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  • Smith, Myron Bement,
  • Aga-Oglu, Mehmet,
  • Yale University
  • Harvard University
  • American Council of Learned Societies.
  • Library of Congress
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  • Correspondence
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    Myron Bement Smith Collection, circa 1910-1970
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    Smith, Myron Bement, 1897-1970.
    Myron Bement Smith Collection, circa 1910-1970
    Phy. Description: 
    150 linear feet
    Digital Reference: 
    Image Finding Aid
    Bio / His Notes: 
    Classical archaeologist, architect, and art historian Myron Bement Smith (1897-1970) had a life-long devotion to West Asia, accumulating some 87,000 items now in the Archives documenting Islamic art and culture from Spain to India, with an emphasis on architecture. Established in 1948 to further an appreciation for Persian art and culture, nearly seventy-five percent of Smith's "Islamic Archives" consists of his own work; the remainder obtained from other sources. Smith's own negatives, taken from 1933 to 1947, accompany images in a six-volume logbook portraying Persian architecture and monuments, in particular the vaulting of the Masjid-i D'Juma at Isfahan, Iran. One of the most significant portions of the "Islamic Archives" is the photographic material of Antoin Sevruguin, a commercial photographer in Tehran active during the 1870s to 1930. His nearly 800 photographs depict the shahs, royal palaces, military ceremonies, and daily aspects of Persian life. Other materials in the collection include Smith's personal and professional papers including correspondence, research files, writings, and documentation regarding his 1927-1928 Italian and 1933-1937 Iranian expeditions.
    Myron Bement Smith was born in Newark Valley, New York in 1897 and grew up in Rochester New York. He died in Washington DC in 1970. He showed an early interest in drawing, and after graduation from high school, he worked as a draftsman for a Rochester architect. He served in the US Army Medical Corps in France during World War I and on return again worked as a architectural draftsman. He studied at Yale University from 1922 to 1926, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. During summer vacations, he worked as draftsman or designer for architectural firms in New York City. After graduation, he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grant and spent two years in Italy doing research on northern Italian brick and stone work. He used photography as an tool for his research and published several well-illustrated articles. On return he joined an architectural firm in Philadelphia and in 1931 became a registered architect in New York. He enrolled in Harvard University graduate school in 1929 pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.
    In April 1930, Smith was appointed Secretary of the newly created American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology founded by Arthur Upham Pope and located in New York City. He had no prior academic or work experience in Islamic art or architecture, and his job entailed designing publications, arranging lectures, organizing exhibitions and fund raising. That summer he arranged an independent study course at Harvard University on Persian Art and subsequently studied Persian language at Columbia University and attended graduate courses at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. His work and academic credentials enabled him to compete successfully for a research fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies in 1933 to study Iranian Islamic architecture.
    Accompanied by his new bride Katharine Dennis, Smith left for Iran in 1933. They suffered a horrendous motor vehicle accident in Iraq en route and required a lengthy recuperation in Lebanon and Cyprus. The Smiths eventually arrived in Isfahan, Iran, where they established their “Expedition House,” as Smith called it, in a rented faculty house at Stuart College. Smith’s research consisted of meticulous photographic documentation of Islamic monuments and architectural sketches and drawings of many of them. He concentrated on the Isfahan area but also documented monuments elsewhere in Iran. Smith outfitted his station wagon as a combination camper and research vehicle in which he and his staff traveled widely. Katharine sometimes traveled with him but generally she remained in Isfahan managing the household and logistics for the “expedition.” The Smiths left Iran in 1937.
    Smith published several articles about Iran’s Islamic monuments based on his field research and in 1947 completed his PhD thesis for The Johns Hopkins University on the vault in Persian architecture. His professional career from 1938 until his death in 1970 consisted of a series of temporary academic positions, contract work and government or academic sponsored lecture tours and photographic exhibits. He had a long lasting relationship with the Library of Congress where he served as an Honorary Consultant from 1938 to 1940 and again from 1948 to 1970; from 1943 to 1944 he was Chief of the Iranian Section at the Library. Despite his lack of published material, Smith was well-known among academic, government and private citizens who worked, traveled or were otherwise interested Iran and the Islamic world.
    Smith developed an extensive network of professional and social contacts that dated from his early student days and increased markedly during his time at the Persian Institute and later in Iran. He kept in touch with them and they touted him to others who were interested in Iran or Islamic art and architecture. This network served him well in realizing his ambition of creating a resource for scholars that relied on photographs to document Islamic architecture. This Islamic Archives began with his own collection of photographs from his Iran research and grew to include all manner of photographic and other materials not only on the Islamic world but also other areas. Creating and managing the Archives became the main focus of Smith’s professional life and career after his return from Iran in 1937. In 1967 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to revise his PhD thesis as a publishable manuscript but died before he could complete it.
    The papers include some biographic material about Myron but little about his wife. Information on his academic and professional experience is sketchy and his diaries and appointment books often contain only sporadic entries. There is material about Myron’s field research in Italy in the 1920s and his years working on Islamic architecture in Iran in the 1930s. Correspondence comprises the largest and most potentially useful part of the papers. Letters describe the milieu in which Myron operated in Rochester NY and New York City in the 1920s and early 1930s; the Smiths’ life in Iran from 1933 to 1937; and the extensive network of academic and social contacts that Myron and Katharine developed and maintained over his lifetime.
    The Islamic Archives, a project to which Smith devoted most of his professional life, include both original materials, such as photographs and notes, produced by him and items acquired by him from other scholars or experts on Islamic art and architecture. Most of the latter are photographs or slides. Smith intended the Archives to serve as a resource for scholars interested in the architecture and art of the entire Islamic world although he also included some materials about non-Islamic architecture. The core collection within the Archives is Smith’s original photographs and sketches of Iranian Islamic monuments produced during his field research there in the 1930s. He meticulously photographed the interior and exterior of monuments, including their decorative detail. Some of the photographic materials loaned, purchased or donated to the Archives may enable scholars to document sites over time but in many cases the materials are poorly preserved or reproduced. A notable exception to this is the glass negatives and prints of 19th century Iranian photographer Antoin Sevruguin, housed separately as the Antoin Sevruguin Collection.
    The Myron Bement Smith Collection consists of two parts, the papers of Myron Bement Smith and his wife Katharine and the Islamic Archives.
    Gift of Katharine Smith.
    Access is by appointment only, Monday through Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please contact the Archives to make an appointment:
    Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository.
    Subject - Geographical: 
    USA New York New York
    Aga-Oglu, Mehmet, 1896-
    Yale University
    Harvard University
    American Council of Learned Societies.
    Library of Congress
    Form / Genre: 
    Correspondence -- 20th century
    Architectural drawings
    Photographic prints
    Slides (photographs)
    Repository Loc: 
    Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, 1050 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC 20013-7012
    Local Number: 
    FSA A.04
    Item Information
    RepositoryCall No. 
    Freer/Sackler ArchivesFSA A.04Add Copy to MyList

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