William G. Scheller, author of Columbus and the Age of Discovery and America's Historic Places, among others, puts his history chops to excellent use in America: A History in Art—The American Journey Told by Painters, Sculptors, Photographers, and Architects. The book is arranged in chronological order, from the first Americans to the new millennium. Commentary and captions accompany the 300-plus reproductions, from paintings to photos, political posters to objets d'art. Social, political, economic and geographic context are explored in detail, too. For example, regarding Caltrans 7 (a Los Angeles Department of Transportation building completed in 2004), Scheller notes that, just as the architectural firm's name, Morphosis, doesn't include "meta" as a way to indicate design is changeable and fluid like our surroundings, the building itself is wrapped in a sheath that opens or closes based on the heat and light that touches it. Scheller writes, "The United States has been since its inception … a study in the balance of pragmatism and idealism; of stubborn cultural independence and slavish devotion to the foreign; of conservatism and experimentation." The artists represented here shore up that assertion: looking at America through the lens of creations by Currier & Ives, Georgia O'Keeffe, Dorothea Lange, Andy Warhol and scores of lesser-known talents is a history lesson indeed.
A CELEBRATION OF DANCE
Ailey Ascending: A Portrait in Motion is a gorgeous, heartfelt celebration of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 50th anniversary. Photographer Andrew Eccles writes in the afterword that he met Ailey in 1989 and that Ailey "choreographed our session, he kept it alive, he made it move." Ailey died three months after that encounter, but his energy and vision live on. In addition to the Dance Theater, which grew from a small troupe that had its 1958 debut at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y to a 30-member company that tours the world, there is the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, The Ailey School, the Ailey II repertory ensemble and numerous community and outreach programs. Ailey Ascending's large format and its text/image combination enhance the feeling of experiencing the dancers' world. Introductory pieces by Judith Jamison, artistic director and former lead dancer; Anna Deavere Smith; Khephra Burns and former Essence editor Susan L. Taylor describe Ailey's gifts, dedication and influence on the world of dance. The photos capture the grace of the Ailey dancers, and the range of compositions—close-ups of sculpted faces and bodies, a quartet onstage, a lone dancer stretching in front of a window as the city races by behind her—encourage contemplation and appreciation. This book is a fitting tribute to Ailey's work, which, as Burns and Taylor write, "was dance and theater, black and universal and wholly American."
The Kunhardt family has been maintaining a collection of Lincoln memorabilia and writing about him for five generations. Now, the authors of Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography are back with the follow-up volume Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon, published to commemorate the bicentennial of our 16th president's birth. It's an "exploration of how Lincoln was remembered and memorialized in the first six decades after his life," as Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in the introduction. Accordingly, the book begins on the day of Lincoln's assassination; readers may pore over eyewitness accounts, photos of Ford's Theatre and other materials associated with April 14, 1865. The book's exhaustive attention to detail continues apace – it includes photos of Lincoln's family and friends; wartime remembrances; Frederick Douglass' recollections of his first and last encounters with the president; and more. A photo gallery makes a fitting conclusion: the book offers a variety of perspectives on Lincoln's legacy, and the images show different aspects of one of our most revered presidents.
History and architecture buffs, as well as those with a penchant for artfully done pop-up books (or perhaps the Griffin & Sabine trilogy), will delight in Chuck Wills' Thomas Jefferson, Architect: The Interactive Portfolio. Packaged in a sturdy protective sleeve, the book is filled with reproductions of architectural drawings, letters and sketches nestled in translucent pockets or secured behind flaps bearing photos of the structures in which Jefferson had a hand. This volume focuses on four in Virginia: his home at Monticello, the Virginia State Capitol, the University of Virginia and his retreat at Poplar Forest. "Jefferson has rightly been called 'the author of America,' but he can just as accurately be called 'the architect of America'," Wills says, making his case via well-written text on Jefferson's education, creations and influence on U.S. architecture. The opportunity to examine drawings, photos and descriptions of various structures makes for a heightened reading experience, one that surely will spark or renew interest in this American icon.
FIRST FAMILY TO YOURS
It's been 45 years since John F. Kennedy's presidency was tragically cut short, but the national fascination with his family remains strong. The Kennedy Family Album: Personal Photos of America's First Family will delight Kennedy-philes and photography fans with a peek into the family's daily life. The photos, by Bob Davidoff—who for 50 years was photographer-in residence at the family's Palm Beach home, until his death in 2004—depict things readers might expect: stylish adults shopping at high – end stores; cousins frolicking outdoors; and every holiday a festive event. Text by Linda Corley, a longtime producer for PBS, brings context, color and life to the images.
There are poignant ones—JFK a few days before he was killed; matriarch Rose over the years, as she grew frail but retained her sparkle—and funny ones, from a young Maria Shriver conducting her first interview (she turned the tables on an inquisitive journalist) to Caroline Kennedy wrestling with her cousins. The Kennedy Family Album is a lovely keepsake of an important era in American history.
Scrapbooking supplies—stickers, colored paper, ribbon, adhesives—line the aisles of craft and general merchandise stores, but scrapbooking, while wildly popular now, is hardly a new trend. In Scrapbooks: An American History, designer, writer and scrapbook-collector Jessica Helfand presents a visual history of these "ephemeral portraits," from the 19th century to the present. The books featured here had to meet Helfand's five criteria: they must be beautiful, tell a story, be eclectic and American, and represent celebrities and ordinary folk alike. As such, readers can explore the pages of scrapbooks created by Zelda Fitzgerald (photos, magazine covers, reviews) and Lillian Hellman (correspondence, drafts of her radio broadcasts), as well as civilians Dorothy Abraham (valentines, calling cards, a piece of school chalk) and Lawrence Metzger (invitations, canceled stamps). Pre-manufactured memory and baby books began to appear in the early 1900s, representing what the author calls a "significant cultural shift," noting "the anticipation of memory as a core emotional need … was a uniquely twentieth-century conceit." Just as Helfand worked to display and offer insight into these revealing keepsakes, she has succeeded in making Scrapbooks a valuable cultural artifact in its own right.