Monday, December 24, 2018

Earthrise, 12.24.68

Fifty years ago today, on December 24, 1968, NASA astronaut William Anders, a member of the three-person Apollo 8 crew then orbiting the moon, took the photograph above, which later came to be known as "Earthrise." It was the first time such a view of Earth had been documented by humans in space. As Anders later recounted
"And up came the Earth. We had had no discussion on the ground, no briefing, no instructions on what to do. I jokingly said, 'well it's not on the flight plan,' and the other two guys were yelling at me to give them cameras. I had the only color camera with a long lens. So I floated a black and white over to [Frank] Borman. I can't remember what [James] Lovell got. They were all yelling for cameras, and we started snapping away."
The iconic photo is available from NASA's website; NASA has also just released a new video describing the world's first mission to orbit the moon: "Apollo 8: Around the Moon and Back."

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Univeral Declaration of Human Rights at 70

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on December 10 to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This year's campaign theme is Stand Up 4 Human Rights. At the recent UN event, "Good Human Rights Stories," Secretary-General António Guterres observed:
"As we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we should never forget the profound progress that has been made over the decades--and, indeed, that is happening as we speak. The good stories deserve to be shared--not only to celebrate the achievements of those who made it happen. But to serve as an example and inspiration for others around the world. Just as the denial of human rights is part of the problem, the active promotion of human rights is part of the solution. So, too, is spreading the stories and the lessons of doors opened, rights secured, and victories won."
The Declaration was proclaimed on December 10, 1948 through United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III):
. . . as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Although not itself a binding legal document, it has "inspired more than more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights." 

The Declaration has been translated into more than 500 languages and dialects, from Abkhaz to Zulu. The English version is available here, while other versions are available via an online database. A guide to UN Human Rights documentation as well as various related UN databases are also accessible on the UN Human Rights website. A showcase of UDHR-related materials from around the world is available here.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Final Number of the Wapsipinicon Almanac

The latest--and final--annual installment of the eclectic Wapsipinicon Almanac is now available for purchase and perusal. Published and letterpress printed since 1988 by Timothy Fay of Route 3 Press, the present issue, as with previous numbers, features an engaging mix of essays, reviews, fiction, poetry, art, wit, and wisdom.

Number 25 can be purchased at bookstores and other establishments or by writing the publisher directly at Wapsipinicon Almanac, 19948 Shooting Star Road, Anamosa, Iowa 52205. Single copies are $9, plus $2.70 for postage; Iowa residents should also include 63-cents for sales tax.

The front cover shown here was designed by Will Thomson of Iowa City, his seventh cover overall for the almanac. A brief history of the publication can be viewed at the Almanac's website, and a video of "Linotype Operator Emeritus" Eldon Meeks in action can be viewed here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Corita Kent: Artist Extraordinaire at 100

Corita Kent [1918-1986] was born 100 years today, on November 20, 1918, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and subsequently became world renowned for her work as a serigrapher (or screen printer), as well as for commissioned works both large (the Rainbow Swash on a massive gas storage tank outside of Boston) and small (the 1985 U.S.P.S. Love stamp, of which more than 700 million were sold).

As a Catholic nun, Sister Corita headed for several years the Art Department at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, California, where she instilled her artistic values of close observation, imagination, and social justice in her many students. A creative iconoclast in her own work, she famously formulated what could be considered "Corita's Decalogue," otherwise known as the "Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules," of which Rule 7 is: "The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It's the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things." Although she plainly cites artist John Cage in Rule 10, the ten rules are frequently misattributed to Cage rather than Corita herself.

Corita eventually left the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and reentered secular life in 1968. She continued her prolific artistic output, which rivalled or surpassed many other artists of the era, including fellow screen printer, Andy Warhol. Corita was posthumously awarded an AIGA medal in 2016, and her legacy is sustained today by the Corita Art Center, which offers her original prints as well as ongoing programming. A recent major exhibition catalogue, Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, features much of her artwork and serves as an excellent introduction to her life and philosophy.

Corita died on September 18, 1986 at age 67, and her obituary in the Los Angeles Times can be read here. The video above, "Become a Microscope: 90 Statements on Sister Corita," is a short documentary produced by Aaron Rose to celebrate the 90th anniversary of her birthday. Below is one example of Corita's work, "We Can Create Life Without War," a poster commissioned in 1983 by the organization, Physicians for Social Responsibility. An illustrated chronology of Corita's life can be viewed at the Corita Art Center website.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month 1918: Armistice!

Chronicling America, the Library of Congress' historic newspaper database, includes a selection of around 90 newspapers that on November 11, 1918 hailed the news of the Armistice which brought World War I to an end.

A number of foreign language newspapers published in the United States also carried the momentous news, such as La Prensa (Spanish, San Antonio, TX); Tägliche Omaha Tribüne (German, Omaha, NE); Svět (Czech, Cleveland, OH); America (Romanian, Cleveland, OH); Draugas (Lithuanian, Chicago, IL); and Dziennik Chicagoski (Polish, Chicago, IL). The full issue of the The Washington Times shown above can be viewed here.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Vote Early, Vote Surely

As everyone surely knows, the midterm general elections are this Tuesday, November 6th. For those still needing to register, Iowa and 14 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow election day registration. Further information regarding voting regulations can be found at

The above Common Curator graphic is based on Robert Indiana's iconic "Love" logo. Indiana died earlier this year at 89; his obituary can be read in the New York Times.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project

Jazz bassist and composer Rufus Reid will be performing "Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project" along with his large jazz ensemble at Hancher Auditorium on Saturday, October 13, 2018. Reid's composition was inspired by the sculptural work of artist Elizabeth Catlett [1915-2012], an African American woman who in 1940 was among the first three students to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa. Catlett's thesis advisor was Grant Wood. A video interview with Catlett conducted toward the end of her life can be viewed at the National Visionary Leadership Project.

Reid is currently undertaking a short residency at the University of Iowa as an Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Knock the Vote: A Public Service Announcement

Time is running out to register to vote. One can register on many platforms, including of course the official U.S. government voter registration site, which details rules, deadlines, etc. for all jurisdictions. The HeadCount web site also offers information for young, first-time voters, who in most cases can register even before turning age 18. The above public service announcement was produced by ACRONYM, and employs a bit of reverse psychology to cajole indifferent voters as the midterm elections quickly approach; their registration website can be found at

Monday, October 1, 2018

NASA Turns Sixty

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began operations on October 1, 1958, and was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Act which was signed by President Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. NASA supplanted the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and T. Keith Glennan served as its first administrator. On October 11, 1958, NASA launched its first mission, the Pioneer 1 satellite (note that the first U.S. satellite overall was Explorer 1, launched January 31, 1958). A timeline of NASA's rich and illustrious history can be found at NASA's 60th anniversary website.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas

Sponsored by the American Library Association and allied organizations, Banned Books Week is an annual celebration of the freedom to read. It began in 1982 in response to widespread censorship of books, and since that time over 11,000 books have been challenged in communities throughout the United States.

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom has been documenting cases of challenged and banned books since 1990, and the ALA's Library Bill of Rights strongly supports free and unfettered access to information and ideas. Internationally, the Index on Censorship is an organization that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression.

Note: The World War II poster shown here features a quotation by Franklin Roosevelt and was illustrated by S. Broder. Published in 1942 by the U.S. Government Printing Office, it was distributed by the Division of Public Inquiry within the Office of War Information.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The 10th Annual Iowa City Book Festival

Designated in 2008 as one of the very first UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world, Iowa City will be hosting the tenth annual Iowa City Book Festival, October 1-7, 2018. In conjunction with the University of Iowa, FilmScene, the Iowa City Public Library, and the Iowa Arts Council, as well as other organizations and individuals, the seven-day event will feature a Book Fair, readings by dozens of authors, and non-stop programming at many venues in and around downtown Iowa City.

As usual, many of this year's events will involve the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, which was founded in 1967 by Paul Engle and Hualing Nieh Engle. During this period, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have spent a residency in Iowa City, where they have enriched the writing culture of the community while experiencing firsthand life at an American university. Sponsored by the City of Coralville, the annual Paul Engle Prize will be awarded to a writer who "makes an impact on his or her community and the world at large through efforts beyond the page." 

The 2018 Program can be downloaded as a PDF, and full details can be found at the festival website.

Monday, September 10, 2018

De gustibus non est disputandum

This recent display at the Iowa City Public Library featured books disliked by staff, as well as titles selected by disapproving patrons. As the ancients said about such matters: There's no accounting for taste. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

The First Monday in September

To commemorate Labor Day 2018, here is musician Billy Bragg's version of "There Is Power in a Union," a song written in 1913 by Joe Hill [1879-1915], a Swedish-American labor activist and member of the Wobblies, or Industrial Workers of the World.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The 2018 National Book Festival

The 18th annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, will be held on Saturday, September 1, 2018, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The festival is free and open to the public.

More than 100 authors, poets, and illustrators will be making presentations throughout the day on stages for Children, Teens, Youth Poetry Slam, Fiction, History & Biography, Understanding Our World, and other themes or genres. Speakers include such writers as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers, Jon Meacham, Annie Proulx, Robert Hass, U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, and many others. 

Further information, including a schedule of events and a map of the festival grounds, can be found at the festival website. Mobile apps are also available for the Festival. This year's poster was designed by Gaby D'Allesandro; a gallery of all Festival posters from 2001 to 2018 can be viewed here.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Iowa City Press Co-op Rocks the Chalk

The Iowa City Press Co-op (ICPC) was well represented at the 3rd annual Rock the Chalk, a community art festival sponsored by MidWestOne Bank on August 10, 2018. Artist Carla Bryant based her design for ICPC on the California job case, a standard layout that has been used by letterpress printers for generations to organize and store lead type. The image is anchored by a quotation said to be from Poor Richard's Almanack, which was published annually from 1732 to 1758 by the polymath Benjamin Franklin.

Several members of ICPC assisted in transforming Carla's outline into a polychromatic piece of street ephemera. The chalk image on the other side of the center-line features a portrait of the New York designer and fashion icon, Iris Apfel. Dozens of artists and community organizations participated in this year's event.

For those interested in printing and the book arts, the ICPC offers both equipment and workshops. The Fall 2018 schedule has just been released, and can be viewed at the ICPC web site.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

#OTD #Unpresidented*

In an unprecedented act in American history, Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, abdicated his office 44 years ago today, on August 9, 1974. On the evening of August 8, he made a nationally-televised speech laying out his decision, noting at the outset that it was the weakening of his political base that motivated his resignation rather than any particular moral, ethical, or legal concerns related to Watergate and other matters:
Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every effort possible to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future. But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged. [full transcript]
As for the 45th president, Donald Trump, articles of impeachment have already twice been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives: H. Res. 438 (July 12, 2017) and H. Res. 621 (November 15, 2017).

* Noted for his innumerable Twitterisms, president-elect Trump tweeted the misspelled "unpresidented" rather than "unprecedented" in a bellicose tweet directed at China on December 17, 2016, well before assuming office. In contrast, it was a diplomatic highlight of Nixon's tenure [1969-1974] that he pursued rapprochement with the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.), lifting a trade embargo in 1971, and in February 1972, engaging in direct talks with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong during the first trip by an American president to the P.R.C. At the conclusion of the seven-day visit, both parties jointly issued the Shanghai Communiqué, which laid the groundwork for the subsequent establishment of diplomatic relations. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Happy Birthday, Andy Warhol!

Today is the 90th anniversary of the birth of artist Andy Warhol [1928-1987]. The eponymous Andy Warhol Museum is said to be the largest in the United States dedicated to the work of a single artist, and houses the largest collection of Warhol art and archives in the world.

Among the Museum's holdings is Warhol's experimentation in 1985 with digital art using an Amiga 1000 computer supplied to him by Commodore International. Using ProPaint software, Warhol executed a portrait of singer Debbie Harry of Blondie during a live product launch. Warhol later made several other electronic images, including a version of one of his notorious Campbell's Soup paintings, a series of 32 varieties first exhibited in 1962.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

RAGBRAI XLVI: Book It To Iowa City

The 20,000 or so riders on RAGBRAI XLVI, the 46th iteration of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, will begin streaming into Iowa City on the morning of Friday, July 27, 2018. For this penultimate segment of the week-long ride, bicyclists will be covering 58 miles from Sigourney to Iowa City; the last stretch, Day 7, will cover the final 69 miles to Davenport. Every year the ride commences somewhere along the Missouri River and ends somewhere along the Mississippi River. This year's route, which originated in Onawa, measures approximately 428 miles, and includes some 12,576 feet of climb.

The first ride, in 1973, was the brainchild of journalists Donald Kaul and John Karras of the Des Moines Register, and the ride has since evolved into an internationally renowned event, the oldest, largest, and longest such bicycle ride in the world. Unfortunately, one of the co-founders, Donald Kaul, died at age 83 on Sunday, July 22, 2018, coincidentally the first day of this year's ride.

Kaul was especially well known for his nationally-syndicated column "Over the Coffee," which skewered hypocrites of all political stripes, including himself, if necessary. Kaul's writing manifested good sense, an agile wit, as well as deep compassion and human decency, qualities which are always needed but often lacking, then as now. Three collections of Kaul's columns have been published, and an archive of later work (2008-2016) can be found online at OtherWords. "Newspaper Nostalgia" recounts some of the many changes Kaul witnessed in over 50 years of journalism, beginning with the start of his career at the Register in the early '60s.

The Common Curator rode RAGBRAI in 2012, details of which can be found in the post, Livin' XL.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Microfinance Worldwide: Kiva by the Numbers

Founded in 2005 as a non-profit organization to alleviate poverty through microloans to small entrepreneurs worldwide, Kiva has facilitated $1.18 billion in total lending to some 2.9 million entrepreneurs in over 80 countries. Having established a global network of microfinance field partners, Kiva currently has a repayment rate of 97% across all loans. 

To date, the Common Curator has made 200 microloans for projects in 84 countries in the following sectors: agriculture; food; retail; services; arts; construction; clothing; health; education; personal use; manufacturing; housing; wholesale; and transportation. 

To learn more about how Kiva works and its history, visit the organization's website and consider joining the effort to fund entrepreneurs around the world. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

John Coltrane's Lost Album

Recorded in one day by the John Coltrane Quartet at the Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, New Jersey on March 6, 1963, the long-overlooked album will finally be released as Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album by Impulse! Records on June 29, 2018. Coltrane gave the reference tape for the original session (the master tapes are presumed lost) to his first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane, shortly after it was recorded, but only recently was it rediscovered by her and brought to the attention of the label.

The album contains seven tunes, including two new compositions never before heard, as well as the first recorded versions of several earlier songs. The quartet features Coltrane on saxophone, McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on double bass, along with several guest musicians. Jazz great Sonny Rollins has observed that the present album "is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid." The video above previews "Untitled Original 11383," and is accompanied by a graphic visualization of the audio track. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout

Registration is now open for the 38th annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout to be held July 20-21, 2018. The event will feature speakers, tours, and other activities on the grounds of Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa. Program speakers and topics include: Marilyn McHugh & Chris Kennedy (Life in the Soil--A Journey); John Whitman (On Cold Climate Gardening); Rosalind Creasy (Edible Landscaping); Jovan Savage (The Migration of Southern Foodways); and, Rowan White & Lee Buttala (Keeping Seeds Where They Belong--in situ and ex situ Preservation). A full schedule as well as registration details can be viewed on the conference website.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Whistler's Mother" Rearranged

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself an avid philatelist, took a strong interest in stamps as a means to communicate. He had a close working relationship with the Postmaster General James A. Farley, and contributed several design ideas for stamps issued during his time in office (1933-1945).

Among these was Roosevelt's suggestion that "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1," the iconic painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, be used as the basis for a stamp commemorating Mother's Day. Also known as "Portrait of the Artist's Mother," or simply, "Whistler's Mother," the subject of the painting was prominently featured on a 3-cent stamp that was issued in 1934, just 20 years after Mother's Day became an official national holiday.

Though a seemingly faithful representation, the stamp drew criticism both for the manner in which the painting was cropped and for the addition of a vase of flowers. The American Artists Professional League went so far as to telegram the Postmaster General, stating the stamp was "a mutilation of the artist's original picture, robbing it of much of its charm." The painting is currently held by the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and today's viewers can make their own aesthetic judgement.

More of Roosevelt's stamp designs can be seen as part of the National Postal Museum's online exhibition, Delivering Hope: FDR & Stamps of the Great Depression.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Support Net Neutrality Today

Take Action today by contacting Congress to show your support for Net Neutrality.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

MayDay 2018: Saving Our History

Since 2006, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) has designated May 1st as MayDay, or a day of action for both individuals and organizations such as archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies to improve their capacities to deal with emergencies that can threaten or destroy historical collections. The ravages of natural disasters such as the tornadoes and hurricanes of recent years are just some of the physical risks facing cultural heritage institutions.

Although the landmark study, A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America's Collections (2005), systematically documented that most institutions lack an adequate disaster preparedness plan, the SAA has worked to mitigate these deficiencies. The SAA web site provides recommendations for MayDay activities, as well as a compilation of resources, including technical literature and tools, disaster plan templates and examples, tutorials and courses, bibliographies, and other resources.

In recent years, the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) has undergone severe cuts to both collections and services, which are documented in detail in a recent White Paper produced by the Save Iowa History Alliance. Leading historians on both a state and national level have addressed their concerns directly to Governor Branstad and to Mary Cownie, Director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the SHSI.

Further details on these efforts, as well as contact information for key decision-makers, is available in the previous Common Curator posts: Save Iowa History and Save Iowa History 3. The complete White Paper on the State Historical of Iowa can be downloaded as a PDF.