Carnegie Museum of Art - Pittsburgh, PA
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
Professional Development Call: September 20, 2012
Carnegie Museum of Art - Pittsburgh, PA
Carnegie Museum of Art - Pittsburgh, PA
Charles “Teenie” Harris
He was a Pittsburgh Courier staff photographer for the majority of the 20th century (45 to 50 years). He traveled to Fort Bragg North Carolina to document how the Black troops were being treated. This was a story for the Pittsburgh Courier. The Charles "Teenie" Harris photograph collection at the Carnegie Art Museum represents the black experience of the 20th century. A local law firm helped Teenie to get control of his negatives back from the businessman (Dennis Morgan) that he sold it to. The jury found in favor of the Harris family. Mr. Harris died in 1997.
The Black community in Pittsburgh said, “you own the negatives not the history”. Over the past 10 years, the community members have been interpreting the photographs for us. Charlene asks all the questions, and they feel comfortable because she is from there.
Carnegie Museum of Art
The archivist on staff is Karen Sclenbarger. She has her MLS and provided the structure for the catalog. The community liaison is Charlene Foggie. She is also Julieanna’s contact. The curator of the museum is Louise Lippincott, she has her Ph.D. from Princeton University. The museum exhibit brought more attention to the collection. The museum purchased 25 negatives originally and talked with Mr. Harris about them. Mr. Harris decided that he wanted to have the collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The museum purchased the collection from the Harris estate in 2001. The purchase included the ownership and copyright of over 80,000 photographs.
Archives Job Description
The museum plans to hire an archivist in the next 12 to 18 months. They will be looking for someone with knowledge of photographic science and mediums. They also want someone who understands photographic aesthetics. A meticulous database manager who can notice spelling errors and use consistent language. Lastly, they need someone who is interested in the subjects of the photographs.
On the website there is a phrase, “as funds become available”, are you still working with money from the NEH, “We the People” project? What was your methodology for the oral history project? Do you have any advice about making the most of living in southern California? Were there any issues in exhibiting his photographs from his time as a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier? How did Rollo Turner (Sociology Professor at University of Pittsburgh) become aware of the collection? Do you have any of Mr. Harris' accompanying documents in the archive?
This week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I contributed to my first program for children, learned about Mayme’s film collection and was inspired to fully incorporate volunteers into the processing of Mayme’s papers. I also participated in an engaging professional development call with Carnegie Museum of Art regarding their Charles "Teenie" Harris photograph collection.
On Saturday, the Los Angeles chapter of Jack and Jill was hosting a program on the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The focus of the commemoration was one of the victims, 14 year old Carole Robertson, who was also a Jack and Jill member. The kids and their parents gathered in our multi-purpose room and shared their thoughts, research or creative outputs regarding the incident. There were around 13 children, aged 3 to 16, and around 15 adults present for the program. The program organizers set aside an hour for the museum staff to talk with the group. Cara decided that it would nice to exhibit some of the artifacts related to the bombing and then have the kids scrapbook about what they had learned and their reactions to the day. Earlier in the week, Cara had pulled the relevant Jet, Ebony, and Pittsburgh Courier magazines, as well as some Ku Klux Klan pamphlets and sheet music. She placed them plastic sleeves and they were exhibited throughout the program. Cara also gathered the arts and crafts supplies that the children would be using. I was responsible for scanning articles and photographs which were to be copied and included in the scrapbooks. I introduced myself and the project to the group and, along with Cara, helped the kids think about what pictures and words they could include in their scrapbook. Most of the children were too young to really grasp the significance of the Civil Rights Movement, but they seemed to identify “anger” at that those men who killed children, “sadness” that Carole was not living anymore and “happy” that Barack and Michelle are in the White House. Hopefully they will fill in the gaps as they get older.
After the Jack and Jill group cleared out of the building, we had to make room for a film screening in the large courtroom. The “film” was actually a 90 minute compilation of Mayme’s musical shorts from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Although my workday was over, I stuck around and watched. I am glad that I did, the performances were amazing. Nat King Cole singing “is you is or is you ain’t my baby”, Pearl Bailey swinging to “rhythm of the drums”, Fats Waller on the piano, serenading his “honeysuckle rose”. There were singing clips from Dinah Washington, Della Reese, and Cab Calloway. My favorite was the tap dancing on table tops clip from a group called Tip, Tap and Toe. At the end of the screening, a jazz and film historian, Mark Cantor, explained the circumstances and traditions that surrounded these types of recordings. Mr. Cantor knew Dr. Clayton and his description of their interactions gave me some insight into her collection. Mayme had three objectives, acquisition was her highest priority, followed by preservation and organization was a distant third. She always assumed that someone was going to have to sift through her materials and establish an order. Mr. Cantor shared many details about the purpose of these shorts and the way that black talent was treated in those days, it was fascinating. Then he starts taking questions from the audience, and there was not an artist, a song, or a recording year that stumped him, he was a jazz music encyclopedia. Overall, the event was entertaining and informative and I’m looking forward to the next one.
At our staff meeting earlier this week, Larry had asked me about some timelines for finishing the project. I gave him data based on me making every single folder, which I assumed is what he meant when he said process the collection, three weeks ago. It turns out that he wants me to utilize the volunteers and manage the processing of the collection. Earlier in the week, I tried to explain my process to one volunteer and she was not getting it. I went back to the drawing board put together a Power Point that will explain what I need from volunteers in the context of the archival processing. I plan to present my plan to Larry this week, in order to recruit volunteers at the next all volunteer meeting in October. I have spoken to a few other volunteers that are eager to help with new projects, so hopefully there will be more just like that. I know that I will be in the trenches with them, making the appraisal and arrangement decisions as well as checking their work, but we can move so much faster as a group. I did not think that I would get supervisory experience within this fellowship, but I am very excited about stepping up to the challenge.
Tuesday, 18 September 2012
The second week at the MCLM was another wild card. Members of the documentary film crew for the Joyce Ann Gaines Story (http://jagthedoc.com/) were here scanning photographs and filming interviews in the courtroom. They asked Cara to sign a contract that relinquished the rights of the museum in any future uses of the materials. With our staff being reduced to just myself and Cara, it was difficult to reach a consensus on the validity of the contract. I was able to scan it and send it over to the toughest lawyer that I know, Julieanna Richardson. We are hoping that she can give us some feedback that will allow us to support the efforts of the documentary and permit the museum to gain some profit from its resources.
I also looked up the Carnegie-Whitney Award which grants $5,000 to institutions providing access to library materials. I noticed that previous winners included Susan Irwin’s Sacks Collection at the Arizona Historical Society, Dana Braccia’s community authors’ initiative at the Scottsdale Public Library and Teresa Welsh’s bibliography of Disaster Preparation at the University of Southern Mississippi. These are all diverse people and organizations that I have worked with in the past. The application is due on November 2, 2012, and I think that we may be able to justify a use of the funds to provide supplies for accessing Mayme’s book collection.
My biggest project is the continuous processing of the Mayme A. Clayton Papers. In two weeks, I have gone through 20 boxes, and established five distinct series; Western States Black Research Association, Black American Cinema Society, Third World Ethnic Books, Personal Papers, and Outreach. The most challenging section has to be her personal papers. Scraps of paper, note pads filled with phone numbers, and antiquated rolodexes are elements of this section. I’m not sure what value they will have to researchers, but I am keeping them all, just in case.
A member from the museum’s board of directors has asked me to keep a look out for anything related to Dr. Clayton’s correspondence with Tiger Woods. For about 20 years, Dr. Clayton and her affiliated organizations sponsored a golf tournament in southern California. I have found some Tiger Woods ads from magazines and his name listed among other celebrities that she intended to contact, but nothing from the man, himself. I think that there may be more information on Tiger Woods as I sift further into the collection.
Other snags include a shortage of boxes and folders. I am forced to only folder items when the stacks become too overwhelming. Next week, I am planning to scavenge through the supply closets and think creatively about sound archival alternatives for re-housing the materials.
My days are usually broken up by visits from volunteers who want to chat, watching the phones while Cara is at lunch, and any groups that are renting the space. We hosted the monthly meeting of the California African American Genealogical Society on Saturday. I introduced myself towards the end of the session and they surprised me with a wide variety of follow up questions. They wanted to know about the HistoryMakers, the fellowship, where I had worked and what I had been doing in the museum so far. Many of them were traveling all over the country to research their families, so I did not hesitate to share my connection to archives in Phoenix, Chicago, Charleston, Nashville and Annapolis. They also wanted to know if I would be presenting my genealogy at their next meeting. I said that it would be hard considering that I have never worked on mine, so their disapproving looks may be the impetus that I need to get going on that project. I also found out that Alyss had worked with them on organizing a collection that they are donating to the museum, and I was expected to pick up where she left off. I am looking forward to catching up to speed on that project and working with this group in the future.
Tuesday, 11 September 2012
My first week at the Mayme A. Clayton Museum and library was full of ebbs and flows. I began with a candid conversation about the state of the museum and my role within it with the executive director, Larry Earl. Larry was out of the office for several weeks recovering from his hospital stay and Tuesday (my first day) was his first day back in the office. The thing that struck me most about the museum was how unlike a museum it is. I would call it more of a non-operational archive with rental and exhibit space. Right off the entrance, there is a well designed exhibit space with materials that represent a sample of the collection and signage that explains who Dr. Clayton was and why she collected these items.
In the back hallway there are movie posters and a television screen that runs clips from old films throughout the day. In the hallway adjacent to that, Cara has fashioned two glass exhibit cases, one with historic Black magazines (50% of which are Johnson Publications), the other case has a third grader’s art project about the museum and a short essay about the life of Dr. Clayton. That is the extent of the exhibit space. The remainder of the building is locked rooms filled with unprocessed collections and processing space for volunteers. There are courtrooms and a holding cell, but outside of fully developed programs for tour groups, these spaces are not very functional. All of my questions about the processing of the collections and improvement of facilities were answered by we are looking for money to finance… fill in the blank. All of this led to my first task which was researching grants that Larry had mentioned and determining which ones were the most feasible and appropriate for our collections.
By Wednesday, I had brought in some books and photographs to personalize my office space. Larry told me that my number one priority was to process the 200 boxes that represented Dr. Clayton’s collection. However, the room was locked and no one had the key for the first two days. I spent the day looking through Alyss’ files, responding to emails and outlining all of the things I expected to get done in the near future. I also worked on my blog and researched ideas for the SAA 2013 participation. On Thursday, the door to my collection was open and I got busy on my initial inventory. Cara explained that the boxes had been packed indiscriminately and she was sure that most of it was not worthy of the archives. The boxes were housed in an old judge’s chamber, so there shelves along the wall and two giant oak desks that boded well for a processing space. I decided to open every box and rough sort based on material type. Most of the collection was banker boxes full of manuscript materials that I need to go through. The second pile was posters/art work, the third clump was awkward or three dimensional materials like her rolodexes and golf trophies. By the time, I condensed boxes, made all of the materials visible, and carved out a work space I was ready to call it a day.
Alas, there was no such luck, Larry was out of the office and Cara had a prior commitment, so I had to stay late for a group who was renting the space. I watched the doors and made sure that they had everything that they needed, until 9:00 PM. Then I followed Cara’s instructions about turning off the air conditioner and lights, taking out the trash, and setting the security alarm. I’m sure that it will not be the last of my long nights at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum.
|Patiently waiting for our guests to exit the building|
On Friday, I discussed some weeding strategies with Cara and my preliminary ideas about series within the collection. Cara agreed with my suggestions and I began to go through my large stacks of manuscript materials. I thought I had encountered four large plastic bins of photographic materials to deal with, but when I showed them to Cara, she explained that we had another collection dedicated to photos from that photographer. I eagerly wheeled the bins to that room and smiled, realizing that my work had just been reduced by about 2%.
I also met a substantial amount of volunteers on Friday, they were very diverse and energetic. I spent about 30 minutes talking to Christal who recently started a library science program at the University of North Texas. She wants to work in an academic library. I also met “Fancy Nancy” who has a striking resemblance to Nancy Wilson. Cara allowed me to leave early after yesterday’s long night, and I was able to do some shopping for my new apartment. Saturday was exclusively dedicated to my processing of the Mayme Clayton collection. Although it was the busiest day for volunteers, I exiled myself. I turned the music on and got through four boxes of manuscript materials.
One highlight of the day was my introduction to Mr. Lloyd Clayton, the youngest son of Mayme Clayton. He has a very kind face and complimented my mother when he heard the origins of my name. He said that he would like to spend some time talking with me as I go through his mother’s papers to make sure that I didn’t overlook anything important. I think that he will be pleased with the amount of care that I am taking with his mother’s collection, and I look forward to explaining any archival principles that have dictated my decisions to weed various items.
If the first week was any indicator, I will be pulled in a wide variety of directions as I fulfill my residency requirement at this museum. I am choosing to see it as an opportunity to demonstrate my diverse skill set and flexibility in the work place.
Thursday, 6 September 2012
After finishing my work with the HistoryMakers on Saturday, I wasted no time in knocking as many things off of my Chicago bucket list, as well as making time to finish packing for my re-location. I took in a Chicago White Sox game on Saturday night. I ate at Grand Luxe, one more round of beignets for me. I finally checked out Pearl’s Place for breakfast with a friend. I rode my bike to Promontory Point and I watched the sun rise off of Lake Michigan on Sunday morning. I would have sailed on a tall ship, but we were late to Navy Pier and the boat left without us. I definitely plan on visiting Chicago more often in the years to come because of the wonderful people that I met and plethora of things to do there.
By Wednesday of Week 13, I was ready to embark on my cross country adventure with my best friend, Marvin. We packed my car to the brim, tied my bike to the trunk, and said good-bye to our apartment in Hyde Park. We spent the first day travelling to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The second day, we drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We enjoyed some Tex-Mex food at Frontier Restaurant, where everything comes with green chilies. In the morning of the third day, we rolled into Tucson, Arizona. I received a warm, albeit brief welcome from my aunt, uncle, father, sister and niece. A few friends from college also made an appearance for my 22 hour stay in the “Old Pueblo”.
On the fourth day, we drove into Phoenix, Arizona, where I had to unload my 5x10 storage unit’s worth of stuff into my friend, Melanie’s, truck and trailer. After that we checked into a hotel and met my brother and sister in law for dinner on the West side of Phoenix. After dinner and then meeting up with some other friends for drinks, we called it a night. In the morning of the fifth day, we met up with Melanie and Wyatt in Buckeye, Arizona, had breakfast and then followed each other into Los Angeles, California.
After we got everything into my apartment on the third floor (with the janky elevator), we were all ready for some food and drinks. I treated us all to a meal at the Cuban restaurant down the street from my new place. There is nothing in the world like having good friends to help transition from one life to another. Marvin and I decided to leave the boxes unpacked, sleep in and then explore Los Angeles on Labor Day. In preparation for my first day of work, we made a trial run to the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, it took about 20 minutes, without traffic. We ate at Tubb’s Chili restaurant down the street, and it was very delicious. We spent a few hours walking through the shopping district and guessing what happens inside of Sony Pictures Studios. I later discovered that Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy tapes there.
Next we got in the car and headed toward Venice Beach. Everything was so congested so we decided to pay for parking and see what all of the commotion was about. Venice Beach is full of freaks and geeks and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. The shore is beautiful and the water is the perfect temperature. The boardwalk is full of street vendors, bicyclists, people on rollerblades, and rowdy teenagers, it was interesting to say the least. The highlight was a drum circle on the sand, I’m pretty sure that one guy brought his cow bell and how people move to the music is always a source of amusement. I have so much to unpack, transportation options to choose (bike, bus or car), and reality to adjust to, hopefully I’ll sound more like a real Los Angelino in time for my next blog post.