List-making: a peculiar yet familiar inhabitant of so many archival collections. Umberto Eco loved list making. So did Susan Sontag. It is human nature — to create a list, to make a secret promise. An inevitable reminder. A curious piece of wisdom requiring documentation. I once processed the personal papers of a noted professor and pioneer in the field of cardio arrhythmia. In that particular collection, there was an impressive volume of lists all containing the same repeating reminder: don’t forget to pick up pants.
It’s fall, or leaning towards fall, and I’ve been thinking these days about the wisdom inadvertently passed on from any given collection of personal papers. As an archivist, I recognize my curious kinship with the collections on which I work … like the reader who stumbles onto marginalia wedged into the inner margin of a book page, I can’t help but read between the lines and imagine a back story.
These days, I’ve been immersed in a collection of love letters. I am working on companion collections held at Vassar’s archives and special collections library. Most archival collections generally contain only correspondence received by the collection’s donor. In the case of these two complementary collections of beloved faculty members, I am faced with the somewhat unusual opportunity of reading through letters from both author and recipient. read more
The night before an impending blizzard landing in Manhattan felt like the perfect time to gather with friends deep in the bowels of New York City’s Municipal Archives. The goal was to test out a creative writing workshop I’ve been pondering over this past year, which focuses on using archival material as a resource for fiction writing and visual art making. Our host was Sylvia Kollar, Director of the Municipal Archives, who conjured up extraordinary records for us to ponder together as a group. In particular, we worked with selected Bertillion Cards pulled from a collection of early 20th century mug shots held within the city’s archives. read more
In the day-to-day work life managing a variety of archives here in the NYC metro area, I recognize how easily I can forget the extraordinary meaning of this work for that occasional end-user who finds him/herself on a mission with passionate meaning. This was the summer my husband and I traveled to Sicily, with an intention to spend time in the homeland of both his parents – a trip that was long in the planning, and short in its hope to locate lost relatives during our brief stay. We were going on very little. A cell phone image texted to us from a Staten Island nephew – a faded image of a house that looked like every other house in Floridia and an image of two small boys standing arm in arm, from the late 1980s. How could this possibly mean anything? read more
I visited old haunts in my hometown a few weeks ago and ended up floating through one of my favorites – Chester C. Corbin Public Library. I learned that time had finally taken its toll on this landmark. The peeling paint and tattered linoleum signaled that perhaps the end was near. I learned that after a few attempts to find a way to save at least the façade of this structure, it became clear to the architects involved that a full demolition and rebuild would be necessary. Chester C. Corbin Public Library will be disassembled at the end of this summer. I felt a huge surge of nostalgia upon hearing this news, and immediately began stalking its corners during my visit, documenting as much as my cell phone could capture. read more
The itinerant archivist moves from repository to repository, ushering documents of note from states of jetsam/flotsam – often brimming from cardboard boxes once holding bottles of Smirnoff – into a state of order and meaning. Papers are shepherded into acid-free folders and boxes, where even the most cursory “To Do” list, meandering thought, or errant postcard suddenly, and finally, becomes — an objet.
I am continually inspired by this process.
I am inspired both by the physicality of handling the material and providing insight into its contents, as well as, and perhaps in particular, the chance to have yet another conversation with a being who completed an extraordinary life’s work. There is always a curious backstory lurking there, beyond the apparent reason why an individual’s papers are being preserved in perpetuity. read more
I thought I was just visiting colleague/archivist Deborah Wythe to discuss my on-going work on the Nancy Holt Archives, but then I stumbled into a familiar rabbit hole….
There is something indistinguishable about that very silent corner of the Brooklyn Museum, where with a single turn, one is set adrift into the darkened hallways surrounding the museum’s Decorative Arts/Period Rooms. It may take a year or two, but undoubtedly, no matter what show I come back to see, the siren’s song of those quarters lures me back into the surrounding passageways in that corner of the museum — and again, I am yanked away from time. read more
I had the great good fortune of (re)connecting with a number of independent school archivists over these past few months. It all started with a flurry of emails over the summer as I prepared an article for the NAIS Independent School magazine’s 75th Anniversary. And a big clink and happy anniversary to the NAIS Magazine.There are so many extraordinary hidden stories, astonishing images and curious traditions documented in school archives. It was great fun catching up with a few colleagues and collecting a few stories for this article.
Just last week, a group of us, representing a number of NYC-based independent school archives, met in the hallowed halls of Collegiate School on the Upper West Side. We spoke at length, sharing insights, thoughts on current projects and hopes for the future regarding our collections. As the article states, “Our stories matter… they remind us we are part of a great and important continuum.” read more
I’m snowed in and pondering the blustery vista seen from my window here in the Hudson Valley. It’s a muffled-silent day. I’m somewhat stranded by this impressive weather pattern, yet here I sit, traveling great distances within the expanse of the NYPL Digital Collections. I return to these collections as a bustling hub of creative space, where I truly love to roam — and cobble together digital assemblages based on the theme of (my) day.
The image above is the result of a photoshop conversation I had a while back with my pal and graphic designer extraordinaire, Tom Smith. He and I have had a number of purely image-based conversations, unfolding from the passing back and forth of archival images we have both hoarded from a variety of collections. read more
Tom Smith is a graphic designer whose work I have long admired. His work has a strong and recognizable vintage aesthetic. For me, he consistently hits the bull’s eye with lettering and imagery. On the flip side of his vintage-inspired designs, Tom also works within a super pared down clean edge style as well, which makes strolling through his personal artwork enticing at every turn.
I love comparing notes with Tom about my work as an archivist, the resources he uses as a designer, and vintage-inspired images we are carrying on our iPhones on any given day. read more