Toyoaki Uehara: Unboxing 38 Years of Correspondence (Part 3)

This is the final installment of a series of posts intern Jeannine has written about her work on the late Toyoaki Uehara papers. See also Part 1 and Part 2

There are so many interesting items tucked in among the Toyoaki Uehara correspondence files that it is almost a shame to only post images of a few.  Having gained “pen pals” from around the world, Uehara consequently received numerous cards from people who just wanted to keep in touch.  Amongst the usual Christmas greetings, standard birthday wishes, and humorous cartoon postcards are a few gems, hand-printed objects both colorful and beautiful, representing art and craft from various countries.  Some are simple, such as the postcard embossed with a Japanese scene and highlighted in watercolor.

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Kiyumizu Temple, embossed watercolor postcard,  1962.

Others are more complex and detailed, like the small but lovely greeting card showing an image of a waterfall (left). Created using Japanese woodblock printing  techniques, these images are refined over a series of stages as different colors are added.  Time-consuming to make, quality woodblock prints are true works of art. There are several examples of this kind of work within the collection.

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Waterfall, woodblock print on cardstock, ca. 1972.

Another intriguing item is the pipal leaf skeleton painting from India.  The pipal (also spelled peepal, peepul or pippal) tree holds special significance in Indian mythology, and is sometimes known as the Bodhi tree.  Its leaves are frequently skeletonized and painted, and the images framed or attached to greeting cards and bookmarks.  Typically paintings include particular themes, such as figures from Hindu mythology, animals, and scenery.  These leaf skeletons are exceptionally delicate, and this particular example has held up very well considering how it was stored, fully intact and retaining its original vibrant colors.

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Man harvesting, pipal leaf painting on cardstock, ca. 1970.

I also discovered a beautifully detailed and gorgeously colored wood postcard depicting a scene on a Japanese river.   The vibrant red stamps on the reverse side are equally crisp and attractive.  Postcards made out of wood became popular during the 1950s and 60s, and vintage American cards are easily come by.  Size, style, thickness and quality vary widely, as do the themes of the designs.  This lovely example has been carefully rendered onto a shaving of wood barely thicker than a piece of paper, fragile to the point of brittleness, that somehow made it safely to the United States via airmail in 1969!
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Some items are more humorous and have a great amount of personal charm.  22 For me, the nicest ones are the letters and cards from Dr. Uehara’s son, Osamu.  One charming piece is a brief letter that includes a drawing and some dialogue from a little story titled “Grettings (Greetings) from the Sea.”  This is probably the most elaborate example we have from Osamu, and it seems like perhaps he was trying to impress with his excellent storytelling abilities.

In the image below, one of several examples of ink drawings from the same correspondent, two crying bunnies on the hill seem sad to see the O’Brien family go, and drawn in on the trailer among the books and “sweet memories” are “hickory nuts” and “black walnuts.”  Though we will likely never know the specific significance of these little details, it’s nice to think that this sweet drawing made Dr. Uehara and his family smile when it was received.

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Christmas greeting. Ink and watercolor on cardstock, 1971.

Well, this marks the final chapter of my Uehara experience.  Thirty-eight years and sixty-six total folders of correspondence are now behind me.  I hope our blog readers have enjoyed following along on my journey with this rich and varied collection!  While my internship is up, I will be continuing to work in the archives as I complete my coursework so I look forward to more adventures with you!

Description and arrangement of the Uehara papers will get wrapped up in the next few months and the finding aid added to ArchivesOnline. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this or any other Archives collection, please contact the Archives staff!

Kathleen McKee Butts papers

Kathleen McKee Butts was born June 7th, 1900.  She attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, where she was a staff member for the school’s Daily Echo newspaper.  Well-liked and relatively popular, she had an early interest in reporting and writing that followed into her college career.  After graduating high school in 1918 with an unprecedented number of credits she enrolled at Indiana University at Bloomington, majoring in English and minoring in Journalism.  She attended from 1918-1921, and though she did not complete her degree she worked as a reporter for the Indiana Daily Student until 1921.  On May 24, 1922 McKee married Albert W. Butts in Marion County, Indiana.  After that point she worked for several advertising agencies and publishers in Kathleen McKee ButtsIndiana and Washington, D.C., and wrote editorials for Plainfield, Indiana’s Plainfield Messenger in 1934.  She wrote a number of stories and radio scripts, some of which were submitted for publication but not picked up.  Kathleen wrote under several pseudonyms, including Kay McKee, K. Wesley Butts, and McKee Butts, though it is unclear to us how many of her stories and radio programs ever reached the public.

The available story of Kathleen’s life is limited, and told mostly through letters, newspaper clippings, and notes kept by her father between 1902 and 1944.  Her parents, Dr. Joseph Fennell McKee and Irene Sullivan McKee, divorced messily in May of 1904.  The divorce grew into a long, drawn-out legal battle with accusations of child cruelty, kidnapping and neglect on both sides, with Irene first returning to live with her father John E. Sullivan and eventually leaving Indiana for Louisville, Kentucky.  A further legal battle between Dr. McKee and Mr. Sullivan regarding the theft of business documents caused further divisiveness.  The media of the time seem to have reported every controversial detail surrounding their numerous court cases, though the truthfulness of some of the accusations is uncertain.  J. F. McKee fought unsuccessfully for years to gain full custody of Kathleen, though he eventually succeeded in achieving custody for a few months of each year.  Ultimately McKee grew estranged from Kathleen, losing contact with her altogether.  During the 1940s, anticipating his death, Dr. McKee attempted to reconnect with her, corresponding with a number of individuals and attorneys in attempt to locate his daughter and her husband.  He wrote a letter in an attempt to reach Kathleen on October 22, 1943 with an incomplete address of Hotsprings, Arkansas, which was returned unclaimed.  It is unclear if she ever reconnected with her father before he passed away.

There are decades of time almost entirely undocumented, with only hints as to her activities.  She moved quite a bit, living and working in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Washington, D.C. Her husband grew ill and passed away sometime before 1934, and she does not appear to have had any children, as the 1940 census lists her as widowed and living alone.  After a time of failing health in which she stayed at the Mar-Salle Convalescent Center in Washington,  D.C., she was assigned a ward to care for her in her final months.  She died in July 1977, and the materials in this collection were held by her friend and neighbor Benita Kaplan before being donated to the Archives in 2015. A finding aid is now available for the materials and those interested in accessing the papers should contact the Archives.

Toyoaki Uehara: Unboxing 38 Years of Correspondence (Part 2)

(For Part 1 of this series from Archives Intern Jeannine, see: https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/iubarchives/2015/10/30/uehara1/)

The exploration of the Uehara correspondence continues.  I am currently about midway through the process of removing the documents from their containers and placing them into labeled 3folders.  Upon release from their decades-long confinement, the stacks of letters swell slightly, as though they have been waiting to breathe.  The sheer volume of the materials is somewhat overwhelming – there are thousands of letters contained within the collection, each one of which will need to be unfolded and examined, but the end results will be worthwhile.  What I have uncovered so far has been interesting, informative, and sometimes even beautiful.  It truly is a time capsule of correspondence.

We have chosen to file the letters according to year in order to maintain original order as much as possible.  Though we cannot keep the materials in the tissue boxes we received them in due to conservation issues, retaining Mrs. Uehara’s filing “system” will allow us to retain something of their original context.  Also, filing according to correspondent would be very difficult for our staff, as more than 50% of the materials are written entirely in Japanese.9

The types of correspondence Uehara received over the years is remarkably varied.  There are politely-worded notes from students dropping his language class or requesting letters of recommendation, letters inquiring about his health and family, postcards from travels, family photos, and even formal letters from the Japanese Consulate.  One frequent correspondent is Floyd H. Ross, professor of theology at the University of Southern California, who wrote to Uehara about various topics in religion and language.

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Kagemusha poster, 1980.

Standing out from the crowd are a few more personal or visual items, including a small paper poster of Kagemusha, a famed Akira Kurosawa film.  The poster was one of several forwarded to Uehara by an employee of a local film store to help promote the movie.  The note written on the poster begins: “Professor Uehara – Just thought I’d drop this note to let you know that this film will finally show in Bloomington.”  The film had come out a year before, and apparently staff and students alike were itching to see it!  With this item, as many others, there is little information given beyond the signature at the end of the note, which does not make it easy to find out who this person is or was and his relationship to Dr. Uehara.

When it is possible to identify a specific correspondent, it’s very exciting! Dr. Uehara received frequent letters discussing travels, teaching, research, and various other topics from someone who signed his missives simply as “Pete.”  Then, I hit gold in the form of a photo postcard.  Now some actual investigation! Far from 78a faceless friend, Pete was Peter Metevelis – an exchange fellow, teacher, researcher, East Asian folklorist, and author of several books and articles about Japanese myth and culture.  In the postcard he mentions an article he had written, which unfortunately was not to be found in the collection, as well as his need to shorten his name so people from the local P.T.A. could pronounce it (first or last name, one wonders?).  It’s just so interesting to discover one of the real people behind these letters.

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The letters in the Uehara collection come in an amazingly wide variety of shapes, textures, and sizes.  Among the oversized materials are several lovely hand-caligraphied “scrolls,” one over three feet long.

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My work on the collection continues, so stay tuned!

Toyoaki Uehara: Unboxing 38 Years of Correspondence (Part 1)

As a graduate student in the Archives Specialization in the Department of Information and Library Science, one of my degree requirements is to intern for a semester with a special collections repository. To fulfill this requirement, this fall I have interned at the University Archives where I have primarily focused on processing collections of University records as well as the personal papers of IU faculty and alums.

For the last month, I have been wrestling with a rich and varied collection of correspondence, sound recordings, and manuscripts of the late Toyoyaki Uehara, a longtime member of IU’s Department of East Asian Languages and Culture. Dr. Uehara moved from Japan to Los Angeles, California in 1951 on a scholarship, where he studied, taught, and founded a TenrikUeharayo church.  He began working as an assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington in 1963 and remained until his retirement in 1990.  A respected professor and scholar, a significant portion of the collection consists of correspondence with Uehara’s former students and colleagues in the United States and Japan. Uehara also traveled frequently, and while away, exchanged letters often with his wife, son, brother, and a number of relatives over the decades.

There are ways and ways to maintain and organize correspondence. As a university professor and scholar, knowing that it was possible these materials could be deposited in a repository for preservation and research, it might be assumed that his letters would be organized in some way, perhaps in the same order as they were received, or alphabetically by correspondent.  Not in the case of Toyoaki Uehara, or rather, of his wife. Kiyoko Uehara organized and stored her husband’s personal correspondence in a rather unconventional manner – inside tissue boxes. Sometimes, she wrapped the letters in paper and tied them all neatly with Christmas 4ribbon. Compiled by year (thankfully!), in some instances more than a hundred letters were crammed into these less-than-forgiving cardboard boxes.

A quick overview of the materials shows that it will clearly take some time to open these items and arrange them in folders fit for perusal.  As one might imagine, 38 years of exchanges adds up to a fair number of letters, cards, notes, postcards and telegrams.  Any item that did not fit easily into the tissue box was likely damaged in some way – bent, torn, or crushed to varying degrees.  Delicate airmail and rice paper letters and envelopes that have been deformed and compressed for o1ver 50 years need to be carefully unfolded to avoid tearing or damaging them further (and will eventually make their way to our wonderful paper conservation folks at the Preservation Lab!).  It’s going to be a bit of an adventure bringing these missives to light, but it will certainly be interesting discovering what is hiding inside these curious containers.