Behind the Curtain: Hannah Osborn

Photograph of graduate student Hannah Obsorn standing on a ladder in from of an exhibit case. 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. 

Role at the IU Archives: Hannah works as a graduate student processor at the IU Archives. Her work includes the arrangement and description of new collections and supporting departmental outreach efforts such as exhibits and social media. Soon Hannah will begin a new full-time position at IU as the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture, and Design Administrative Assistant.

Educational background: Hannah graduated with her BFA from IU in 2014, majoring in studio photography with a minor in art history. After taking a few years off, she decided to return to IU to pursue a graduate education. In May she received her Master’s in Art History.

Previous archival experience: Hannah had very little archival experience before joining the IU Archives, but going through a research-heavy graduate program was invaluable when organizing collections and anticipating the ways in which researchers will need to access and utilize the materials that are being processed. The experiences she had while working for the Grunwald Gallery of Art between undergraduate and graduate programs also provided helpful insights when approaching the curatorial aspects of archival work.

What attracted her to work in the IU Archives: One of her graduate cohort brought the opening to her attention. Hannah was looking for a job opportunity that she would be able to balance with finishing her thesis. The ability to work with peoples’ personal ephemera, their material legacy, really drew her. She has always been someone who is incredibly sentimental when it comes to the objects and words people leave behind.  She is also hoping to enter the curatorial field and the ability to widen her skill set here at the Archives – learning things like archival management basics, digital preservation, and encoding- was very appealing when trying to diversify her experience for the job hunt.

Black and white photograph of Alma Eikerman and a student seated side-by-side at a work table. Eikerman is demonstrating a technique for the student.
Alma Eikerman with student, IU Archives image no. P0025305

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives: Hannah loves the  newsletters of former IU professor and metalsmith, Alma Eikerman in the Alma Eikerman Papers. They are written much like a “family Christmas newsletter,” with Eikerman proudly filling her readers in on what her students and alumni are up to – solo shows, fellowships, marriages, the births of children. The newsletters reveal how much Eikerman treasured her students and found joy in their success. For her, teaching was not something that ended when summer came. It was a lifelong relationship with those who came to pursue metalsmithing and jewelry design at IU.

Black and white photograph of film brochures for the program "Frog Anatomy"
Audiovisual Program Materials on Anatomy, 1964. IU Archives image no. P0080381

Project she’s currently working on:  Hannah currently has two projects going. She has been working on processing a large collection of printed materials, correspondence, and documentation which accompanied educational films housed in the former IU Audio Visual Center. The films are now a part of IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, and the goal is to make the accompanying documentation of these programs accessible as well. She is also assisting Outreach and Public Services Archivist, Carrie Schwier, in curating an exhibition centering on Alma Eikerman’s pedagogical legacy. The exhibit which is part of the three-part “Lineage Ladders: A Legacy of Faculty Excellence” opened today in the Herman B Wells Library Scholars’ Commons and is open through October 25, 2019.

Black and white photograph of three men unpacking artwork of the Thai exhibition. They are surrounded by wooded crates, and two sculptures of the Buddha are visible.
Theodore Bowie at the delivery of “The Arts of Thailand” Exhibition, 1960. IU Archives image no. P0033170

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: One of the best experiences for Hannah involved a blog post she wrote about Theodore Bowie, an art historian specializing in Asian Art. She found Bowie very inspiring in his fearlessness and in the adventurous spirit with which he pursued his career, and wrote that a section of his memoir had brought her a lot of hope. One of his daughters commented on the blog, saying that she enjoyed reading the account of her father. That was an incredible reminder of the deeply personal nature of archival materials and the way they carry so much memory and history, especially for the families who choose to donate a beloved family members legacy in the form of their papers.

Something she’s learned about IU by working in the Archives:  Learning about the intricacies of the preservation of digital materials has been fascinating for Hannah. She is also intrigued by the issues /opportunities archivists are facing in preserving correspondence and interactions in the age of social media. These are issues which are also affecting the preservation and display strategies of new media in art museums and galleries.

Behind the Curtain: Casey Burgess

This is a color photograph of a student in a graduation cap and gown. She is seated in the front of the archway of the IU Sample Gates and is surrounded by red and white tulips. 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. 

Title and Role: Casey is a processor who focuses on ingesting, organizing, and describing the digitized media delivered by MDPI (the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative). Casey will leave us soon for a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Archives! Congratulations to both Casey and the LA Phil – she will be a terrific asset to their program!

Educational background: Casey got her undergraduate degree in Music focusing in vocal performance and music history from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and just recently graduated from IU with her Master’s in Library Science.

Previous archival experience: Before coming to IU, Casey did a summer internship at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Ireland. In her MLS program here, she did several classes in the Archives and Records Management track, did some archival work with MDPI, and put on an exhibit in collaboration with the Archive of Traditional Music.

What attracted her to work in the IU Archives:  Casey has always been interested in working in an archive since her experience in Ireland. She also realized she knew very little about IU’s history, even though she had been here for two years. Working in the IU Archives was the perfect opportunity to get practical experience doing archival work in an academic institution while also learning more about IU along the way.

This is a black and white photograph of a group of 5 individuals who are each holding their Oscar award. Three men wearing suits stand to the right, while 2 women one standing and the other seated on a stool are to the left.
Oscar winners in “School of the Sky”, May 15, 1948. IU Archives image no. P0052037

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives: She worked on the Indiana School of the Sky Collection as part of her role with MDPI. Casey really loved listening to these recordings of radio shows from the 1940’s which were intended to teach young students in Indiana about all sorts of things related to science, art, history, literature, and more. She thought it was fascinating to hear what they taught then and  how similar or dissimilar education is today.

Project she’s currently working on: Casey is working on ingesting recordings done by Herman B Wells in the 1970s related to his autobiography “Being Lucky”. At this point she has completed 69 recordings, but still has a few more to go. Watch for an upcoming blog post for more details on this project!

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Her favorite experience in the Archives has been working on the MDPI recordings. She’s seen almost every part of the process for MDPI, but thinks that access is still the most exciting part. Being able to organize these recordings, which often contain golden nuggets of information, and know that this will help someone down the road is really exciting for her. Plus, she gets to listen to them!

Black and white photograph of a seated football player.
Preston Eagleson, 1895. IU Archives image no. P0022468

Something she’s  learned about IU by working in the Archives:  She’s learned so much by working in the Archives that it’s really hard to choose just one thing. While working on a post for Instagram back in February, Casey learned about Preston Emmanuel Eagleson, who was the first Black person on an athletics team at IU in 1892. More importantly, he was the second Black person to receive an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and then the first to receive a graduate degree from IU. Several generations of his family returned to IU as well. To her, these stories about individuals are the most fascinating and shed a lot of light about the communities at IU.

Into the Unknown: Theodore Bowie and “The Arts of Thailand”

Theodore R. Bowie, an art historian known for his work in what was at the time an underrepresented field – the history of Asian art- wore many hats during his time at Indiana University. A newly acquired and now-processed collection of Bowie’s papers containing a large number of photographs, letters, lecture notes, publications, and preparatory documents for perhaps the largest undertaking of his career, i.e. a 1960 exhibition named “The Arts of Thailand,” has allowed me a peek into the life of this prolific academic. Partially complete drafts of his memoir paint an inspiring picture of the man whose unflinching eagerness for professional involvement, passion for learning and travel, and unwavering confidence managed to bring the art of Thailand to the United States for the first time in history.

Cover of the softcover catalog for the 1960 opening of “The Arts of Thailand”

Originally educated and trained in the study of French literature, Bowie first displayed the nimbleness with which he moved through his career, throughout a multitude of academic positions and areas of expertise, when he moved into the discipline of art history. Bowie joined the Art Department as an associate professor at Indiana University in 1950. His relative lack of background in the field made him an uncertain candidate for tenure. Noticing his supervisor’s hesitancy in granting tenure, Bowie suggested his own installation as a librarian and guardian of the department’s new Fine Arts Library, a position which provided the ambitious and optimistic professor the opportunity to become involved in curating.

After mounting five shows dealing with the arts of Japan and China, in 1955 Bowie was approached by Henry Radford Hope on behalf of then-president Herman B Wells asking for a show demonstrating the art of Thailand. This request for a Thai art show came at a time when IU was one of multiple state schools participating in an exchange program with the Southeast Asian country. American universities sent faculty in a variety of disciplines and their families to Thailand for eighteen to twenty-four months and, in turn, Thailand sent undergraduate and graduate students to study at its partner universities. Bowie agreed to take on the immense task, despite having no knowledge of Thai art. After inquiring with the National Gallery in DC as a location to inaugurate the show, he was met with a polite but firm “no.” Although “The Arts of Thailand” would go on to travel to a number of large internationally recognized museums across the US, Western Europe, and Japan, contributing institutions agreed that the show would open, for the first time, in Bloomington, Indiana in 1960.

Promotional material for “The Arts of Thailand” at Indiana University.

For Bowie, the formation of his selection committee was critical in facing the large task that now confronted him. He brought on Kojiro Tomita, a specialist in Japanese art from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Alexander Griswold, an archaeologist and paleologist specializing in South Asian art; and Prince Subhadradis Diskul, the curator in chief of the national museum in Bangkok, to assist him in the project and teach him the ins and outs of Thai art. One of the few rules Bowie had in organizing the show was that none of the works were to be on loan from dealers, but rather from personal collections. A large number of the pieces featured, therefore, ended up coming from the collections of the Thai royal family. Bowie writes in his memoirs of the collectors hesitancy to let their best pieces travel, a cautiousness which was remedied by both Griswold’s personal connections and Bowie’s assertion that if Thailand wanted the global exhibition of its art to be on par with those of its East Asian neighbors, he would only accept the best.

Once the loans of the nearly three hundred and fifty works of art, many of which were large sculptural pieces, were secured, Bowie employed a Thai photographer to document them for the catalog. One of Bowie’s biggest challenges with the exhibition was transportation of the loaned pieces. As the show traveled around the world, Bowie was effectively responsible for each piece’s safety for the entire two years for which it toured. The pieces were stored in crates made from native Thai teakwood. During the entire duration of the shows global lifespan, the items were packed or unpacked over twenty times. Transported by large naval ships, the crates had to be stored on the top decks and protected from the elements, as opposed to in the more enclosed holds. This unique accommodation was necessitated by the sacred nature of a number of the items and the belief that to stand or walk above or on an image of the Buddha was sacrilegious. The Thai curators who accompanied the works abroad had never had the experience of traveling works of art across continents, and these logistical considerations provided additional job training and experience for them.

Pieces for the exhibition being transported using ships belonging to the US Navy.

On a local level, Bowie was confronted with the complication that what would become the IU Art Museum was still under construction (part of the present day Fine Arts Building)– a problem which he solved by creating a dynamic show spread across three locations: IU’s Auditorium, The Lilly Library, and the Art Center Gallery (what is now the Grunwald Gallery). The unconventional settings, although facilitating greater access and public engagement, presented security concerns, as the various locations were not equipped with surveillance or guards. The safety of the Thai art work was ensured, however, by a detachment of university ROTC officers who provided twenty-four hour security. The Auditorium held sculptures from a variety of periods, with many of the larger pieces having to be displayed on the floor because of their weight. The Art Center Gallery displayed paintings from the collection of the King of Thailand and theatrical masks, while the Lilly featured displays of Thai books, manuscripts, and richly decorated lacquer cabinets. A number of the visitors to these exhibition areas would have, on their way to other events on campus, stumbled across lobbies for the three exhibition areas decorated in vibrant silks and been enticed to stay and linger with the treasured pieces on display. Well-received by students, faculty, and administrators at IU “The Arts of Thailand” would prove to be a huge success with audiences throughout its two year run, and inspired both a film of the same name and a follow-up exhibition, “The Sculpture of Thailand,” in the 1970s. Recently digitized, the film is part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive and can be accessed here through Media Collections Online.

“Thai Arts Exhibition,” 1960 in the Art Center Gallery (now the Grunwald)

“The Arts of Thailand” was a massive undertaking for its time, fraught with a number of obstacles which Bowie seemed to blithely address in stride. Describing his mindset in undertaking the show, Bowie wrote:

 “I had hoped to talk about it to Henry [Radford Hope] and Herman B Wells, but alas Henry is gone and I will never know whether the thought had occurred to him that here was a non-existent museum, represented by a little known member of his Art Department who was not an authority on anything and had published nothing, who was generally (and loosely ) familiar with Far Eastern Art  but totally ignorant of Thai art, proceeding as an equal with some of the most important museums in the country to bring to this country and circulate a large collection of works of art of all kinds, easily deserving because of the scale and quantity of objects of the term “blockbuster,” …The odd thing is that at [the] time in question, about 1959, I was not in the least fazed by those duties that I had not applied for. I was, however, certain that I could carry it out as expected and never lose any sleep over the matter”

As an aspiring curator and a student pursuing my master’s in art history, the discovery of the life of Ted Bowie has been timely. Coming to the field of art history with, as a former studio major, what felt like less background than my cohort, was daunting. As I am again veering off in a different direction, away from academia and, hopefully, into the field of curating, I often find myself riddled with uncertainty. Starting the grueling process of applying for jobs, I find myself doubting my qualifications. Coming across Bowie’s words, and researching his life, one which progressed not in a straight and proscribed line, but in a joyous meander driven by his passions and ambitions, I am reminded that, perhaps, it is good to wear a few hats throughout one’s lifetime. Bowie’s brazen self-confidence has come as a perfect rallying cry, a reminder to question not whether we are capable, but rather what things we might be capable of.

An undated portrait of Bowie found in his personal archive – The Theodore Bowie Papers