New finding aid: School of Fine Arts professor and fiber artist, Joan Sterrenburg

The finding aid for retired IU School of Fine Arts faculty member, Joan Sterrenburg, is now available! The collection offers a unique view into the teaching theories and professional development of fine arts faculty. Sterrenburg taught at IU from 1970 until 2004 and was part of an innovative group of professors who helped develop studio art into the dynamic program it is today.

In the late 1970s and early 80s IU offered one of the largest and most comprehensive textile programs, teaching traditional and non-traditional techniques, handwork, and off-loom processes. The Sterrenburg papers reflect the evolution of the program. In addition to her work as faculty in textiles, Sterrenburg founded and directed the Indiana University Handmade Paper Facility from 1979-1989. The collection contains an extensive amount of research about the history and practice of papermaking and development of dye recipes.

In a 1983 exhibition catalogue, Sterrenburg explained her artistic practice, which combined “image involvement with color interaction, modular construction, and an interplay of visual systems composed of constants and variables. I work to create energy and tension. I am totally seduced by the surface and ‘edge’ quality I can generate with hand-made paper. I have always worked to achieve a magical interaction of surface/material and structure/process.”

This philosophy of aesthetics is apparent in the large amount of 35mm slides included in the collection. There are also exhibition catalogs containing images of Sterrenburg’s works such as this piece from a 1983 show at the Hillwood Art Gallery, Long Island University, New York:”

Joan Sterrenburg, Colorado Strata, 1982. Dyed handmade rag paper, 70 x 72 x 2 in.
Joan Sterrenburg, Colorado Strata, 1982. Dyed handmade rag paper, 70 x 72 x 2 in.

There are also numerous teaching slides that illustrate the perception of color, perspective, and pattern, meant to inspire students to integrate the concepts into their work. Sterrenburg maintained contact with many of her students; the collection contains letters from appreciative students describing their post-graduation accomplishments and slides of their artworks and exhibitions.

This collection demonstrates the effort that goes into developing the curriculum of a studio art program and the challenge of balancing the inspiration of students along with the maintenance of one’s own artistic development. Sterrenburg’s papers are evidence of the excellence and creative spirit of the School of Fine Arts faculty.


Women’s History Month: IU’s First Coed, Sarah Parke Morrison

In 1867, Sarah Parke Morrison became the first woman admitted to Indiana University.

Morrison’s parents, John and Catherine, were themselves well-educated. John graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1828, at which time he returned to his hometown Salem, Indiana and opened the Washington County Seminary. At the Seminary John was in charge of Catherine Morris’ education for six years. In 1830, Catherine’s parents sent her to the Quaker-run Westtown Boarding School near Philadelphia, where she studied for two years. Upon her return to Salem, John proposed to Catherine and they were married September 11, 1832. Their first child, Sarah, was born in 1833.

In addition to the Washington County Seminary, John and Catherine worked together to open the Salem Female Seminary in 1835. Instead of hiring the customary male teaching assistants, they employed young female teachers from the East, a rarity in this time.

After a considerable amount of home schooling, Catherine decided it was time for her daughter Sarah to receive more formal training. Sarah attended Mount Holyoke Seminary, graduating from that institution in 1857. She went on to Vassar College, where she was a pupil-teacher and later to Williams College to do post-graduate work.

After studying at Williams, Sarah returned home to Salem. While preparing to attend the 1867 Indiana University commencement, Sarah’s father, formerly president of the IU Board of Trustees and now Treasurer of the State, remarked to Sarah that it was time for the University to open its doors to women and offered Sarah $5 to prepare an appeal to the Board of Trustees.

This Sarah did, and the Trustees found nothing in the University’s charter that barred women from entering the University. They declared women could enter under the same terms as men. Sarah, at 34 years of age and years of education behind her, had no desire to attend Indiana University and hoped some other woman would step forward. To her disappointment, no young woman did, so Sarah entered as a freshman in the fall of 1867.

It was the fashion then to wear large sun hats, with a rather broad ribbon going over the crown and tied under the chin. The young men were not dangerous to me nor I to them, but I was thankful for the protection that hat afforded me from six hundred eyes presumably furtively ‘casting a sly glance at me’.

Sarah completed the four year program in two years, graduating in 1869. Four years after her graduation, Sarah was appointed tutor and in 1874 she became IU’s first female faculty member when she was named adjunct professor of English literature. Despite Sarah’s success as a student, the male students did not readily accept her as their superior. She only stayed at IU for one more year, at which time she left for other pursuits.

Sarah remained an active alumna of the University, however, frequently writing the Board of Trustees inquiring why women have not been placed as members of the various University boards. To voice her protest, she began returning her alumni ballots for the Board of Trustees marked “for some woman.”

Sarah Parke Morrison died in 1919 and is buried in Indianapolis.

The Archives holds a small collection of Sarah’s papers, which includes, among other things, a handwritten account of her entrance to IU as well as the frequent letters written to university administrators admonishing the lack of female representation among its ranks.

"Pardon me, but why have ladies not been placed upon the Board of Visitors? What is the use of so many men?"
“What is the use of so many men?”

Knightstown, Ind. Jan 19, 06

To Isaac Jenkinson, President and the Board of Trustees:

Honored Friends,

Pardon me, but why have ladies not been placed upon the Board of Visitors? To think that ever since 68 you have declared the half of the kingdom theirs, and yet they have not even a name among you as co-workers. You do not wish to increase the number upon the Boards? Certainly not. What is the use of so many men?

Click here to read her letter in its entirety: Morrison

Arts, Crafts, and Preservation

These past few weeks have been a flurry of activity in the archives as fellow co-worker Amy finishes her exhibit of Robert Borkenstein, inventor of the Breathalyzer. She’s done a great job putting together such a large exhibit in so short a time, and it will be ready this weekend for the SAA-SC Conference being held at IU. If you can, come up to the archives office and check it out! There is a variety of materials in the exhibit, from Breathalyzer prototypes to newspaper clippings to photographs. It is a visually interesting exhibit!

While I had little to do with curating the exhibit, I was able to help out a little bit by mounting some of the photos. This was a big deal for me; I’ve never had this opportunity before. As an undergraduate student archival assistant, I was probably not trusted enough to try my hand at mounts that would adequately support and display the photograph. Dina Kellams taught me how to cut through thick foam board with an Exacto knife and straight edge, then attach strips of clear plastic to the corners to hold the photograph or newspaper clipping. (All these materials are, naturally, archival quality.) I found it a little nerve-wracking to size up and create the foam board backing – after all, one of the first principles taught in archival preservation is to keep knives and pencils away from the materials – but I would say that the four photograph mounts I created turned out all right. We have boxes of old mounts that can be recycled into new exhibits, but finding a mount that exactly fits your material is tricky. I had to leave one oddly-cut newspaper clipping on the table for a more experienced worker to handle. It will take a little work to become an expert in archival mounting, but my first foray into that project was a fun experience.

Reference questions for the archives, though very usual, have not been fielded my way in the past two weeks, so I’ve had time to finish up the publications series in Nugent’s papers. There is still a little cleaning up to do, but for the most part they have all been organized into 17 boxes. It’s pleasant to open up the boxes and see the neat, clean rows of manila folders. That might be one of my favorite results of processing. Of course, the organization and accessibility of the papers is an important result as well. For the most part, the publications series is organized chronologically, within the subseries of monographs, articles, and reviews. Nugent has been a very prolific writer and it’s not unusual for him to have written, and kept, over six drafts of one article, which takes up space quickly. I haven’t counted how many different publications are in those 17 boxes, but I would guess well over 100. Looking around me at all the boxes in this room alone, it boggles my mind at how much information and knowledge (institutional, professional, and personal) in so many formats is kept and preserved in archives.

In Nugent’s older writings, nearly everything in the boxes were bound with rusty paperclips or staples. Needless to say, this is undesirable from a preservation standpoint as the rust will stain and wear away at the paper, in addition to creating “rust dust” that is not pretty nor healthy for the papers. One of the main reasons processing can take so long is that all these paper clips and staples must be removed before the papers can be filed away. As I’m sure many processors have done, I used to have competitions with my co-workers to see who could fill up a jar with discolored metal faster. Newer paperclips and staples that have not yet become discolored are less of a preservation concern, since the climate control in archives helps prevent rusting, but it remains a problem to watch for in archives.

All in all, it’s been a good two weeks for learning new preservation skills and reinforcing old preservation standards.

W.T.K. Nugent: Notre Dame’s IU professor

As the new intern in the IU Archives this semester, I was assigned to continue processing the collection of history professor Walter T.K. Nugent’s papers. This collection, comprised of a sizeable 79 boxes, is a somewhat atypical accession for the IU Archives. Who is W.T.K. Nugent, you ask? Nugent was a history professor at Indiana University from 1963 to 1984, at which point he accepted the Tackes Professor of History chair at the University of Notre Dame, where he spent the remainder of his active teaching profession. Though he retired in 2000, he remains busy writing articles and reviews, focusing on the American West, the Progressive Era, and social/demographic history. As I was a history major myself (at the small school across the street from Notre Dame, coincidentally), I am really enjoying going through this collection – though I do occasionally get confused as to where I am after spending the afternoon reading off of Notre Dame stationery. Why does IU have the papers of this professor who spent most of his distinguished career at Notre Dame? To put it simply, he liked Indiana University better. We’re not questioning this too much.

I started the semester where the last intern left off, right in the middle of Dr. Nugent’s monographs. The history professor clearly took up his profession with gusto. The proof is in the amount of books, articles, and reviews he published; the speeches he gave; and the advice he shared with colleagues and friends through letters and email. Nugent has been active for nearly 50 years, culminating in approximately 50 boxes containing something about his publications. There are subseries within each major work, as well, including correspondence, reviews, drafts, and research. I never know what I’ll find when I open a box; as a true historian, Nugent filed away all kinds of papers, from Mackinaw Island pamphlets dating from the 1990s to personal photos taken on a trip to Brazil, to this little sheet slipped in among 1970s book reviews:

Golf Scores from 1973
Golf Scores from 1973

As a history student, I love to find these things when I’m working in the archives. However, as an archives student, the variety in Nugent’s collection raises many questions about what material is historically significant and what material is perhaps too sensitive to keep open. There are a few seemingly random papers like his golf scores, but there are also items like references and personal letters that raise issues of confidentiality and potential privacy problems interspersed with regular material. While it might be entertaining to know that Nugent shot some decent games in 1973, this likely will not help researchers interested in knowing Nugent’s take on that William Jennings Bryan book published in the same year. Still, can keeping one little paper like this really hurt the research value of the collection? These are the kinds of decisions archivists have to make as they process a collection. Access restrictions to sensitive information is perhaps more well-known as a processing issue, but along with that, processors must make some accession decisions on seemingly irrelevant but nonetheless fascinating material. I would argue that this makes the job all the more interesting.

Prof. Nugent’s papers will take awhile to process, but I have been enjoying all the research I’ve seen so far and look forward to the things I will find as I continue on. I’m almost done with his publications, which I think have given me a decent grasp of the ex-IU professor’s interests and methods in his academic life. I feel prepared to tackle the rest of this collection with a good understanding of what is historically important in Nugent’s life, and by extension, his papers.

Golf scores written on the back of an IU Transmittal Slip
Golf stats written on the back of an IU Transmittal Slip