Category Archives: Uncategorized

Conserving The Ephemeral

This summer we have a wonderful opportunity to work with our colleagues at the Smithsonian Latino Center to undertake a rare and important project, the conservation of a raft used by Cuban balseros in the 1990s – balsero is a term given to thousands of individuals who left Cuba aboard homemade vessels called balsas (rafts).
The raft, constructed of Styrofoam, wood, textiles, and other found materials, measures 78 ½” in length and 34 ¾” in width. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) rescued two men from this raft 35 miles southeast of Miami in July 1992. Humberto Sanchez, a member of Hermanos al Rescate (Brothers to the Rescue), acquired the raft from USCG and donated it to the Museum in 1996. For a number of years, the raft has been stored undisturbed inside of a custom-built crate.

Raft before conservation. Object no. 1996.0008.0001. Photograph by Grant Czubinski, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

This spring, we opened the crate to assess the condition of the raft. Given its provenance, construction, and age, signs of use were readily visible on its top and sides. The wooden dowels used to anchor the support rails to the raft’s body were both broken, had shifted over time, and deformed the foam around them. The foam support structure for one of the rails had collapsed and caused a foam fragment to detach from the body. We also found that the textile wrapped around the body had torn and separated from the body in several places.

Before undertaking conservation work, we took stock of the raft’s significance. We knew that its use, history, and symbolism were of paramount importance. The Museum’s intent was not to restore, but rather to stabilize the raft and preserve the human story of its use by two men who fled Cuba during the summer of 1992.

Raft following conservation. Photograph by Steven Pickman.

To stabilize the raft, we chose to repair the dowels supporting the wooden rails and to fill in the foam around them. We also reattached a foam fragment and filled in gaps to avoid further breakage and to better support the railing.  We reattached the textile wrapped around the raft’s body in areas where it risked tearing from the foam and becoming completely detached. These repairs restored the raft to a state where it was stable and solid, but still looks well used.

During the project, we lifted the raft onto two sawhorses to observe its bottom. We discovered wooden planks that are connected to the railings at the top. Evidently, the foam is built onto a makeshift wooden structure that holds everything together, top to bottom, while the textile holds things together around the sides.

Conservator Steven Pickman shows Anacostia Community Museum Collections Manager Miriam Doutriaux areas of interest in the conservation of a raft hand-built by Cubans. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Following conservation, we built a new storage platform that supports specific areas of the bottom of the raft, to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the newly discovered wooden planks. It will remain stored on the platform until it goes on display.

Now that the conservation is complete, we are moving forward with our next exciting project: 3D scanning and digitization. Stay tuned for future posts, as we work with our Smithsonian colleagues to document it further in the coming weeks!

Elizabeth Chase: Barry Farm/Hillsdale Self-Made Suffragette

Amanda Hergenrather is a writing major at Eastern Mennonite University interning at the Anacostia Community Museum, helping with research for the forthcoming book History of Place: Barry Farm/Hillsdale, a Postbellum African American Community in Washington, DC 1867-1970. Here Amanda tells the story of Elizabeth Chase one of the first settlers in the newly created African American community.

Elizabeth Chase was already free before the Civil War. Later she became an entrepreneur by trade and a suffragette by conviction. Born in the early 1840s, Elizabeth Chase likely led a life of privilege compared to many African American women in her day. Elizabeth’s mother, Caroline Chase, lived in Ward 2 where she and Elizabeth worked as washerwomen. Elizabeth’s two brothers were laborers. It was this work that likely contributed to her ability to purchase land and lumber for the house she would soon construct, east of the Anacostia River, in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. She bought a plot of land in the late 1860s, and by 1871 her newly built home stood on the corner of Elvans and Stanton Roads. Not only did Chase live alone in the home she was able to personally finance, she pursued self-employment all through her life in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. By 1874, she was running a restaurant in Uniontown, until she began a catering business based out of her home in 1884.
To run her businesses, Chase would have had to be proficient in reading, writing, and arithmetic; skills few other African American women could boast at the time. Elizabeth Chase took advantage of the opportunities she had been afforded, but she didn’t stop there. In 1877 Chase joined 33 African American Barry Farm/Hillsdale residents, male and female, including her mother Caroline Chase, in signing a petition penned by Frederick Douglass Jr. in favor of women’s suffrage. Rather than being content with her own good fortune, Chase recognized the need to give all women the autonomy to live their lives as they saw fit; autonomy that could one day be attained through gaining the right to vote. In signing the petition, Elizabeth and Caroline Chase left a mark in history. Even though the right to vote wouldn’t be afforded to American women for nearly half a century, the Chase women helped lay the groundwork that would be instrumental in attaining that right.
We honor the memory of Elizabeth Chase, an entrepreneur, homeowner, and independent suffragette, a most extraordinary and inspirational African American woman of the 19th century.

Elizabeth Chase and her mother Caroline signed this petition to Congress requesting the right to vote for women. Frederick Douglass Jr. and his wife were the first signers.

Writing on the Wall

A couple of months ago, the Museum received a call from the owners of a house in the historic Anacostia neighborhood. The Reeves family was beginning renovations when they discovered writing on a bedroom wall. In faded letters, they could make out the words “Clark Womer Teates,” among a series of other names. Looking in the DC Historical Building Permits Database, they discovered Teates was the first owner of the house when it was built in 1905.

Intrigued by their discovery, the Museum’s staff photographer and I headed over to see for ourselves. The Museum strives to document and preserve local history, and our photography collection targets sites, people, and events that shine a light on our communities. This sounded like an opportunity to learn about the residents, past and present, who have made historic Anacostia home.

Photo by Susana Raab, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

We soon discovered that the writing on the wall was a family tree of the Teates nuclear family. The patriarch, Clark Teates, appears at the top, next to his wife, Rosann. Below them are their three daughters in order of birth, Agnes, Ruth, and Alice. Both Clark and Rosaan names are followed by birth and death dates. Barely legible to the right are the names of the husbands and children of the Teates daughters.

Returning to the Museum, we searched Census records and Washington, DC newspapers. Born in Pennsylvania in 1876, Clark Womer Teates came to Washington, DC during the 1890s by way of Fauquier County, VA, where he received accreditation to serve as an attendant in a hospital. By 1897, Clark found employment at the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) in the southeast quadrant of Washington, DC. The 1900 Census records him as living at the hospital.

Clark Teates listed in the 1897 Washington, DC City Directory.

In 1901, Clark married Rosann Smith. Four years later, in 1905, the couple welcomed their first daughter, Agnes, the same year they moved into their new home in Anacostia. Daughters Ruth and Alice were born soon after. By 1910, Clark had changed employment to the United States Government Printing Office (The United States Government Publishing Office), where he worked as a caster operator. Rosann also worked for the Federal Government in the Internal Revenue Service as late as 1940.  Clark and Rosann continued to live in their Anacostia house for the rest of their lives, marking a half century of Teates ownership and occupation.

Sometime after Clark’s death in 1948, someone decided to write the family tree on the wall. It is possible that it was one of the Teates daughters, before the house left the family for good after Rosann’s death in 1958. They left behind a small piece of personal history for future occupants of the house to discover, decades later.

When the Reeves bought their home in historic Anacostia, they knew that they were settling in a community steeped in history. Little did they know, their house has a rich history of its own recorded on the bedroom wall, with the names of the first family to make memories there. A photograph of the wall is now part of the Museum’s Community Documentation Photography collection, for others to discover and enjoy, while the house itself continues to be a cherished home for an Anacostia family over a century later, a space where the Reeves will make family memories for years to come.

If you have a story or history that you would like to share, please contact us.

Urban Waterways Newsletter Issue 8

Urban Waterways and Community Collaboration

Living Classrooms “Fresh Start” program participants helping construct the boardwalk over the marsh on Heritage Island. Lee Cain

This 8th issue focuses on the value and practice of community collaboration. Hyon Rah points to a growing realization among practitioners tackling issues of development along waterways that an integrated approach driven by community input and needs is means to sustainable success. Lee Cain highlights how the community’s role in building and maintaining the natural space of Kingman Island in DC can create a sense of stewardship and connection to place, while providing a path for future personal and civic development. ArtReach’s Melissa Green demonstrates the various ways communities can and want to be engaged in conversations regarding the health of their neighborhoods and natural world through art. The City Project provides a list of best practices through a tracing of the history of community driven collaborations aimed at park access and health equity in LA, while the Waterfront Development Corporation in Louisville serves as a case study of successful community engagement that has lasted for over thirty years, as the citizens of Louisville have embraced the various stages of the city’s front lawn which is entering its fourth stage. Urban Waterways Newsletter 8 


Urban Waterways Newsletter Issue 7

Urban Waterways and Critical Issues

Courtesy Jeremy Franklin Orr
Courtesy Jeremy Franklin Orr

This  issue was inspired by the events in the city of Flint and the rude realization for many that Flint was not the first, and will not be the last, community to face the daily realities of an insecure water supply. Our contributors in DC, Los Angeles, and Flint explore some of the critical issues facing urban waterways and their communities.  urban-waterways-newsletter-issue-7

“Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963-1975”

Installation shot of works by Lou Stovall. Deputy Director Sharon Reinckens set the placement and installation followed.
Installation shot of works by Lou Stovall. Deputy Director Sharon Reinckens set the placement and installation followed.

"After" pic - from the floor to the wall.
“After” pic – from the floor to the wall.

Another view of the installation.
Another view of the installation.

I arrived at an exciting time here at ACM; just in time for the installation of our new temporary exhibition “Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963-1975”. As the Registrar for the museum, my role in the exhibition was to prepare and install the artifacts that are on display.  These artifacts are a mixture of objects and paintings held by ACM and material the museum borrowed from other museums, archives, artists and private individuals.  The information presented in the exhibition is punctuated by these artifacts – providing the visitor with historical examples to illustrate the information presented in the exhibition.

We have 13 screen-prints by Lou Stovall on view in the exhibition, illustrating many community themes and events in Washington in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Stovall when I went to pick the artwork up at his home.  A prolific screen printer, I was invited into his studio to see where he works.  The volume of work in the studio was staggering, and absolutely beautiful.  The works that we borrowed for our exhibition may have been hidden in Mr. Stovall’s basement for years, as foretold by the condition of the plastic protecting the works.  After bringing the prints back to the museum and examining them for condition, I was greeted by bright, vibrant colors so fitting of the time period which would immediately evoke feelings of nostalgia for our visitors.

Welcome to the Anacostia Community Museum Community Documentation Initiative

The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s Community Documentation Initiative (CDI) is an ongoing effort to document and make accessible to the public a wide range of original material on the social, cultural, economic and contemporary community life of urban neighborhoods. While we maintain an emphasis on the Washington, DC metropolitan area, our research and collecting activities include urban communities across the United States and around the world. The Community Documentation Initiative brings the resources of the museum—particularly research materials and archival/object collections—directly to constituents through public programs, gallery exhibitions, digital content, and special programs, as well as builds and enhances interactive dialogue with museum audiences. Using these research and collections materials, the CDI builds collaborative, community-based networks of neighborhood organizations, cultural institutions, and individuals; and works with our audiences to better understand the ways that the museum can help inform social causes of great contemporary concern.

With a Focus on Future Careers—Anacostia Community Museum Hosts a Career Day Program

On Thursday, October 22, the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) hosted a Career Day program to educate and inform students about some of the exciting and rewarding careers in the museum field. Career Day is a bi-annual one of a kind program (held every October and May) where the museum opens its doors to schools in the community to take part in an all-day experiential field trip to learn about the inner workings of the museum, received a behind-the-scenes tour, meet the museum staff and learn about their circuitous journey which lead them to work at the Smithsonian. A box lunch, educational resources and an afternoon field trip to another cultural institution are all highlights of this special day.

For this Career Day, ACM hosted an enthusiastic group of delightful 5th grade students and their teachers from Miner Elementary School (601 5th Street NE) in Ward 6. Career Day began with a welcome from the museum’s Director of Education and Outreach, Paul Perry, who discussed with the group his work at the museum working with his staff to develop public programs; followed by a guided tour with the curator Alcione Amos of How the Civil War Changed Washington; then a treasure hunt in the galleries with Education Specialist Linda Maxwell, to locate toys from the Civil War era.

The Miner students and teachers were divided into 2 groups to continue with a behind-the-scenes adventure with ACM staffer, Jenelle Cooper Tolson, Public Affairs Specialist who guided them to the staff areas of the, Library, Archives and Collection areas. In the staff areas we met Tykia Warden, Director of Advancement and Ingrid Faulkerson Advancement Specialist, who talk about how they raise funds for the museum and the Friends of the Museum program. In the Collection area, Dr. Joshua Gorman, the Collections Manager, displayed some artifacts that were excavated from a site in Southeast DC (in the Henson Ridge area) that showed how people lived during the Civil War. The students and teachers were all fascinated by the sled, horse saddle, various bottles and materials that people used in their everyday life back then. Jennifer Morris, Archivist, displayed a never seen before photographic portrait of African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, standing on a boat to Santo Domingo when he took on United States efforts to acquire the nation. Career Day ended at the Anacostia Community Museum with a box lunch and applause of gratitude and thanks from both students and teachers.

Our last stop and tour of the day was at the African American Civil War Memorial Museum, located at 1925 Vermont Ave NW., where students took part in a treasure hunt in the exhibition The Glorious March to Liberty: Civil War to Civil Rights and got a chance to meet and ask questions with a Union solider from the Civil War. The students receive a basic introduction to the Civil War and learned what life was like for soldiers from their duties, the items they carried on the battlefield and uniforms.

Group Leader and Librarian from Miner Elementary, Michelle Williams commented that,

The staff members at the Museums were very welcoming. They are passionate about what they do. We appreciate the time they took out of their busy schedule to share their role and responsibilities with our students. Our students enjoyed the program. They’re still talking about it.

Thanks again for inviting and hosting us!

As the students and teachers boarded on the bus back to Miner Elementary, they were all tired yet happy to have experienced Career Day at the Anacostia Community Museum.

Doing Research with the Dictionary on Hand

When I created the exhibit Word Shout Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities through Language, I was able to obtain through inter-library loan or by downloading files from the internet, a variety of dictionaries related to the more than 30 languages that Dr. Turner had identified as being part of the vocabulary of the Gullah in South Carolina and Georgia. I was trying to determine the relationships between words in African languages, Gullah, and the Portuguese, spoken in the Candomblé houses of worship in Brazil.

Eventually, I chose from hundreds of words a small list to display in what I called the “Wall of Words” of the exhibit and to be spoken in a video by native speakers. This video was shown continuously in the exhibit. It was a way of demonstrating how words from African languages had migrated into Gullah, colloquial English, and the Portuguese spoken in the Candomblé houses of worship in Brazil. The display of words and the video proved to be great hits with visitors to the exhibit both here in the United States and in Brazil where the exhibit is now traveling under its title in Portuguese: Gullah Bahia África.
In fact, I had done a similar exercise earlier. In 2007 I published a book in Brazil titled Os que voltaram: a história dos retornados afro-brasileiros na África Ocidental no século XIX [Those Who Returned: The History of the Afro-Brazilians returnees in West Africa in the 19th century.] At that time I had learned that the Portuguese language brought to Africa by these immigrants had influenced languages spoken in Benin, Nigeria, and Togo three of the countries where Afro-Brazilian returnee communities had been established.
Recently I began translating my book into English with the intention of eventually having it published in the United States. As part of this endeavor I created a table that trace these Portuguese loan words in three African languages: Fon (spoken in Benin), Ewe (spoken in Togo), and Yoruba (spoken in Nigeria.) This process included obtaining a few dictionaries to do research.
One of them was an 1894 dictionary published in France: Maurice Delafosse’s Manuel Dahoméen. The book came through interlibrary loan, and right away I noticed the pencil annotations throughout its pages, in a handwriting that was very familiar to me. It was a dictionary that Dr. Turner had used for his research and then donated to Northwestern University where it had stayed until it reached my hands. What are the chances of this happening, I thought, this is amazing!
But then it got even better. As I looked through the pages, there was Turner’s familiar handwriting using the International Phonetic Alphabet ( IPA, an alphabetic system of phonetic notation devised by the International Phonetic Association as a standardized representation of the sounds of oral language) to write words and their meaning. But what is this? A Portuguese translation of a word here and of a sentence there? And then it dawned on me. Dr. Turner had used this dictionary as his research tool when he was in Bahia in 1940 and 1941 researching at the Candomblé houses of worship. At that time, many people of African descent in Bahia still spoke the African languages of their ancestors.
From the notations on the pages of the dictionary it seems that Dr. Turner took it with him and might have pronounced the words and their meaning to his informants. He most likely had an interpreter with him. One must remember that he was using a Fon/French. So I think what happened was this: Dr. Turner, who knew French, would pronounce the words in Fon, translate their meaning as stated in the dictionary into English for the interpreter who would then translate them into Portuguese. His informants, if they recognized the words, would speak them back establishing their pronunciation and usage in Brazil. Turner would then record then in the IPA on the pages of the dictionary for future reference. What a painstaking way to do research, but very much like Dr. Turner, I must say.

Where was this research done? It was possible that it was at the Terreiro do Bogum (Bogum Temple) located in the Engenho Velho, Federação, in Salvador, Bahia. The Terreiro do Bogum is a Candomblé place of worship which follows the tradition of the Voduns of Dahomey (today Benin) and uses the Fon language, (or Jeje language as it is called in Brazil) for its rituals. Dr. Turner did research there.
So, this is my latest immersion in the world of Dr. Turner’s research. As unexpected as it was, it was also exciting and increased my already high admiration for Dr. Turner skills and research methods.

Dr. Turner noted in Portuguese the meaning of a word in the Fon language
Dr. Turner noted in Portuguese the meaning of a word in the Fon language

Signature of Dr. Turner and book plate acknowledging the donation of the dictionary to Northwestern University
Signature of Dr. Turner and book plate acknowledging the donation of the dictionary to Northwestern University


Urban Ecology Engagement Initiative’s Second Cohort Presentations

Students in the second cohort of the Urban Ecology Engagement Initiative gather after their presentations.
Students in the second cohort of the Urban Ecology Engagement Initiative gather after their presentations.

Rising 7th graders at Hart Middle School gathered with family and friends in ACM’s program room to give their first presentations as part of Urban Waterways’ Urban Ecology Engagement initiative. The middle schoolers (cohort2.0) have just completed a six-week summer program made possible by the collaborative efforts of UPO’s P.O.W.E.R program, the  Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The community stewardship initiative follows students from 7th through 12th grades and engages them in the collection of biological, chemical, and habitat data from five tributaries of the Anacostia River, the development of a database, the exploration of the impact of pollution on the watershed and the development of recommendations and possible solutions.

The event started with several members of the previous cohort (cohort 1.0) who are in the final preparations for the start of their freshman year at college. Students will be attending such schools as The University of Pittsburgh, Trinity University, Capitol Technology University, and Virginia State University to pursue degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Telecommunication Engineering, Astrophysics, Childhood Education, and Electrical Engineering.

Joseph Smith gets encouragement from a member of the graduating first cohort.

Members of the new cohort then stepped forward to present their experiences over the last six weeks. Unlike some of their friends who spent their days swimming or playing basketball, the middle schoolers spent part of their time in classrooms on the campus of Bowie State University. A significant part of their time was spent pushing their boundaries in the exploration of the Anacostia Watershed with boat rides on the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and field trips to Sandy Spring, MD – a watershed headwater site and a major Underground Railroad depot, Washington Aqueduct, which provides the drinking water for DC, some surrounding counties and  DC Water’s Blue Plains Wastewater treatment plant. In their presentations, students provided definitions of a watershed, shared their favorite experiences from the field trips, and discussed future career goals. Many were impressed by the boat trips and the wildlife they saw in and along the river. Others were also struck by the amount of pollution they saw floating in the water. A major question asked by many of the presenters was how can the water be cleaned and the watershed made safer. Many students, impressed by their tour of Blue Palins, expressed an interest in pursuing careers in wastewater treatment by obtaining more information on the subject.

Students will continue their exploration of the Anacostia watershed as the school year continues through a variety of Saturday programming.

Michael Staton discusses one of the group’s field trips.


ACM’s Shelia Parker (2nd row) was among the guests who enjoyed the students’ presentations


ACM's  Education Program Coordinator Tony Thomas and members of the first and second cohorts.
ACM’s Education Program Coordinator Tony Thomas and members of the first and second cohorts.