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Josephine Baker - sexy dancer, WW2 heroine and campaigner against racism

Josephine Baker (1906-1975) was born in a poor, black slum in St Louis Illinois in 1906. Her young mother Carrie had hoped to be a music hall dancer but she was forced to take in laundry instead. She was of mixed ethnic background: Native American/African American, descended from Apalachee Indians and Black slaves in South Carolina. Her absentee father, Eddie Carson, was a vaudeville drummer.

At 8, Josephine was hired out to a vicious white woman as a maid. Fortunately she moved from the St Louis area at 13. From watching the dancers in a local vaudeville house, Jo­sephine graduated to dancing in a touring show based in Phil­ad­el­phia at age 16. Despite being born in 1906, she married Willie Wells in 1919 and Will Baker in 1921. She took her second husband's surname for herself.

Josephine joined the chorus line of the touring show of Shuf­fle Along in Boston in 1922. The comedy was prod­uced in NY by a renowned African American song­-writing team, becoming the first all-Black Broad­way musical. Later Josephine was in New York for the Chocolate Dandies at the Cotton Club and the floor show at the Plantation Club in Harlem with Ethel Waters. With her slim figure and comic interludes, her performing skills were developing nicely.

Josephine was recruited for an all-black dance troupe in Paris so she went there to be a well paid variety dancer at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. With other African Amer­icans, she introduced le jazz hot. The Fren­ch adored American jazz and exotic nudity, and her show was perfectly fitted to the era. Plus there was none of the racism black performers met in the USA.

When Parisians became aware of African American jazz in the 1920s, African taste in art and sculpture was a great infl­uen­ce on the Cubist movement. Josephine's sculptured oval head and lithe body were perfect for the Art Deco style.

With her diamond collared cheetah, Chiquita, 
Baker was the rage of the Folies Bergère 

She was the favourite of artists and intellectuals like Picasso, Georges Roualt, Le Corbusier, Jean Cocteau and Ernest Hemingway. In 1925 she went to Paris to dance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in La Revue Nègre. This most popular music-hall entertainer achieved star billing at the Folies-Bergère, where she amazed crowds with her danse sauvage in a G-string and bananas.  Unbridled sexuality!

In 1926, magazine covers and posters added to Josephine’s fame. That year she opened her own nightclub in Pigalle called Chez Joséphine, a chic affluent woman who paraded her pet cheetah down the elegant Champs Elysées.

In 1934 Baker performed in an operetta, Offen­bach's La Créole at Théâtre Marigny, opening for a 6 months run. Her agent Abatino helped Josephine evolve from a mere ex­otic dancer to being one of the high-paid stars in the wor­ld. Jos­ephine was in America with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1936 when her Abatino died. 

She became a French citizen in 1937. 

When Germany occupied Belgium in 1940, Josephine became a Red Cross nurse, watching over refugees. And when Germany occupied France itself, she worked for the French Resistance as an und­erground courier, writing secret information on her undies. In Oct 1940 she travelled from London to SW France, through Spain and Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro and back to Marseilles. Was she saving refugees? Spying for France?

Josephine lived in North Africa during WW2, where she’d suff­ered peritonitis. She underwent two operations in 1941 and 1942, leaving her weak. But she was not too weak to entertain troops in North Africa and the Middle East, as an officer in the Free French forces. But did the surgeries leave her infertile?

As an officer in women's auxiliary of the Free French forces,
Josephine was awarded the Croix de Guerre. 

She was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d'Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle. In 1947 she married jazz band­leader Joe Bouillon, and bought her 300-acre chateau and est­ate in the Dordogne in S.W France, Les Milandes. When she mar­ried Joe, she was middle‐aged, and already thinking of adoption.

Now a totally different woman. Miki Sawada had moved to Paris in 1932, her husband having been posted as a consul in the Japanese embassy. Josephine had first met Miki in Paris but didn’t visit Japan for the first time until 1954. There Miki was caring for abandoned mixed‐race children of American soldiers and Japanese women in Occupied Japan postwar. Josephine believed that these Occup­at­ion Babies, discriminated against by the Japanese, was an Amer­ic­an problem as well as a Japanese one. And she wished to bring two boys home to France at any cost. She was determined to adopt 12 children of various origins and raise her Rainbow Tribe toget­h­er from toddlerhood: a courageous woman!

Having experienced the deep‐rooted racism of America, Josephine dreamed of a racist-free society. She already knew about the Internat­ional League Against Racism and Anti‐Semitism/LICRA. And she married a Jew, Jean Lion, back in 1937. So, in addition to her concerts in Japan, Josephine’s key role was to make public speeches. The French branch of LICRA, founded in 1928 to fight anti‐Semitism in Eu­r­ope, asked her to give lectures, to estab­lish a sim­ilar organisation in Jap­an.

Josephine Baker, husband Joe Bouillon, and their Rainbow Tribe of adopted children
at Les Milandes, in the Dordogne

In 1951 Josephine’s trip to New York was damaged by a racial in­cident at the Stork Club. Even as  late as 1955, on her return to the U.S.A, she was questioned by immigration officials about her alleged anti-American and pro-Japanese views. The journalist Wal­ter Winchell and Senator McCarthy believed she was a communist.

She retired from the stage in 1956, but because of her need to maintain Les Milandes, Josephine was later obliged to return to work… until her death from a stroke in 1975! The Roman Catholic funeral service was held in a Paris church. 

In Europe and America, there had always been a lot of interest in Jos­ephine as a performer and in 1920-30s Parisian culture. But Josephine had another import­ant face: as an activist who chall­enged racism and war, a humanitarian and an idealist.

There are five biographies of Josephine Baker, including Jos­éphine (1978) which was written by her and by Joe Bouillon.


John Ruskin: artist, critic, author and awful husband

The Victorian critic, social commentator and artist John Ruskin was born 1819. In 1848 Ruskin married the gorgeous, young, energetic Effie Gray (1828-97), a marriage that was annulled after six years because he was appalled by her desire for sex. And he was both censorious and destructive of JMW Turner's late works. So I might not have been prepared to see this year's exhibition (see below).

Yet I may have to rethink my previously antagonistic views of Ruskin as simply a rigorous religious zealot and anti-woman husband. In 2014, Ruskin's biographer Robert Hewison wrote that  a group of exhibitions celebrated the art of John Ruskin. They suggested that one of the C19th’s most influential thinkers really did have a second career. John Ruskin: Artist and Observer opened in 2014 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The title of the Edinburgh exhibition asserted Ruskin’s status as an art­ist. This show of 130+ works drew on the principal Ruskin holdings at Oxford etc in Britain and also North America. The full-colour catalogue emphasised the aesthetic ap­p­roach of the show, with drawings arranged by subject matter. Rusk­in’s style underwent considerable development, from the picturesque convent­ions in which he was educated, to the perceptual precision of his Pre-Raphaelite years, to the looser gestures of his unstable periods.

Yet he exhibited few works in his lifetime, and treated his drawing essentially as a form of research. He created 100 drawings on his 1835 journey alone, but once he had captured what he wanted, he was content to leave off. Few works had the finish that would have been expected of a professional artist, which he was not.

Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, 1851-3 
3 volumes on Venetian art and architecture

Ruskin’s daguerreotypes were a study in their own right. A catal­ogue raisonné of the 325 known examples, Carrying Off the Palaces: John Ruskin’s Lost Daguerreotypes, was published by the specialists Ken and Jenny Jacobson. Then in 2006 the Jacobsons discovered a cache of material that doubled the size of the collection!

In July 1946 Kenneth Clark (1903–83) was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford. The post required him to give eight public lectures each year on the "History, Theory and Practice of the Fine Arts", particularly influenced by Ruskin. So it was not a surprise when Venetian study drawings were shown in the Kenneth Clark exhibition at Tate Britain in 2014, clarifying Ruskin’s influence on Clark’s notion of civ­ilisation and the ethics of capitalism.

In 2018 Hewison wrote ‘What would be the myth of Venice without the voice of John Ruskin?’ Gabriella Belli wrote in the catalogue intro­duction to the first ever monographic exhibition in Venice devoted to the man who owed as much to the city as the city owed to him. It was the place that Ruskin loved, and also despaired.

Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice was a three-volume treatise on Venetian art and architecture, the volumes being published between 1851-3. His writings did much to shape the way the city was perceived. The direct, physical encounter between Ruskin and the exhibition-viewer was even more powerful when the objects of his study were all around the Ducal Palace.

0n the ground floor, the original capitals and sculpture frag­ments from the palace were turned into an atmos­pheric dis­play of the Stones of Venice. For the main exhibition, the visitor climbed up to the Doge’s apart­ments where a sequence of rooms offered a spacious yet intimate setting.

The room devoted to St Mark’s and the Ducal Palace was the most impressive. Because en plein air photography was rare, the problem of displaying tiny reflective daguerreo­types had to be solved by photographing and enlarging them. The 100+ daguer­re­o­types that Ruskin made in Venice were a key part of his research, as were his worksheets of measurements and his notebooks that constructed his architect­ural chronology. Ruskin’s seeing the works of C16th Ven­etian painter Tintoretto had been a turning point, and both Tintoretto and Carpaccio were celebrated through Ruskin’s studies.

John Ruskin: Artist and Observer, 
2014 exhibition, Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh

Hewison concluded that Ruskin was important in a wider context than simply that of artist and that his reputation extended beyond art-historical circles. A 100 years ago it was true that Ruskin fell far out of favour. But since the 1960s, his ideas and values have seen a remarkable revival.

OK Mr Hewison, I apologise. I already knew that William Morris was totally inspired by Ruskin when he produced The Nature of Gothic, especially Ruskin’s insistence on high quality hand labour. The famous William Morris & Co. wallpapers, textiles and other decorative arts rep­resented the finest flower­ings of the Arts and Crafts movement that Ruskin inspired. What I did not know was his influence on other artists and writers.

n’s Guild of St George, founded by Ruskin, maintains Ruskin’s inst­ructive museum collection in Sheffield and promoting his ideas. The Guild is partnering with Museums Sheffield to pres­ent a sig­nif­icant exhibition called John Ruskin: the Power of Seeing. After ending in London this April, the exhibition will move to the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield from May to Sept 2019.


An American "princess" married into the Greek royal family!

Who were the American "princesses" who moved to Britain? The charming Caton sisters grew up in Baltimore, children of a wealthy merchant family. These young Americans had the money and they were willing to negotiate with young men of status in Britain. The three sisters exploded into the heart of high society and the Prince Regent himself took an int­er­est. The Duke of Wellington fell in love with Marianne Caton. When she was 37, Marianne married the impoverished 1st Marquis Richard Welles­ley, Wellington's brother and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Marianne became the first American-born marchioness, and lady in waiting to Queen Adelaide. When Marianne died and was buried on the Costessey estate.

Her sister Louisa married Francis Marquis of Carmarthen who succeeded his father as the 7th Duke of Leeds in 1838. As the Duchess of Leeds, Louisa apparently became a friend of young Queen Victoria. Her other sister Bess married the elderly 8th Baron Stafford of Costessey Hall Norfolk in 1836. He had a very large family and no great wealth.

A very wealthy widow, New Yorker Lily Hamersley became the first American after Louisa Caton to become an English duchess. Lily married the 8th Duke of Marlborough in 1888. The inheritance she received from her first husband was used to restore Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, seat of the Churchill family.

Lily’s stepson, Charles Spencer-Churchill 9th Duke Marlborough, married Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of a New York railroad millionaire in 1895. Consuelo emigrated to Britain, moved into Blenheim Palace and gave birth to two sons, heirs to the dukedom.

Kathleen Kennedy, daughter of US ambassador Joe Kennedy, was invited to meet suitable men at the Astors’ palace. Note that Lady Nancy Astor, an Americ­an herself, was very support­ive of young American girls in Britain. In 1938 Kathleen met Will­iam Cavendish Marquis of Hart­ington, Duke of Devonshire's son, marrying in 1944. Alas William returned to his unit in France and was kill­ed in action in Belgium after the wedding. In 1948 March­ioness Kathleen Cav­end­ish died and was buried at Chatsworth.

Portrait of  young Nancy Leeds, 
by Giovanni Boldini, 1914 
Note the large diamonds in the tiara, made for her by Cartier in 1913.

Clearly many American women joined various noble families, but not just in Britain! One woman I knew nothing about Nancy Stewart Worthington Leeds (1878-1923) in Ohio to a wealthy merchant. Nan­cy’s education was via home-based tutors until she was enrolled at the private college preparatory school for girls in Connecticut.

As a young teen, Nancy married to George Ely Worthington, scion of the Cleveland Worthington industrialist dynasty. They divorced in 1898, and by 1900, she married William Leeds, the Tin King who was a multi-millionaire. Two years later, their only child William Leeds Jr (1902-71) was born. Sadly William Sr died four years later in 1908 in Paris, leaving Nancy a widow. Happily she was the heir to most of the family’s fortune.

Soon Nancy began to socialise with the European aristocracy in France and in 1914 she met the young Prince Christoph­er of Greece and Denmark. Christopher was the youngest child of King George I of Greece and his wife, Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. As Nancy was both a commoner and twice divorced, many in the Greek Royal Family were not at all happy about such a marriage, reminding us of American Wallis Simpson and British King Edward VIII.

When King George I was assassinated in 1913, his son Constantine took the throne. Nancy was aware of King Constantine I’s position as a German sym­pathiser during WW1. This was partially due to his marriage to Sop­hia of Prussia, sister of Wilhelm II and partially because he felt naturally close to Germany’s militarism. In any case, Const­antine blocked popular efforts by Prime Minister Venizelos to bring Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. For Nancy, it would have been risky to align herself with Greece, had the Greeks created an alliance with Germany against her own homeland, the USA.

Princess Anastasia and Prince Christopher
1923, the year of her death,

Eventually, post-war, Nancy converted to Greek Orthodoxy and married her prince in Feb 1920 in Switzerland. King Constantine I made her a princess, not just a consort, giving her the title Her Royal Highness Princess Anastasia of Greece and Denmark. Unfortunately Anastasia was diagnosed with cancer, soon after their marriage.

The American press covered her every movement… including news about Princess Anastasia’s only son, William Leeds Jr. In 1921 William Jnr married into European royalty when he wed Princess Xenia of Russia who was living in Greece. Xenia’s mother was his step-father’s sister! Princess Anastasia was not happy about William or Xenia’s young age, nor the fact that she had hoped her son would go and live in the USA, not in Europe. At least her son and daughter in law literally stayed by her side for the rest of her life.

When cancer killed the princess in 1923 in a London hospital, she was only 45. Later Prince Christopher remarried, this time to the Princess Francoise of Orl­eans in 1929; they had one child, Prince Michael of Greece in 1939.

Anastasia's mother in law Grand Duchess Olga spent her last years in Britain, living in the residences of the British Royal Family. Olga remained very close to her sister-in-law Queen Alexandra, and her nephew King George V. Olga died in 1926. Thanks to Unofficial Royalty and Royal Musings blogs


Border walls are brutal, obscenely costly, fatal and even ineffective - Dr Elisabeth Vallet

Elisabeth Vallet noted that at the end of the Cold War there were just 15 walls delimiting national borders; today, with 70 of them in existence around the world, the border wall has become the new standard for international relations.

With the proliferation of walls and their normalisation in the rhetoric of  President Donald Trump, democracies have adopted the tactic as though it were a classic policy tool in foreign relations and defence. And yet these rampant fortifications come at a hefty price, as much for the governments and internat­ional relations as for the local economies and populations. For those most vulnerable, for those pushed out by the walls, the cost is exorbitant.

As symptoms of a rift in the world order, as manifestations of the failings of international cooperation, these barriers also come at a cost to those they shut out — the untouchables. The reality is that, despite being entrenched in international law, their freedom of movement is not as valuable as others’, each passport carrying its own set of rights.

It seems like every month brings news of another border wall going up. Europe’s Baltic States, worried about invasive neighbours, are raising a fence along their eastern frontier. Meanwhile, in Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for the building of an iron wall around the Xinjiang region. In Latin America, Ecuador appears to have begun erecting concrete panels along the Peruvian state line. In Africa, a barrier between Somalia and Kenya, made of barbed wire, concrete and posts, is nearing completion.

Building the Berlin Wall, 1961

This is a far cry from the illusion generated by the fall of the Berlin Wall — and by the utopian dream of a world without borders that emerged in the 1990s.

First, Vallet said, consider the financial cost of border walls. Each one is a boon to the security and construction industries. The experience in the USA provides many examples of the cost of a massive border infrastructure. This typically involves not just a physical wall with stone foundations, posts, and even concrete panels, but also razor wire, cameras, heat sensors, movement detectors, drones and patrol personnel, dogs or robots.

In fact, in 2009, the US Government Accountability Office placed the cost for building just a fence along California’s border up to $6 million each k. In harsher terrain jurisdictionally and geologically, such as the Texas state line, the building cost could be as much as $21 million a kilometre. Maintaining it for 20 years will be a massive cost c$8.5 billion; it is therefore a massive public infrastructure, akin to a giant highway, that eats away at a country’s public finances and, in turn, at overall disposable income. So this financial burden is also an economic weight that drags down the country’s aggregate income as well as the local economy.

In Berlin, there was a masonry wall only in the CBD.
The remainder of Western Berlin was surrounded by a triple line of barbed wire fences with razor sharp concertina wire.

There is also a human cost. There is, in fact, a proven correlation between the fortification of borders and the number of people who die trying to cross them. In the USA, 6,000 deaths in the desert along the border have been recorded in the last 16 years. Since the tightening of European policies, the Mediterranean has become a dead sea, where the number of deaths continues to climb despite a decline in the total number of crossing attempts. In fact, to get across a fortified and tightly controlled border, the available routes are often far more treacherous, pose greater threats and require resorting to smugglers, who are sometimes linked to organised crime groups like the Mafia.

Violence is amp­lified when the border is militarised. First and foremost, because such militarisation legitimises the perception of the border zone as a theatre of operations, a war zone, where paramilitary groups feel justified to act, as in their deployments along the Hungarian border. Secondly, by adding military personnel or army veterans to border patrol forces (they account for a third of such teams in the USA), the tactics come to match those used in war zones, bringing with them patent impunity and violence. Lastly, by forcing clandestine border crossing to become even more hidden, by pushing migrants deeper underground, these measures reinforce the power of organised crime groups, and increase the violent extortion or coercion of vulnerable migrants. From the borders of Southeast Asia to the Sahel Region, and from Central America to the USA or from Turkey to Greece, it is the most vulnerable migrants who suffer the repercussions of border walls.

Constructing walls also comes at a political price. Since putting up a wall is a one-sided act — the farthest thing from the bilateral reasoning behind drawing state lines — it induces a separation from the neighbouring state, rather than fostering co-operation with it. Israel’s West Bank separation barrier is a major source of tension between Israelis and Palestinians. The Inter­national Court of Justice ruled its construction illegal in 2004, but did that court declare any other wall illegal?

Divided parents and children had to wave across the Berlin Wall for years

The rift created by a wall sends shock waves through other facets of the relationship between the nations. In the case of Trump’s wall, the cost of the split with Mexico is high, given this trade partner’s importance to the US economy as well as to the other bordering states. For refugees, the neighbouring states often serve as filters.

As border walls erode the potential for international cooperation and community, the world’s problems keep growing: food insecurity, ethnic conflicts, environmental crises, climate change, massive displacements of people. Many different problems bring nations to build walls, but they are pointless facades.

And a wall, by itself, is ineffective: it’s easy to scale it, place ramps over the barrier to get a car across, fly drugs over it with drones, or use hydraulic fracturing to dig out narrow tunnels. No wall has ever succeeded in permanently elimin­at­ing contra­band. Ramps, catapults, drones, tunnels, submarines, mules or corrupt border guards can always undermine its eff­ectiveness; or the drug traffic merely shifts elsewhere.

Thanks to Dr Elisabeth Vallet, Centre for Geopolitical Studies, Université du Québec à Montréal.


Summarising the first 10 years of "Art and Architecture, mainly"

The first post in this blog appeared on the 21/11/2008.

So far, 1128 posts have been published, viewed 3 million times.

Readers have come from the following countries:



4.United Kingdom







A Californian bungalow in Melbourne
by far and away the most popular post.

The topics that have attracted the greatest readership
1.Californian Bungalow: Australia's Favourite Interwar Home...

2.Napoleon's house in exile: St Helena

3.Agatha Christie's greatest mystery: her husband's sex life

4.Vienna: Coffee, Art, Pastries

5.The Symbolism of Suffragette Jewellery

6.Iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge: 1932-2012

7.Art Deco and the American Diner

8.Ned Kelly, Sidney Nolan and Australian heroes

9.John Ruskin, JMW Turner and unpleasant sexual thoughts

10.WW1 paintings in the Fine Arts Society, London

Thank you, dear readers.

And thank you to the mega-blogs like ThoughtCo and its Art History Guide; the Art History Carnival and the Women's History Carnival.



Al Capone, total gangster or partial humanitarian?

By the late C19th there were a few soup kitchens in American cities. But soup kitchens became urgently required only in the Great Depression (caused by the stock market crash in Oct 1929). The American belief was that the Federal Government should not be involved in providing poor relief, but that the Feds were in the best position to coordinate national efforts among public, private and non-profit sectors of society.

There were very few social welfare programmes set in place by the American government to provide support to the poor, sick, elderly or unemployed. As a result, the government was ill equipped to handle the complex needs of its citizens, a situation that didn’t change until the 1935 pass­age of President Roosevelt’s Social Security Act.

Prohibition (1920–Dec 1933) in the USA caused corruption. Brooklyn-born Alphonse Caponi/Al Capone (1899-1947) became a star of this corrupt world, a bootlegging gangster who by 1922 had become a full partner with other gangsters in gambling houses, saloons, brothels, speakeasies, bookie joints, horse races and distilleries. He also organised and ordered Chicago’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.

Clearly Capone made a fortune during the long, difficult Pro­hibition era! Yet his alcohol-smuggling was seen by many as an act of bravery, given Prohibition’s harsh restrictions.

Capone was not charged for many of his crimes. In 1926 he was arrested for murdering three people, spent the night in gaol and the case was dismissed. Capone's first gaol sentence was in May 1929, for a minor offence. In 1931 he was indicted on 23 counts of income tax evasion. The judge found him guilty on 5 of the 23 counts; he sentenced him to 10 years in federal prison and fines in the amount of $50,000. He also was sentenced to one year in county gaol for an earlier contempt-of-court charge.

Now I wondering if most Americans have heard of the generous support that Al Capone of­fered to the hungry, during the Depression when some 40% of the labour force were unemployed!

Unemployed men outside Al Capone's soup kitchen 
Chicago, Feb 1931.
Photo credit: Rare Historical Photos

Al Capone started one of the first Depression soup kitchens, in South State St Chicago. His soup kitchen provide a placed where the homeless and poor could get free food and a rest from the struggles of sur­viving on the streets. Chicago in winter was always very bitter.

Why did he spend his lawful income, and his ill-gotten gains, on charity? Three main motives have been suggested. Firstly because he was Public Enemy #1 to the police, courts, Tax Department, his gangster opponents and to teetotall­ers across the nation, Capone might have tried to change his bad reputation via good works. And there may well have been favourable publicity in the news­papers, good for any future businesses he may have been planning.

Secondly he was very close to his beloved Italian Catholic mother, Teresa Capone (1867–1952). She expected her son to behave appropriately to the hungry, the poor and to Italian immigrants, at least when he was wealthy. Teresa was also very proud when her son rang her by phone, speaking in Italian, and she fought valiantly to get her son out of prison after his 1931 income tax conviction.

Thirdly the unemployed men desperately needed support, but the Federal Govern­ment refused to listen. The Chicago Trib­une headlined on Dec 1931 that 120,000 meals were served by Al Capone’s Free Soup Kitchen. Hundreds of desperate, starving men assembled outside the shop front, literally depending on him for their food. And he offered some of them jobs, both in the soup kitchen and in the homeless shelter he ran!

Al Capone served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thanksgiving Day 1930 was a special pleasure for the gangster Cap­one because he fed 5,000+ hungry men, women and children with a hearty beef stew. Just before Christmas 1930, several trucks from major food store chains pulled up, bringing chickens, ducks and a couple of barrel of hams. A National Tea company truck brought a 1000 cans of corn, tea, half pound bags of sugar and candy.

Capone’s seven years as a crime boss only ended when he was event­ually found guilty of tax fraud at 33 years of age. In May 1932 he was given a sentence of 11 years and was among the earliest of inmates at the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.

Chicago men eating and keeping warm
inside Al Capone's soup kitchen
Feb 1931.

While serving his sentence in Alcatraz, he was diagnosed with syphilitic dementia. As his health deteriorated, Capone was sent to the low-security Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island near Los Angeles to finish his sentence; he was released in 1939. He spent his last years at his mansion in Palm Islands Florida where he died from a stroke in 1947.

I cannot find out who took control of the soup kitchen, once Capone went to gaol. However I do know that the kitchen was demolished only in the 1950s, 20 years after the Depression ended.

The irony of this entire story, i.e a mobster was doing more for the people of Chicago than Chicago was doing for its own people, did not endear the government to its citizens. Perhaps as a result, visitors from all over the world still visit Chicago and drive by Capone’s old house or visit his grave.


Dundee City waterfront and its new V & A Museum

The V & A had no museums or galleries of its own outside London. Instead it worked with a small number of partner organisations in Sheffield, Dundee and Blackpool to provide a regional presence. This post shows the huge changes recently made to the V & A brand, at least in Dundee.

The £1 billion transformation of Dundee City Waterfront, which encompasses 240 hectares of development land along the River Tay for 8km, is a strategic and progressive 30 year project (2001-31) to build the city’s global fame. The water front, divided into five zones, will become a destination for visitors and businesses through enhancing its physical, economic and cultural assets. Dundee City and the University of Dundee, both of which were instrumental in bringing the V&A here, spent more than 10 years in the planning.

The new V&A Museum of Design in Dundee is a 8,000 square metre building, situated on the waterfront, built to resemble the cliffs of East Scotland. This Dundee landmark was finally opened to the public in Sept 2018.

It is an £80 million building on the river, a conjoined pair of inverted pyr­amids in rugged concrete inspired by Scottish cliffs. On land reclaimed from the river bed, the two inverted pyramids twist both horizontally and vertically as the building gets higher, suggesting a wave-like movement.

V & A Museum Dundee consisting of pair of inverted pyr­amids
and RRS Discovery, Captain Scott's vessel

It was Tokyo-based architect Kengo Kuma’s first UK project, a site that will announce Dundee’s ambitions to the world. It is impressive when the visitor passes towards the land­scape, through an arch formed between the two main blocks; and its cragginess suits its tough northern location. The exterior is clad with 2,500 precast concrete panels which vary in size and shape to create different shadow patterns. Each of the panels, which measure up to 4m, was attached to the building using brackets.

The galleries occupy the upper floor, allowing for vast spaces. In fact V & A Dundee boasts the largest temporary exhibition space in Scotland. An exterior walkway passes through the middle of the building, joining the river to the city in the manner of a gateway.  Good design, as the contents of the galleries show, is joyous.

Dundee’s setting, on a slope towards the broad river, allowed the V&A project to improve the old part of the water front. Visitors enter the museum through a double-height main hall with a cafe and ample seating. Benches line the long sweeping staircase that leads to the first floor gallery spaces, and a book-shelf lined seating area where visitors can sit and read. The restaurant has expansive views out over the water.

Sweeping main hall with a cafe, stairs, lift tower and water views

There is a generously scaled entrance hall which can also be a public space for the locals. A broad stair and lift tower within the entrance hall opens up to a broad first-floor deck for exhib­itions. The museum’s inverted pyramid shape gives sloping planes that might nicely fulfil Kuma’s stated aims. Kuma says his building is organic, by which he means that its rough-hewn shape looks like a work of nature, a design that grows harmoniously out of it. In terms of quality of construction, the builders have done a good job.

Solid concrete, to which a cosmetic outer layer of yet more con­crete has been heavily applied, is a bit too Brutal for me. But never mind. There’s the landscape, the city and the population. Then see The Discovery, the ship that carried Scott and Shackle­ton on their first, successful Antarctic expedition. It returned to the city that built her.

Scottish Design Galleries, the heart of V & A Dundee, are the first in the world dedicated to telling the great history of Scot­tish design. 300 beautiful objects representing a wide range of design disciplines, our Scottish Design Galleries explore Scot­land’s unique design landscape, both historically and in modern times. Visitors will discover the everyday relevance of Scottish design, even if they didn’t know until now what was locally designed.

The first space in Scottish Design Gallery was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1907 Oak Room which is being restored and reconstructed as a centrepiece of the galleries. The room was part of the Ingram Street Tearooms in Glasgow, rescued from the demolition of its host building in 1971 and the pieces kept in storage until now. Unseen since then, the tearoom is one of the world-famous architect’s most important interiors, close in design and ambition to the now lost Glasgow School of Art library. The metal lamp shades with coloured glass enrich the shadows of alcoves beneath the gallery. The design is a beautiful oaken ensemble of light, structure and ornament.

There is lovely timing here. Just as the Glasgow School of Art burned in June 2018, the final touches were applied to this other Charles Rennie Mackintosh jewel. V & A Dundee has already begun its work of repair!

One of the Scottish Design Galleries

In the Scottish Design Galleries, see some of the contributions that this nation of 5 million people made to world design. There is the heavy engineering that you might expect, bridges and ships, but also the abstract, modernist glassware of the late-Victorian Scot­tish designer Christopher Dresser, the luxurious classicism of the C18th Scottish architect Robert Adam and the new brutalism.

With a wide range of objects, from furniture, textiles, metalwork, ceramics, fashion, architecture, engineering and digital design, the space is split into sections. The oldest object in the Scottish Design Galleries is the exquisite Book of Hours, decorated with painted medieval ill­um­inations; it was made in Rouen in northern France c1480.

Blockbuster shows will be able to travel between one V & A Museum and the other. Dundee museum opened with the V&A’s splendid Ocean Liners: Speed and Style exhibition.


Hotel National Moscow: Tsarist, Soviet and modern Russian refinement

The pre-revolutionary Hotel National Moscow was financed by The Var­v­arinskoe Joint-Stock Company of Householders and designed by arch­it­ect Alexander Ivanov. Construct­ion began in 1901 and the 160-room hotel opened in January 1903. It was located in the immediate vic­in­ity of Moscow’s major historical venues: Red Square, the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and Bolshoi Theatre. The nearby Alexandrovsky Gardens, founded by architect Osip Bove in 1821, commemorated the Russians' victories over Napol­eon with gorgeous plants, imposing cast iron gates and a tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Hotel National Moscow
mosaic atop the corner

Established to attract important foreign guests, royal families, State Duma deputies, tsarist ministers and rich merchants, the exterior architecture comb­ined Renais­sance and opulent Art Nouveau styles with modern trappings, so fashionable in the new cent­ury. The int­erior focused on the main stair-case, made of white marble with gilt plas­tered décor­at­ions and metal barr­iers. In the lobby, you can still see the stained glass windows, mosaic floors and full sized caryatids on the col­umns near the lifts. The most luxurious, royal rooms were sit­uat­ed on the third floor for people of high rank, and were equipped with safes. The building had the most up-to-date central heating and telephone systems, signs of luxury in those years.

There were also libraries, restaurant, shops, baker and wine-cellar in National Hotel. Among these businesses was a shop belong­ing to the Krestovnikov brothers, owners of the most influential trading company in Russia at the time.

In 1915 the hotel planned to add two floors on top of the 6-storey struc­t­ure, but WW1 shortages meant the work was never begun. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the capital of Russia was moved to Moscow. After the Bolsheviks' victory, all Moscow hotels were nationalised and by March 1918, the hotel had become the home of Soviet Central Executive Committee.

While the Kremlin had been damaged during fighting in Oct 1917 and was under repair, Lenin made his home in room 107 at the Hotel Nat­ional with his wife. The hotel is today marked with a plaque noting this event. The hotel also accommodated other Soviet leaders, including Trotsky and the head of the secret police. The building continued to be used by the Soviet government afterwards as a hostel for official party delegates, and was renamed First House of Soviets in 1919.

The Soviets were building modern hotels to imp­ress vis­it­ing foreign delegations across Moscow, and in the pro­cess tore down entire blocks, drained swamps and built new bridges. Thus the new hotels helped change the city's skyline.

The Alexandrovsky Bar
winter garden setting with an overhead atrium

Piazza Rossa Restaurant with a unique Moscow view

Caryatids in the lobby
staircase with gilt plas­tered décor­at­ions 

By 1931 Hotel National was in need of repair and was given a comp­lete renovation. It was redecorated with furn­iture and artefacts from Tsars’ palaces and aristocrats' est­at­es, including Tsarskoye Selo and the Anichkov Palaces in St Peter­sburg. The pieces remain in the hotel's collection to this day. The huge external mosaic on the hotel's upper corner (top photo) was replaced by socialist realist artwork, displaying the industrial might of the Soviet economy. The National Hotel joined the state-run Intourist, in 1933.

The National Hotel's guests in the 1930s included political figures, but also scientists, businessmen, writ­ers, act­ors and musicians. In 1933, it served as the temporary home of the first American Ambassador to the Sov­iet until the proper embas­sy was renov­ated. Composer Ser­gei Prokofiev lived at the hotel in 1933 on his return to the Soviet Union from abroad. Author Mik­hail Shol­ok­hov stayed at the hotel often. Dur­ing WW2, many Allied delegations met here, including British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden in 1941.

In the late 1960s the Hotel Intourist, a towering, modern glass st­ructure, was built next to the National Hotel. The two hotels merged in 1983 and op­erated for a time under joint management.

Grand hotels in Moscow, renewed since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, are the heart of the city’s luxury hotel ind­ustry. The Hotel National was renovated from 1991-5; the 202 new bed­rooms were fitted with new furnishings and decor that were styled with classic Italian furnishings. But the 55 Kremlin suites were still as they had been designed in 1903, still decorated with their Russian antiques, Bohemian glass chandeliers, antique furnishings and original and rare artworks including vases, paintings and statues.

This elegant hotel was transferred by the Russian govern­ment to the City of Moscow in 1992.

The Kremlin Suite has two rooms, elegant antique furniture and original works of art.
The bedroom overlooks Red Square and the Kremlin
Looking across Red Square to the State History Museum

The hotel’s 110-year-history has thus been closely entwined with the turbulent events of C20th, starting from the days of the last Tsar Nicholas II, to the years of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the Russian state as it is today. Privatisation came in 2011 when the National Hotel, which had previously been owned by the City of Moscow, was sold to a business man for squillions. It was probably a good decision - tourists love the location! Right across Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral, the State History Museum and the walls and towers of the Kremlin can be seen from many guest rooms.

The photos are credited to The Telegraph.
The notes came from my late mother's travel reports and were updated by


The Peter Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos story - hero athletes?

I read The Peter Norman Story by Andrew Webster and Matt Norman (published by Pan Macmillan, 2018) and found it both powerful and sad. Peter Norman (1942-2006) grew up in a close-knit, Salvation Army family living in Melbourne. Initially an apprentice butcher, Norman later became a teacher and then a trainer for an Australian rules football club in (during the athletic off-season).

He won Australia a silver medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics after running the 200 metres in 20.06 seconds, an Australian record that hasn’t been broken in the 50 years since. He was part of one of the most successful Olympic Australian athletics team ever.

Peter Norman is a hero to millions today for what he did after that race. Hearing of US medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos' plans to protest against inequality on the dais, Peter pinned an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his green and gold Australian tracksuit. Although not an American, Norman promised to stand with the two American sprinters in silent protest. The trio’s courage in giving the Black Power Salute was a defining symbol that called attention to terrible racial inequality.

Time magazine said it was the most iconic photograph ever taken: 2 black sprinters raising a fist, both sheathed in black gloves, as the American national anthem played in Mexico City. They also hung their heads during the national anthem, which led their critics to accuse them of being unpatriotic.

The Peter Norman Story 
by Andrew Webster and Matt Norman

Peter Norman's singlet from the 1968 Olympics
Put into the Australian Museum of Australia in 2016

What promoted Norman’s sympathy with black equality? This young teacher was guided by his Salvation Army faith to take part in the Black Power salute because of his opposition to American racism. Equally he was upset by the immoral White Australia Policy.

As we saw in an earlier post, the apoplectic President of the American Olympic Committee Avery Brundage clearly reacted with anger to the two black athl­et­es. Brund­age and the IOC ordered the sus­pension of Carlos and Smith, and threatened publicly to strip them of their medals. After Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Olympics, their careers seemed shattered.

However later the two Americans were well-regarded by half the population for their protest, despite the rules of the IOC. After all, this was a time when the USA was literally burning as the civil rights movement gathered pace. Think of the timing – the USA had suffered the recent assassinations of Dr Martin Luther King in April 1968 and Senator Robert Kennedy in June 1968. Then many anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, although the Kent State shootings of young undergrads didn’t take place until 1970.

Nor­man received a verbal reprimand from AOC President Judy Patching then was allowed to remain in Mexico City. But after the Games, Norman was treated as a pariah in Australia. His failure to make the Australian team for the 1972 Olympics, despite his national records, suggested that he was indeed blacklisted. However just how much Norman was blacklisted or ostracised is still debated.

All 3 athletes were cast into exile to some extent. But the events sec­ured a unique friendship, and a powerful legend regarding their world-changing moment. This working-class man from Melbourne became a global icon for equal­ity and courage, alongside his colleagues. And for the Salvation Army girl, Ruth Newnham, whom he had married in 1964.

What were the consequences in the long term? Taking part in the silent protest after medalling at the 1968 Olymp­ics 200m changed Norman's life, and those of people close to him. What was true was that he came home and became a different per­son. Family life wasn’t their own any more. 

Peter Norman’s act of solidarity in Mexico cost him everything, including his family, career in sport, connection to his beloved church etc. But he thought he deserved greater recognition and was hurt by being forgotten by history. Fame is often so ironic.

Norman’s first family of children were interviewed for the book, making for very sad reading when they laid bare their anguish about him walking out on the family. Worse still, he took up a relat­ionship with another woman with whom he’d been having an affair. After his first divorce, Norman had refused to pay maint­enance payments and, for many years, he refused to see his own children. His private life was a disaster; he was a very flawed character.

Pall bearers Tommie Smith (left) and John Carlos for Peter Norman, 
Williamstown Town Hall, Melbourne 2006. 
The Bulletin

They reconnected with him later in life, but it was far too late. He died at 64, in 2006. Norman was survived by his first wife Ruth, and their children Gary, Sandra and Janita. And he was surv­ived by his second wife Jan and their daughters, Belinda and Emma.

In 2012, Federal MP Andrew Leigh put a motion to Parliament. It officially apologised for the treat­ment Peter Norman received after he returned to Australia and importantly acknow­ledged him as ‘a great Australian who stood with black power protesters.’

In the USA Smith and Carlos had become the legendary figures they deserved to be, even attending the White House with the American Olympic team after the 2016 Rio Olymic Games at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

A statue of the three sprinters
in Washington DC

Recently the Australian Olympic Committee posthumously awarded Nor­man the Order of Merit. And Athletics Australia and the Victorian Government announced it would be erecting a bronze statue outside a Melbourne stadium. Now, 50 years too late, he is finally being recognised as the hero he deserved to be!

The Sydney City Council recognised that street art can make a valuable contribution to the city's identity and social cohesion, to its creativity and diversity. The mural that sparked the creation of a Public Art Register was in Sydney's inner west, threatened with demolition to make way for a railway line. It was based on our photo taken at the 1968 Mexico Olymp­ics, and the protest against racial inequality!

See the 2008 film, Salute, shown on SBS.



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