We had the honor of hosting Richard Misrach and his wife, Myriam, in the reading room yesterday. Along with making sure that the library's collection of about twenty books by and about the artist were signed, we cajoled him into taking a peek into the library's clipping file that we've been building since early in his career. It's not often that we witness a living artist thumbing through the past as recorded in the flotsam and jetsam contained in these files in the form of gallery invitations, reproductions, exhibition checklists, and the like, but it was exciting to offer this, as I quipped, "trip down amnesia lane." Mr. Misrach seemed delighted to revisit some of this material, and his response underscores the importance of these collections as encapsulated records of an artist's life.
Beyond an art object's aesthetic qualities are the story of its creator and history. The museum is fortunate to have an archives where these pieces of information can be found. A fine example is the Roman Bronze Works Archive, which contains the entire foundry records of the premier art bronze foundry in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. This foundry cast many of the sculptures being done by artists of the period, including most of those in the museum's collections. The image below is taken from the foundry's accounting ledger for the works they cast for Frederic Remington.
The archive is open to researchers seeking information about their sculptures, and we are delighted to field queries. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Research Library resumes its Saturday hours beginning September 7. Please stop by this stunning and contemplative space to learn more about the museum's art collection or to research any topic related to American art, photography, and history. The librarian on duty will be happy to guide your research from 11 am-4 pm.
It might surprise some of our readers to learn that the research library has a large collection of yearbooks from the United States Department of Agriculture. We were recently taking a closer look at this set to determine how it compared to other library holdings in the area. While we discovered that the the Cowgirl Museum and TCU have good coverage of this title, we are the only collection that offers the earliest report of the newly-christened department covering the year 1862. In this report Congress lays out its charge:
Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby established at the seat of government of the United States a Department of Agriculture, the general designs and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of that word, and to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.
The department's first commissioner, Isaac Newton, waxes about agriculture's importance to the moral fiber of the nation and its countrymen, invoking some of the tenets of the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer ideal:
I hardly deem it necessary to attempt to convince our intelligent countryman of the vast importance of such a department, inasmuch as whatever improves the condition and the character of the farmer feeds the life-springs of national character, wealth, and power ... Agricultural pursuits tend to moderate and tranquilize the false ambition of nations, to heal sectional animosities, and afford a noble arena for honorable rivalry. The acquisition of comparatively slow, but sure, wealth, drawn from and reinvested in the soil, develops health of body, independence and simplicity of life, and love of country; while the rapid accumulation of wealth, not by production, but by trade and speculation, is unnatural and unhealthful. It attracts men to cities and tempts to wild investments. It too often unsettles moral principles, and substitutes selfishness for patriotism.
Newton further quotes a supporter of the Homestead Act of 1862 regarding the necessity of attracting immigrants to till the soil, filling the void of so many Americans lost in the ongoing Civil War:
Every acre of our fertile soil is a mine which only waits the contact of labor to yield its treasures, and every acre is opened to that fruitful contact by the homestead act. When the opportunity ... shall be understood by the working millions of Europe, it cannot be doubted that great numbers will seek American homes in order to avail themselves of the great advantages ... Every working man who comes betters the condition of the country as well as his own.
The 1862 yearbook also features a preamble of plates highlighting the agricultural riches of the nation:
In fact our copy of the report for 1864 features its own real plant life: we discovered five specimens sandwiched within its pages. Working with the Amanda Neill, Director of the Herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, we learned that all five specimens are examples of nasturtium. Since we do not know when or where the specimens were gathered, they have very little scientific value.
We cannot always squeeze everything we want into the galleries, and some objects are not easily displayed on the walls. The research library is exhibiting several items that could not be fit into the We the People: Picturing American Identity exhibition, yet enhance the show in interesting ways.
One exhibition looks at the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as depicted in mass media print sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Another showcases the work of contemporary photographer Doug Rickard, who takes photographs of images of depressed parts of the nation from Google Street View as they appear on his computer monitor. A New American Picture comments on race and class, privacy and surveillance, and the tradition of street photography while asking the larger question of how this kind of digital image making relates to American identity.
The Emancipation of the Negroes, January 1863, the Past and the Future
In: Harper's Weekly (Jan. 24, 1863)
The research library, with the help of volunteer assistance, recently finished barcoding all the books in the main part of the stacks. Close to 50,000 items had to be examined, and items without a barcode got one attached. This process not only facilitates electronic checkout to staff, but it also helped us inventory the collection. Kudos to Mary Jane Harbison, Library Technical Services Coordinator, for shepherding this monumental project.
The photo below of volunteer Phyllis Evans, chief barcoder, shows relief or perhaps shock that she has crossed the finish line!
I have had the great pleasure of spending the past two days at the library doing a preservation assessment of the print collections. A preservation assessment is a tool for the library to use to determine what they're doing well to preserve their collections, and plan for improvements in the future. This assessment was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
There are a few reasons that having a preservation assessment is important for libraries and archives. The first is that it serves as an internal tool for the library to determine and prioritize the next steps in their preservation program. The second, and possibly more important, is that the assessment report will make the case for the importance of preservation to stakeholders outside the library. This can be anyone from the museum's administration to users who advocate for the library, to potential funders for some of the projects I'll recommend.
I like to think that almost every facet of the library's operations has preservation implications, so this project has me looking at everything from the building's environment to the condition of the materials to disaster planning and security. Over the course of my visit, I have talked with lots of staff members about the collections and the building, and spent hours in the stacks looking at all of the library's wonderful materials. (And oh boy, do they have some wonderful materials!) Now, I'll take my research home with me and produce a written report for the library detailing all of my findings and recommendations.
I'll close by saying that the library and its staff are doing a terrific job of caring for a beautiful collection. It's a real treat for me to visit a library that obviously understands what they need to do to preserve their collections, and I'm delighted that Sam, Jon and Mary Jane have invited me here to be a part of that process.
Adjunct Preservation Field Services Officer
Amigos Library Services
Library staff recently unearthed what turns out to be an extremely rare example of an illustrated booklet from Raymond Lufkin (1899–1978). Lufkin published Drawings for Books, Magazines, and Advertisements around 1940 to promote his illustration services while living in New York's Lower East Side. Divided into two parts, "Drawings for Publishers" and "Drawings for Advertisers," the booklet showcases the range of his talent. What strikes me is how deftly he juxtaposes images, often with poetic effect. Below I show my favorite pairing: one page shows a swan gliding on a tranquil blue background, while the opposite page features an engraving showing a small boat in a turbulent storm. Not only do the images ironically relate in terms of subject, but also in terms of color: calming blue and aggressive black and white. Only two libraries, the research library at the Amon Carter, and the American Antiquarian Society, report having the title. Lufkin was an illustrator of prolific achievement active in the United States from the early to mid twentieth century, illustrating over fifty books and hundreds of advertisements. Lufkins' accomplishments also include several mural commissions for businesses in New York and work as as a camouflage artist during World War I.
The museum's research library is exhibiting a copy of Laura McPhee's large photobook Guardians of Solitude, offering a chance for visitors to compare the book with a companion photograph now on display in the exhibition Big Pictures. The limited edition book marks the inaugural publication of Iris Editions in London and translates McPhee’s engagement with large-scale photographs into a book format. The images in this work document the regeneration of the landscape following a devastating fire in 2005 that ravaged an area of over 40,000 acres in the White Cloud Mountains Region in central Idaho. The sequence of photographs collectively demonstrates the interplay of destruction and creation following the fire. The special exhibition Big Pictures features McPhee’s photograph, Understory Flareups, Fourth of July Creek, Valley Road Wild Fire, Custer County, Idaho, 2005, depicting the fire as it was happening.