There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Krü Maekdo, founder of the Black Lesbian Archives

Krü Maekdo wearing t-shirt that says "Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots Tour 20[??]"

Photo of Krü Maekdo (courtesy of Krü Maekdo).

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Krü Maekdo, the founder of the Black Lesbian Archives.

Krü Maekdo has been an innovator in community organizing, gracing stages around the world sharing, her charm, wit, and presence, while contributing to the exciting LGBTQ+ renaissance in many of our communities. CEO of Maekdo Productions, a multi-media and event planning company for women in the LGBTQ+ community as well as the Founder of Queer Black Creatives and Black Lesbian Archives. She works to diplomatically build and connect the world in creative ways. A Creative Director specializing in, Multi-Media, Event Planning, Kosmic Rootwork and Astrology.

For info, visit: krumaekdo.wixsite.com/info/about

How did you get your gig?

I created the Black Lesbian Archives June 2017 after realizing that the stories of our lives were not being documented online, in our local libraries, institutions, collection departments, etc. I felt it would be a great way not only to bring awareness, but to build our communities through experimental storytelling. As well as educating ourselves through our own generational linkages and experiences.

Tell us about your organization.

The Black Lesbian Archives idea started after spending some time in Williamsburg, VA then moving to Chicago, IL. The first exhibit was created after attending an exhibit about Lesbian herstory in Chicago of the 60s, 70s & 80s. I noticed there was a lack of Black Lesbians in the exhibit and everything truly sparked from there. The first exhibit was held at Affinity Community Services in June of 2018 through July and the rest is herstory!

Table top sign that says "Black Lesbian Archives. These archives are on loan. Please feel free to look through, but leave them here! Thank you! With Affinity and logo on the right.

(photo by Law91Media)

Describe your collections.

The Black Lesbian Archives collections I would describe them as having a whole lot of personality! So raw, so honest. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Mostly physical but eventually transferring into digital so we can make them available globally in a way that’s more accessible to all.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

One of the challenges is figuring out an innovative way to preserve archives without having the largest set of funds/backing and to keep it going. The more I learn about archival preservation, the more I understand there’s so much you wouldn’t expect that goes into the backend of archival preservation. We gonna make it work for us though.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of this project is the collaborative effort. Hearing and learning the ways in which we archive. Also the storytelling aspect of archiving which is my favorite! We have created a whole community about how we are growing and preserving the stories of the past, present and future interweaves our destines.

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With the new year comes a new opportunity to participate in the Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 tour. The Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 was created to bring awareness, educate, preserve and bridge generational gaps within our communities so in turn, we can understand ourselves and the communities beyond us.

Krü Maekdo sitting on steps with tee that says "Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 Tour"

Photo o Krü Maekdo. Promo for the Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 Tour (courtesy of Krü Maekdo).

For more information check out blacklesbianarchives.wixsite.com/info/grassroots-tour and email: blacklesbianarchives@gmail.com or call 469-430-8568. Leave a voicemail and we’ll get back.

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!

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Christine “LadyBee” Kristen, Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Curator and Photo Gallery Editor

Photo of Christine "LadyBeen" Kristen standing outside on asphalt with tall grass in the background.

Christine “LadyBee” Kristen.

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Christine “LadyBee” Kristen, Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Curator, and Photo Gallery Editor.

Christine Kristen (a.k.a LadyBee) is Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Curator and Photo Gallery editor. She was Burning Man’s art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She is the co-author of “The Jewelry of Burning Man,” with Karen Christians and George Post, and the curator of the exhibition “PlayaMade: Jewelry of Burning Man,” which debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017. It opens at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in January 2020. She has an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago.

How did you get your gig?

I was an art-world dropout who left New York City in the early 90s, disgusted with the art world I experienced there; I stumbled upon Burning Man in 1995 and was instantly at home, attracted to the intelligent, creative outsiders who were doing radical creative acts in the Black Rock Desert. As I had an art background (MFA Sculpture, School of the Art Institute of Chicago) I was hired by Larry Harvey in 1999 to run the new art grant program; for ten years I did that as well as several archival tasks, like starting our Material Culture archives and our (at the time) physical archive of press articles, books, and magazines.

 

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I’m not trained as an archivist; I developed my skills by doing, in an environment that encouraged outside-the-box thinking. I left in 2008 to work for an arts startup which ran out of funding, and did some independent curating but realized that I only wanted to work for Burning Man, so I returned in 2012 as the art collection curator and archivist.

Tell us about your organization.

That’s a BIG task; Burning Man is complex and layered; basically it’s a temporary community in the Black Rock Desert that lasts for eight days each year — a city of 80,000 people characterized by art, creativity, generosity, gifting, and radical inclusion. This year we had over 400 art installations, scattered across a flat, barren desert. We have an airport, medical services, a DMV (our Department of Mutant Vehicles), several radio stations, two newspapers, a center cafe and performance space, ice sales, and lots of portable toilets. We do not have stages, hire bands, or put on entertainment; our community brings its hundreds of interactive theme camps, costumes, performance, and art. As Larry Harvey, our founder, said, “We create the hive, the participants bring the honey.” But it doesn’t end there; we are actively engaged in bringing art from the desert to cities; in addition to our art grant program for work on the playa, the prehistoric lake bed where Burning Man takes place, we fund temporary interactive art all over the world via our Global Arts Grants. We now have Regional groups in 35 countries all over the world who put on their own versions of Burning Man, with our guidance; there are over 100 such events annually. Within the Burning Man Project are two groups that do good in the world year round: Burners Without Borders, a disaster relief organization that helps out wherever they’re needed, and began when Hurricane Katrina struck during Burning Man 2005; and Black Rock Labs, which originally gave free or low-cost solar panels to schools within the desert event site area.

 

Burning Man is guided by our Ten Principles:

  • Radical Inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical Self-Reliance
  • Communal Effort
  • Civic Responsibility
  • Leave No Trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy

They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception. We are a global community of creative souls, doers, makers, gifters, artists and free thinkers.

Describe your collections.

I manage five archives; our press archive is now created digitally via the Meltwater Feed, a service to which we subscribe. Each week I archive domestic and international press, YouTube videos and TV and radio spots; all of these files are stored digitally. We also archive a few hard copies of magazines when it’s beneficial to do so. The second archive I manage is our library; Burning Man has allowed me to release my inner librarian! There are now 175 books in our library; these are books entirely about Burning Man, or with significant content about us. Our library also contains many magazines which have featured us, including National Geographic, Raw Vision, Wired, Leonardo Journal, Time, Architectural Review, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, Forbes and Art Forum.

Shelves, that look like cubbies, with books.

Burning Man Library.

The third archive is our Internal Print Production collection, which I started in 1999; it includes the materials we hand out to participants on arrival in Black Rock City —  a city map, our What Where When, a guide to all playa events; an art map, and some logistical information. Also in this archive are the dozen stickers we produce each year, based on a design contest that participants enter; postcards/posters for our local events; tickets; programs from our annual fundraising events; and years of annual journals which are no longer produced.

 

The fourth archive is our collection of photographs and videos; we have flat files full of photographic prints back to our first year, 1986, and a large collection of digital files. Our Documentation Team is given assignments and covers all aspects of the event and related events; these are submitted digitally. We have VHS tapes from the earlier years, which have been digitized, and many DVDs of more recent videos; all of these have been digitized and archived.

The fifth archive is our Regional Archive, which contains printed materials from the 100+ events that occur worldwide including Afrika Burn in South Africa, Mid-Burn in Israel, KiwiBurn in New Zealand, Tropical Burn in Brazil, and the original regional burn, Burning Flipside, in Austin, Texas. They produce an event map and guide, like Burning Man, and also stickers, buttons, t-shirts and other memorabilia.

A wall of images from the 1990s, depicting history of Burning Man. Includes magazine covers and photographs.

The History Wall – images from the 1990s.

Large painting by JennyBIrd Alcantara , small painting, center, by Josh Coffy, organ and sheet music from the Church Trap by Rebekkah Waites, 2013

Large painting (left) by JennyBIrd Alcantara , small painting (center), by Josh Coffy, organ and sheet music from the Church Trap by Rebekkah Waites (art installation to the right), 2013.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

Much of Burning Man is ephemeral and experiential, living on in participants’ memories, and in videos and photographs. Some of the art installations are burned at the event, never to be seen again. We are fortunate in that the Nevada Museum of Art maintains an archive donated by one of our founders; they created a historical exhibit that was included in the Smithsonian’s wildly successful show, No Spectators, which traveled to the Cincinnati Museum of Art, where it broke all previous attendance records, and is now at the Oakland Museum of California. Artists were asked to create work for the exhibit, which also features films, photographs, jewelry, costumes and an outdoor Temple.

What is the favorite part of your job?

My favorite task is curating and producing art for our World Headquarters (HQ) in San Francisco. Each year, post-event, I identify the best photos of the most interesting art, and a local burner and muralist prints and mounts them for us. I also seek artifacts from art installations, posters and items from our theme camps, and gift items from the event. I design the displays at HQ, and hang the art. I co-wrote the book, Jewelry of Burning Man, and I have a travelling exhibit, Playa Made: Jewelry of Burning Man, which I guest curated for the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston, and which will open at the Bellevue Art Museum near Seattle, this January. Each year I create a display at HQ of the jewelry I collect on playa; I have a maker group of over 90 people, and we meet each year at the event. My jewelry collection goes back to 1995. My style of display is far from minimal; I like to cover every available space with the art and objects from our madly creative community.

 

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All photographs in this post courtesy of LadyBee.

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!

There’s An Archivist For That! Interview with Jacqueline Seargeant, Global Archive Manager, John Dewar & Sons Ltd

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachel Seale brings you an interview with Jacqueline Seargeant, Global Archive Manager, John Dewar & Sons Ltd.

Jacqui Seargeant in the Scotch whisky archive

Jacqui Seargeant in the Scotch whisky archive. Photograph courtesy of Bacardi.

Jacqui graduated from Glasgow University with a Master of Arts in History in 1994, followed by a postgraduate Master’s degree in Archive Administration from the University of Liverpool. Her earliest archive work included cataloguing and managing collections at Herriot-Watt University, the Scottish Brewing Archive, and Allied Distillers.

Jacqui started working for John Dewar & Sons in 1999 as the Company Archivist. Her role has developed substantially since then and today Jacqui is the Global Heritage Manager for all historical collections owned by the Bacardi company, including unique business archives, family archives, museum and art collections.

Over the years she’s been instrumental in creating and developing many of the heritage elements for the Scotch Whisky brands, including the heritage exhibitions at the Home of DEWAR’S based at Aberfeldy Distillery. Other projects have included the development of the heritage elements of various brand visual identities, marketing initiatives, product packaging and new product development as well as historical brand education. It’s Jacqui’s meticulous curation of our extensive archives that allow Dewar’s to lay claim to being the World’s Most Awarded Blended Scotch.

How did you get your gig?

I came to the company on a one-year contract in 1999, to help them create a heritage exhibition at the newly created DEWAR’S brand home visitor center at Aberfeldy in Scotland. 20 years later I’m still with the company and the role has developed gradually from Dewar’s Archivist to the Global Archive Manager for all brands with archives. I joined the year after the Bacardi company acquired DEWAR’S Blended Scotch Whisky and with it an amazing business archive collection. I had already worked at the Scottish Brewing Archive and for Allied Distillers, so I understood the business and record types and was able to demonstrate the power of the collection for their business. I had, however, never managed my own archive collection, I had always been part of an archive team, so that was exciting for me and my career development. Within a very short time I was providing images to revamp office spaces, getting involved in the brand education program, helping to defend legal claims and providing heritage inspired ideas for new product developments. It was a steep learning curve for me and a bold move, but my previous work in the drinks industry gave me a foundation that allowed me to jump right in.

Bacardi prohibition era postcard email, has Florida at top and Cuba on bottom, with people drinking rum in between. Bacardi logo then text below "Flying to Heaven with Bacardi"

Bacardi prohibition era postcard email. Courtesy of the Bacardi Archive.

Tell us about your organization

Bacardi is the largest privately held spirits company in the world. What is most remarkable to me is that it remains a family-owned company after seven generations. The company was founded more than 157 years ago in Santiago de Cuba and has incredible stories made for the movies! Our company founder, Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, revolutionized rum making with the creation of the first light-bodied rum which transformed the rum industry. Since those early days the company has grown massively to cover more than 20 production sites across the globe. Today the Company owns more than 200 brands and labels, including the core heritage brands of BACARDÍ rum, DEWAR’S blended Scotch whisky, MARTINI vermouths and sparkling wines, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin, BARON OTARD cognac and NOILLY PRAT vermouth. Some of our brands, like BÉNÉDICTINE, have a 500+ year old history – we have a lot of heritage to preserve!

Describe your collections

We have amazing historical resources within our Company, including business archives, brand advertising materials and objects, bottles full of spirits and actual museum collections.  More than fifteen of our brands have a long history, and we have four main collections in five different countries – Bermuda, the USA, the UK, France and Italy. In total, we care for more than 3000 linear meters (3km) of archives which, if stacked up, is thirty two times the height of the Statue of Liberty. The archive collections are fundamental to our brand identities and brand developments. We are not just about preserving the past, we are about building the future by inspiring brand teams, mixologists and others who help craft new legacy cocktails and new campaigns.

 

 

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The Bacardi Archive is at our north American Regional Headquarters in Coral Gables, FL. Bacardi was founded in Cuba in 1862, but on Oct 14th 1960 the Company’s Cuban assets were illegally confiscated by revolutionary government forces. As you would imagine that has affected what is in the collection, although the business did have a geographical reach beyond Cuba by that date including plants or offices in Spain, Mexico, the USA and Puerto Rico. The Bacardi Archive was created just over 20 years ago in Miami by a family member, passionate about preserving the story. Over the years, the collection has grown from a tiny shoebox of slides, to a room of more than 400 meters of shelving. It includes over 30,000 catalogued assets dating back to the 1850s, such as the early documents of the founding of the company, medals awarded since the 1870s, the company’s earliest advertising campaign from the 1890s, photographs of distilleries and family members, trademarks and promotional items as well as many rum bottles, including one from the pre-Prohibition Era.

 

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The DEWAR’S collection is housed in Scotland where our whiskies are made. Here you will find one of the best advertising archives of any brand, including a copy of the first cinematic advert for a drinks products. The ad was made in 1897 and was the brainchild of one of the Company’s founders, Thomas Dewar, who was an early pioneer of new advertising techniques. You can see his influence in our many old adverts and promotional objects including numerous old ceramic flagons made by Royal Doulton which would have originally held the company’s whisky. We even have an 1897 patent in the archive for branding the tires of bicycles and cart wheels so they left your brand name in the dirt and mud of the street. Essentially if something could be branded, Thomas Dewar probably branded it.

The Martini Museum of Wine

View of the Martini Museum of Wine courtesy of the Martini Archive.

In addition to our many business archives, we also own two incredible museum collections. The Martini & Rossi collection, which is located near Turin in Italy, includes the Martini Museum of Wine, which has 16 rooms of artefacts dating from the 7th Century BC onwards, relating to the production and enjoyment of wine. Our French brands archives in the north of France include the brands of NOILLY PRAT vermouth, BARON OTARD cognac and BÉNÉDICTINE liqueur. The Bénédictine collection incorporates a museum collection of religious antiquities, relating to the origins of the liqueur’s recipe and the Bénédictine order.

I love the fact that every item and object tells a story which relates to not just our own company and business, but also to local, national and international history and culture. For example, during the time of 1920s prohibition in the USA, Bacardi produced postcards in Cuba which featured a dry America and ‘wet’ Cuba, with a caricature of Uncle Sam having a cocktail in Cuba. Alcohol advertising was banned in the USA at this time, but American visitors to Cuba would be given these postcards for free, and send them back to friends in the USA and so they found their way in anyway and encouraged people to come and try BACARDÍ rum in Cuba!

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

As a spirits company we of course want to preserve and showcase old bottles and storing them has some fairly unique challenges. There can be a lot of evaporation from old corked bottles, so the atmosphere in the bottle archive can be quite humid, and caps may get moldy. For that reason (and due to the flammable nature of the liquid) we do attempt to keep the bottle collection separate from the paper collections, and we keep a close eye on evaporation and mold development. Some people would argue that the liquid could be thrown away, but that would significantly decrease the value of the collection, and a great deal of it should still be drinkable. Keeping the full bottles also allows us to potentially analyze the contents of blends of the past in our laboratories, in cases where the recipes no longer survive.

Products like BACARDÍ & cola kept in a can will eventually leak as the cola is quite acidic and will  work its way through the metal, so we need to remember to empty those before archiving (we learned this the hard way!). As if the bottles weren’t tricky enough, we also have some real bats in the archive, obviously long dead and preserved, but none-the-less challenging to keep in good condition! The bat has been the brand icon for BACARDÍ since the early days of the Company, when the founder’s wife discovered fruit bats nesting in the roof of the original distillery. According to Cuban and Spanish culture, they are a symbol of health, good fortune and family unity and the fruit bat has been a part of the Company logo ever since. The rum became known as ‘El Ron del Murcielago’ or The Rum of the Bat. More than 150 years later, the bat remains an icon and such a recognized brand symbol.

What is the favorite part of your job?

Hands on archive work, without a doubt – cataloguing, organizing, making order out of chaos and along the way discovering something new about our history. The best moments are when you uncover something new that you know is going to help your business – those moments are great. While researching one of the DEWAR’S founders, Thomas Dewar, I accidentally found a newspaper article from 1905 in which he claimed to be the first person to create the Highball cocktail during his first trip to New York in the 1890s. My further research revealed that the company had trademarked the words ‘high ball’ a few years later. We are now using this story as a major sales and marketing approach which is helping drive the popularity of the DEWAR’S Highball cocktail in Japan and other markets. It doesn’t get any better than that, feeling like you are keeping the history alive, at the same time as contributing to the current and future business.

The new Martini Archive with Anna Scudellari our Archivist

The new Martini Archive with Anna Scudellari, our Archivist courtesy of the Martini Archive.

I think that example also reflects how we are a live part of the business, contributing to our brands’ successes and identities, as well as driving company culture. A series of oral history interviews with retired family members inspired our company’s effort to reignite our culture with the 3 Fs – Fearless, Family, Founders. These words simply came out of what the people were saying to our interviewer when talking about their time working for the company, it was a very clear and natural direction and links heavily into our heritage. Our contributions can therefore be unexpected and pivotal and we are lucky enough to work in a company where people listen to our ideas and discoveries because they understand the power of our heritage and how it contributes to who we are today.

Finally, I have to say that my role is especially privileged because as the Global Archive Manager I periodically have to visit our archives all over the world, including our brand homes and visitor centers which have heritage exhibitions, to oversee physical projects and develop exhibitions. The brand homes are where we enable the public to experience our brands, products and rich histories, usually in the historical place or ‘home’ where they are made. For example I was recently at Casa MARTINI, our brand home for the MARTINI brand to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the archive and the inauguration of our new archive storage there, with the Mayor of Turin attending our special reception. This is one of my favorite places, where you can enjoy a MARTINI Bianco and soda with a twist of lime (well that’s my favorite!!) in the Terrazza MARTINI, explore the origins and development of the beautiful MARTINI brand and even experience the Museum of wine with ancient Roman amphora and beautifully carved centuries old wine presses. For someone who loves history, this job ticks every box!

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!

THERE’S AN ARCHIVIST FOR THAT! INTERVIEW WITH JENN PARENT, REFERENCE ARCHIVIST, THE MUSEUM OF FLIGHT

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Anna Trammell brings you an interview with Jenn Parent, Reference Archivist at the Museum of Flight. 

[Reference archivist Jenn Parent in front of mural by Henry at T

Jenn Parent, Reference Archivist at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

How did you get your job?

I came to archives and The Museum of Flight as my second profession, having spent well over a decade working as a bookstore manager. I loved helping people find books but at the same time I always felt limited in how I could help people. So, I went back to school to get my Masters in Library and Information Science with the goal of becoming a special collections librarian or an archivist. I did two internships at The Museum of Flight during grad school (one in the library, one in the archives), and due to the positive internship experiences I had, I added the organization to my “watch list” for jobs. About a month or so before graduation I saw an opening for a part-time Processing Archivist and applied. I got that job and started in July 2017. Then, in late December 2017, I was promoted to Reference Archivist, and I’ve been doing that since.

[Group portrait of Pan Am flight attendants]

Group portrait of Pan Am flight attendants, circa 1960s-1970s || The Denise (Babcock) Schmidt Pan Am Flight Attendant Collection/The Museum of Flight

Tell us about your organization.

The Museum of Flight is the largest private non-profit air and space museum in the world. Contrary to popular thought, we are not part of Boeing and never have been (although we enjoy a good relationship with Boeing!). With over 150 air and spacecraft, dozens of exhibits and experiences, and all kinds of programming and educational offerings The Museum of Flight (TMOF) is devoted to the preservation and sharing of aviation and aerospace history and technology. 

I work as part of the Collections team, which includes the Harl V. Brackin Library, The Museum of Flight Archives, and our small object collection. As the Reference Archivist, my main job is (you probably guessed it!) to answer reference inquiries, which are mostly related to photo requests and general research/reference. If an inquiry requires in-depth curatorial knowledge, it gets assigned to our Curators. On average, I personally handle 30 to 40 reference inquiries per month. We get requests from all over the world and our researchers vary, from students of all ages to authors to model makers to aircraft restorers and more. 

When I have time, I also still process and catalog archival collections because I love processing. It adds to my knowledge of the collection so I can better assist researchers, but also I just love making collections accessible for folks to use! In addition, I contribute to outreach efforts, such as participating in our monthly “Coffee with the Curator” (a themed presentation with materials on display from the library, archives, and objects), writing articles, leading Library & Archives tours and/or giving presentations about the Archives, and contributing to our team’s Instagram (shameless plug for @tmofcollections)! And of course, I help with “other duties, as assigned.”

[African-American Rosies with Boeing B-29 Superfortress]

African-American “Rosies” with Boeing B-29 Superfortress || Credit: The Museum of Flight Collection

Describe your collections.

The Museum’s collection contains over 25,000 small objects (classified as anything smaller than an aircraft), over 90,000 books and periodicals, over 18,000 aircraft manuals and technical reports, and nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival materials. 

Our archival collections contain materials that document the entire evolution of manned flight, from the Wright Brothers to modern jet travel to space exploration. We have an estimated four million images, including photographic prints, film and glass plate negatives, slides, and transparencies. Our paper-based materials include maps, charts, drawings, blueprints, log books and diaries, manuscripts, research and technical documentation, correspondence and philately, and airline ephemera such as tickets, timetables, brochures, and luggage tags. 

What’s really awesome is that we’re becoming more publicly accessible, which is fantastic! We’re always open to the public via the Dahlberg Research Center. You do not need to be a Museum member or pay admission to visit us but we do recommend/prefer an appointment! But we can also be accessed via our Digital Collections, which went live December 2017 and currently has over 6,500 digital images and 100+ oral histories with more content being added on a regular basis. And in April of this year (2019), we also launched our public research portal, where folks can browse finding aids from our collection. We add to it weekly, and it currently has just shy of 300 collections, which is about 10% of our collection. We also encourage folks to reach out and ask if they don’t see something online, as these are just fragments of our collection!

[Convair (Theodore P. Hall) 118 Convaircar]

Convair (Theodore P. Hall) 118 Convaircar || Credit: The Peter M. Bowers Collection/The Museum of Flight

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

I don’t have an aviation or aerospace background so describing the technical aspect of many of the aircraft collections can be a bit daunting. Luckily, our Curators are great at helping me understand things so I can correctly explain it in a finding aid or to a researcher.

I’d also say our building is a bit wonky. It was originally meant to be a hazmat storage facility but was never used in that manner that we know of (at least I haven’t grown a tail yet). The building has very thick concrete walls and floor and a very thin aluminum roof, so in the event of an explosion, the roof would be forced up and (in theory) the walls and floor would withstand the blast, leaving only the roof to replace. Additionally the floors are very slick and slightly sloped (in case spills needed to be hosed into the also-present drains that happen to have gaps the exact width of a library cart wheel). This makes adding shelving quite a chore, as you can imagine. 

JennStacks

Jenn Parent at work at the Museum of Flight

What is your favorite part of your job?

 That’s a tough call. I really like continuously learning and encountering material that sparks an interest or moment of “Wow!” (so many rabbit holes to go down – like did you know Goodyear made a plane out of rubber? Look it up – the Inflatoplane!). I also enjoy that my days can be quite varied based on what I’m up to that day. From answering a photo request about the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy to giving a tour to students or from making “frankenfolders” to house oversize materials to helping relocate a missile in our storage area, it’s never dull. 

But I think my real favorite is simple – being able to successfully guide a researcher and help fulfill their information need, especially when they reach out to me with what they may think is a long shot. I recently had a researcher ask me if it was fun being both useful and magical. A resounding yes!

 

There’s An Archivist For That! Interview with Brad San Martin, Digital Archivist, Apollo Theater

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachel Seale brings you an interview with Brad San Martin, Digital Archivist for Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Brad San Martin

Brad San Martin. Photo credit Amber Duntley (www.flickr.com/adunt).

Prior to entering the archives field in 2015, Brad San Martin worked in the music and travel industries as a copywriter, content developer, and product manager, among other roles. He has also produced and/or annotated a number of acclaimed historical CD reissue projects, including Kevin Dunn’s No Great Lost: Songs 1979-1985 and Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miner’s Struggle.

How did you get your gig?

I arrived at the Apollo after spending most of my professional life working in the music industry in a few different — including publicity, radio promotion, project management, copywriting, and artist relations — capacities. While in that world I had overseen several archival releases, compiling new CD collections from old tapes, researching the best available sources, clearing the rights, annotating them, and so on. Putting projects like those together inspired me to explore archives as a full-time pursuit. So, eighteen years or so after I finished undergrad, I went back to grad school to get my master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives. Throughout grad school I worked processing audiovisual materials at the Southern Folklife Collection, which was an incredible opportunity to learn about the nitty gritty of archiving and about the variety of media formats that are out there. I thought I knew them all…

When this position came across my radar, I was thrilled: What fan of popular music hasn’t been affected by an artist, a song, or a movement that was forged onstage at the Apollo? Being here feels like the culmination of everything I’ve been doing before — and it draws from all areas of my experience.

Tell us about your organization

The Apollo Theater takes inspiration from the rich legacy of the theater’s past in order to enrich the future. Through its education department, the theater introduces young people to the incredible contributions that have emerged from Harlem and the Apollo, while also offering students opportunities to learn about what goes on behind the scenes: production and tech, publicity, programming, and more. The Apollo is also positioning itself as a catalyst for a new canon of works, producing and presenting provocative, powerful new pieces of theater, dance, and music.

I always like to stress that while the Apollo has a remarkable backstory, what our programming team is doing now is every bit as vital. And being the archivist means that I get the best of both worlds: I get to help document the new programs we develop while also watching over the materials that allow us to tell the story of the theater’s history.

Describe your collections

The Apollo Theater Archives is a new initiative. I have been here for just about a year and a half now. The fact that I am here at all is a testament to the long-term vision of the Apollo’s past and present leadership — people like Laura Greer and Mikki Shepard, who kept the torch for the archives burning for years before I arrived. Over the past fifteen years, whenever funding was available, portions of the collection were inventoried and preserved. So when I got here, there were a mix of processed and unprocessed collections, in various stages of preservation. 

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Photo by Megan Rossman. Working with Smith Fund intern Samantha Scott to arrange A/V materials in the Apollo’s collection.

The Apollo collection spans pretty much every conceivable audiovisual format, in addition to photographs, posters, program booklets, three-dimensional artifacts, ticket stubs and passes, and business records. In the mid-1980s, the Apollo had full broadcast and audio recording studio facilities, and as a result we have a lot of ¾” and open-reel video from both the theater and recorded for production clients. One of the most informative and illustrative areas of the collection is a set of more than 2000 hand-tinted photographs of artists who performed at the Apollo from the 1950s through the 1970s. Taken as a set, they tell us so much about who worked here — and not just the big stars, who are certainly represented, but the ventriloquists, the dancers, the MCs, the animal acts, and others who may have otherwise been forgotten. 

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

We face the same challenges that other largely audiovisual collections contend with: obsolete formats, unclear rights provenance, storage and preservation issues, et cetera. The Apollo is a working theater in Manhattan, so on-site storage space is at a premium. One of the biggest issues we face is that there is no way the collection can match the formidable legacy of the Apollo. People imagine a goldmine of photos, video, handbills, and posters documenting every one of the thousands of shows that happened here. But the Apollo was a working, for-profit theater for most of its life — people were too busy getting paying customers into the seats to prioritize creating a historical record. 

With that in mind, the collection is also not continuous: We have elements from all eras of the theater’s 85-year existence, but not all eras are represented evenly. A number of materials related to the theater were donated to the Smithsonian by the theater’s former owners. But thanks to the growing capacity of digital tools, we’re able to partner with other institutions and share certain items digitally, enriching our holdings and what we will eventually be able to offer potential users.  

Speaking of users, the Apollo Theater Archives are not yet open to the public — so it’s also a challenge for me to ask interested people to wait while we catalog, digitize, and preserve the materials in the collection in preparation for them to be accessed.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to discover new objects related to the theater’s history and performances on a very regular basis…but even more exciting is seeing the elements of the collection utilized on behalf of the Apollo Theater’s missions. We preserve these things for a reason, and that’s to share them. So watching them become a part of an educational or community program, or referenced by a visiting artist who is working to create a new work, is incredibly fulfilling.

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Photo by Lisa Mullins. Presenting materials with WNET’s Jenna Flanagan from the Apollo Theater Archives on stage at the Apollo’s annual Open House event, February 2, 2019.

That said, the best part of my job is continuing to discover just how much the Apollo means to people — especially those with roots in Harlem. The theater has been more than a performance venue: It’s a pillar of an incredibly vibrant, dynamic community. I see the theater’s role in people’s lives most vividly through our community events, which engage a largely local audience in conversations about history, culture, and politics. The delight and appreciation they express when they discover that we’re working hard to preserve and extend the legacy of a place they love so much is overwhelming. 

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!

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Joel Thoreson, Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  In this entry, COPA member Anna Trammell brings you an interview with Joel Thoreson, Archivist for Management, Reference, and Technology at the Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. 

Joel Thoreson 2019

Joel Thoreson, Archivist for Management, Reference, and Technology, Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

AT: How did you get your job?

JT: I was just finishing up a grant project at the Nebraska State Historical Society scanning glass plate negatives when I was hired here as assistant archivist for reference. We reorganized in 2005 and I took on additional management duties with the title Archivist for Management, Reference Services, and Technology. My M.A. was from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with a double major in history and museum studies. My original intention was to work in museum collections, as I had worked in that department of the Minnesota Historical Society for nearly five years prior to grad school. We had some coursework in archives in the museum studies program, but I’d spent much more time in the archives while working on my history degree. I also had a Lutheran church background, growing up as a pastor’s kid, and attending Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where I’d done some work in church history. I also had library experience and worked with microforms and digital imaging.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. answering questions at The American Lutheran Church Luther League convention, Miami Beach, Florida, 1961.

AT: Tell us about your organization.

JT: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed by a merger of three predecessor church bodies in 1987, with two of those bodies formed by mergers in the early 1960s of four church bodies each, several of which had even earlier mergers. Our archives collects materials from the headquarters (aka churchwide) level of the church, with the main building about eight miles away from the archives. The ELCA is divided into 65 synods, essentially districts, most of which have grouped together into nine regions with an archives serving each region. Those regional archives collect materials from the synodical offices as well as records from dissolving congregations. Each of the more than 9,000 active congregations are also charged with maintaining their own archives. We provide guidelines and advice to the congregations regarding both archives and records management, as well as to the synods and regional archives. The ELCA also has a long tradition of global mission work, so we work with international partner churches regarding their archival records, as well as with the Lutheran World Federation Archives in Geneva, Switzerland.

ELCA Archives indulgence

Papal indulgence, 1516. Presented to Lutheran Church Productions, producers of the Martin Luther film by German Lutherfilm, GmBH, in 1954.

AT:Describe your collections.

JT: When the ELCA was formed in 1987, the archives was also formed by merger of three predecessor archives, all with their own organizational systems. We now have nearly 16,000 linear feet of records, including a large amount of audiovisual materials, including photographs, audio records, video recordings, and motion picture film. The oldest material dates back to 1812 and the migration of Pennsylvania German Lutherans into Ohio. Older material resides at ELCA regional archives at seminaries in Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Pa.

Our reference inquires tend to be divided evenly between genealogical, historical, and administrative, receiving roughly 2,000 inquiries per year. We are open to the general public and try and make our records as accessible as possible. Our main genealogical resource is a set of microfilmed congregational records that were filmed from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. We have recently worked with Ancestry to digitize, index, and host the pre-1945 material. These records only cover congregations from certain ancestor branches of the ELCA, so quite a lot of work is also helping researchers find the right congregation to contact to locate records.

ALC Chaplain Conrad Walker - Communion Service in Viet Nam, 1967

American Lutheran Church Chaplain Conrad Walker conducts Communion service in Viet Nam, 1967

AT: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

JT: Since many of our predecessor church bodies were formed around ethnic identities, many of the records we have up to the 1930s are in various languages, including German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Finnish, Slovak, and Icelandic, with global mission records in an even wider variety of languages.

With the dispersed archives system in the ELCA of regional and congregational archives, much of our work at the churchwide level is to direct traffic, helping people find the right repository to find the information they are seeking.

Being isolated away from any educational institution, we also are limited in our supply of volunteers and students. We do have some on-site researchers, but we provide quite a lot of resources to remote users, as well. Since we are separate from our main churchwide offices, we also struggle with being visible to staff there and have to work at making our services and collections known.

Also, with declining membership numbers of many religious organizations, we’ve faced budget cuts, declining from a high of eight staff members here in the archives, including a couple of grant positions, down to the current three staff members. We also have taken on additional responsibilities for managing the records management of the ELCA churchwide organization, as well as managing the art collection.

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Lutheran deaconesses from the Baltimore Motherhouse of Deaconesses pose with a biplane, 1920s

AT: What is your favorite part of your job?

JT: Handling the reference questions, I always say that my job is like detective work, finding the right answer or the right document for the patron. Every day there is some new inquiry with a new direction to explore. Perhaps there are fewer fist fights or car chases than on Mannix, but in some ways my childhood aspirations have been achieved.


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!

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Lilly Carrel, Archivist, The Menil Collection

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  In this post, COPA member Vince Lee brings you an interview with Lilly Carrel, Archivist at the Menil Archives, part of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.

Archivist Lilly Carrel outside of the Menil Archives. Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Anthony Flores.

VL: How did you get your gig?

LC: I joined the Menil Archives in July 2018. Previously I worked as a project archivist at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. I earned my Master of Science in Information Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and since graduating my goal has always been to return to Texas. After two project positions, I applied to the archivist job opening at the Menil. I was particularly drawn to the position because of the diversity of job responsibilities including records management, digital preservation, and all aspects of the archival enterprise. I also felt a deep connection to the institutional mission to make art accessible and a commitment to social responsibility and justice. I have no background in art, but I love that as an archivist I am able to apply my expertise in records theory and practice to different content and promote this extraordinarily rich collection of art-related records.

VL: Tell us about your organization.

LC: The Menil Collection is an art museum located in Houston, Texas in a 30-acre neighborhood of art, and houses the art collection of founders John and Dominique de Menil. The Menil Collection includes the main building, designed by architect Renzo Piano and opened in 1987, the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the Menil Drawing Institute, designed by Los Angeles-based architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee (Johnston Marklee) and opened in November 2018.

The Menil Collection and its diverse neighborhood of art is governed by the Menil Foundation, established in 1954 by the de Menils. Prior to the opening of the Menil Collection, the de Menils had active partnerships with the University of St. Thomas and Rice University and organized many important and influential art exhibitions. The Menil Archives is the institutional repository for the Foundation and is responsible for acquisition, organization, preservation, and access to museum records and special collections.

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VL: Describe your collections.

LC: The Menil Archives was founded in 2000 and its primary function is to identify, collect, organize, preserve, and make accessible records of informational and evidential value to the institution. The Archives primarily document the functions and activities of the Foundation including records of the board of trustees, exhibition history files, building projects, and museum departments such as Curatorial, Collection Development, and the Business Office. The Menil Archives also holds a number of special collections including the papers of art critic and collector Rosalind Constable, curator Jermayne MacAgy, and artists Jim Love and Roy Fridge; family papers of John and Dominique de Menil; and research papers from Menil-funded publications including the René Magritte and Jasper Johns catalogue raisonnés.

The Archives total approximately 2,500 linear feet and includes records in all formats—textual, audiovisual, born-digital, photographs, film, architectural drawings, ephemera, and some objects. The Menil Archives has a limited number of inventories available on its website and in 2019 will begin contributing finding aids to Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), a state-wide consortium of archives, libraries, and museums.

VL: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

LC: Museum archives are an interesting type of archives. Often departments need to maintain physical and intellectual ownership of their records because, in a sense, they are always active. Example include conservation records which may document treatments of artworks, or artwork object files frequently referenced by curators and registrars. This can lead to confusion as to what records “belong in the archives,” but also offers opportunities to collaborate and facilitate a post-custodial approach to recordkeeping. Since joining the Menil, I’ve been exploring ways to improve records management practices with a particular focus on electronic records and digital preservation. I think digital preservation offers creative ways to enhance the post-custodial approach and ensure important records are preserved.

VL: What is your favorite part of your job?

LC: The Menil Archives is an exciting place to work! Every day is different and I love the dynamic nature of working in a two-person shop. I am fortunate to collaborate with excellent colleagues including Lisa Barkley, Archival Associate, who has been with the Menil since 2008. Every day presents new opportunities, projects, reference inquiries, and I am always learning. I also feel fortunate to work for an institution with a keen sense of its own history, that values and seeks out the rich archival resources available to staff and the public.


Original captions for the photographs included in the slideshow had to be shortened in order to fit into the slideshow window.  The full original captions are provided below:

  • The Menil Collection. Photo: Kevin Keim.

  • Dominique de Menil and artist Jim Love, Rice University, 1972. Courtesy of Menil Archives, The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

  • The De Lux Theater, Houston, 1971. Courtesy of Menil Archives, The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

  • Peter Bradley (center) and others installing art for “The De Lux Show” De Lux Theater, Houston, 1971. Bradley, an artist, curated the exhibition. Courtesy of Menil Archives, The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

  • Installation photography of “The De Lux Show” De Lux Theater, Houston, 1971. Courtesy of Menil Archives, The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

  • Exhibition history records, Menil Archives. Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Anthony Flores.

  • Creating an inventory for a recent accession. Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Anthony Flores.