Author Archive | LRPR

James Stevenson: Lost and Found Feature Film + Fun/No Fun at Bruce Museum

James Stevenson (American, 1929-2017), A Village Full of Valentines. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1995, pages 38-39. Courtesy of the Estate of James Stevenson. Photo credit: Paul Mutino.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to work with Josie Merck and the archives of her late husband New Yorker cartoonist, James Stevenson.  Stevenson’s papers have found their home at the Beinecke Library of Yale University, and will, in the not too distant future, be open for researchers and curious minds wishing to learn more about his vast body of work.  Stay tuned, as I will share more when that collection is available to the public.

In the meantime, The Bruce Museum, in Greenwich, CT, has mounted a wonderful show highlighting selections of Jim’s children’s book art, titled Fun / No Fun. This is the first public exhibition showcasing holdings from the archives, so please do pay a visit if you find yourself in the Greenwich area, December 13, 2020 – April 18, 2021. read more

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The Love Letter: Sharing Wisdom on a Curious Kinship

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.

The correspondence collection with which I am working is particularly poignant. One of the writers faces death the year following this year of lush letter writing. Also, the year of this communication is 1968 – a year of turmoil, political struggle: Vietnam; civil rights. It was the year before Woodstock; the chapter following the summer of love. In this collection, it’s a full four seasons of love.

love letter collage by Janine St. Germain

After one full day of processing these letters, I found myself in a curious state of mind driving home alongthe back roads of my Hudson Valley commute: What exactly happens to the head and heart after spending seven straight hours reading a one-year arc of such heartfelt letter writing? What exactly is this deep dive of wisdom, the wisdom of human nature, I feel seeping in when holding these pages? What is this strange kinship I feel with the spirit of a collection after living with the text for several consecutive days?

What I can say is, I highly recommend trying it. That is, visiting an archives, requesting a box of correspondence, shut off your phone, and just drink it all in, for as many hours and minutes as you can spare. Not unlike the meditative state, something shifts when the mind goes beyond the surface level, and sinks deeper, into a more significant understanding of how we communicate.

When working on collections of correspondence, I often wonder if I am the first to be reading these texts in total, from start to middle, to finish. All the accompanying playbills (with handwritten notes), the tailor and vodka delivery receipts, the Christmas cards … all of the jetsam and flotsam come together into one specific symphony in the end. And as I reassemble these pieces of a shipwreck left behind, each piece of ephemera joins the rest of the collection, with each leaf of paper resembling a character in a play.

When the finding aids to these collections are made public, I’ll be sure to let you know…

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“Remembering The Backstory” – Independent School Magazine

NAIS Independent School Remembering the Backstory

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.”
Click on the pages below for a larger, readable version of the article.

Janine St Germain for Independent School Backstory


Janine St Germain for Independent School



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Deb Wythe: The Analog and Digital Life of the Brooklyn Museum Archives



A CONVERSATION with the Brooklyn Museum’s Manager of Digital Collections & Services, Deb Wythe: The Analog and Digital Life of the Brooklyn Museum Archives

Deb Wythe is a friend and colleague whose friendship I have valued for many years. When I first took the leap into becoming an archivist in Prospect Park a long while ago, Deb was one of the first professionals in the field who provided guidance and enthusiasm right from the start. Brooklyn Museum is one the Park’s cultural neighbors, and I was so grateful to have found an archivist friend so close by.

COLLECTION: Records of the Office of the Director (W.H. Fox, 1913-33)

LOCATION OF COLLECTION: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

Janine St. Germain: Deb, what has stuck in your mind all these years, when pondering the institutional records you worked with in the Brooklyn Museum Archives?

One of the things that has always fascinated me [about the archives] is how you can sort out personal histories, social histories and how the world the world at large has changed through studying institutional records. One of the themes that was always with me as I was working with the records of the Brooklyn Museum was the role of women in museums.  Surprisingly, in the early 20th century—say the teens through the ’30s—women were a pretty powerful force in museum administrations.   Not ours, not the Brooklyn Museum, at that time — our first director was William Henry Fox from 1913 through ’33, but he corresponded with a bunch of these women who were founding and directing museums.

This resonates with me right now because our new museum director is Anne Pasternak from Creative Time. We finally have a woman director!

In the museum archives, there are two women who are featured prominently in Mr. Fox’s correspondence. One is Cornelia Sage Quinton. “Miss Sage” was director of the Albright Knox gallery, and then later, as Cornelia Sage Quinton (after she married Billy Quinton), she was director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

They clearly had both a professional relationship and a very friendly, cordial, personal/professional relationship, sort of like many of us do as archivists. Cornelia addresses Mr. Fox in some letters as, “Dear Br’er Fox.” There’s also a formality. She signs her letters—she doesn’t sign them Cornelia—she signs them with her full name. Sometimes she addresses him as Dear Mr. Fox, or Dear Dr. Fox. He always addresses her as Miss Sage, or Mrs. Sage Quinton later on.


Another collaboration that, I think, was pretty intense was with Beatrice Winser, the director at the Newark Museum. They both were training apprentices–including women–in museum work. These apprentices went back and forth. They would come to the Brooklyn Museum and then meet back in Newark. The upper administration was really concerned about building up a museum profession…. People came into it from art history, business, education and family connections. I just found that whole area very interesting.

JSTG: I’ve been thinking about forms of correspondence and the shape it takes now in the digital world. I’m beginning to think that the subtext of these conversations that I’m having with colleagues is about this changing form of communication and the sharing of ideas. read more

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Like A Note Being Passed To Me Through Time: Doodles at The National Archives at New York City


=&0=&about the stupendous doodles she found embellishing U.S. District Court Law Dockets, circa 1920s and 1930s

=&1=&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.

=&2=&Law Dockets created by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

=&3=& The National Archives at New York City

Finding Aid: By Appointment Only 

Janine St. Germain: So, Bonnie, why has this archival collection lingered in your mind?

Working in the world’s largest archive, we work on a very large scale that often prevents us from getting down into the depths of the records themselves.  Government records on the surface seem so mechanical, and sometimes our work as archivists working with those records may seem mechanical in turn.

But when I came across these docket covers, I remember that there were so many individuals whose lives were not only touched by these records, but so many individuals’ lives that physically touched these records as well, myself included.  Though I may never know who this person was that worked between 1922 and 1932 in the Clerk’s Office of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, I do wonder about him or her. A fledgling artist?  A dreamer toiling for hours in the Court?  An aspiring lawyer, doodling for a creative outlet between work and school? —Or was it more than one person? Was there another person picking up where the former person left off?

JSTG: Is it available to public?

It is available to the public. While the walk-ins are permitted, an appointment is recommended to reserve space to work with original records in the research room and to be sure that the records are available.

JSTG: Does this collection, in some way, unexpectedly connect to any other collections on which you have worked? 

Just in the sense that you never know where the rogue artist will show up in government records!  Recently, there was an article in the Washington Post about Presidential doodles.  These nuggets are hidden everywhere.



Running across drawings in our collections is, to me, always a delight.  I like the reminder, when I am lost in work, that I am part of a long line of human beings documenting the processes of government.  In an odd way, it feels like a note passed to me through time that just says “Hi.” It’s a kinship that makes me smile.

JSTG: What might be overlooked in the value of this collection in your eyes?

If these drawings had just been on paper tucked into the volumes, they probably would have been weeded out.  There is no value to them in the context of documenting government.  So I kind of like that this person created these covers so that the work continues to exist.

JSTG: Might there be a particular researcher/artist/writer, etc. you would love to see get their hands on this collection? read more

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Conversation with Archivist Celia Hartmann


New-York Historical Society, Sigmund and Margaret Nestor Papers, 1942-1945


Discussing the understated and extraordinary value of hand-delivered correspondence

Celia Hartmann is Project Archivist for a variety of institutions, including collections held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the New-York Historical Society.

COLLECTION:  Guide to the Sigmund and Margaret Nestor Papers, 1942-1945. The collection includes correspondence between Sigmund Nestor, from U.S. Army domestic camps in 1942 and 1945, and from India and China in 1945 and 1946, and his wife Margaret Nestor in the Bronx (1942) and Florida (1945-1946). Included are letters, postcards, and a telegram; enclosures from the letters; and the Nestors’ wedding announcement.

LOCATION OF COLLECTION: New-York Historical Society
Part of NYHS’s mission is to document and interpret the cultural history of New York City and the state of New York.

Finding Aid


Janine St. Germain: So Celia, tell me about this collection. Why has it lingered in your mind?

Celia Hartmann: First of all, it was the first collection that I ever processed. I worked on this collection during my internship in library school. It was the first time that I was applying theories I had learned to an actual box of material. It was something that nobody had looked at or done anything to since the collection was purchased. I was presented with bundles of letters, all tied up with ribbon.

JSTG: How large is the collection?

It’s five document boxes. Not even two linear feet. The collection is comprised of correspondence between a young man who volunteered, I think, for the US Army in 1942. Sigmund did basic training in New Jersey, and was in a training camp on the West Coast. Then he was in India and in China until he was demobilized after the war.

He had just gotten married. I think he was 18 or 19 years old. He was really young, and he was a train mechanic on the subway. He lived in the Bronx, probably near Woodlawn, and his wife was training as a nurse. The story was this amazing personal story of what it meant to serve during that period, because they were very young, very much in love. They missed each other desperately, and from the letters, it became apparent that he had perhaps left her with some “equipment” that would keep her from missing him so much.

When he got to China, I think that was his final posting. He worked in the commissary on a big base. He filled out forms to make sure there were enough chairs for the lecture halls … nothing to do with warfare, but a lot to do with administration.

He was taking all these courses, which he could do as part of the military.  Margaret couldn’t afford to live in New York in their apartment anymore. She moved to Florida where her mother was living, and she lived with her mother. The couple made plans to buy land and start a farm.  He was taking carpentry and business management classes, and the letters were full of promises, such as, “When I get back, you’re not going to have to work anymore. We’re going to have a family.” Here was a woman who had been a working woman, and an independent woman, and all she and her husband wanted was for her not to have to work and for them to have a family.  In this tiny collection, you can clearly see the precursors of the baby boom entering their conversations and concerns: you can see the 1950s coming.

JSTG: It’s such a snapshot of that time. 

It’s totally a snapshot, and these were really ordinary, uneducated individuals. They graduated from high school and then started to work. The collection contains complicated negotiations about when he would be demobilized. They were doing lots of math about how they were going to afford a new life together.

The other part that made an impression on me was that Sigmund had never been out of the Bronx, maybe he’d been to Coney Island, but here he was in Asia with colleagues who may have been more worldly, or thought they were more worldly than him. He also could get off his base pretty easily, it seemed. He starts to go to the local markets, and then discovers pornography, and starts making purchases. In the letters, Sigmund tells Margaret about these things, and towards the end when they’re getting to the nitty gritty of their planning, e.g. where he’s going to send his stuff and how much there is and and that the packages are numbered. He shares, “There’s six boxes but don’t open box four until I get there.”

JSTG: So, theoretically, she received those boxes, but they are not included in the collection?

No. But the collection holds both sets of the letters, his letters and her letters. There was very little visual material included in the collection. There were a few things he enclosed, some clippings and maybe a picture of him and his buddies. The collection includes their wedding picture, I think, or their wedding invitation, but I had to piece all this together from the materials themselves. The material had been stored pretty badly, there were many mouse nibbles which actually helped in figuring out which items went together, because of the mouse nibblings. They also had been pierced by the sensor.  The sensor had applied a puncture marks on the correspondence.  They probably wrote each other every day. Many letters crossed each other, and they have each one of them annotated, when they answered it. Really intense record keeping on their part.

JSTG: Over time, do you find this collection has somehow connected in your mind to other collections on which you have worked?  

I’m not sure if it’s so much the content of the materials. In other collections, I’ve run into other war time materials that were very interesting in terms of how the war affected the correspondence. This kind of correspondence serves as a sort of artifact of what had happened.  People sent letters to war zones, and they were actually delivered, which is incredible.  They were in sacks, and they went on boats, and then, they got transferred to Jeeps or however the hell they got them. There was an importance that was given to communication … it is something that is also disappearing. This was a real fragment of these peoples’ lives.

Right now, I’m working on the papers of the man who was first paid Director of the Metropolitan. There is so much information about him.  But in the case of the Nestors, this couple could be seen as a complete nonentity.  The fact is, the collection is so small, yet it contains so much information.

JSTG: What do you feel might be overlooked in the value of this collection?  Perhaps the importance of communication? Or the form in which the information traveled? read more

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Cubic Footnotes: Documenting The Archivist’s Mental Marginalia

Cubic Footnotes by Janine St. GermainI’ve been working with a variety of archival collections since the mid 1990s and have always valued, admired and thoroughly enjoyed the friendship and curious work of my colleagues in the field of archives management. I am continually intrigued by the stories we share.

I have found that most every archive holds quieter stories that linger at the edges of the collection’s notoriety — stories that are often only recognized and felt by the archivist who had the honor of laying hands on each and every object in the collection. Quite likely, that archivist will be the last person who will ever handle every single item in the expanse of that particular story. There is a palpable sense of literally feeling and hearing a variety of voices when the first “untouched” box is cracked open.

My own work has brought me deep into the documentation of Frederick Law Olmsted’s designs of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the performance work of theater artist Robert Wilson, the artist archives of Robert Kushner, Christopher Knowles, Henry Darger and Nancy Holt. I’ve also worked with a variety of corporate archives ranging from documentation held within the Colgate Palmolive and Campbell’s Soup archives, to the personal archives of legendary individuals including NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Debbie Harry. As each year passes, I continue to ponder the volume of hidden stories held in these endless boxes of “stuff.”

Cubic Footnotes starts here with a variety of conversations with fellow archivists, artists, fans and frequent users of archives, as well as a few individuals whose life work has been preserved in archival collections.

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