As an archivist working with artist archives, one of my greatest sensitivities is ensuring that the logic of how an artist maintained his/her studio is recognized and preserved. Best practices must include maintaining that logic when preparing the materials for transfer to an archival repository, be it a museum, academic institution, or foundation study center. Preserving original order is a basic tenet in archival practice, but not always recognized when an estate is handling an artist’s studio after the artist passes away. Preserving the structure of how an artist used and accessed their resources provides valuable clues to the workflow of the maker.
The Louis Vuitton exhibition, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton” installed inside the old American Stock Exchange building in New York City presents an absolutely stellar use of archival material. Leather lined exhibition cases with tiny brass tacks. Venetian glass chandeliers. Wooden vitrines holding archival documents in sultry-lit environments. The LVMH family tree elegantly silk screened on wood panels. It made me pine for limitless budgets to create installations for every archival collection on which I’ve worked over the years. Imagine… with no expense spared. read more
With each archival collection I process, another voice enters my head, along with another piece of wisdom. Ideas from a long lost soul have landed in my hands, before landing in the hands of countless others. This is strange kinship seeps into my consciousness. A voice, a thought, an image from a distant time.
Are these errant pieces of mental marginalia I collect beginning to coalesce into one shared memory, hailing from all the collections on which I work. Could there be such a think as an archival murmuration? A flock of ideas morphing into a particular spectacular pattern? read more
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. read more
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
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 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
CHATTING WITH ARCHIVIST BONNIE SAUER about the stupendous doodles she found embellishing U.S. District Court Law Dockets, circa 1920s and 1930s
Bonnie Marie Sauer is currently the Records Management Officer at the U.S Mission to the UN. She was an Archivist for more than seven years at the National Archives at New York City. Prior to that, she worked at the Winthrop Group where she processed the Peter W. Rodino, Jr. papers.
COLLECTION: Law Dockets created by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York read more