three hundred squeezes by Ernst Herzfeld, an archaeologist who worked in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, during the 1920s and 1930s. Over time many of the squeezes, of cuneiform inscriptions from sites such as Persepolis, had suffered damages. There were tears in a number of different places, the cuneiform was frequently compressed, and often sections of the cast were missing. In addition, repairs made previously used poor-quality materials, such as scotch tape or brown paper tape, which had to be removed before new repairs could be made. Tears and holes were mended using Japanese paper and a good-quality adhesive and the cuneiforms that had been crushed or damaged were restored to their original height where possible.

If you want to see for yourself what a squeeze looks like, come to the Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran exhibition that is currently on display at Freer|Sackler. If you look closely, you might even see where some of the repairs were made.

Learn more about the Squeeze Imaging Project at the museum.

Crying Fowl at the Freer!

A peacock struts his stuff in the Freer Courtyard circa 1923.

With Winged Spirits: Birds in Chinese Paintings on view in the Freer, we searched around for some more images of birds and found this photograph of a peacock in the Freer courtyard in 1923, at the time of the museum’s opening. Yes, there were live peacocks running around (okay, maybe not running), perhaps an oh-so-subtle reminder for visitors not to miss Whistler’s Peacock Room. At the time, three peacocks were lent to the museum from the National Zoo. They remained in the museum during the warmer months, but were returned to the zoo in the winter.

What do you think? Would you like to see peacocks in the Freer courtyard today?

Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Building a Foundation for Asian Art

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, we’ll be featuring posts throughout the year that commemorate the museum’s founding. Some, like this one, will look back. Others will look forward, and most will be just right! Here, in 1986 or so (the museum would open in 1987), the Sackler is being built. The Smithsonian Castle and the entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center can be seen in the background. In addition to a new home for Asian art, the re-envisioning of the quad included the neighboring National Museum of African Art (which, if the photo were panoramic, would be on the right).

Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Freer Galley of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

A Very Good Day: Honeymoon in Hangzhou

In 1925 writer, curator, and professor Benjamin March—one of the foremost authorities on Chinese art in the 1920s and 1930s—and his wife spent their honeymoon in Hangzhou, China, which he recorded in his journal and in photographs. Here’s an excerpt just in time for Valentine’s Day:

“In the early afternoon, we took rickshas [sic] and rode out of the city through narrow streets to Six Harmony Pagoda. I had been wanting to visit it again, and to try a couple of pictures I had not been able to make succeed the last time. We took our supper down to our boat and went out on the lake to enjoy the moon. We drifted and paddled about the lake and the islands. After supper we sat, wrote a little verse, and then Dorothy sang for a long while and I lay on my back watching the white moon. A good day, a very good day—and no rain.”

Learn more about the Benjamin March papers in the Archives of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.