The Folklore Paper Collection: A Cabinet of Curiosities

Musei_Wormiani_Historia
“Musei Wormiani Historia”, the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities. From: commons.wikipedia.org

You never know what you will find when you dive into a box of Folklore papers. Much like a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Renaissance and Victorian periods (see left) these boxes are stuffed full of papers and items that will spark one’s curiosity, wet one’s intellectual appetite, and engage the mind in cultural history.

The University Archives recently processed a collection of papers written by students taking material culture courses in the Folklore Institute between 1960 and the early 1980s. These papers are written on a wide variety of subjects within material culture including architecture, crafts, tombstones & epitaphs, quilting, furniture, instrument making, family traditions and recipes, fashion, and food ways.

Many of these papers consist of interviews with artisans and craftsmen, family members, or owners of the locations being researched. One such paper includes an account by the owner of a house near Elizabethtown, Indiana which was part of the Underground Railroad used by runaway slaves fleeing north to Canada during the Civil War. A number of the locations and craftsmen discussed in these papers are local or in close proximity to Bloomington, including a paper on the Rose Well House which is a popular fixture of legend in IU campus lore.

Postcard Set Postcard Duo

For those more interested in religious studies there are also papers centered around religion. One such paper describes the folkways surrounding food, feasting, and religious practices of the Russian Orthodox Church during the week of Easter and recounts how the low number of parishioners at Bloomington’s Russian Orthodox Church affected the Bloomington orthodox community in the 60s and 70s. The paper even includes a set of colorful feast-themed Eastern Orthodox postcards for the reader to examine (see here). I would be curious to see if the church survived or not but I couldn’t find it through any direct means…perhaps that is an answer in it of itself.

Sometimes going through papers from various years allows the researcher to see trends.  Apple doll making and water witching seem to have been popular subjects in the 60s and 70s. There are also a fair number of papers written on local tombstones and instrument makers in this collection.

Most of these papers will include samples, HeroI012photographs, or other items related to the paper’s subject. One such paper written on the Kennedy family, who built covered bridges in Indiana, has a beautiful set of covered bridge illustrations and diagrams as well as old advertisements for tools used to construct these bridges.

Other papers involving quilt making either have quilting pattern diagrams,
Quilt Samples
magazine pictures, samples, or hand drawn patterns to help explain the types of patterns being  discussed (see here).

Slightly more odd items are included with these papers too. One paper on soap-making had a bag of lye stapled to one of the pages (you definitely don’t want to touch that with your bare hands. It’s highly caustic and can burn your skin!).  Another had a seemingly random top of a wood spool of sowing thread with no explanation as to its significance within the greater context of the paper other than the fact that the paper was on quilt-making.  As I continued to go through the collection I briefly wondered if I would encounter a paper on Thanksgiving that included a wishbone taped to the backside of one of the papers…but alas the wishbone did not reveal itself…

For more on these papers and other Folklore-related items contact the IU Archives.

 

Sloth Talk

This image shows a portion of the Museum on the third floor of Science Hall which was located on the old campus at Seminary Square. Only about eight cases of minerals and fossils, comprising about 1000 specimens (including the Megalonyx seen here) were saved after the fire that destroyed this building on July 12, 1883. The bones of the Megalonyx were discovered on the banks of the Ohio River below Henderson, Kentucky. This original photographic print can be found in a book of photographs prepared and photographed by T.A. Wylie and S. B. Wylie for the 1876 Exposition at Philadelphia.

Pictured above is the wonderfully named Megalonyx jeffersonii – a giant sloth discovered and collected in the 19th century by Richard and David Dale Owen, significant contributors to both IU’s and the state of Indiana’s history of natural science studies. Megalonyx formed part of what was known as the “Owen Cabinet,” a collection of approximately 85,000 fossils and minerals assembled by the aforementioned Owens as well as Robert Owen, Alexander Maclure and William Maclure.

The partial skeleton of the Megalonyx jeffersonii, an extinct species of giant sloth named after Thomas Jefferson, was discovered in Henderson, Kentucky. Researchers of the time debated whether the more than 60 bones originated from the same animal, and those responsible for mounting the specimen decided to leave space for the missing bones rather than create approximate molds from comparable species skeletons. A receipt from its transportation to Indiana University reveals that the skeleton cost $130 for transport, as well as $70 for its case and $1.84 for freight services. Though the specimen was saved from Indiana University’s devastating 1883 fire that destroyed most of the Owen Cabinet, its location becomes murky in the early 20th century.

Though considered the “most complete skeleton ever recovered of this relatively poorly represented species,” a search for the bones by university anthropologists in the 1980s turned up evidence that much of it was probably disposed of shortly after the end of World War II along with a number of other specimens. They reached out to a number of alumni from the 1940s to ask if they had recollections of the fossil. One reported that after 1945, “there apparently was a great ‘housecleaning’ of poorly attributed specimens at that time. There are reports that a dump truck was backed up to a second story window of Owen Hall and students tossed unwanted specimens out the window.” Some correspondents reported participating in the great purge themselves, joking about the dogs on campus running off with prehistoric bones. A smaller school of thought suggests that a second fire may have occurred in 1947, thus destroying all but 5 of the bones, but given the lack of evidence for this theory – as well as my newfound expertise on fires at Indiana University – the department dumpster seems far more plausible.

In 1995, an Archives staff member received an email that solved at least part of the long-time mystery of the location of the Megalonyx jeffersonii: four of its bones had been located at the Indiana State Museum. But what of the previously mentioned 5th bone? And the remaining fossil?

Thus, the mystery continues. If you have any information regarding the disappearance of the Megalonyx jeffersonii, do let us know!

The Alma Eikerman papers

The Alma Eikerman papers are now organized and available for research! If you don’t remember, the collection came to us in pretty rough shape; you can read about in my blog post from a few months ago.

Born in 1908, Eikerman was a well-respected artist and professor who taught in the School of Fine Arts (now the School of Art + Design) at Indiana University from 1947 to 1978. Known for her innovative metalsmithing, she was a vital force behind the development of the program at IU. Her work appeared in numerous exhibitions during her lifetime and now resides in private collections and museums across the country, including the Smithsonian and our own IU Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Passports of Alma Eikerman
Passports of Alma Eikerman

The Eikerman papers includes a wealth of material documenting Eikerman and her life. Included are papers from her extensive travels such as tickets, maps, itineraries, brochures, notes she took while on trips, and her passports with stamps of the countries she visited.

Her correspondence includes not only professional missivesSome letter sent to Alma but also many personal letters, such as post cards Eikerman sent to her parents while she was working for the American Red Cross and a letter from her grandfather from around 1916. Eikerman also sent annual newsletters to her former students to keep everyone updated on each other, demonstrating her dedication to and interest in her students.

The photographs in this collection are my personal favorites and include slides, negatives and prints spanning her entire life, personal and professional. Also, can we all just agree that Alma Eikerman was incredibly Pictures of Alma photogenic?

Lastly, and perhaps most important to those familiar with her work as an artist, is the part of the collection that relates to metalsmithing. Here researchers can find notes, receipts for materials, price estimates, sale tickets, as well as preparatory sketches of her work in various Sketches from Alma's papersstates of development – some hardly more than doodles while others are detailed sketches of a piece complete with notes.

Contact the IU Archives to schedule an appointment to view the Eikerman collection!

Behind the Curtain: Doug Sanders, IU Libraries Paper Conservator

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Title: Paper img_9948Conservator for IU Libraries Collections

Educational Background: BS in Chemistry and BFA from Tufts University & School of the Museum of Fine Arts; MA in Conservation from University of Northumbria, UK.

Previous Experience: Doug has worked in private conservation labs, university settings (Durham University, Carnegie-Mellon), and institutions such as the National Trust UK, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives, and the Indiana Historical Society.

Partnership role: Doug works with the aim of preserving the collections into the future. This service is provided by actively conserving collection materials and advising on access, exhibition and storage topics. Conservators bring knowledge of the materials archives are full of, and how they undergo change with time. Doug uses this information in active and passive ways to promote long-lasting collections. He enjoys the breadth and depth of the collections here at IU.

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C597 Doris Joan Richards Neff scrapbook, 1945-1946 which includes everything from dance cards, a cookie, a frog eye lens, and chewed gum

Favorite item in the collection: Scrapbooks! Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’ve got a lot of ‘em!

Current IU Archives project: Surveying the condition of albums and scrapbooks to determine treatment priorities…and making a box for a football.

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Favorite experience: Working with the great staff and learning more about the University’s history.

What he’s learned from working with IU Archives’ collections: The trials and tribulations of starting and running a university in the 19th century, as revealed through early faculty accounts, President’s office records and other primary source materials.