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Person in spacesuit stands on the lunar surface with black space behind themCocooned within 21 layers of synthetics, neoprene rubber, and metalized polyester films, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin was well protected from the airless moon’s extremes of heat and cold, deadly solar ultraviolet radiation, and even the off chance of a hurtling micrometeorite. / Photo by Neil Armstrong/NASA


It’s possibly the most recognizable image in all of human history: Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon, his left arm drifting up as if checking the time during a stroll through the park.

The photo sticks in the imagination more than any image of sleek rockets on the launchpad or metallic modules landing on an inhospitable world. Perhaps it’s the casual, individual bravado oozing off Aldrin’s puffed-up frame that truly captures the essence of humans pushing past the ultimate boundary: space.

And yet the spacesuit is rarely the star of the human spaceflight epic. Which is a shame, since this was the most intimate component of the engineering endeavor that landed man on the moon 50 years ago—intimate also because the surprising winner of NASA’s spacesuit contract was a spinoff of Playtex, the underwear manufacturer which still makes items from bras to feminine products to this day.

Composite black-and-white image of a woman in bra and girdle leaping through four positions
Playtex made everyday women’s girdles like those shown in this ad before making an unlikely jump to producing clothing for space travel to the moon in the 1960s. / Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“The suits that other companies provided were stiff, they were bulky, they couldn’t fit the narrow confines of the mission parameters,” said Nicholas de Monchaux, professor of architecture at University of California Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and writer of a deeply researched book called Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo.

At the core is the idea of the “human factor,” often overlooked by engineers in their quest to reach the lunar surface. The Saturn V rocket and the lunar module were exquisitely engineered, with sharp, clean lines governed by the unchanging forces of physics: thrust, gravity, air resistance. But the same equations are blurred when dealing with the human form. “The human body doesn’t operate from first principles,” said de Monchaux.

In the race to win the initial suit contract, companies such as David Clark Company, which made the Mercury mission spacesuits, and Hamilton Standard, a division of conglomerate United Aircraft, produced concepts informed by their decades-long experience with high-altitude pressure suits. These options proved much more difficult to maneuver than the suit produced by ILC Dover, the Playtex spinoff whose patented “convolutes” included rubber identical to that filling Playtex’s girdle molds, as well as nylon tricot and webbing taken from the supplies feeding its brassiere assembly lines.

Graphic with circled "21" at center with spokes each with a material written at the end against a backdrop of stars in space
The Apollo spacesuit designed by ILC Dover and worn on the moon had 21 layers, 20 of which were created with synthetics made by chemical giant DuPont. Familiar household names like nylon, Lycra, and Teflon were found in various layers, a fact DuPont proudly advertised at the time.

In 1966, events came to a head when a new ILC spacesuit had to compete once more against prototypes from Hamilton Standard and David Clark. Test subjects using the competing suits had trouble moving around, operating switches, and fitting in and out of the mock landing module. Imagine if Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had touched down successfully on the moon only to not fit through the hatch to step on the surface!

Though each competing suit was custom fitted, only the 21-layer ILC Dover soft suit was sewn by hand by a hotshot crew of the best seamstresses taken from Playtex’s sewing floor—eschewing paint-by-numbers engineering in favor of highly personalized, artisanal craftsmanship. Each spacesuit created by the ILC Dover team bore a laminated photograph of the astronaut it belonged to in order to create a connection to the person whom they were literally keeping alive with their craftsmanship.

Woman examines a thin mylar suit hanging in a rack of similar suits
Arlene Thalene of ILC Dover inspects a spacesuit’s mylar insulation layers. / Photo courtesy of ILC Dover, LP

Their knowledge, gained by fashioning bras and girdles for women’s activewear, proved indispensable to creating a superior product. The material itself was co-opted: “The rubber that made the suit was literally from the same tank that was, originally at least, supplying the girdle-making that had made Playtex’s fortune,” said de Monchaux.

Woman in a smock with nametag works with her hand inside a boot; a cup with a brush in it sits nearby
ILC Dover employee Velma Breeding installs a bladder into a boot. / Photo courtesy of ILC Dover, LP

The ILC Dover suit bested the others in official NASA tests, but the systems-engineering bureaucracy of the Apollo program was still skeptical of an untested spinoff holding such a critical contract. When again faced with competition for the last phase of Apollo’s missions (numbers 14-17), the ILC Dover team even resorted to filming a test subject playing football in a pressurized suit for several hours. “And, as became clear on watching the films, the suited subject’s attempts were at the very least equivalent to those of an engineer in shirtsleeves and slacks who joined him on the field,” wrote de Monchaux. “ILC Dover, née Playtex, had won the Apollo game.”

Three white line drawings of spacesuits against a black background
A composite of the final drawings from ILC Dover depicts (from right to left) an Apollo 11 spacesuit’s pressure garment assembly, a suit with its Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment (TMG) attached, and an astronaut wearing a suit with TMG outer cover, gloves, and helmet. Once securely attached to the spacesuit’s inner pressure garment, the multilayered TMG protected astronauts against micrometeoroid impacts, solar and galactic radiation, thermal conduction, and abrasion, and also provided fire protection. / Drawings courtesy of ILC Dover, LP

Dressed for Health


More than 50 years after the Apollo 11 astronauts donned their spacesuits on the moon, I’m sitting in an office at hygiene and health giant Essity’s facility in North Carolina trying to pull on what looks like your average thick knee-high black socks. Kevin Tucker, the global technical innovations manager for a division of Essity, chuckles while I struggle with the fabric as it tightens like a vice. Tucker is in charge of the company’s work with NASA to develop a compression suit for astronauts returning from space. He points out as he puts the socks away that future NASA astronauts will wear something with twice the compression power.

Essity’s bread and butter is making compression garments for people with venous and lymphatic diseases. That’s when the body has issues with pumping fluids against the pull of gravity, causing symptoms from lack of feeling in extremities to loss of consciousness. It’s something we have all experienced to some degree, said Tucker. “If you’re sick in bed with the flu and you’re lying down for a long period of time and you have to go run to the bathroom, the first step you usually take you end up on your nose.”

Astronauts also have trouble with fluid control. When they first get up into space and gravity is no longer a factor, fluids are pumped more into their torso and head. That’s why new arrivals to the International Space Station have puffy faces. After a while, the body adjusts and pumps less to accommodate the lack of gravity. But the problem rears its head again upon re-entry and the rapid reintroduction to gravity. At that point, the body’s fluid pumping is weakened, and astronauts often have to be carried out of the capsule. “This sudden rush of fluid away from the head and heart down into the legs can affect your consciousness,” said Tucker. That’s something his team is trying to change.

To help NASA, Essity is applying its expertise in designing compressive socks, sleeves, and girdles to create a compression suit future astronauts would wear on re-entry to prevent or avoid the sudden redistribution of fluids to the lower extremities upon return to Earth’s gravity. When Tucker lays out the current design on a table, it’s a crisscross of tight black fabric and a few zippers, woven in a way reminiscent of those fancy yoga pants that have sheer patterns.

Black overalls with shorts and long compression stockings with silver zipper pulls
Health giant Essity is currently working with NASA to create a compression suit that astronauts will wear upon re-entry to Earth. The garments, shown separately here for illustrative purposes, will prevent or avoid the sudden redistribution of fluids to the lower extremities upon return to Earth’s gravity. / Photo courtesy of Essity

It’s slated to be the first layer of gear NASA astronauts will put on as they prepare to splash down—so getting stuck as you pull on the suit is simply not an option. Another “soft” consideration is that the astronauts will have to wear these for hours in a seated, upside-down position, and tests of earlier designs irritated subjects’ bent knees. The newest version of the compression suit comes slightly pre-bent at the joint, making it more comfortable.

The Human Factor and What’s Next


The human body was not meant for space travel, and the soft problems it presents require innovative solutions with intimate knowledge of the human body. Some of those challenges (and ways suits can help) are listed below.

Circular graphic with rotund spacesuit on black background
Vacuum: Exposed to the vacuum of space, a body’s fluids would start boiling away as the body puffs up. A spacesuit protects you—but, be warned, it will puff up, too.

Circular graphic with white and blue thermometer on black background
Temperature: Outside the International Space Station, the temperature swings wildly from 250 to -250 degrees Fahrenheit. But with no atmosphere to transfer heat or cold, a well-insulated spacesuit keeps you comfy.

Circular graphic with blue and white arcing lines (sort of like lightning) on a black background
Radiation: Above the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, cosmic radiation is the most consistent health concern. A spacesuit provides very limited protection—as does the space station.

Circular graphic with two blue and two white arrows on a black background
Lack of Gravity: Low or no gravity makes muscles atrophy, bones lose density, and fluids redistribute. NASA is working on it.

Unfortunately, the human body is not always something the engineering culture of rocket scientists takes into account. “We’re still thinking about the engineering and the propulsion systems and the vehicle, but we’re not thinking enough about the pink, squishy things that are in the middle of that vehicle,” said Diana Dayal, who did a year-long apprenticeship at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI). Funded by NASA’s Human Research Program, NSBRI, which closed in 2017, was NASA’s lead partner in space biomedical research and provided hands-on lab opportunities for young scientists, engineers, and physicians such as Dayal to access careers in human spaceflight.

On future, longer space missions, the human factor will be amplified. New challenges will arise from the long stint in low gravity. “The deconditioning of your bones and muscles is going to be an unavoidable problem on a three-year Mars mission,” said Dayal. “How are you supposed to send people to Mars and expect them to set up a habitat?”

Man in spacesuit smiles at camera with a panel of switches behind him
Astronaut Neil Armstrong—shown here aboard the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, the first crewed vehicle to land on the moon—later quipped that his spacesuit was one of the most widely photographed spacecrafts in history. Decades later, he sent a note to the team that designed the spacesuit, complementing it and calling it “tough, reliable and almost cuddly.” You can see the “cuddly” spacesuit worn by Armstrong, held by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, on their collections website. / Photo by NASA / Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.

One of the solutions being explored is enhancing the spacesuit with an exoskeleton—essentially empowering the humans by linking them to a stronger robotic carapace. This is a good idea, but the prototype Dayal saw at NASA’s Johnson Space Center was so large and cumbersome, it was hard to imagine it on an average person.

“It’s so cool that you basically have all this circuitry that simulates nerves, but at the same time, who did you build this for? Who’s going to wear it?” They were questions posed by Dayal’s group, she said, pointing out that current designs lack sufficient modularity to adjust to different body types.

While the lessons learned in developing the soft Apollo spacesuit decades earlier may have to be revisited as we look to longer missions, it’s also an opportunity to push the boundaries of design. “All of your constraints are out the window; everything is a variable,” said Dayal. “If anything, designing for space should help us better design for Earth.”


Fedor Kossakovski is a freelance science writer and producer. This post was adapted from an article in the June–December 2019 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine, making, women's history, engineering, design, fashion, by Fedor Kossakovski, space

Black sculptor Isaac Scott Hathaway (1872–1967) took issue with inadequate recognition of Black achievement. He dedicated his career to creating and marketing affordable plaster busts and other commemorative sculpture, literally putting Black activists, educators, ministers, and dozens of other individuals on a pedestal. These stood in stark contrast to lawn jockeys and other statuary that emphasized caricatures and stereotypes.

Brown plaque with relief of man's profile and text
Plaster Plaque of George Washington Carver (1864?–1943) Cast by Isaac Scott Hathaway, 1945. / THF152082

Hathaway remembered visiting a Midwestern museum when he was nine years old (around 1881), with his father, Robert Elijah Hathaway (1842–1923). The young Hathaway wondered why museums did not include statues of Black people. His father explained that white people modeled their own, and that if Black Americans wanted to see sculptures of Black Americans, “we will have to grow our own sculptors.”

This museum visit changed Hathaway’s life, as he recalled in a 1939 Federal Writers’ Project interview and in a 1958 article in the Negro History Bulletin. He studied art during the era of the New Negro, a movement of the 1890s to 1910s that emphasized African and Black American contributions to the arts, literature, and culture. He taught school, created sculpture, and distributed his plaster casts through the Afro Art Company, which he launched after he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1907.

Hathaway moved when opportunities to further ceramics education arose. He relocated to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, by 1915 to launch ceramics education at the Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). He moved his company, renamed the Isaac Hathaway Art Company, to Pine Bluff at the same time. In 1937, he joined the faculty at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama, to introduce a ceramics curriculum there. In 1947, he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to direct ceramics instruction at Alabama State College (now Alabama State University).

Brown sculpture of hand on flat surface; also contains text
Plaster Cast of George Washington Carver's Hand, 1943. / THF34092

The Henry Ford has two of Hathaway’s plaster casts. Hathaway gave them to Henry Ford in December 1945, explaining that he wanted Ford to have the small plaque (shown at the beginning of this post) and “a cast … made from the hand of the late Dr. George Washington Carver” (shown above). The plaque was one of three types of casts of Carver that Hathaway made. The others included a small bust (around one foot tall) and a heroic bust, visible in this photograph of the artist at work (courtesy of the Tuskegee University Archives).

Carver’s hands attracted a lot of attention, long and strong and well-worn after years of physical labor. Based on Hathaway’s description, it appears that he made the cast of Carver’s hand after Carver died on January 5, 1943. Hathaway instructed students in techniques he used. Photographs show him instructing students in creating molds of their hands at Alabama Polytechnic University (now Auburn University) around 1947.

Hathaway’s reputation earned him a commission in 1946 to design the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar. This was the first coin designed by a Black American for the U.S. Mint, and the first coin minted that featured a Black American. You can read more about this in “Coining Liberty: The Challenge of Commemorating Black History.”

Hathaway’s plaster casts remind us of the importance of acknowledging Black accomplishments. Others followed his examples.

Benjamin Akines (c1904–?), a bricklayer and brick mason living in Jackson, Mississippi, knew of Henry Ford’s interest in and respect for Carver’s work. Akines gave Ford a bust of the Black scientist in 1941, four years before Hathaway sent his two casts to Ford.

Gold sculpture of man's face and partial torso
Bust of George Washington Carver, circa 1941. / THF170783

Akines sent the plaster bust and a letter directly to Henry Ford: “Enclosed you will find a token (in the form of a bust) of one of whom I am told you esteem very highly … I trust this will mean a moment of happiness to you.” Akines claimed that he “was divinely inspired to model,” though he worked as a bricklayer. The back of the bust represents the work of a bricklayer, sculpted with a cut stone foundation with a laid brick pier. This brickwork was his signature, as Akines included bricks in other creative works. On November 10, 1931, he received a patent for an ornamental clock case in the form of a brick façade and sides (Patent Des. 85,507).

Back of gold sculpture of man's head and partial torso on a base designed to look like bricks
Bust of George Washington Carver, circa 1941, Cast by Benjamin Akines. / THF170784

Eager to share his efforts, Akines communicated his news to the Chicago Defender, the Black newspaper in the then second-largest U.S. city, Chicago, Illinois. It reported that “Akines, a bricklayer who indulges in sculpturing as a hobby,” gave Ford a plaster cast of Carver, and that Ford’s secretary and Carver himself acknowledged his generosity (“Bricklayer-Sculpturor [sic] is Lauded for Bust of Carver,” July 12, 1941).

It is difficult to know whether others who cast busts of Carver influenced Akines’ approach. For example, German-born Steffen Thomas (1906–1990) sculpted a clay model of Carver during a 1936 visit to Tuskegee. This was the model from which he cast the sculpture recognizing Carver’s 40 years of service to Tuskegee. The gift received media coverage at the time Carver received it in 1937 and appeared prominently during the dedication of the Carver Museum in 1941, given its location on a plinth outside the museum.

Black-and-white photograph of two men in suits standing on either side of a sculpture of a man's head and torso above a tall base, all in front of a brick building with windows
George Washington Carver and Austin W. Curtis, Jr., at Tuskegee Institute with Sculpture by Steffen Thomas, circa 1938. / THF213732

These last two examples indicate more recent commemorations of Black historical figures. One represents a respectful but commercial venture, and the other an exceptional recognition.

Small statue of woman's face and partial torso on base with text; sitting next to green box with text
Commemorative Bust of Rosa Parks (1913–2005), designed by Sarah’s Attic, Inc., 1995. / THF98391

A popular Michigan-based figurine manufacturer, Sarah’s Attic., Inc., released a limited-edition bust of rights activist Rosa Parks in 1995. Cast of synthetic resin and hand-painted, it was one of four “Faces of Courage” in the Black Heritage Collection. The others featured abolitionist Harriet Tubman, a Buffalo Soldier, and a Tuskegee Airman. The Rosa Parks bust was one of 9,898 made and distributed through a commercial contract, with Sarah’s Attic holding the copyright and Rosa Parks holding the license.

Sculpture of face and partial torso of man with Afro on square base
Commemorative Bust of Detroit Lions Tight End Charlie Sanders (1946–2015), 2007. / THF165543

This cast metal bust of the Detroit Lions’ legendary tight end Charlie Sanders exists because of his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Hall commissioned Tuck Langland, an artist and retired university educator, to cast Sanders. Langland first created a bust out of clay based on photographs and a visit with Sanders. That clay statue became the model for the cast bronze bust displayed in the Hall of Fame Gallery in Canton, Ohio, and the copy presented to Sanders (and later donated to The Henry Ford).

So many variables exist in the business of commemoration.

When Isaac Scott Hathaway created respectful sculptures of Black Americans, he challenged white exceptionalism. Who decided who received recognition? Hathaway. What criteria informed his decisions? He selected subjects he respected, but as an educator, he selected people with lessons to teach, and as a businessman, he selected subjects that would sell. Disagreements over selections can derail seemingly straightforward acknowledgment.

What form should the recognition take? Hathaway mass-produced inexpensive plaster casts. Others create one-of-a-kind sculpture or mass-produce limited-edition items. Other recognition in the form of a historical marker or a street sign can draw attention to places of significance and the people who lived there.

Recognition of Black accomplishments remains important—in fact, critical—to understanding the human experience.

Sources

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “The New Negro and the Black Image: From Booker T. Washington to Alain Locke.” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center.

The Hathaway Family: A Journey from Slavery to Civil Rights,” a paper compiled by scholars Yvonne Giles, Reinette Jones, Henri Linton, Brian McDade, Quantia "Key" M. Fletcher, and Mark Wilson, based in materials at these institutions: Alabama State University, Montgomery, Alabama; Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama; the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, Lexington, Kentucky; the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Little Rock, Arkansas; Tuskegee University Archives, Tuskegee, Alabama; the University Museum and Cultural Center, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. (n.d.).

Isaac Scott Hathaway,” a product of the Appalachian Teaching Project, Auburn University, and the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center (2012).

"Isaac Scott Hathaway: Artist and Teacher," Negro History Bulletin, vol. 21, no. 4 (January 1958), pp. 74, 78-81.

Perry, Rhussus L. Federal Writers’ Project Interview of Isaac Hathaway. February 2, 1939. Folder 60, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers' Project papers, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Register, Heather. “Isaac Scott Hathaway (1872-1967).” Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Zinkula, Jacob. “South Bend Artist Busts His Way into Football Hall of Fame.” South Bend Tribune. 13 July 2015.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford, and sends appreciation to Saige Jedele and Sophia Kloc for comments that strengthened this post.

teachers and teaching, education, making, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, by Debra A. Reid, art, African American history

Display case containing many colorful flat paper items

Photo by Kristen Gallerneaux

When you think of the word “protest,” what does it mean to you?

  • Marching at a rally with a sign?
  • Participating in a “walk out” at school?
  • Boycotting companies?
  • Wearing a shirt or hat with a message?
  • Correcting people on their biases?
  • Donating money to organizations?
  • Civil disobedience?


A new temporary exhibit now on view in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Quiet & Loud Protest, explores this question by demonstrating the ways that protest can be both loud and quiet. Throughout history, people have found different ways to advocate for change, whether marching in the streets or finding quieter ways to be an ally. Both are valuable in drawing attention to injustices. The exhibit draws together a small selection of recent acquisitions that showcase how artist-activists have used graphics to demand change and organize communities. The content of the exhibition is replicated in this post (with slightly expanded descriptions) for those unable to see it in person.

Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.


Print with light and dark blue checkerboard background and large text "WHERE there is no vision there is no HOPE / George Washington Carver"
Print with large gray and gold letters in background spelling "COURAGE"; additional black text in foreground
Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. has generously donated several prints to the collections of The Henry Ford. These examples feature quotes attributed to
George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks—two advocates for change who are prominent in our collections. / THF626953 (top), THF626939 (bottom)

These letterpress prints are by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., who relocated to Michigan from the South in 1963 with his parents. In junior high, he experienced racism from teachers who presumed he was uneducated and poor because he was Black.

At the age of 40, Kennedy visited Colonial Williamsburg while on vacation with his family and was so enamored with the letterpress and bookbinding demonstrations being given by historical reenactors that he went home and began to take classes at a community print shop. His love for the medium grew to the point where he made the decision to leave his career as a corporate computer programmer at AT&T so that he could focus on printmaking full time.

Print with light and dark blue diamond background and text in foreground
Print with light and dark blue diamonds in background and text in foreground
Letterpress prints by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr./
THF626947 (top), THF626949 (bottom)

He went on to earn an MFA in Fine Arts and taught in university art programs. When Kennedy left academia, he adopted the historical role of an iterant printer, travelling through the American South to different print shops, learning about print media and developing his style over the course of many years. Kennedy sometimes describes himself as a “humble Negro printer” and wears bib overalls with a pink dress shirt. By doing this, Kennedy confronts people with their biases, causing them to question race, language use, and class. In 2013, Kennedy moved to Detroit, where he operates Kennedy Prints today.

Print with background of pink and gray triangles and bold black text in foreground
Print with background of yellow and gray triangles and bold black text "Be too brave to lie. / George Washington Carver"
Letterpress prints by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. /
THF626943 (top), THF626941 (bottom)

Kennedy is known for his prolific output of vibrant letterpress prints that address cultural biases and social justice issues. Many of his prints feature quotes by Black civil rights activists and abolitionists, scientists and innovators, and literary figures, as well as traditional African proverbs. In an interview with the Library of Congress in January 2020, Kennedy said:

“People sometimes classify me as a political artist, and I find that amusing because when I was young, I was told that everything you do is political […] I print the things that reflect the way that I want the world to be. I think that people who say they are not political in their work fail to recognize that ‘not being political’ is a political act.”

Kennedy refuses to call himself an artist and sells his work at affordable prices to make it more accessible. Thanks to the power of the multiple, Kennedy can use printmaking to spread messages of hope widely—to reflect exactly the type of world that he wants to live in.

Corita Kent


Several flat, colorful paper items--books, prints, and magazines
Photo by Kristen Gallerneaux

Many people imagine the life of a Catholic nun as quiet and contemplative. Sister Mary Corita Kent challenged this notion. In 1936, after graduating high school, she joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—a progressive Catholic convent and college in Los Angeles—where she taught art until 1968.

In the mid-1960s, Corita became famous for her colorful screenprints inspired by social justice issues, religious scripture, advertising, popular music, and literature. Her most celebrated prints are text-heavy and vibrant, layering blocks of bright color and DayGlo ink with high-key photographic imagery and words that twist around the page.

Print where left half appears to be a newspaper article and right portion is red with text
Detail of Quiet & Loud Protest exhibit with Corita Kent’s “my people” print. / Photo by Kristen Gallerneaux

Her print “my people” pairs a newspaper clipping about the 1965 Watts Uprising with a quote from Maurice Ouellet, an outspoken priest involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama. Part of the quote Corita included reads: “Youth is a time of rebellion. Rather than squelch the rebellion, we might better enlist the rebels to join that greatest rebel of his time—Christ himself.” And in an oral history, Corita herself said: “I feel that the time for physically tearing things down is over. It’s over because as we stand and listen, we can hear it crumbling from within.”

Red print with text poem and background image of mask or sculpture of face
Corita Kent’s print “You Shoot at Yourself, America” was created in response to the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It features a poem by Yevgeny Aleksandrovich. / THF189649

Green and yellow print with images and text
Corita Kent’s print “Road Signs (Part 1 & 2)” features text excerpted from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. / THF189650

Corita encouraged collaboration and “presence” among her students and encouraged them to balance awareness of political issues with finding joyful moments—even during dark times. Many important designers and creative thinkers visited her classroom, including Buckminster Fuller and Charles and Ray Eames. Artist Ben Shahn once called her “a joyous revolutionary” and in the media she was styled as a radical “pop art nun.” 

Art was a Corita’s way of protesting through LOUD colors and bold designs.

During the height of Corita’s fame, the Catholic Church was reassessing many of its traditions, striving for unity and modernization under Vatican II. And yet not everyone agreed. In 1967, the Los Angeles archdiocese and Archbishop James McIntyre claimed the Immaculate Heart Community’s (IHC’s) approach to education was “communist” and referred to Corita’s work as being “blasphemous.” When the IHC sisters were ordered to end the liberating “renewal innovations” they had come to enjoy—or be asked to leave their teaching posts—many asked to be released from their vows and left in protest. 

Corita’s decision to leave the order came a little sooner. In 1968, exhausted from an intense schedule and censorship from the church, Corita took a sabbatical. At the end of her time away, she left the Order and moved to Boston. There, she continued to receive commissions and to create art such as painting the Boston Gas Company’s tanks and designing the iconic “Love” postage stamp.

Colorful picture book with text and images open among other material in a display case
Corita Kent continues to be celebrated through exhibitions and publications. This book, Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent, introduces young audiences to her story. / Photo by Kristen Gallerneaux

Angela Davis


Angela Davis is an activist, educator, and scholar who was a member of the Communist Party USA and the Black Panther Party. In 1970, Davis was placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. Guns registered to her name were used in a fatal attempt to free the Soledad Brothers during a courtroom trial. Davis was not present at the event. She fled police, fearing unfair treatment. After her capture, she spent 18 months in prison until being cleared of charges.

For some people, Davis is a controversial figure who believed in non-peaceful protest. To others, she is an inspiration as an outspoken supporter of women’s and civil rights, prison reform, and socialism. In recent years, she came out as lesbian and advocates for LGBTQ+ rights as well as those of Palestinian people.

The following artifacts relate to the impact of Angela Davis’s activism, past and present.

Print with background colors shading from yellow to pink, text, and image of woman being held by each arm by men in suits
Vermont S. Galloway—a WWII veteran—made this “FBI Captures Angela” screenprint at Westside Press to advocate for Davis’s freedom. Galloway was fatally shot by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1972. / THF277084

Paper with text and image of woman with large afro
A parade flier documents the international “Free Angela” movement. The reverse side shows the planned route through Oakland, California. / THF627614

Black-and-white sheet with text and photo of woman with large afro
“13 Questions…” was the first interview with Davis while she was incarcerated. Her discussion with Joe Walker covers topics such as the surveillance of Black people, legal corruption, solidarity, and dismal prison conditions. / THF62759

Black-and-white page with text and line drawing of woman reading newspaper
An illustration by Akinsanya Cambon advertises the Black Panther Party’s newspaper and the “Free Breakfast for Children Program,” using Davis’s name. / THF62759

Poster with images of Native American woman and Black woman in a landscape; also contains text
Davis appears in a poster by Tongva artist Mer Young for the Amplifier Foundation. This poster shows the continued impact of Davis’s legacy and was created to encourage Black and Indigenous voting in the 2020 election. / THF626361

Listening to Our Community


In 2021, The Henry Ford began to seek community feedback for ways to update and improve our permanent exhibit With Liberty and Justice for All. This work is continuing in 2022.

Stories of movements, social innovators, and political history are difficult to fully capture in museum labels. There is always too much to tell in 100 words or less. To address this, throughout the display of this exhibit, we will be inviting several community partners to contribute their own labels, in their own voices, to foreground the issues they believe matter the most. 


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications & Information Technology at The Henry Ford. Quiet & Loud Protest is on view in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation until March 31, 2022.

Civil Rights, art, making, women's history, African American history, Henry Ford Museum, by Kristen Gallerneaux, printing

Mustard yellow wagon with three glass doors on side; miniature scenes visible inside doors“The Busy World” automaton, 1830–1850. / THF187282


I was about nine years old when I first saw it. My family and I were visiting Henry Ford Museum when I spotted “The Busy World”—an intriguingly detailed and well-populated automaton displayed along the museum’s Street of Shops displays. I was entranced. “The Busy World” would remain among my most vivid memories of this visit. Little did I know that many years later I would be involved in further research on this fascinating, whimsical object.

An automaton is a non-electric moving machine that performs a predetermined set of operations. With approximately 300 moving figures, “The Busy World” automaton is a kind of mechanized diorama with six individual platforms powered by gears, belts, and pulleys. When the automaton is cranked, the figures go into motion.

Map with different areas shaded in yellow, green, and pink
1869 Beers Atlas map of Delaware County, New York. / Image courtesy of the Delaware County Historical Association

Delaware County in upstate New York—where “The Busy World” was likely built and spent much of its working life—was a place of farms and small villages during the 19th century. The wagon's lively, hand-cranked animations would have had tremendous popular appeal for adults and children alike at country fairs and small exhibitions.

“The Busy World” features six different animated scenes. Click on the links under the scenes below to see those images in our Digital Collections, where you can zoom in on the details.

Wooden platform with two carved scenes with human figures, one above the other
Left section of “The Busy World.” / THF187276, detail

At the upper left, figures perform activities of everyday life, including rocking a baby, getting warm by the stove, chopping food, spinning thread, churning butter, and sharpening a tool.

In the scene at lower left, people attend a ballroom dance while musicians play. At the left of the dance scene are caricatured figures of African Americans. This “Busy World” scene reflects not only the activities of the time period but also the racism of the era.

Wooden platform with two carved scenes with human figures, one above the other
Center section of “The Busy World.” / THF187277, detail

The scene at upper center shows men making rakes and grain cradles in a factory. Delaware County had at least one rake factory. During the early 19th century, New York was the grain belt of the United States. Wooden rakes were essential tools on farms.

Black-and-white photo of scene with human figures wearing robes on a stage with carved details around them
Biblical scene from “The Busy World.” / THF125152

At lower center, a small revolving “stage” features eight Biblical stories.

Wooden platform with two carved scenes with human figures, one above the other
Right section of “The Busy World.” / THF187278, detail

At upper right, soldiers in uniform promenade with ladies.

The scene at lower right features a regiment of soldiers parading in formation to the “sounds” of a military band.

“The Busy World” Comes to The Henry Ford


“The Busy World” came to The Henry Ford in 1963. The museum purchased the automaton from Janos and Mary Williams of Stone Henge Antiques in Sidney, New York. Where was it before that? Well, we know part of the story.

The Williamses had acquired “The Busy World” from a man named David Smith. About 1944, David Smith (1923–2002) saw an ad in a Walton, New York, newspaper offering “The Busy World” for sale: “Will sell cheap, if sold this week, ONE busy world.” Twenty-one-year-old Smith, who lived in nearby Delhi, New York, couldn’t resist. He drove the 17 miles to Walton to take a look. Amazed and delighted with what he saw, Smith purchased the automaton with his own savings, over the objections of his family. For the first seven years that he owned it, Smith stored “The Busy World” in his family’s barn in Delhi. David Smith got it to run, at least sporadically.

It wasn’t until September 1951 that “The Busy World” once again had a public showing. David Smith’s mother had offered the family barn to the Delaware County Horticultural Society as a place to hold their annual Harvest Show. “The Busy World” delighted local people who came to see the choice vegetables, flower arrangements, and potted plants on display there. Some of those attending recalled 30 or so years before when the automaton had appeared at county fairs in the area.

Next stop for “The Busy World”? David Smith opened an antique store in his hometown of Delhi, where he displayed the automaton. The name of the shop? Busy World Antiques.

David Hoy Takes “The Busy World” on the Road


Exhibit with small wooden scenes on a platform underneath a banner
“The Busy World” platforms exhibited in an unidentified location, probably in the early 20h century. An advertising banner hangs above—one that may date from the late 1860s or 1870s. / THF125153

David Smith had purchased “The Busy World” from Elizabeth Hoy Thomas (1874–1949). She was the daughter of David Hoy (1848–1934), the man who exhibited “The Busy World” at local fairs and carnivals at the turn of the 20th century. According to David Smith, Elizabeth Hoy Thomas told him that “The Busy World” took 17 years to build and was constructed by two men—one carved the figures and the other assembled the machinery.

David Hoy’s 1934 obituary recalled Hoy’s yearly exhibitions of the “World at Work” or “Busy World” automaton at local fairs. Hoy is said to have charged five or ten cents to see “The Busy World” in motion. David Hoy exhibited “The Busy World” regularly until the mid-1910s, and then for one last time at the Walton Armory in late 1933. After his death the following year, the automaton remained in a shed at Hoy’s daughter’s home in Walton. She placed the newspaper ad offering it for sale about ten years later—the ad seen by young David Smith.

Beige tickets with words "THE ANDROIDES ADMIT ONE" in decorative font
These tickets were found in the wagon. They appear to date between 1890 and 1910 and may have been used as “The Busy World” made the rounds of country fairs and carnivals in the latter portion of its career. In Latin, androides means “resembling a man,” and was used during the 19th century to describe an automaton resembling a human being in form and movement. / THF187284

Looking for Answers


We had many unanswered questions about “The Busy World.”

Curatorial research volunteer Gil Gallagher worked many months to dig up some answers, trolling census records and countless newspapers online. Ray LaFever, archivist at the Delaware County Historical Association, lent his research skills and familiarity with Delaware County history to the quest. Here’s what their research turned up.

When they sold it, antique dealers Janos and Mary Williams mistakenly told The Henry Ford that “The Busy World” had been built by David Hoy. And that he “began it in 1830 and took 17 years to make it.” As we found, not quite so—at least the part about David Hoy. Our research showed that Hoy didn’t build it. He acquired the automaton some time later.

The general dates given for the construction of “The Busy World” appear to be correct. The figures and objects shown in the scenes reflect the era of the 1830s—including the women’s fashions, the Franklin heating stove (upper left section), and the serpent, a musical instrument (lower right section).

Therefore, David Hoy couldn’t have made it. Hoy was born in Bovina in Delaware County—but not until 1848. His family moved to Iowa when he was ten. By the mid-1870s, Hoy returned to Delaware County, where he married and had three children. During the following decades, he would make his living as a farmer, carpenter, stone mason, and teamster. Hoy must have acquired “The Busy World” sometime after he returned to Delaware County as an adult. (A 1905 newspaper article noted that the automaton was “now run by a Walton man, David Hoy,” so someone else probably toured it before Hoy.) The wagon that now carries “The Busy World” was a later addition—one likely added by Hoy, who mounted the automaton figures and machinery in the wagon to make it easier to transport. (One newspaper article mentions that the automaton platforms were originally displayed in a tent.)

So, we found some answers—yet questions remain.

Was the automaton originally called “The Busy World”? It seems that it may have acquired that title in the late-19th or early-20th century, since it is not mentioned on the banner or tickets.

And, despite all our efforts, the identities of the original makers of “The Busy World”—whoever these talented individuals were—remain a mystery for now.


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.

making, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, popular culture, research, by Jeanine Head Miller


Museum exhibit with many cases and displays

The Mathematica exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / Photo by KMS Photography

When Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation reopened in July 2020 after months of shutdown because of COVID-19 restrictions, museumgoers were excited to be back on the floor. Many of them were super excited to get back to one of their favorite exhibitions, Mathematica—a favorite because it’s so hands-on.

And therein lay the problem, said Jake Hildebrandt, historic operating machinery specialist at The Henry Ford. As COVID-19 spread, the hands-on interactivity of Mathematica caused it to remain closed. Mixing a little bit of ingenuity, technology, and lots of problem-solving skills, Hildebrandt, along with master craftsman Brian McLean, ensured the exhibition could remain interactive yet hands-free and open to the public.

Metal and wood railing with a white sensor mounted on it, with text reading "WAVE TO START"
Mathematica’s Moebius Band was modified by staff from The Henry Ford to start via a hand wave. / Photo by Jillian Ferraiuolo

The push-start buttons on the Moebius Band and Celestial Mechanics installations, for example, are now initiated with a wave of the hand—no touch necessary. And the 27-button panel of the Multiplication Machine has been covered with Plexiglas for safety and new software installed so random math problems run on the cube throughout the day for visitor education and enjoyment.

Lightbulbs arranged in a cube shape, some lit and some not, behind a wood and metal railing with a large sign in the foreground containing text
A newly-added note under the Plexiglas installed on the Multiplication Machine in Mathematica reads “This machine has been temporarily modified for a touch-free experience / It now multiplies random numbers on its own.” The styling of the note is intended to match the original design of Charles and Ray Eames. / Photo by Jillian Ferraiuolo

“Projects like these, DIY challenges that have high criteria, limited time and budget, are my favorite kinds of projects,” said Hildebrandt. All the alterations to Mathematica are easily reversible, he added, and when you head to the museum to see them, you’ll notice the respectful attention given to the exhibition’s classic Eames styling.


This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, The Henry Ford Magazine, making, Henry Ford Museum, healthcare, design, COVID 19 impact, collections care

Woman in red-checked shirt surrounded by monitors and other computer peripherals manipulates a joystick device while looking straight ahead
Lillian Schwartz working with a joystick interface at Bell Laboratories. Photo by Gerard Holzmann. / THF149836


In early 2021, The Henry Ford secured a very exciting donation: the Lillian F. Schwartz & Laurens R. Schwartz Collection. This material—which came to us through the generosity of the Schwartz family—spans from early childhood to late career and includes thousands of objects that document Lillian Schwartz’s expansive and inquisitive mindset: films and videos, two-dimensional artwork and sculptures, personal papers, computer hardware, and film editing equipment.

The late 1960s in California were a heady time in computing history. Massively influential technologies that are now part of our everyday lives were being invented or improved upon: home computers, the graphical user interface, the computer mouse, and ARPAnet. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country in New Jersey, the artist Lillian Schwartz was about to walk through the doors of revered technology incubator Bell Telephone Laboratories. Schwartz had recently met Bell Labs perceptual researcher Leon Harmon at the opening for the Museum of Modern Art’s group exhibition “The Machine at the End of the Mechanical Age.” Harmon and Schwartz each had work in the exhibit, and the pair struck up a conversation that led to an invitation for Lillian to visit the Labs.

Poster with text surrounded with gear-type teeth in gray and red
Black-and-white drawing of a man in black jacket and wide white bowtie
A poster for the Museum of Modern Art exhibit that led to Schwartz and Leon Harmon’s friendship (top) and a portrait of Harmon painted by Schwartz (bottom). /
THF18855THF188581

This fateful meeting led to Schwartz’s decades-long tenure as a “resident visitor” at Bell Labs, where she was exposed to powerful equipment like the IBM 7090 mainframe computer and Stromberg Carlson SC-4020 microfilm plotter. Allowing artists access to this high-end research and development facility upended conventions, creating an environment that was fruitful for cross-disciplinary collaboration between the sciences, humanities, and arts. From 1968 until the early 2000s, Schwartz paid regular visits to the Labs, where she developed groundbreaking computer films and videos, and an impressive array of multimedia artworks.

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women's history, making, technology, computers, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Kristen Gallerneaux, art

In Greenfield Village’s Liberty Craftworks district, skilled artisans practice authentic period crafts and trades with techniques that are, in some cases, centuries old. Here, we ask two of our talented Liberty Craftworks staff, both of whom have worked at The Henry Ford for more than a decade, why they like to make things with their hands.

Joshua Wojick: Crafts and Trades Program Manager, The Henry Ford

Mediums: Glassblowing, Mixed-Media Sculpture  
Years at The Henry Ford: 16

A student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit in the 1990s, Joshua was interested in industrial design, thinking about going into the automotive industry. Then he decided to take a glassblowing class. “I was hooked instantly,” he said. “It spawned my love of craft, of materiality and the honesty of material, of making.”

He changed majors and has never looked back.

Five silver orbs in a rubble-filled warehouse, each with the top shaved off a bit more till the last one is almost flat
Photo courtesy of Joshua Wojick.

At The Henry Ford, he appreciates the boutique expression of production afforded by the Liberty Craftworks community. “It’s a tough world getting into strict production craftmaking. It takes specific focus to make the same things over and over again. When you get to see it in a smaller setting—where artists are working, controlling, understanding the material moment by moment—it draws you in. That is what’s unique to The Henry Ford.”

He is also grateful for the guests he can interact with in Greenfield Village during daily demonstrations. “I have always looked at this interaction as the driving force of the Craftworks community. As artists, we have the opportunity to meet unique people and hear their life journeys, which can help you think differently throughout the day.”

Five variously colored rounded rocks balance on top of each other atop what seems to be a melted and serpentine metal beam
Photo courtesy of Joshua Wojick.

Joshua never stops making things, creating award-winning art inside as well as outside of The Henry Ford. See more of his work at joshuawojick.com.

Melinda Mercer: Pottery Shop Lead, The Henry Ford

Mediums: Wood-Fired Porcelain, Salt-Glazed Stoneware, Patchwork Quilting
Years at The Henry Ford: 17

Melinda has loved pottery for decades, first enthralled by its artistry as she watched her high school art teacher throw clay on his potter’s wheel and next while earning her fine arts degree. Then, as an intern at The Henry Ford a few years later, she had the privilege of tutelage under Bryan VanBenschoten, a lead potter in the Pottery Shop for nearly 40 years.

Eight orange pottery jugs topped with corks feature a variety of whimsical faces
Photo courtesy of Melinda Mercer.

One of her favorite things in the world is wood-firing in the shop’s wood kiln. She calls it a labor of love, a rewarding team effort that the potters do only once or twice a year. “It takes us months to prepare,” she said. “And once we start putting wood in the kiln, we have to stay with the kiln for 30 hours, loading more wood every couple minutes. There’s no electricity, no technology. Just us, the wood, and the fire.”

Melinda loves the individuality the wood-firing process affords her. “We really get to stretch artistically,” she said. More importantly, she can share the experience with guests at The Henry Ford. “The wood-firing is a magical event—when visitors see the flames shooting from the top of the kiln, their reactions are quite remarkable.”

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art, making, Greenfield Village, by Jennifer LaForce, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

A variety of ceramic plates, bowls, and platters, all featuring white and blue painted patterns

Michele Michael, who discovered ceramics in 2010, likes to create utilitarian objects for the tabletop, loving the feel and meditative properties of the clay in her hands. She is always experimenting with new techniques and processes to make her housewares, like painting freehand with indigo and cobalt underglazes. / Photo by Michele Michael

Michele Michael and Patrick Moore understand the importance of ordinary days and have a renewed appreciation for the concept of time.

Today, Michael creates ceramics that reflect the natural beauty, quiet, and peacefulness that surround her in midcoast Maine. Mostly she creates utilitarian objects for the tabletop. She builds, fires, and glazes her wares—typically porcelain, sometimes stoneware—on the first floor of, or in season outside on the porch of, a light-drenched, barn-style studio that she shares with her husband, Moore, a woodworker.

Michael came to ceramics serendipitously back in 2010. At the time, she and Moore were leading a higher-octane lifestyle in New York City, where they owned a successful prop house together. Michael curated a large collection of tabletop items that she would rent out for photo shoots for magazines, cookbooks, and advertising. Moore built surfaces and other props for their business and also sets for film and music videos, often out of wood he salvaged from dumpsters at construction sites around the city.

On one fateful spring day, Michael ventured into a ceramics studio in their Brooklyn neighborhood (to see if they had any plates or bowls she might want to buy for her inventory), then on a whim signed up for a class that started that very week. It was kismet. Michael loved everything about her experience: the feel of the clay in her hands, the meditative process of forming it into her desired shapes, the warm and supportive community of fellow makers.

“In my career as a magazine editor, then photo stylist and business owner, I was constantly multitasking,” Michael said. “Right away, it felt so good to do something where I was fully in the moment, plus it was just nice to be using my hands to make something again.”

White rectangular platter with rounded corners with slightly visible dark mesh pattern underneath
Here, Michele Michael created texture by rolling out the clay between two pieces of handwoven linen. / Photo by Michele Michael

Within just three years, Michael and Moore had sold their apartment and moved full-time to what had until then been a summer home in the small town of Dresden, Maine. By consigning their prop collection to another company similar to theirs, they could keep some of that income stream flowing while changing their way of life dramatically. They would build a studio where Michael could devote herself to her ceramics practice and Moore could do his woodworking.

Today, they are able to live a life they fantasized about away from the city: in sync with not only the natural world that nourishes them but also the creative curiosity that drives them. Michael creates her wares—mostly platters and vases—and then photographs and posts them to their retail website, called Elephant Ceramics, in batches several times a year. Moore’s one-of-a-kind cutting boards, which he makes out of birch, maple, black walnut, cherry, oak, and hickory he sources from a nearby mill, are also for sale on the site. Inventory sells out fast but isn’t replenished until months later, when they feel ready to create a new body of work.

Four wooden cutting boards of different sizes, leaning against a dark gray wooden wall
Patrick Moore seeks out wood with unusual grain with which to make his cutting boards. As he cuts, planes, sands, and finishes each piece, his aim is to showcase and maximize the wood’s natural beauty. / Photo by Michele Michael

“We are constantly in a process of learning and trying new things,” said Michael. “I can’t imagine a life without making things. I think it’s in my DNA.”

In between these bursts of making, the two are able to slow down and enjoy ordinary pleasures: walks, birdwatching, gardening, cooking nourishing meals, kayaking on the river that borders their property—and following those ever-important whims. Moore might transform random lobster rope that washes up on the beaches into boat fenders and other nautical knots, weave sticks and saplings collected while pruning in the yard into vessels to be used as planters or compost bins, or teach himself to knit, inspired by a collection of old needles he picked up at a yard sale. Michael sometimes sets off on trips to faraway places and takes workshops—block printing in India, ceramics and cooking in Japan, and weaving in Mexico so far—or she might stay home and hook a chair cushion using yarn from her stash and strips of wool cut from old clothing.

As Michael shared, “Often my inspiration comes from an idea of something I’d like to have but cannot find. I think making things yourself helps you see the value in items that are handmade. You realize how much goes into something that is carefully thought-out and crafted. It also teaches you patience."

With our hands, we take agency over our lives. We connect with others, past and present, near and far, with a similar passion. We feel a sense of belonging, not only to one another but to the planet.


Melanie Falick is an independent writer, editor, and creative director. This post was adapted from “Keeping in Touch,” an article in the June–December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

ceramics, The Henry Ford Magazine, making, home life, furnishings, by Melanie Falick

A group of young people write on paper around a table, with other groups working at other tables in the background
Sara Trail oversees a workshop at a Memphis high school. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy


In 2017, at age 22, Sara Trail launched the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) to empower youth to advocate for social justice through textile making. Though she was notably young to found a nonprofit, she was not new to sewing. She took needle to cloth for the first time at age 4, under the guidance of her mother and grandmother, and quickly showed a propensity for it. Within a few years, she had gained mastery and could sew clothing, quilts, and upholstery. A wunderkind, by age 15, she had written a book for other kids, Sew with Sara, about how to sew and sell one’s work, and licensed her own pattern and fabric collections.

She was, for all intents and purposes, content with her sewing practice. “I liked the freedom and independence it gave me,” she recalled. “I liked the idea that I could make something that was going to last and that I could do something that a lot of other kids my age couldn’t do.”

And then her attitude—and self-expectation—changed profoundly in 2012, when Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager in Florida, was shot by a white man for no apparent reason other than he thought Martin looked suspicious. “I went from wanting to learn skills, make gifts, master something to knowing I needed to take the skills my mentors had given me and use them for a purpose,” Trail said. She made a fabric portrait of Martin wearing the hoodie he had on the night he was shot, and that quilt became the seed of SJSA.

Quilt with background of black and gray blocks of various sizes and face and shoulders of dark-skinned man in a gray hoodie
Sara Trail’s handmade quilt, Rest in Power, commemorates the life of murdered Black teenager Trayvon Martin and marks her first experience combining her lifelong interest in sewing with social activism. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy

Today, Trail describes the volunteer-run organization she founded as a 21st-century sewing circle that bridges social, racial, ethnic, generational, and geographic lines. The quilts begin in workshops in schools, community centers, and prisons across the United States. Participants, typically aged 12 and up, create art blocks to express their concerns, thoughts, and beliefs, gluing fabric in place if they are not inclined to sew.

Quilt with gray background on which there are 20 blocks, each depicting a woman's face and containing text with the woman's name
Herstory, a 2018 SJSA community quilt, was created by students from the Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School in Los Angeles. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy

The blocks are forwarded to volunteers around the world to finish the necessary stitching and join them together into a patchwork. Hundreds of SJSA quilts have gone on to be exhibited at quilt shows, museums, and galleries nationwide.

Three people sew at a table full of drawings, plates, soda cans, and paper bags in a large, airy workspace
An SJSA embroidery volunteer sews along high school students during an embroidery workshop at the nonprofit Girls Garage in Berkeley, California. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy

Trail often thinks back to the time in middle school when she was teaching sewing to kids in her neighborhood. “My class was $75 and my students were rich white kids. Low-income kids couldn’t pay that much to learn how to make something they may or may not have even liked in the end or end up using. Through conversations, especially with my parents, I realized what a privilege it was to make.”

Red, shield-shaped patch with text and images of two crossed sewing needles, an upraised brown fist, and a pair of scissors, on the sleeve of a jean jacket
SJSA students can proudly display their participation on their clothing. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy

She now seeks to pass on that privilege, an understanding of the power that resides in our hands, to make textiles—and to make change.

Fabric block depicting a figure wearing feathers on head in water, while three figures in black with bandoliers or sashes look on from a flame-topped hill
This block, made by SJSA participant Autumn Roberts during a workshop on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, is a statement about culture and tribe. Her artist statement: “…I created this as an image of what had happened at the DAPL [Dakota Access Pipeline protest] camp. I shall be the change the reservation will wish to see. / Photo courtesy Social Justice Sewing Academy

“I want to make sewing accessible and equitable,” Trail said. “I want to make quilts that matter.”

Dig Deeper
Visit these links to learn more about the modern quilt movement and a quilt from our collection with a racial equity message. You can also check out all of our blog posts on quilts, and browse images of hundreds of quilts from our collections.



Melanie Falick is an independent writer, editor, and creative director. This post was adapted from “Keeping in Touch,” an article in the June–December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine on Issuu.

childhood, education, African American history, women's history, quilts, making, by Melanie Falick, The Henry Ford Magazine

Museum display with open car with mannequin behind wheel; other displays visible nearby
The original “Sweepstakes,” on exhibit in Driven to Win: Racing in America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.


Auto companies often justify their participation in auto racing by quoting the slogan, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” When Henry Ford raced in “Sweepstakes,” it was a case of win on Sunday to start another company on Monday. On October 10, 2021, we commemorate the 120th anniversary of the race that changed Ford’s life—and ultimately changed the course of American automotive history.

In the summer of 1901, things were not going well for Henry. His first car company, the Detroit Automobile Company, had failed, and his financial backers had doubts about his talents as an engineer and as a businessman. Building a successful race car would reestablish his credibility.

Ford didn’t work alone. His principal designer was Oliver Barthel. Ed “Spider” Huff worked on the electrical system, Ed Verlinden and George Wettrick did the lathe work, and Charlie Mitchell shaped metal at the blacksmith forge. The car they produced was advanced for its day. The induction system was a rudimentary form of mechanical fuel injection, patented by Ford, while the spark plugs may have been the first anywhere to use porcelain insulators. Ford had the insulators made by a Detroit dentist.

Side view of very basic open automobile
1901 Ford "Sweepstakes" Race Car. / THF90168

The engine had only two cylinders, but they were huge: bore and stroke were seven inches each. That works out to a displacement of 538 cubic inches; horsepower was estimated at 26. Ford and Barthel claimed the car reached 72 miles per hour during its road tests. That doesn’t sound impressive today, but in 1901, the official world speed record for automobiles was 65.79 miles per hour.

Ford entered the car in a race that took place on October 10, 1901, at a horse racing track in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The race was known as a sweepstakes, so “Sweepstakes” was the name that Ford and Barthel gave their car. Henry’s opponent in the race was Alexander Winton, who was already a successful auto manufacturer and the country’s best-known race driver. No one gave the inexperienced, unknown Ford a chance.

When the race began, Ford fell behind immediately, trailing by as much as 300 yards. But Henry improved his driving technique quickly, gradually cutting into Winton’s lead. Then Winton’s car developed mechanical trouble, and Ford swept past him on the main straightaway, as the crowd roared its approval.

Early open automobile on street with one man behind wheel and another crouching on running board
Henry Ford behind the wheel of his first race car, the 1901 "Sweepstakes" racer, on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, with Ed "Spider" Huff kneeling on the running board. / THF116246

Henry’s wife, Clara, described the scene in a letter to her brother: “The people went wild. One man threw his hat up and when it came down he stamped on it. Another man had to hit his wife on the head to keep her from going off the handle. She stood up in her seat ... screamed ‘I’d bet $50 on Ford if I had it.’”

Henry Ford’s victory had the desired effect. New investors backed Ford in his next venture, the Henry Ford Company. Yet he was not home free. He disagreed with his financiers, left the company in 1902, and finally formed his lasting enterprise, Ford Motor Company, in 1903.

Ford sold “Sweepstakes” in May of 1902, but eventually bought it back in the 1930s. He had a new body built to replace the original, which had been damaged in a fire, and he displayed the historic vehicle in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Unfortunately, Ford did not keep good records of his restoration, and over time, museum staff came to believe that the car was not an original, but a replica. It was not until the approach of the 1901 race’s 100th anniversary that the car was closely examined and its originality verified. Using “Sweepstakes” as a pattern, Ford Motor Company built two running replicas to commemorate the centennial of its racing program in 2001.

Ford gifted one of the replicas to us in 2008. That car is a regular feature at our annual Old Car Festival in September. Occasionally, it comes out for other special activities. We recently celebrated the 120th anniversary of the 1901 race by taking the replica to the inaugural American Speed Festival at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan. The car put on a great show, and it even won another victory when it was awarded the M1 Concourse Prize as a festival favorite.

Man sits in boxy open early car on racetrack; a woman stands nearby being filmed by a cameraman
The “Sweepstakes” replica caught the attention of Speed Sport TV pit reporter Hannah Lopa at the 2021 American Speed Festival. / Photo courtesy Matt Anderson

The original car, one of the world’s oldest surviving race cars, is proudly on display at the entrance to our exhibit Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors. You can read more about how we developed that display in this blog post.

Specifications

Frame: Ash wood, reinforced with steel plates

Wheelbase: 96 inches
Weight: 2,200 pounds
Engine: 2-cylinder, horizontally opposed, water cooled
Bore: 7 inches; Stroke: 7 inches; Displacement: 538 cubic inches (8.8 liters)
Horsepower: 26 @ 900 rpm (estimated)
Drivetrain: 2-speed planetary transmission, with reverse; chain drive to rear axle

 


Bob Casey is Former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from our former online series “Pic of the Month,” with additional content by Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, Michigan, making, design, Henry Ford, race car drivers, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, racing, race cars, car shows, cars, by Matt Anderson, by Bob Casey