The Saga of the Alma Eikerman papers

Photo of Alma EikermanAlma Eikerman was a successful metalsmith, an innovative jewelry designer, world traveler, and beloved professor at Indiana University from 1947 to 1978. She was in countless exhibitions, won many awards, and her work today is in numerous museums across the country including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Indiana University Art Museum (IUAM) on campus. As in intern at the IU Archives this semester, this was all pretty intimidating but I was thrilled to be given the opportunity arrange and describe Eikerman’s papers as part of my internship. I was already familiar with her work through the IUAM, where I also currently work as an hourly in the Registrar department. 

I was eager to dive in. I knew people loved her and respected her, but most of the items in the file were from other people’s point of view. I wanted to learn more about her.  Of course the best way to do this would be to actually meet her, but unfortunately Eikerman passed away in 1995. The next best thing, would be to go through the documents she collected during her lifetime.

Some collections come to the IU Archives neatly organized and labeled in alphabetized folders – the Eikerman papers were the opposite.  Sadly, it was as if whoever boxed them up, merely pulled out the drawers of her desk, turned them upside down, and dumped the contents into 12 Rubbermaid bins. It is my job to create some sort of order out of this chaos so that a researcher can come and use the papers in a timely fashion. I learned a lot about Eikerman as I went through the first few tubs. For instance, she traveled around the world (shown by her multiple tickets, receipts, guidebooks, maps and passports). She kept in touch with her former students and tried to follow their careers (shown through the newsletters she sent them and copies of publicity from their exhibitions), and designed her own home (seen by the designs she drew and the magazine clippings she marked).

A glimpse of the unprocessed Alma Eikerman Collection
A glimpse of the unprocessed Alma Eikerman Collection

I am now more than 3 weeks deep into this collection, and I feel that I have only scratched the surface. I find a messy collection like this exciting, with a new surprise in every box. I may sound like a commercial for those children’s cereals with a toy inside, but it is so true. I will be sifting through what seems like a thousand years worth of holiday cards and then SURPRISE there is letter she wrote to her grandfather when she was about nine or one of her passports with stamps from all over Asia.      

The whole process is fun, but it is also exhausting. I was starting to get a little overwhelmed and blurry eyed. I have all these piles of items that are similar, and I have taken over the back room storage room of the IU Archives. Then I came across an incredible find, a travel permission form from when she served with the Red Cross in the 1940s. Where does this go?!?! I sat there looking at my piles with this fragile, old paper resting in my hand for probably five minutes.  

My domination of the back room
My domination of the back room

After this blog break, I’m headed back to the collection to hopefully uncover more treasures. I hope to have the collection fairly well organized by the end of this semester; watch for more information here or contact the IU Archives. In the meantime if you’re interested in other artist’s papers, you might like those of printmaker Rudy Pozzatti, textile artist Joan Sterrenburg, or sculptors Karl Martz and Jean-Paul Darriau.

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