Archiving for Artists: Tips from the Etta Winigrad Papers, 1968-2016

I recently processed the Etta Winigrad papers, 1968-2016, a collection of slides and photographs of artwork, correspondence, and exhibition records belonging to Philadelphia-based sculptor, and University of Pennsylvania graduate, Etta Winigrad.

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In addition to her amazing art (see above), I was struck by how many things Etta Winigrad did right in terms of organizing and collecting her papers. I mentioned this to a couple of my friends who are visual artists and they immediately asked me about best practices for storage of their own papers. While a short blog post absolutely cannot replace a proper workshop, class, or consultation with an experienced archivist, I thought it might be helpful to outline a few basic tips for artists organizing their archives. Please note that these tips are intended for straightforward archival collections such as loose papers and notebooks, and not for complex artworks in various mediums and materials which are better preserved in museum settings by art conservators and archivists. This blog post only addresses paper files and not born-digital files or files on media such as DVDs, CDs, VHS, etc. (See the end of the post for additional resources.)

First off, you may be thinking to yourself: I’m an active artist, but I don’t think that I’m going to be famous enough for anyone to want to collect my archives! Without going too deeply into this issue, I will say that there may be an interest in your archives for their historical/research value, even if you’re not the next Andy Warhol. For instance, the university you attended may be interested in acquiring your archives for your connection to their school. And, at the very least, you may want to leave your archives to a member of your family as a piece of family history.

Archiving for Artists: A Few Basic Tips

Location
Keep your papers out of direct sunlight and in an area of relatively low temperature and humidity. Basements, garages, and hot attics are not good locations for your papers. Dust, moisture, and bugs/pests will damage your papers, so you’ll want to store them in containers of some sort (see next item).

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Storage containers
If you prefer to pile your papers, use storage boxes to organize them. If you prefer to file your papers, a filing cabinet may be best for you. Whatever container you use—whether it’s a metal file cabinet, a cardboard Banker’s box, or a plastic tub, to offer a few examples—make sure that your files are protected from dust, moisture, and bugs/pests. You may have heard about acid-free folders and boxes, which archivists use for storage, but these boxes are pricey and only necessary for long-term storage. If you donate/sell your archives to an institution, the archivist who processes your collection will transfer everything into acid-free housing, so you shouldn’t worry about this for short-term storage. As most artists already know (hello, flat files!) it’s best to store paper flat, rather than rolled, and never folded, as the folds will damage the paper and, over time, the paper will begin to tear at the folds.

Dates and Labels
Whether you place your papers in folders or boxes, do make a habit of dating the folders, boxes, or pieces of paper themselves. Etta Winigrad, as an example, was very diligent about dating the files containing her exhibition records, which was immensely helpful in processing her papers. Remember also to date your sketchbooks and notebooks (not necessarily for every sketch or note, but intermittently throughout the book is helpful, especially since they usually cover a large span of time). Labels that identify your artwork or the exhibition that the artwork was shown in are also very helpful for your future archivist. Etta Winigrad has many slides in her collection, for instance, and the slide boxes are labeled with the titles of the artworks shown on the slides (see above).

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Fasteners

Adhesive tape is the enemy. Over time, the glue on the tape will become yellow and gummy, marking the papers, and the tape itself will become brittle. Paper clips and staples are also problematic, as they damage papers both mechanically and by rusting over time. Processing archivists are usually working with backlogs and do not have time to remove staples and paper clips from every collection and, even if they do, the staples and paper clips will have already damaged the papers to some extent. Plastic paperclips, while they avoid the rust issue, can also damage the papers they fasten. Rubber bands rot over time and may attach to the papers as they disintegrate. The solution? There is no simple one. If you can go without a fastener, you should, especially if the papers are already grouped together in a folder. And fasteners should never go on top of original artworks like photographs or drawings.

LOCKSS
You may have heard of LOCKSS, or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. If your work appears in an exhibition, keep more than one copy of the exhibition flyer or program, as Etta Winigrad did. Keeping more than one copy ensures that, if something happens to one of the copies, another is available as back-up. As another great example from the Etta Winigrad collection, one of Winigrad’s essays appears in an issue of Ceramics Monthly. One copy of the magazine, while still legible, has water damage, but she kept another copy of the same magazine issue, as well as a printout of the article. (Keeping multiple copies is especially important for digital files which, again, we won’t go into here.)

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For more in-depth information, see the resources below. You may also inquire at a local archives, historical association, or library with archives and special collections holdings to see if an archivist, librarian, or curator can meet with you to answer your questions.

Thanks for your great example, Etta Winigrad! This collection is now open to researchers.

 

Resources for Collection and Preservation

Library of Congress – Audio-Visual Preservation:
https://www.loc.gov/avconservation/

Library of Congress – Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper:
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/paper.html

Library of Congress – Digital Preservation:
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/

National Archives – How to Preserve Family Papers and Artifacts:
https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives

Northeast Document Conservation Center – Preservation:
https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

Smithsonian Institution Archives – Preservation:
https://siarchives.si.edu/services/preservation

Shall We Help to Crush Tyranny? The Frederick P. Lee Collection of World War I Ephemera

The Frederick P. Lee collection of World War I ephemera includes a number of eye-catching materials in a variety of formats that depict Britain’s role in WWI. Processing the collection, I was immediately struck by these World War I recruiting posters. The first one, “We will uphold the priceless gem of liberty … shall we help to crush tyranny?” shows a soldier standing at attention, framed by two Union Jacks, and was printed in Montreal by Gazette Printing Co., Limited, sometime between 1914 and 1918, according to the Library of Congress record.

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Print Coll. 33, Drawer 55, Folder 9

The second poster, “Heroes of St. Julien and Festubert … shall we follow their example?,” shows a soldier in profile against a Union Jack and refers to the 1915 battles of St. Julien (part of the Second Battle of Ypres during which chlorine gas was used on the Allies) and Festubert (part of the Second Battle of Artois). This poster was also printed in Montreal by Gazette Printing Co., Limited, likely in 1916, according to the Library of Congress record.

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Print Coll. 33, Drawer 55, Folder 9

What do we know about Frederick P. Lee? Well, he was an insurance agent, according to census records, and was born in 1880, in England. He immigrated to the United States in 1912 and lived in Santa Monica, California, with his wife, Olive, and son, Denis. A number of materials in this collection, including pamphlets and magazines, are stamped with the phrase, “With Compliments of Frederick P. Lee, Fellow of Royal Colonial Institute.” The collection includes serials and newspapers, such as Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, pamphlets reporting on the British war effort, and postcards depicting admirals of the British navy—see the portraits below by Francis Dodd (Print Coll. 33, Box 1, Folder 5).

The admiral on the bottom right looks familiar … Michael Fassbender, is that you?!

Another fascinating item included in the collection is an issue of The Wiper’s Times, a trench newspaper published by British soldiers fighting in the Ypres Salient during World War I. The soldiers used a salvaged printing press to print the newspaper, which featured a lot of humor and wordplay. It’s a fascinating story—there was a BBC series about it if you’re interested in learning more! The Penn Libraries has a complete collection of The Wiper’s Times which can be found here.

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Print Coll. 33, Box 1, Folder 6

As most of the items in this collection were printed in England and concern England’s role in the war, one can surmise that Frederick P. Lee– while he was too old to have fought in the war, unless he volunteered– was interested in following his motherland’s work from abroad and encouraging US entry into the war. This collection is now open to researchers.

Adalbert Riedl collection of prayer and song leaflets

2014-12-08 15.17.55Processing the “Adalbert Riedl collection of prayer and song leaflets” was quite enjoyable for several reasons having to do with its material qualities, and it was also relatively easy, because it had been pre-arranged and had a typed paper inventory. It allowed me to learn about a region of world I didn’t know too much about (Burgenland in Eastern Austria), made me brush off my high school and college German, and provided seemingly endless visual stimulation, what with so many great religious and secular illustrations included on most of the pamphlets. It also was fascinating from the standpoint of printing and illustration history, as it covered a wide period of time, from at least 1746 to 1929 and perhaps later.

2014-12-11 09.47.16The short story about Adalbert Riedl is that he was an Austrian teacher, politician, museum director, collector, and folklorist (for more information, please see the Biographical note in the online finding aid). After going into education and then dabbling in party politics (a stint in Dachau concentration camp seems to have taken care of that ambition), Riedl settled down to work at and eventually run the Burgenland State Museum (Landesmuseum Burgenland) in Eisenstadt, Austria. There he championed the folklore of his native region and wrote several books on the subject. While the content of the pamphlet collection is not only from this region, it is representative of Riedl’s interest in collecting the cultural production of a given area. Continue reading

Midweek Marginalia

Early ms. sketch of a male figure (in military dress, armed with a shield?) on verso of last printed leaf in volume.
Penn Libraries call number: GC5 K8183 529e
All images from this book

Penn Libraries catalog record (work 1)
Penn Libraries catalog record (work 2)

Midweek Marginalia

One of 4 early ms. marginal sketches in a copy of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Filocolo, printed in Venice on 24 December 1488 by Peregrinus de Pasqualibus (ISTC ib00744000):

Leaf h5v: dragon[?] with caption: […]hina bochina [pictured here]
Leaf k1v: flowers with caption: Ia a mo
Leaf m7v: owl[?] with caption: angela .P.
Leaf n5v: bird in tree with caption: […]ametta ..

The leaves of this copy are closely cropped at all margins with damage to each sketch. A ms. table headed “T.D.T. L. SS.” appears on leaf s4v; it records the locations of the sketches (each denoted by an initial: S, R, C, and P, respectively) in order of appearance by the folio number of the facing leaf.

Established form: Pasqualibus, Peregrinus de, Bononiensis, active 15th century

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-744 [catalog record]
All images from this book

Midweek Marginalia

Leaf a5r of an incunable edition of Innamoramento di Carlo Magno e dei suoi paladini (Venice: Georgius Walch, 20 July 1481; ISTC ic00204000) with early ms. sketch of three male figures (two hatted and one with hat in hand), of whom two are clasping hands, in tail margin.

Penn Libraries call number: Inc C-204 Folio
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record

Midweek Marginalia

Early ms. sketch of a bird pecking at the eye of a man hanged on a gallows

Transcription of marginal annotation:
Sic aut[em] milites
sub iugu[m] mitteba[n]t[ur]
vt tradat […][us]; […]
auc[toritate?] terre […]
[…] al[…] e[…]geb[…]
: [septim]a e[…] […]
test & […]li & […]
[…]e […] […]
bat : at q[ue] […]a mili
tes subire regeba[n]t[ur]
: q[ue?] […] […]
ig[n]omini[…] s[…]abat

Penn Libraries call number: Inc S-88
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record