This post is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work.
In this Archives + Audiences entry, we bring you an interview with artist, illustrator, and graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton on her experience researching Cipe (C.P.) Pineles, Conde Nast’s first female art director. MacNaughton found Pineles’s manuscript at an antiquarian book fair. With her coeditors, Sarah Rich, Maria Popova, and Debbie Millman, MacNaughton compiled Pineles’s recipes and drawings into Leave Me Alone with the Recipes: The Life, Art, and Cookbook of Cipe Pineles (Bloomsbury, 2017). [To learn more about the coeditors’ experience, see A Rare Find: Trailblazing Female Designer’s Unpublished Family Cookbook.] In the process, MacNaughton examined Pineles’s papers at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
MacNaughton’s books include Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them (Bloomsbury, 2014).
ArchivesAWARE: What was it like to work with Pineles’s papers at the Rochester Institute of Technology?
MacNaughton: Exciting. The Cipe Pineles archives at RIT is filled with original drawings, publications, sketches, thumbnails . . . it was a treat to hold her work, see it up close. There were pieces I’d never seen before—it gave the opportunity to discover details, make connections, examine her process and technique . . . It felt like an exploration—like discovering Cipe’s work all over again.
ArchivesAWARE: Did anything in the materials surprise you or were there any a-ha moments?
MacNaughton: Seeing her thumbnails and gouache paintings up close showed us a lot about her technique and process that you just can’t get looking at it in a book. Holding the board and seeing how the light hits the surface of the paint . . . the time and care she put into her work beyond the time she spent in the office—it brought all the stories we’d heard about her to life.
ArchivesAWARE: Was there something you were hoping to find but didn’t?
MacNaughton: Cipe created a lot of personal projects and 3D objects—I was hoping to find more of those. Turns out many are with her family members. Though we didn’t find them in the archive, we discovered some in personal collections.
ArchivesAWARE: What was the impact of being able to access/use these collections?
MacNaughton: Cipe was influential and important and overlooked by history. Without RIT’s archive we wouldn’t have been able to create the book and exhibition we did about Cipe’s work and life. The archivists at RIT were responsive to my co-editor Sarah Rich’s and my requests and queries and helped us gather visual materials—many of which made their way into the book or exhibition—as well as information like rights and contact info for further research.
ArchivesAWARE: Did you encounter many barriers to accessing or using archival resources?
MacNaughton: Because the funding isn’t there at RIT for the archive to be cataloged properly, we weren’t able to access the materials online in advance of going. With only one day at RIT, it was hard to go through everything. The folks at RIT were incredibly helpful, pulling materials they thought might be of interest and useful. But we all know that discovery is a big part of creation, and so going through it myself was important. Ideally someday all the materials will be digitized and cataloged in such a way that anyone can access them from anywhere. But that won’t replace the experience of visiting the archive in person.
ArchivesAWARE: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience working with archives?
MacNaughton: My co-editors (Sarah Rich, Debbie Millman and Maria Popova) are grateful to the archivists and librarians for the work they do, their dedication and expertise and generosity with their time. Theirs is a slow, quiet, careful process in a fast paced world, and we would be lost without them.