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!

Carolyn Fink: Wife, Student, Cat Owner

Like many young couples at IU after World War II, Carolyn and John Fink took advantage of the G.I. Bill and lived at I.U. while earning their degrees. Their life is recorded through Carolyn’s memoir, “Nightingales in the Branches” from 1955 which offers the reader glimpses into the life of married veterans and their wives at Indiana University. Carolyn covers everything from illicit hot plates in the married dorms to saying hello to Nick at Nick’s Olde English Hut.

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Trailer Court – the trailer park where the Finks lived during their “Cat Era”

Although Fink’s narrative touches upon the stress and trials of married life in small quarters, it also offers delightful tidbits that make her memoir relevant even to modern readers. Like many animal-lovers, Carolyn likes to talk about the furry roommates she and her husband acquired during their time living in a trailer near campus. In fact, she dedicates all of Chapter 10 and 11 to their “Cat Era,” which included four cats named Eightball, Fluffy, Charlie, and Orange. She tells of how Eightball only went to the bathroom in ashtrays when they left him inside, and how sickly little Charlie seemed to the rest of them. She tells of how they finally discovered that the prissy, feminine Fluffy was actually a tomcat and how Orange seemed to care little about their welfare.

Photo 1 (002)While the whole memoir is interesting and made me feel like Carolyn and John’s close personal friend, the “Cat Era” chapter endeared me to them forever. I, too, like to tell everyone about my cat, Daffy, and was thinking “Daffy does that too!” all through the chapter. For instance, like Eightball, he answers all my questions directed at him with a mew and, like Orange, I am pretty sure he could not care less if I almost kill myself trying to avoid stepping on him as long as he is fed.

If you are interested in married life at IU, the G.I. bill, or just like to read stories about cats, “Nightingales in the Branches” is an excellent read.

The Travel Scrapbook of Dolores Whitney

Dolores Whitney completed a degree at Wesleyan University in 1945 and graduated with a M.S. from Indiana University in 1950. While we don’t know much regarding her life after IU, one box of documents and ceramics that she donated to the IU Archives in 1965 leaves us clues. In particular, a small scrapbook recording her time in Japan from 1947 to 1948 as a U.S. Civil services employee really stands out.

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Front Cover of Dolores Whitney Japan Scrapbook

Bound in a soft leather cover, Dolores’ time in Japan is encapsulated. Like most scrapbooks, it is filled not only with photographs of the places she went and people she went with, but also ephemera documenting her time there. She includes maps, brochures, pamphlets, postcards, and even a drawing of herself done by a young Japanese student artist. All these commemorate her adventure away from home and I can only imagine her sitting with family and friends showing them all that she did during her time away.

Drawing of Dolores Whitney
Drawing of Dolores Whitney
Map in Dolores Whitney's Japan Scrapbook
Map in Dolores Whitney’s Japan Scrapbook
Photos in Dolores Whitney's Japan Scrapbook
Photos in Dolores Whitney’s Japan Scrapbook

 

This item really had me connecting with Dolores Whitney because sixty or so odd years later, I also make scrapbooks of my travels. Last May I took a trip to Ireland. It was my first trip out of the country. Like Dolores, I hoarded all the tickets, maps, postcards, and brochures I came across. When I got home I bound them into a homemade scrapbook to document my time across the pond. Probably like Dolores, I showed this to my curious family at Thanksgiving. While my scrapbook is not tied together in soft leather, it still serves the same purpose: to hold the scraps of a trip that I will want to tell my grandchildren about someday.

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.