There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Colleen McFarland Rademaker of the Corning Museum of Glass

The There’s an Archivist for That! series features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. COPA member Anna Trammell, Archival Operations and Reference Specialist at the University of Illinois Archives Research Center/Student Life and Culture Archives, brings you an interview with Colleen McFarland Rademaker, Associate Librarian, Special Collections at the Corning Museum of Glass Rakow Research Library.

Colleen McFarland Rademaker in her office at the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass (Courtesy of Colleen McFarland Rademaker)

Colleen McFarland Rademaker currently serves as associate librarian, special collections at the Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass. Previously she was head archivist for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (2015-2017), director of archives and records management (2012-2015) and archivist (2010-2012) for the Mennonite Church USA in Goshen, Ind., and head of special collections & university archivist at the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire (2006-2010). She serves on the Society of American Archivists Publications Board (2014-2020) and is certified as an interpretive guide by the National Association for Interpretation. Colleen received a B.A. in German and history from the College of Wooster, an M.A. in history from Cornell University, and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee.

AT: How did you get your gig?

CMR: After working in academic archives for six years and religious archives for seven years, I took what may not look like a logical “next step” by seeking a position in a museum archives. However, the Corning Museum of Glass is not just any museum, and neither is it an archival program. I was immediately drawn to the institution’s interdisciplinary mission to document and promote the art, history, science, and technology of glass. Few repositories offer the opportunity to work both broadly and deeply across disciplines, and I embraced the challenge of serving patrons who bring expertise from incredibly diverse backgrounds to the research process. Having an interdisciplinary academic background myself, I recognized that this position might be a great fit for me.

As for the mechanics of getting the job, I confess that I applied for a different position than the one I currently hold. A very strong internal candidate was offered the position I originally applied for. In delivering that news to me, the chief librarian asked whether I might be interested in a different position in the organization. My answer was obviously an enthusiastic yes!

AT: Tell us about your organization.

CMR: The Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1951. Corning Incorporated (then Corning Glass Works) gave the museum to the nation as a gift on the company’s 100th anniversary. The museum tells the world about glass by hosting over 400,000 visitors annually in its glass collection galleries, innovation center, glassmaking school, and center for glass scholarship, the Rakow Research Library. Guest artists frequently work and teach at the museum, and the museum takes glass demonstrations on the road with a hot glass roadshow mobile unit.

The museum’s commitment to glass scholarship is evident in the fact that the library is one its largest components. The library hosts researchers from around the globe, and library staff answered over 4,400 reference questions last year. The newly-formed special collections department provides leadership in managing all unique materials, but especially 20th and 21st century manuscript collections created by glass artists and manufacturers.

Rakow Research Library Reading Room (Courtesy of Colleen McFarland Rademaker)

AT: Describe your collections.

CMR: The Rakow Research Library holds the world’s most comprehensive collection on glass making. Its special collections include everything from a 12th century Mappae Clavicula (a medieval Latin text containing material formulas) to digital video capturing contemporary glass artists at work.  While special collections includes rare books, trade catalogs, works of art on paper, and archival collections, I’ll focus only on the archival collections here.

The library functions primarily as a collecting institution and has acquired over 200 manuscripts documenting the work of glass artists, glass factories, stained glass firms, glass researchers, and glass collectors. Some of our most significant and heavily-used collections are those documenting the local glass industry. While Corning Incorporated maintains its own corporate archives, the records of the cut glass manufacturer T. G. Hawkes and Co., and the art glass producer Steuben Glass Works are among our most beloved holdings. These records not only provide an important glimpse into the economic and social history of the region, but also support the provenance research of glass collectors. These records also complement the records of glass firms outside of the region, such as the recently-acquired records of Fenton Art Glass Company.

Among the personal papers in our holdings, glass artists’ papers have great significance because they document all phases of the creative process, from inspiration to execution. Glass recipe books, called “batch books,” are invaluable not only to glass researchers, but also to glass artists today who continue to experiment with glass formulas. And while the museum curators collect representative pieces from glass artists, the artists’ papers contextualize those pieces in photographs of and writing about the broader body of work.

The museum’s institutional archives also reside among the archival holdings. As the Corning Museum of Glass approaches its 75th anniversary (2026), its historic records are more important than ever. As the memories of long-tenured retired staff members begin to fail, current museum staff have increasing need to consult the institutional archives.

AT: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

CMR: The museum suffered a devastating flood in 1972, and none of the collections were spared. A selection of images of the flood damage and subsequent conservation work may be seen here. That the museum reopened just six weeks after the flood seems nothing short of a miracle! Significant resources were invested to conserve the collections, and the museum contracted with experts, including book conservator Carolyn Horton. However, the institution’s own records were not fully conserved, and original order was lost during salvage operations. Individual documents were chemically treated, dried, and repacked into dozens of records cartons. Some hold related caches of documents, while others do not. Imposing an arrangement on the museum’s early records presents a significant challenge because of the time it will require.  Sadly, MPLP is not an option for this project.

We are also in the midst of documenting the first generation of Studio Glass artists. Art glass production began to move from factories to small studios in the early 1960s, where artists could collaborate, experiment, and make one-of-a-kind objects. The pioneers of the Studio Glass movement are now considering their legacies, and many wish to make their papers available to future generations of glass artists and researchers. The volume of papers and the narrow timeframe for collecting pose a formidable task.

AT: What is your favorite part of your job?

CMR: I have the privilege of working with tremendously knowledgeable and dedicated people! Having worked as a lone arranger for most of my career, I am enjoying the company and expertise of others who share my sense of mission and passion for the collection.  I also appreciate the enthusiasm and intellectual generosity of the glass community – the artists, collectors, and scholars who create and use the records under my care.

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

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