New Acquisition: Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color

The entire set, including two pages of color prints and the accompanying exercise book in the background.

The Special Collections Research Center is excited to announce the acquisition of a 1963 copy of The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers.  The set was originally a limited run of 2000 sets of prints with an accompanying book that outlines a sequence of color exercises. The work comprises 80 silk screened prints that demonstrate how the eye perceive colors differently when set next to other colors. For example, the print in the image to the left has brown/tan squares surrounded by orange, yellow, and blue so that one brown square appears darker than the other, despite the two squares being exactly the same shade. The video at the bottom of this page demonstrates the effect of revealing that the two brown squares are the same by lifting a flap.

Josef Albers (1888–1976) was an influential teacher, writer, painter, and color theorist. He began his career teaching at the Bauhaus before moving to the United States, and was an influential figure in 20th century modernism. From 1950 to 1958, Josef Albers was chairman of the Department of Design at the Yale University School of Art. There, and as guest teacher at art schools throughout North and South America and in Europe, including here at Syracuse University, he trained a whole new generation of art teachers, designers, artists, and industrial designers.

Two pages of color prints in Albers’ book.

Albers’ interest and dedication to the study of visual perception was key to his work as an artist and teacher. In the introduction to The Interaction of Color, Albers discusses his views saying, “In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is—as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art. In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually.”

After its initial publication, The Interaction of Color proved to be such a valuable resource for artists that it was printed in many smaller and cheaper formats throughout the 20th century, finally even becoming an iPad app.  The SCRC staff are very excited to offer this opportunity to view the original prints for a work that is so focused on the integrity of color, without screen resolutions or mass produced paper quality creating variations. A special collections setting in the Reading Room or classroom gives our users a unique opportunity to open and manipulate the frames of these prints. Continuing the spirit of Albers’ teaching, SCRC would especially welcome campus class sessions interested in comparing the work across printed editions and the app to contact Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator, to arrange a class session with this work (cmtheise@syr.edu).

The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Source:

“Artists Biographies.” The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 2019, https://albersfoundation.org/artists/biographies/.

It’s No Wonder…That They’re Called Little Wonders!

By Jim Meade, Audio Engineer

What sound disc is 5 inches in diameter and carries sound on one side only? A compact disc, or CD, would be a good answer, but not quite what we’re thinking of. Here we look into one of the more curious corners of the Belfer 78rpm Collection: Little Wonder discs. Belfer holds a collection of 106 Little Wonder discs, which were digitized in 2016.

Little Wonders are 5 ½ inches in diameter and single-sided. They have narrow grooves on one side (compared to regular 10 and 12 -inch double-sided 78rpm discs), with one to two minutes playing time.

A Little Wonder Record Company disc containing the Long Boy tenor solo by Byron G. Harlan.

A casual observer might assume from their appearance that these are children’s records, due to the figure of an infant conductor sometimes appearing on the label, combined with their small diameter. However, they are actually popular titles of the day. Little Wonder later gave rise to Bubble Books, a series which did combine discs and books for children. Little Wonder records were hugely popular between 1915 and 1923, selling an estimated 40 million over the life of the label.

These records were manufactured under contract by Columbia and often featured Columbia recording artists. Because artist credits on Little Wonder records are rare, identification of performers is often an educated guess by experienced collectors. Some famous voices have been identified on Little Wonder recordings including an uncredited Al Jolson.

A Little Wonder Record Company disc of the song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

Little Wonders are acoustic recordings with a low production value, sold initially without a paper label or a record sleeve to lower costs.

The reverse side of a Little Wonder record with information on the unique record’s pending patents.

This may also have been a deliberate strategy to distinguish them from regular priced records and not eat into profits from Columbia’s more up-scale discs. At a time when regular records cost $0.75 to $1.00, Little Wonders were priced at $0.10 to $0.15 cents, making them an instant, large scale success. Little Wonders were retailed through 5 and 10 cent stores such as Kresge’s and Woolworth’s, as well as through the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward mail-order catalogs. By the mid-1920s, the price of regular, full-length records decreased to $0.50, a shift that created competition in the music market and may have ultimately led to loss in popularity for the Little Wonders.

A Little Wonder disc containing the song, “The Old Grey Mare,” and cheerful illustrations of musical instruments.

The success of these little discs turned the record industry on its head by aggressively reshaping the price structure. With Little Wonders, records became a truly affordable mass medium that everyone could enjoy.

Little Wonders (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s Belfer Audio Archive.

American and Soviet “Truth”: Pravda in Special Collections

By Natasha Bishop, Reference Assistant

SCRC is home to the collections of many prominent twentieth-century American cartoonists and journalists, some of whose works deal with one of the century’s most omnipresent forces: the Soviet Union. Three of these figures, Communist activist Earl Browder and political cartoonists Bill Crawford and Don Wright, engaged with the Soviet Communist Party’s daily newspaper, Pravda in their articles and cartoons. In doing so, the three men showcase the distinctly different ways propaganda and bias emerged in Soviet and American presses at this time.

While multiple newspapers were published in the Soviet Union, none was more far-reaching than the Soviet Communist Party’s central organ, Pravda (Russian for “Truth”). The publication powerhouse ran under Communist control from 1912 to 1991 and, at its height of circulation, reached 11 million people daily. Through Pravda, the party disseminated official policy while also presenting a strictly controlled image of communism’s reception abroad.

Front page of Pravda featuring a state officials group photograph with Josef Stalin standing center, March 2, 1947.

In efforts to present an image of widespread international support for the Soviet Union, Pravda employed American writers and cartoonists living abroad as foreign correspondents, some of whose collections are now held in SCRC. Noted American radical artists William Gropper and Fred Ellis, for example, both worked for the newspaper while living in Russia in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively. And in 1966, SCRC acquired the papers of one of Pravda’s most prominent American correspondents, Earl Browder.

The Earl Browder Collection contains the activist’s manuscripts, correspondence, memorabilia, and photographs, in addition to over 1,350 titles from his personal book and pamphlet collection. It is a critical collection because Browder was the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA from 1930 to 1945 and a two-time U.S. presidential candidate. He was a seminal party member until being expelled in 1956 for promoting a peaceful coexistence between socialism and capitalism. Browder continued to write for Pravda in the years after his excommunication and remained a committed socialist until his death in 1973.

SCRC holds a number of articles Browder wrote for Pravda, all of which are exaggerated accounts of socialism’s influence in the United States. A potent example of this is the 1939 article, “Lenin and his Influence in America,” which Browder begins by declaring: “Fifteen years after the death of Lenin, the influence of his ideas in America has grown to the proportion of a major factor in the life of the country…Lenin’s penetrating vision revealed the many affinities existing between the people of the Soviet Union, land of socialism, and the people of the United States.” This faithfully reflects the serious manner in which Browder wrote his Pravda reports, amplifying the Soviet Union’s impact on the American general public.

Being a state-run political apparatus, the heavily regulated and serious Pravda existed solely to push Communist policy. SCRC’s issues of Pravda contain few images and no cartoons; the editors clearly prioritized policy over entertainment. Through Browder and other foreign correspondents, it kept the Soviet public abreast on American news, although always biased in favor of the Communist party.

Conversely, the American public maintained an awareness of information being circulated by Pravda throughout the twentieth century, as evidenced in two works in SCRC collections by prominent cartoonists, Bill Crawford and Don Wright. While Soviet news contributors wrote from a serious standpoint, American cartoonists could afford to be more glib in their presentation of foreign matters. No major periodicals were controlled by political factions and because the American press operates within the free-market economy, its news publications have always had the dual task of informing and entertaining to attract readers. Rooted in comedy, the cartoon remains a staple of American newspapers. It is an effective tool wielded to deliver sharply critical commentary made more palatable through humor.

Cartoon criticizing the two-faced nature of Soviet officials by Bill Crawford, ca. 1958-52.

Crawford’s cartoon, published sometime between 1952-58, shows Josef Stalin holding a mask in his right hand. “‘We are devoted to strengthening peace and cooperation with the U.S.’…New Soviet Ambassador Zarubin,” assures the mask to the American audience. Meanwhile, Stalin faces the opposite direction and speaks directly to the Soviets (as quoted in Pravda) “‘U.S. Ambassador is a slanderer disguised as a diplomat’…Pravda”. This showcases the deep cynicism of what Americans believed were false promises being made by the Soviets. Its message was clearly that the Soviets were not to be trusted, which stoked the flames of fear being nurtured during the Red Scare era.

Cartoon by Don Wright featuring a newspaper merchant selling two Soviet and one American publications, undated.

 Although less explicit than Crawford’s cartoon, Wright’s still plays into the fearmongering aspects of anti-Soviet propaganda. This undated cartoon published in the Miami Herald shows a dejected man at his newsstand in Moscow selling three publications: Pravda, Izvestia, and the Wall Street Journal. The paranoia-imbued message Wright delivers says that the Soviets were closely monitoring the American economy.

The American and Soviet presses would keep their readerships informed on the current events of each other’s countries throughout the Cold War. Their delivery styles were markedly different due to the nature of state-run versus free-market publications, yet similarities are found in the biased and propagandistic nature of their foreign news content.

The William Gropper Papers (William Gropper Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Fred Ellis Papers (Fred Ellis Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Bill Crawford Papers (Bill Crawford Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Don Wright Papers (Don Wright Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), and Earl Browder Papers (Earl Browder Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections. Additional issues of Pravda are also available on microfilm at the Bird Library.

Additional Sources:

Dallin, Alexander. “America Through Soviet Eyes.” The Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 1, 1947, pp. 26–39.

Gruliow, Leo. “The Soviet Press: ‘Propagandist, Agitator, Organizer’.” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, no. 2, 1956, pp. 153–169.

Moore, Barrington. “The Communist Party of the USA; an Analysis of a Social Movement.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 39, no. 1, 1945, pp. 31–41.

White, James D. “The First Pravda and the Russian Marxist Tradition.” Soviet Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 1974, pp. 181–204.

150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University

By Meg Mason, University Archivist

On March 24, 1870, the Board of Trustees of Syracuse University signed the University charter and certificate of incorporation. Over the next few years, the College of Liberal Arts was founded, classes began, the first Commencement was held, the first Chancellor was inaugurated, and the University’s first building, the Hall of Languages, was constructed. All the founding pieces were now in place for the University to begin forming a legacy of traditions, many of which are documented and on display in a new University Archives exhibition, which I am proud to have curated, 150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University.

Photograph of Syracuse University graduates, 1891 from the Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

Curating this exhibition allowed me to draw upon some of the University Archives’ most historically rich collections, including the Photograph Collection and Memorabilia Collection. These collections document so many traditions, from Commencement to mascots to the Chimemasters. I also jumped at the opportunity to show off some of our most special items. Both a number 44 football jersey worn and signed by Ernie Davis ‘62, the first African American Heisman Trophy winner, as well as the Alma Mater written in the hand of its author, Junius Stevens, Class of 1895, will be on display, though for a limited time to prevent fading. There are also other wonderful pieces, such as old photographs of graduates at Commencements long past and an impressively-sized cheerleading megaphone from the 1960s. All the photographs, printed materials, textiles, and other memorabilia are a testament to the University’s history of traditions that have inspired Orange pride, united the University community, and connected its past with its present.

Photograph of Ernie Davis, circa 1959-1962, from the Syracuse University Portrait Collection.

Syracuse University Alma Mater, handwritten by Junius Stevens, Class of 1895, circa 1893 from the Junius Woods Stevens Collection.

The tradition I found most challenging to exhibit is the origin of orange as the University’s official color. Although orange was adopted as the official color in 1890, there isn’t an official proclamation in the University Archives, and we don’t hold many materials that have color from that time. I managed to track down a student newspaper article about the impatience of the student body to change the University’s colors from pink and blue to orange. I also included the brilliantly-orange cover of an 1891 Men’s Glee Club program, which is the earliest orange item I could find.

Some of my favorite items in the University Archives are the freshman beanies. They’re just so round and delightful. While I can’t imagine feeling so delighted if I was a first-year student who had to wear one, I’m grateful to alumni who kept theirs and later donated them to the University Archives. We have a nice collection of beanies in all shades of orange (and even green!), and we managed to fit a goodly number of them in the exhibition case.

Freshman beanie, circa 1930s-1940s from the Syracuse University Memorabilia Collection.

The beanies are a great example of a tradition that has faded away. When I started curating this exhibition, I had a vague idea of tradition as something timeless and classic. But looking through what is now on display, visitors will see not only traditions that have endured but also those that have fallen by the wayside as well as fairly new ones. Those old, long-gone traditions lost their meaning, and over time the University has picked up new customs and celebrations as they have embraced values and a community that is more diverse and inclusive. So now we have Otto the Orange as our mascot instead of the Saltine Warrior thanks to the late 1970s protests of a Native American student organization, and we have annual, traditional celebrations such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and International Thanksgiving.

Photograph of the orange mascot, later known as Otto, 1982, from the Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

Please join us for the opening reception of the exhibition on Thursday, September 4, from 4:30 to 6 pm at the Special Collections Research Center on the 6th floor of Bird Library. The exhibition is open for viewing through the spring of 2020. If you’re not into the color orange (What?!), the number 44 (How could you?!) or the Alma Mater (Sacrilege!), you at least have to come see all those thoughtfully-curated beanies!

The Syracuse University Photograph Collection, the Syracuse University Portrait Collection, the Syracuse University Memorabilia Collection and the Junius Woods Stevens Collection are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s University Archives (University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).