Ute Blanket Bingo

Native American textiles, pottery, beadwork, and other objects are the largest of the Lowe Art Museum’s six collecting areas, notes museum director Brian Dursum. This extremely rare Ute-style chief’s blanket was produced during the collection’s earliest phase (pre-1865). Handspun from a single piece of churro wool, the chief’s style was the basis of the most familiar kinds of Navajo weaving. The dark brown and white wool are natural hues, and the blue is colored by indigo.

The Navajo settled throughout northwest New Mexico. By 1706 they were weaving their textiles commercially, produced from wool from their own flocks of sheep. Southwest native art started to become the focus of many serious collectors in the late 19th century, and early examples are highly sought after. The Lowe’s Native American holdings are commonly called the Barton Collection, named after the collector and donor Alfred I. Barton.

Sore Feet Save the Game

They were snug from the start. When baseball head coach Ron Fraser wore his soon-to-be-famous cleats for the first time, the team performed brilliantly. They cramped his feet, but not his style, and superstition won out, as it will in baseball. Growing smaller with every rainstorm, falling arches eventually made them two sizes too tight.

Fraser’s victory at the 1982 College World Series was the first national championship in a major sport for UM and the first for a Florida university. The team took home top honors in Omaha again in 1985. “The Wizard of College Baseball” seldom trotted out the shoes, however, and did so, says wife Karen Fraser, when “he was looking for some magic. He actually had guys coming up just wanting to touch them for luck,” she remembers.

Fraser retired the shoes after the 1985 season “because he felt like they had done their job (and his feet couldn’t take another inning in them),” she adds. And yet the second-winningest coach in college baseball donned the fortunate footwear against the Texas Longhorns to begin the 1986 season. Set to be bronzed, someone grabbed the wrong pair out of his locker to create the trophy, which rests in the Tom Kearns Sports Hall of Fame. When he discovered the lucky dogs had been spared, he let the error go and kept the auspicious pair in reserve, donning them for the last time at his 1992 farewell.

Still Earning His Stripes

Most people assume zebras are little African horses with black stripes, right? Grevy’s zebra, marked by narrow brown stripes, seem to get lost in the safari, and for that they have a chip on their withers.

Next time you pass by the Cox Science Building, take a moment and meet the gaze of a Grevy’s through the glass. The unnamed equine occupies Room 190, the Zebra Lab, as it’s called, and stands as a sentinel by biology professor Carol Horvitz’s office.

He (or is it she?) got to be a biology lab trophy because of his bad temper, explains Horvitz. “Robert Maytag [the appliance scion and University donor] entered a bet with a friend that he could domesticate the Grevy’s zebra. The friend said he could not.”

This one was brought over from Kenya as part of a breeding pair for Maytag’s Arizona ranch.

“All was going well for a while,” Horvitz recounts, “but the nasty disposition surfaced and my zebra got into a kicking fight with a donkey and lost.”

Upon the successful completion of their dissertation defenses, Horvitz’s Ph.D. students pose with their committee alongside the zebra, champagne glasses in hand. Pink elephants not included.

War Canoe Comes Home

A Seminole war canoe, a trophy symbolizing “fighting determination” once presented to the winner of the annual UM vs. University of Florida football game, illustrates how the tide of history can rise and fall. Hand carved from a 200-year-old cypress log, the Seminole dugout was donated in 1955 by the City of Hollywood By the Sea to crown the victor.

As the years passed, the tradition was dropped and the canoe disappeared. It was even rumored to have been hidden under longtime assistant coach Walt Kichefski’s bed at home. Not true, says his widow, Helene. “There’s no room under the bed!” she exclaims. Whoever said that “must have thought that the Gators were trying to steal it.”

In fact, the Gators never got it, but the garbage truck nearly did. During their morning exercise routine one day in 1975 or 1976, Kichefski and Don Mariutto, B.B.A. ’53, a former UM football player and Board of Trustees alumni rep, came upon the canoe atop a trash pile at the Hecht Athletic Center. “We were in complete disbelief,” Mariutto recalls. He brought the dugout home to his two-acre spread in South Miami, where it served for about 20 years as a pool canoe for kids, a rustic planter for flowers, or as a conversation piece at University Athletic Federation parties. It is now refinished and on display at the Tom Kearns Sports Hall of Fame.

In Arrears, Like the Rest of Us

Money troubles plagued Thomas Jefferson for most of his adulthood. When Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he was $100,000 in debt, equal to millions in today’s money. During his retirement from public office, Jefferson was a vigorous correspondent, writing in one year an estimated 1,268 letters. This letter, addressed on June 13, 1823, to insurance agent James Rawlings, begs forgiveness for his late payment.

“I have been more tardy in remitting to you my balance for insurance than I have expected at the date of my letter of October last, because I have been later in getting my produce to market,” the former president begins. Wanting to cancel his insurance for “the last remains of the ruins at Milton … now not worth a cent,” he requests that Rawlings provide him the correct “legal form” to do so.

Other Jefferson letters in the Richter Library’s Special Collections division offer snapshots of Jefferson as secretary of state and as president—one referring to tensions between the United States and Spain following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and another expressing concern over U.S. entanglement in the Napoleonic Wars.

Precious Metal

Of all the pre-Columbian metalsmiths in the Andes region, the Chimú, a civilization on the north coast of Peru in the 14th and 15th centuries, were the most accomplished. Typical of their output is this heavily worked silver disk, a little more than a foot in diameter. Ancient Peruvian silver, charged with political and spiritual status, is exquisite and very uncommon, and this example is on permanent display at the Lowe Art Museum. Silver, unlike gold, which forms as nuggets or flakes, is difficult to extract from its matrix and must be smelted and refined. Silver objects also decompose easily, prey to attack by salts and minerals in the soil, also adding to their scarcity.

Found near Chan Chan, on the north coast of Peru, The Lowe’s Chimú disk, dating to A.D. 1300-1470, was one of 11 disks recovered from noble burial sites. It was featured with three others in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition Rain of the Moon: Silver in Ancient Peru in 2000, the first museum exhibition devoted exclusively to pre-Columbian silver. The disk’s use is unknown, though it may have been a ceremonial shield cover.

Lowe director Brian Dursum remembers having lunch with friends shortly after the 1988 Sotheby’s auction that netted the disk, which was featured on the catalog cover. “Who purchased that thing?” they demanded. “I had a little smile on my face,” he recalls. “‘The Lowe did.’”

Nature of the New World

Amidst the tomes in the Dr. Martin B. Raskin Rare Book Collection at the Miller School of Medicine’s Louis Calder Memorial Library stands the first published work in which Europeans could trace the path from so-called barbarism to civility in the New World. Bound in vellum, De Natura Novi Orbis Libri Duo et De Promulgatione Evangelii, apud Barbaros, sive De Procuranda Indorum Salute Libri Sex De Procuranda Indorum Salute (On the Nature of the New World, in two books, and On the Promulgation of the Gospel among the Savages, or, On Procuring the Salvation of the Indians, in six books) broke important ground.

Rare and probably a first edition, this 640-page volume published in Salamanca, Spain, in 1589, was written by Spanish missionary Jose de Acosta, who worked in Peru for 16 years. Although his focus was to Christianize the natives, the opening section of De Natura Novi Orbis offers the first thoughtful account of the natural history of America. The second work in this edition gives a skilled analysis of the diverse cultures inhabiting Peru. Oxford University historian John Huxtable Elliott considers this work one of “the two greatest attempts of the 16th century [but the only one published in its time] to incorporate America within a unified vision of the world, man, and history.”

Black Magic of the Curio Cabinet

When new trade routes opened the world to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, collectors displayed treasures gathered by sea voyagers in curio cabinets. In the Marine Invertebrate Museum at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science are products of another era of scientific exploration—rows of some 900,000 pickled creatures from mostly the 1960s and 1970s, creating a wondrous “biodiversity library,” says museum director Nancy Voss.

Among the marine menagerie is one of only six known examples of black coral in the world. Stylopathes adinocrada—from the Greek “adino” for crowded and “crada” meaning twig—looks like a tree frozen in solution, whose delicate branches await the greening of spring. When black coral was first described in the 17th century, its original Latin name was antipathes, or “against suffering.” Reputed to protect against evil spirits or illness, coral branches were crafted into charms or displayed in those same curio cabinets.

This specimen was collected in 1964 in the Lesser Antilles, the same year Dennis Opresko, B.S. ’66, M.S. ’70, Ph.D. ’74, was investigating black corals as part of an invertebrates class. Since 2001 Opresko, an environmental toxicologist, has published several articles on the group.

Dancing on One Shoe

Salsa superstar Celia Cruz won legions of fans around the world for her showmanship and electrifying renditions of Latin and Afro-Cuban dance beats. “I truly believe that music is Cuba’s greatest gift to the world,” she once said.

Cruz left Cuba on July 15, 1960. On July 16, 2003, she died at her New Jersey home—in exile like so many of her admirers.

This well-worn black satin sandal rises 6.75 inches high in the air, and without a post anchoring the heel, it looks like the wearer could be levitating. The custom-made footwear, by Mr. Nieto of Mexico City, stands tall among the collection of personal papers, photographs, annotated sheet music, and even a soap opera script that resides in the Cuban Heritage Collection at the Otto G. Richter Library. The Cuban flag that draped her casket in Miami and New York remains on permanent display.

Gladys Gómez-Rossié, a special assistant at the CHC, fondly remembers her conversation with Cruz when she came to UM for her honorary doctorate in music, in May 1999. As she helped the singer with her regalia, the women spoke of Cruz’s shoes. “She said the way he made them for her was very comfortable, especially when she danced on stage,” Gómez-Rossié recalls.

In more than half a century of performance, Cruz recorded more than 70 albums, earning multiple Grammys and Latin Grammys, as well as the President’s Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Sea Floor Is Spreading!

Retired and rusty, a drill bit that helped build a scientific revolution now humbly resides on an orange Formica pedestal across from the Coke machine in the North Grosvenor building at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The bit was used by the Glomar Challenger, a scientific drilling ship put into service in 1968. At that time the theory of plate tectonics—which argued that the Earth’s surface is composed of about a dozen plates that move atop a supple layer of mantle—was the subject of great debate. By its 1983 retirement, the ship collected enough data to make the theory as solid as bedrock.

The Glomar Challenger logged 96 voyages, pulling up nearly 20,000 core samples from thousands of feet below the ocean floor. The drill bit may have been used at any one of 624 sites across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and may have gone as deep as 5,570 feet. The University of Miami’s then-Institute of Marine Science was a founding partner, along with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and two other institutions in the Deep Sea Drilling program.

Keir Becker, professor of marine geology and geophysics, was aboard the Glomar Challenger in the eastern Pacific in 1981 when the crew became the first to pierce the transition from basalt into sheets of rock called “dikes,” formed when molten lava pushes into deep cracks. “Everyone got very excited,” he recalls. No champagne for these sailors; the Glomar Challenger was a dry ship.

The Spirit of Robert Frost

Under the patio of the Oscar E. Dooley Memorial Building sits a rough-hewn, solid piece of rose granite inscribed: Robert Frost. The great American poet most closely associated with New England had a continuing presence at the University of Miami. Robert Frost lectured four times at the Winter Institute of Literature, beginning in March 1935, and he appeared several other times on campus.

Seeking the warmth of Miami winters, Frost became a snowbird in 1934. He returned annually to his five-acre South Miami refuge, Pencil Pines, until 1962, the year before his death.

On Feb. 24, 1960, Frost treated several hundred undergraduates to a poetry reading at 720 Dorm (today’s Mahoney Residential College), “interspersing pithy witticisms between the stanzas,” according to a report in The Miami Hurricane. “It was one of those rare times when age and youth seem caught up in a blend of perfect harmony—in the give and take of searching and seeking,” noted The Miami Herald. Two days later, he marked his last campus appearance with a lecture at today’s Bill Cosford Cinema. The Dade County Federation of Women’s Clubs dedicated the granite stone in 1968 to mark that spot.

Morbid Fears and Compulsions

When Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason, admonished the longsuffering Alice, “Straight to the moon!” he might have been giving voice to the actor’s alter-ego—as an enthusiast of the supernatural. Gleason did not practice any of the dark arts himself, but he took great enjoyment in collecting scholarly and popular books and periodicals relating to studies of the paranormal. His widow, Marilyn, donated the collection to the Otto G. Richter Library in 1988.

“I don’t get the sense that he was having séances at home,” says Maria Estorino, former head of Special Collections at the Richter Library and now deputy chair and chief operations manager of the Cuban Heritage Collection. But Gleason did indulge in amassing hundreds of volumes about magic, spiritism, and telepathy.

A handful of researchers come regularly to plumb the depths of the Encyclopedia of Death and Life in the Spirit-World, The Use of Hypnosis in Psychopathia Sexualis, or Morbid Fears and Compulsions, to name a few, Estorino reports. Darkly lit (to save energy!), Estorino quips, “We call it the ‘spooky section.’” The collection recently moved from the eighth floor to the first floor of Brockway Hall. “If you were working after hours and heard a bump, someone would joke, ‘That must be the Gleason collection.’”

Leslie Sternlieb is a freelance writer in Miami, Florida.