Written by Sonia Zayas and Tatiana Reinoza

This report was produced as part of our practicum at the Latino Museum Studies Program hosted by the Smithsonian Latino Center. (July 2007) Note: The endnotes are marked by an asterisk.

INTRODUCTION

Our project consisted on enhancing collections-based research of Latino and Latin American collections at the Smithsonian with a focus on Puerto Rican art, history, culture and natural science. Due to time constraints we quickly narrowed our research to focus on Puerto Rican art from the 18th to the 21st century. Our educational background is in Latino and Latin American Art History and Museum Studies. Therefore, we have chosen to focus on Puerto Rican visual arts and have expanded our research into the Division of Community Education (DIVEDCO) Poster Collection from the National Museum of American History.

Since the Smithsonian Latino Center is planning to dedicate a year of programming to Puerto Rico, we identified four topics, which can serve as the conceptual framework for exhibits. The four suggested topics are:

Military Life and Contributions of Puerto Rican Soldiers *1,
Historical Photography of Puerto Rico *2,
Puerto Rican Women Artists *3, and
the DIVEDCO Poster Collection.

METHODOLOGY

Our first task was to get acquainted with the Smithsonian library resources and databases. As we looked through exhibition catalogs, art history books, videos and ephemera, we began compiling a list of notable Puerto Rican artists. We used this list as a basis to expand our research into the new Siris Cross Catalog Searching Database. This database provided all library and archival information related to our artist list. The findings have been incorporated into our listing (see List of Puerto Rican Artists).

In order to identify works of art in the Smithsonian Collection, we chose not to use the Siris Cross Catalog Search. This database is too broad in scope and encompasses all works of art that have at one point been exhibited at the Smithsonian, but are not part of the Smithsonian collection. Instead, we used the National Museum of American Art and the Hirshhorn Museum’s online databases to search their collections. In addition, we also had access to the Hirshhorn’s internal object database, The Museum System. All art objects found were integrated into our findings.

Semana del Emigrante 40th Anniversary of DIVEDCO Buena Alimentacion 4 de Julio
All images – Copyright © 2007, Smithsonian Institution, All rights reserved.

DIVEDCO POSTER COLLECTION

In 1948, the Democratic Popular Party assumed power in Puerto Rico and for the first time the people of Puerto Rico elected by direct vote a Puerto Rican governor, Luis Muñoz Marín. The strategy and government program of Luis Muñoz Marín created a new social reform program called “Manos a la Obra” (Hands at Work) *4. As a consequence, the DIVEDCO became active by law in May 14, 1949. The first directors were Jack and Irene Delano *5.

The objectives of DIVEDCO were to produce didactic material to be used in massive communication for the new government programs. Two workshops were integrated for the development of collective work, the film and graphic departments. The posters were widely displayed throughout Puerto Rico and reflect key trends in the social history of Puerto Rico. Some of these included events, festivals, social service programs, economic initiatives and employment programs.

The serigraphy technique was the most commonly used and appropriate for the production of posters. During his tenure as director of the graphics workshop, Lorenzo Homar masterfully integrated text and image, which began a new Puerto Rican graphic tradition. The decade of the 1950’s was a decade of cultural renaissance in Puerto Rico and the DIVEDCO was an important factor in influencing this cultural movement. Artists began to work collectively and new cultural centers were formed, an example of this is Centro de Artistas Puertorriqueños.

As a result of the transformation of the economy, the drastic social changes, development of cities and overpopulation, and modernization of systems that Puerto Rico has witnessed in the last fifty years, the need for an institution as DIVEDCO has changed. The realities that gave life to DIVEDCO are no longer the realities of the island. In the early 1990’s the DIVEDCO program was closed.

This important poster collection was donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History by the Archivo General de Puerto Rico through Nelly V. Cruz Rodríguez on May 19, 1997 *6. The Smithsonian Institution has an important collection of books, catalogs and didactic material, which would support the development of an exhibition of the DIVEDCO Poster Collection. Due to the limited time of our research project, we were unable to fully explore all possibilities of the DIVEDCO poster collection. Since the primary mission of the Smithsonian Institution is the diffusion of knowledge, we hope the Smithsonian Latino Center will lead the way in researching this collection and creating opportunities for exhibition.

CONCLUSION

As a result of our research and findings we believe the Smithsonian holds an important collection of books, catalogs, and interviews of Puerto Rican artists. However, it is evident that very little effort has been made to collect works of art by Puerto Rican artists. Among the handful we found in the collection are works by José Campeche, Pepón Osorio and Juan Sánchez. In general, there are very few works of art by Latino and Latin American artists in the Smithsonian collections. We hope that the Smithsonian Latino Center makes an effort to earmark a percentage of Latino Pool Funds for new acquisitions of Latino and Latin American art.

In our research we came across many spelling errors in the catalog entries related to Puerto Rican artists. There are also errors in the birth dates of some of these artists. In addition, one of the difficulties in researching Puerto Rican artists in the Smithsonian collection is the fact that they are often times labeled as American. We hope careful cataloguing and guidelines are established to prevent these errors.

We would also like to encourage the digitization of the Puerto Rican Video Project at the Archives of American Art. It is currently available in VHS format and is only accessible at the library of the Archives of American Art. If a digitization process were not possible, publishing the transcripts of the videos would be sufficient.

We want to thank the Smithsonian Latino Center for offering us this research opportunity through the Latino Museum Studies Program. The program has been insightful in demonstrating the status of Latino and Latin American art at the institutional level. It has also inspired us to continue our research on building Latino and Latin American collections. We hope the Smithsonian Latino Center is able to use some of our research findings in developing the programming for the year dedicated to Puerto Rico.

Endnotes:

1* Smithsonian Collections hold World War II photographs, oral history, memorabilia and surveys of U. S. bases in Puerto Rico. Since the Jones Act of 1917, all Puerto Rican males who are 18 years or older are required to register with the armed forces. Many Puerto Rican men and women have served in the US military since WWI, but rarely are they acknowledged for these contributions.
2* See Helen Hamilton Gardener Photography Collection.
3* In our research, we found many books, catalogs, interviews and ephemera related to Puerto Rican women artists. However, we have not found a single work of art by a Puerto Rican woman artist in the Smithsonian collections. This omission merits an exhibition and should also encourage the acquisition of works of art made by these artists.
4* Cupeles, David J. Lorenzo Homar: Artista Ejemplar de la Gráfica Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, 1992.
5* Jack Delano was a Soviet born photographer that immigrated to Puerto Rico. His wife, Irene Delano was a U.S. born designer that served as and artistic director of DIVEDCO.
6* See Finding Aid for DIVEDCO Poster Collection at Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Attachment: Puerto Rican Artist List and Resources at the Smithsonian



Advertisements