Thomas Jefferson’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandson Poses for a Presidential Portrait

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…  —Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America

He was a brilliant man who preached equality, but he didn’t practice it. He owned people. And now I’m here because of it. —Shannon LaNier, co-author of Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family

Many of the American participants in photographer Drew Gardner's ongoing Descendants project agreed to temporarily alter their usual appearance to heighten the historic resemblance to their famous ancestors, adopting Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s lace cap and sausage curls or Frederick Douglass’ swept back mane.

Actor and television presenter Shannon LaNier submitted to an uncomfortable, period-appropriate neckwrap, tugged into place with the help of some discreetly placed paperclips, but skipped the wig that would have brought him into closer visible alignment with an 1800 portrait of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson.




“I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” states LaNier, whose great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Sally Hemings, was written out of the narrative for most of our country’s history.

An enslaved half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha, Hemings was around sixteen when she bore Jefferson’s first child, as per the memoir of her son, Madison, from whom LaNier is also directly descended.

She has been portrayed onscreen by actors Carmen Ejogo and Thandie Newton (and Maya Rudolph in an icky Saturday Night Live skit.)

But there are no photographs or painted portraits of her, nor any surviving letters or diary entries. Just two accounts in which she is described as attractive and light-skinned, and some political cartoons that paint an unflattering picture.

The mystery of her appearance might make for an interesting composite portrait should the Smithsonian, who commissioned Gardner’s series, seek to entice all of LaNier’s female and female-identifying cousins from the Hemings line to pose.

While LaNier was aware of his connection to Jefferson from earliest childhood, his peers scoffed and his mother had to take the matter up with the principal after a teacher told him to sit down and stop lying. As he recalled in an interview:

When they didn’t believe me, it became one of those things you stop sharing because, you know, people would make fun of you and then they’d say, “Yeah, and I’m related to Abraham Lincoln.”

His family pool expanded when Jefferson’s great-great-great-great-grandson, journalist Lucian King Truscott IVwhose fifth great-grandmother was Martha Jeffersonissued an open invitation to Hemings’ descendants to be his guests at a 1999 family reunion at Monticello.

It would be another 20 years before the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Monticello tour guides stopped framing Hemings’ intimate connection to Jefferson as mere tattle.

Now visitors can find an exhibit dedicated to her life, both online and in the recently reopened house-museum.

Truscott lauded the move in an essay on Salon, published the same week that a yearbook photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in blackface posing next to a figure in KKK robes began to circulate:

Monticello is committing an act of equality by telling the story of slave life there, and by extension, slave life in America. When my cousins in the Hemings family stand up and proudly say, we are descendants of Thomas Jefferson, they are committing an act of equality…. The photograph you see here is a picture of who we are as Americans. One day, a photograph of two cousins, one black and one white, will not be seen as unusual. One day, acts of equality will outweigh acts of racism. Until that day, however, Shannon and I will keep fighting for what’s right. And one day, we will win.

Watch a video of Jefferson descendant Shannon Lanier’s session with photographer Drew Gardner here.

See more photos from Gardner’s Descendents project here.

Read historian Annette Gordon-Reed's New York Times op-ed on the complicated Hemings-Jefferson connection here.

via Petapixel

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Exquisite 2300-Year-Old Scythian Woman’s Boot Preserved in the Frozen Ground of the Altai Mountains

Shoes and boots, show where your feet have gone. —Guy Sebeus, 10 New Scythian Tales 

In the age of fast fashion, when planned obsolescence, cheap materials, and shoddy construction have become the norm, how startling to encounter a stylish women’s boot that’s truly built to last…

…like, for 2300 years.

It helps to have landed in a Scythian burial mound in Siberia’s Altai Mountains, where the above boot was discovered along with a number of nomadic afterlife essentials—jewelry, food, weapons, and clothing.




These artifacts (and their mummified owners) were well preserved thanks to permafrost and the painstaking attention the Scythians paid to their dead.

As curators at the British Museum wrote in advance of the 2017 exhibition Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia:

Nomads do not leave many traces, but when the Scythians buried their dead they took care to equip the corpse with the essentials they thought they needed for the perpetual rides of the afterlife. They usually dug a deep hole and built a wooden structure at the bottom. For important people these resembled log cabins that were lined and floored with dark felt – the roofs were covered with layers of larch, birch bark and moss. Within the tomb chamber, the body was placed in a log trunk coffin, accompanied by some of their prized possessions and other objects. Outside the tomb chamber but still inside the grave shaft, they placed slaughtered horses, facing east.

18th-century watercolor illustration of a Scythian burial mound. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg

The red cloth-wrapped leather bootie, now part of the State Hermitage Museum's collection, is a stunner, trimmed in tin, pyrite crystals, gold foil and glass beads secured with sinew. Fanciful shapes—ducklings, maybe?—decorate the seams. But the true mindblower is the remarkable condition of its sole.

Speculation is rampant on Reddit, as to this bottom layer’s pristine condition:

Maybe the boot belonged to a high-ranking woman who wouldn’t have walked much…

Or Scythians spent so much time on horseback, their shoe leather was spared…

Or perhaps it’s a high quality funeral garment, reserved for exclusively post-mortem use…

The British Museum curators’ explanation is that Scythians seated themselves on the ground around a communal fire, subjecting their soles to their neighbors’ scrutiny.

Become better acquainted with Scythian boots by making a pair, as ancient Persian empire reenactor Dan D’Silva did, documenting the process in a 3-part series on his blog. How you bedazzle the soles is up to you.

via ArtifactsHub

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Iggy Pop, David Byrne, and More Come Together with Bedtime Stories (For Grownups)

Many friends have expressed a sense of relief that their elderly parents passed before the coronavirus pandemic hit, but I sure wish my stepfather were here to witness Iggy Pop crossing the rainbow bridge with the heartfelt valentine to the late Tromba, the pooch with whom he shared the happiest moments of his life.

Iggy’s paean to his adopted Mexican street dog, who never quite made the adjustment to the New York City canine lifestyle, would have made my stepfather’s grinchy, dog-soft heart grow three sizes, at least.




That level of engagement would have pleased conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, who launched Bedtime Stories under the digital auspices of New York City's New Museum, asking friends, fellow artists, and favorite performers to contribute brief readings to foment a feeling of togetherness in these isolated times.

It was left to each contributor whether to go with a favorite literary passage or words of their own. As Cattelan told The New York Times:

It would have been quite depressing if all the invited artists and contributors had chosen fairy tales and children stories. We look to artists for their ability to show us the unexpected so I am thankful to all the participants for coming up with some genuinely weird stuff.

Thusfar, artist Raymond Pettibon's smutty Batman reverie is as close as Bedtime Stories comes to fairytale.

Which is to say not very close

Artist and musician David Byrne (pictured here at age five) reads from "The Three Christs of Ypsilanti" by Milton Rokeach. As part of its series of new digital initiatives, the New Museum presents “Bedtime Stories,” a project initiated by the artist Maurizio Cattelan. Inviting friends and other artists and performers he admires to keep us company, Cattelan imagined “Bedtime Stories” as a way of staying together during these days of isolation. Read more at newmuseum.org. #NewMuseumBedtimeStories @davidbyrneofficial

A post shared by New Museum (@newmuseum) on


Musician David Byrne picked an excerpt from The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by social psychologist Milton Rokeach, who detailed the interactions between three paranoid schizophrenics, each of whom believed himself the Son of God.

Artist Tacita Dean's cutting from Thomas Hardy’s poem "An August Midnight" speaks to an experience familiar to many who've been isolating solo—an acute willingness to elevate random bugs to the status of companion.

Rashid Johnson's choice, Amiri Baraka’s "Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note," also feels very of the moment:

Lately, I've become accustomed to the way

The ground opens up and envelopes me

Each time I go out to walk the dog

Things have come to that.

Listen to the New Museum’s Bedtime Stories here. A new story will be added every day through the end of June, with a lineup that includes musician Michael Stipe, architect Maya Lin, and artists Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Virtual Tour of the Mütter Museum and Its Many Anatomically Peculiar Exhibits

A few months before Philaelphia’s Mütter Museum, exercising now familiar COVID-19 precautions, closed its doors to the public, it co-sponsored a parade to honor the victims to the previous century’s Spanish Flu pandemic, as well as "those who keep us safe today.”

The event was part of a temporary exhibition, Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia.

Another temporary exhibition, Going Viral: Infection Through the Ages, opened in November, and now seems even stronger proof that the museum, whose 19th-century display cabinets are housed in the historic College of Physicians, is as concerned with the future as it is with the past.

For now, all tours must be undertaken virtually.




Above, curator Anna Dhody, a physical and forensic anthropologist and Director of the Mütter Research Institute, gives a brief introduction to some of the best known artifacts in the permanent collection.

The museum's many antique skulls and medical oddities may invite comparisons to a ghoulish sideshow attraction, an impression Dhody corrects with her warm, matter-of-fact delivery and respectful acknowledgment of the humans whose stories have been preserved along with their remains:

Mary Ashberry, an achondroplastic dwarf, died from complications of a Cesarean section, as doctors who had yet to learn the importance of sterilizing instruments and washing hands, attempted to help her deliver a baby who proved too big for her pelvis. (The baby’s head was crushed as well. Its skull is displayed next to its mother’s skeleton.)

Madame Dimanche is represented by a wax model of her face, instantly recognizable due to the 10-inch cutaneous horn that began growing from her forehead when she was in her 70s. (It was eventually removed in an early example of successful plastic surgery.)

Albert Einstein and the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker are among the household names gracing the museum’s collection.

One of the most recent additions is the skeleton of artist and disability awareness advocate Carol Orzel, who educated the public and incoming University of Pennsylvania medical students about fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a rare disorder that turned her muscle and connective tissue to bone. She told her physician, Frederick Kaplan, below, that she wanted her skeleton to go to the Mütter, to join that of fellow FOP sufferer, Harry Eastlack… provided some of her prized costume jewelry could be displayed alongside. It is.

Get better acquainted with the Mütter Museum’s collection through this playlist.

The exhibit Spit Spreads Death is currently slated to stay up through 2024. While waiting to visit in person, you can watch an animation of the Spanish flu’s spread, and explore an interactive map showing the demographics of the infection.

h/t Tanya Elder

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Virtual Tour Inside the Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Museum

Let us pray that organization expert Marie Kondo never comes within spitting distance of A Boy’s Room, part of the Studio Ghibli museum’s Where a Film is Born installation.

It’s not likely that every single item in the massive (and no doubt well dusted) collection of books, postcards, hand tools, pictures, figurines, and other assorted tchotchkes pictured above sparks joy, but the suggestion is that any one of them might prove the gateway to a fantastical tale, such as those spun by the museum’s executive director, master animator Hayao Miyazaki:

The room seems to belong to someone who was sketching at the desk just a few minutes ago. The room is filled with books and toys. The walls are all covered with illustrations and sketches. Hanging from the ceiling are a model of an airplane and a model of a Pteranodon. It's a place where the owner of the room has stored his favorite things. This room provides lots of inspiration for what will go on to the blank piece of paper on the desk to become the origin of an actual film.

The Museum, which announced it would delay its reopening out of ongoing concerns related to social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, recently shared some brief video tours of the Miyazaki-designed space, perhaps all the more magical for being empty.




One lucky viewer, who had trekked to the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka for an in-person visit, recalled the experience of actually being in A Boy’s Room:

Open up the drawers in this room, take the books off shelves to look at them, touch things, look through trunks—you might find little secrets to be discovered. One time I took an art book from the shelf and one of the employees came over to me. I was expecting to get reprimanded, but instead she kindly guided me over to a couch so that I could read the book. Miyazaki took care to design the space to be friendly to the exploratory nature of children, making sure that they could play unobstructed. It's one of the reasons why you aren't allowed to take photos inside—he didn't want parents interrupting their experience to pose for photos they could care less about.

That philosophy is enacted throughout the museum. Kids can climb all over a life-size plush recreation of My Neighbor Totoro’s cat bus, but would-be Instagrammers are S.O.L.

A peek at the Space of Wonder room reveals Thumbelina-sized characters from My Neighbor TotoroNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Kiki's Delivery Service frolicking in a fresco of fruit, flowers, and vines.

The architectural elements are a particular treat, and suggest that there’s serious bank to be made, should Miyazaki ever consider extending the brand into a theme park-style hotel. (Something tells us he won’t.)

Once having seen a photo essay featuring some of the fancy refreshments others have enjoyed there, the tour of the empty Straw Hat Café does underwhelm a bit. Those cute little plates are just calling out for a slice of strawberry shortcake…

We’re unsure if museum staffers will be releasing more videos during their downtime, though we’re hopeful, especially since several in-person visitors have noted that the museum’s toilets are pretty noteworthy.

That said we’d happily settle for some of the short films that screen in the museum’s Saturn Theater.

You can follow the Museum’s YouTube channel just in case.

Meanwhile, here is Miyazaki’s manifesto detailing the kind of museum he wanted to make, right down to the café and the gift shop:

A museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul
A museum where much can be discovered
A museum based on a clear and consistent philosophy
A museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy, those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel
A museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!

To make such a museum, the building must be...
Put together as if it were a film
Not arrogant, magnificent, flamboyant, or suffocating
Quality space where people can feel at home, especially when it's not crowded
A building that has a warm feel and touch
A building where the breeze and sunlight can freely flow through

The museum must be run in such a way that...
Small children are treated as if they were grown-ups
Visitors with disabilities are accommodated as much as possible
The staff can be confident and proud of their work
Visitors are not controlled with predetermined courses and fixed directions
It is suffused with ideas and new challenges so that the exhibits do not get dusty or old, and that investments are made to realize that goal

The displays will be...
Not only for the benefit of people who are already fans of Studio Ghibli
Not a procession of artwork from past Ghibli films as if it were "a museum of the past"
A place where visitors can enjoy by just looking, can understand the artists' spirits, and can gain new insights into animation

Original works and pictures will be made to be exhibited at the museum
A project room and an exhibit room will be made, showing movement and life
(Original short films will be produced to be released in the museum!)
Ghibli's past films will be probed for understanding at a deeper level

The café will be...
An important place for relaxation and enjoyment
A place that doesn't underestimate the difficulties of running a museum café
A good café with a style all its own where running a café is taken seriously and done right

The museum shop will be...
Well-prepared and well-presented for the sake of the visitors and running the museum
Not a bargain shop that attaches importance only to the amount of sales
A shop that continues to strive to be a better shop
Where original items made only for the museum are found

The museum's relation to the park is...
Not just about caring for the plants and surrounding greenery but also planning for how things can improve ten years into the future
Seeking a way of being and running the museum so that the surrounding park will become even lusher and better, which will in turn make the museum better as well!

This is what I expect the museum to be, and therefore I will find a way to do it.

This is the kind of museum I don't want to make!
A pretentious museum
An arrogant museum
A museum that treats its contents as if they were more important than people
A museum that displays uninteresting works as if they were significant

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

3D Interactive Globes Now Online: Spin Through an Archive of Globes from the 17th and 18th Century

Willem Janszoon Blaeu Celestial Globe 1602

No matter how accustomed we've grown over the centuries to flat maps of the world, they can never be perfectly accurate. Strictly speaking, no map can perfectly capture the territory it describes (an impossibility memorably fictionalized by Jorge Luis Borges in "On Exactitude in Science"), but there's a reason we also call the Earth "the globe": only a globe can represent not just the planet's true shape, but the true shape of the land masses on which we live. This is not to say that globes have always been accurate. Like the history of mapmaking, the history of globe-making is one of educated (or uneducated) guesses, free mixture of fact and legend, and labels like "terra incognita" or "here be dragons." You can see that for yourself in the British Library's new online historic globe archive — and not just through flat photographs and scans.

"The archive presents 3D models of 11 globes — a subset of the library’s historic maps collection — that can be rotated and zoomed into for greater detail at every angle," writes Hyperallergic's Sarah Rose Sharp. She points to one in particular, "stunning 1602 celestial globe by Dutch cartographer Willem Janszoon Blaeu, first produced in 1602. In addition to representing the constellations as their fantastic and mythological namesakes, it identifies a nova in the constellation of Cygnus which Blaeu had personally observed in 1600."




The British Library's digital collection boasts several such "celestial globes," which chart the sky rather than the Earth. However few of us have ever turned a celestial globe by hand, we can now do it virtually. If 1602 seems a bit too vintage, give a digital spin to the others from 1700, 1728, and 1783.

Back on land, these globes feature not just "fantastic creatures," Sharp writes, but "charming archaic conceptions of the oceans — the 'Atalantick Ocean' in the 1730 Richard Cushee terrestrial globe, or the 'Ethipoic Ocean' in the 1783 terrestrial globe by G. Wright and W. Bardin." In Chushee, Wright and Bardin's times, few globe-users, or indeed globe-makers, would have had the chance to see much of those vast bodies of water for themselves. Of course, with the current state of pandemic lockdown in so many countries, few of us are taking transoceanic journeys even today. If you're dreaming about the rest of the world, spend some time with the British Library's 3D-modeled globes on Sketchfab — where you'll also find the Rosetta Stone and Bust of Nefertiti among other artifacts previously featured here on Open Culture — and get your hands on an idea of how humanity imagined it in centuries past.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Stay At Home Museum: Your Private, Guided Tours of Rubens, Bruegel & Other Flemish Masters

Of the many world class museums treating a stuck-at-home public to virtual tours of their collections, none inspire the resolve for future travel as the Stay At Home Museum, an initiative of the Flanders tourism board.

Before the COVID-19 epidemic response demanded the temporary shuttering of all such attractions, the region was entering the final year of a 3-year festival celebrating such Flemish masters as Jan Van EyckPieter Bruegel, and Peter Paul Rubens.




Its website appeals to young, hip visitors by matching interests with celebrity tour guides: Bacchus (as rendered by Rubens) for eating and drinking in an arty atmosphere and Rubens' Venus for culturally responsible shopping and diamond admiring.

Other enticing prospects we can’t take advantage of at present:

A downloadable Bruegel walking tour map

Rubens-inspired beer tourism

A Flemish Masters itinerary for children

An open air augmented reality experience based on Bruegel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

Our sadness at missing these cannot be chalked up to FOMO. Right now, the whole world is missing out.

So, consider the Stay At Home Museum a preview, something to help us enjoy our trips to the region all the more at some point in the future, by educating ourselves on the painters who made Flanders famous.

The series is also a treat for the Zoom weary. The expert guides aren’t facing their webcams at home, but rather using their high level access to lead us through the empty museums in which the exhibits are still installed.

No jostling...

No crowding in front of the most celebrated pieces...

No inane lunch-related chatter from tourists who aren’t into art as deeply as you are...

Above, Van Eyck expert Till-Holger Borchert, Director of Musea Bruges, orients us to the artist and his work, most notably the Ghent altarpiece, aka Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 12-panel polyptych that Van Eyck worked on with Hugo, the older brother who died 6 years before its completion.

Pay close attention to Adam and Eve’s body hair. Borchert certainly does.

He also sheds a lot of interesting light on the significance of materials, framing choices, and composition.

The restored altarpiece was slated to be reinstalled in its original home of Ghent’s Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, following the scheduled closing of Jan van Eyck: An Optical Revolution—April 30, 2020.

The Royal Museum of Fine Art's director Michel Draguet takes us on a French-speaking journey inside Bruegel’s painting, The Fall of the Rebel Angels.

Ben Van Beneden, the director of the Rubens House, invites us into Ruben’s “art gallery room”—something no self-respecting wealthy polyglot diplomat/aesthete who’s also a Baroque painter would do without, apparently.

The peek at Rubens' garden is nice too, especially for those of us with no private outdoor space of our own.

Jumping ahead to the Belgian avant-garde of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, curator Mieke Mels of Ostennd’s the Mu.ZEE spills the beans on why native son, James Ensor, shielded his 1888 masterpiece Christ's Entry into Brussels from the public view for 3 decades.

This episode has been translated into International Sign Language for deaf and hearing impaired viewers.

A fifth and allegedly final episode is forthcoming. View a playlist of all Stay At Home Museum episodes here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. It’s been so long since she visited Belgium, she can’t remember if her indiscretion in the Bruges youth hostel made it into her travel memoir, No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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