Sincerely Yours: How Artists Research with Alma Eikerman

Alma Eikerman, IU Archives image no. P0059062

I recently had the opportunity to reprocess correspondence in the increasingly popular Alma Eikerman papers (C621) for better researcher access. The series contains slices of the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts’ life, including letters home from her extensive travels, thoughtful communications with former students, discussions with fellow IU faculty, and more. Eikerman’s correspondence shows her independent spirit, wit, and artistic and pedagogical philosophies.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing some summer blues—it is always difficult for me to not feel vegetative in the hot months between school years. In my dreary state, I came across a 1984 letter from Eikerman to Metalsmith editor Sara Bodine that mentioned the Metropolitan Museum of Art—something that piqued my interest. As I continued to read, I could almost hear Alma laughing at my intellectual lethargy. Her passion is evident:

“My life has been made most rewarding by following my interests. My research started when I was in college, it followed no plan, except that of my interests, and continues today. I have been a world traveler, and research of many different areas of metal objects has certainly added to the pleasure and my knowledge. I acquired a strong feeling that a professor of metal should also know as much as possible about the history of metal. Well, that means, knowing almost all of world history.”

Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April, 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington
Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Her honest account of following her research interests struck a chord with me. As practicing artists may know, however, it can be overwhelming to know where to start research. Alma includes helpful—and non-intimidating—advice for Metalsmith readers:

“For a beginner it is fun to start with a historical object that fascinates you. Gather a number of library books about the area of your interest. Fortify yourself with good maps of the area and begin to make sketches of all the important pieces in a given field. Sketches help you see and seek out the details.”

This is why research in the visual arts interests me so much. Artists are able to use their technical skills of creation to understand research material in a unique way. Being able to actually draw one’s research subjects is a powerful way to connect with learning. She continues to emphasize the importance of looking as an active verb in research, writing:

“Learn where the pieces were made or found-and in which museum they are located…This kind of study research can start in the museum nearest to you—or it can simply start from book study. Libraries are full of wonderful books, with good reproductions.”

As someone whose most vivid childhood memories include parent-dictated art museum trips and the pages of the Time-Life Library of Art books, I second Alma’s affections. For artists, visual research (or looking) is just as important as text-based research.

Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April, 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April, 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington
Alma Eikerman to Sara Bodine, 2 April 1984. Alma Eikerman papers, C621, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington

Even so, Alma’s powers of textual description make this letter so fun. Following her advice, which she wrote to serve as an introduction to a piece in Metalsmith, Alma describes three pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that she wants to include with her magazine piece. There are no accompanying slides for these, so in order to identify them a reader has to do a bit of searching. Amazingly, just entering her description of each piece + “Metropolitan Museum of Art” into a search engine immediately retrieved the three pieces. Now that is some powerful descriptive skill!
The three pieces are: a pair of gold armbands with two tritons from Hellenistic Greece, a 4th century silver head of a Sasanian king, and a gold and stone necklace from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. Looking at these pieces, it is easy to understand Alma’s perspective on art history. Although she was a mid-twentieth century artist, she was able to pull from eons of history to inform her research and work. For anyone feeling stuck on an artistic or research project this summer, take Alma’s advice and trust your instincts—follow your interests. The way forward may not always be clear, but there is a path.

Feeling inspired? Get more motivation by contacting an archivist to check out this collection.

Sincerely Yours: Ernie Pyle Day

Individual photo portrait of Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle’s 1923 yearbook photo

This Friday, August 3rd, Indiana University celebrates an adopted hometown hero on National Ernie Pyle Day! Did you know, however, that Pyle did not receive an IU degree until twelve years after he left Bloomington? The Vermillion County native began his studies here in 1919, but left a year before completing his degree in order to take a position with the La Porte Herald. Bittersweet personal circumstances also surrounded his IU departure: he had recently experienced a bad run-in with some Department of Journalism faculty, and a love interest gave him back his going-steady pin. Despite this, Pyle remained close with companions from IU his entire life. In 1941, at the height of his fame, he waxed longingly to his friend “Hermie” (yes, that one: Herman B Wells) about planning a chance to “escape” to Monroe and Brown Counties. So it was with anticipation, nostalgia, and some nerves that Ernie Pyle returned to IU in November 1944 to receive an honorary degree.

Two letters at the IU Archives show Pyle’s trademark wit and authenticity regarding his prodigal return. In a letter to his friend and IU Alumni Association secretary George “Dixie” Heighway the day after the honorary degree luncheon, Pyle wrote:

It was a wonderful day, Dixie. Instead of hating it, as I had anticipated, I’d almost like to do it again. You couldn’t have arranged it any better for my pleasure. I am deeply appreciative.

Dad and Aunt Mary will be talking about it for years. And so will I (I hope!).

In addition to his thanks, Pyle asks Heighway to send along some information, including the full name and address for University Comptroller Ward Biddle, the man who initially proposed Pyle’s honorary degree to President Wells. Most interesting though, is this request: “The name + street address of Harriett Davidson, Tri-Delt of ’24, now married to a Dr. Martin + living in Bedford, Ind.” This is the same Harriett Davidson who returned Pyle’s pin all those years ago! Perhaps Pyle was moved by the nostalgia of being in Bloomington, and wrote to Davidson to catch up with her after all those years.

Black and white photograph of Ernie Pyle and Patricia Krieghbaum in the IDS office, November 1944
Ernie Pyle visits the Indiana Daily Student office during his return to campus in November 1944.

As we read this letter today, it’s impossible not to feel a little sentimental. We know that Pyle was struck by sniper fire and died during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945—just months after he wrote this letter. His humorous jab of hoping to talk about the honorary degree for years becomes a sad foreshadowing when we know this context. A follow-up letter Pyle wrote Heighway on November 28, 1944 includes another such line in the postscript: “I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks.” Pyle meant only that he would be off to cover World War II’s Pacific theater, but the permanence of the statement is eerie in hindsight.

These two letters, however, should be read for their joyful moments too.  In his November 28 letter, Pyle is especially touching:

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

The no-nonsense writing style and humanizing approach is all Pyle. The generosity to this student evinces his deep roots to Bloomington. Heighway or another colleague jotted down the student’s name and address: Gladys Lillian Morrison. Some genealogical research shows that as of 2016, Morrison was still living in Bloomington. She and her late husband both worked at IU. It seems that, like Pyle himself, many people keep these close ties Bloomington and the university.

To see these letters and other University Archives material related to Ernie Pyle, contact an archivist. The IU Libraries Lilly Library also holds a number of Pyle-related collections–contact our friends there for further information!

Scan of original letter from Ernie Pyle to George "Dixie" Heighway, November 28, 1944

Transcription of November 28, 1944 letter from Ernie Pyle to George “Dixie” Heighway:

                Nov. 28

Dear George—

Something else I wish you’d do for me.

After the luncheon that day, a red-headed gal from the Bloomington High School paper tagged me and wanted an interview. Our schedule was so tight and everybody was pulling at me so that I had to leave her standing there, and later had Jack Hastings go back and apologize and say it was impossible, since she seemed to want a lot of time.

I’ve felt badly about it, for I know how kids can be hurt by failing in an assignment like that. I’d  like to send her an autographed book in recognition of a good try. Could you find out who she was?

I’m still glowing over the grand day we had, and so are my folks.

As ever,

Ernie

P.S.—I’ll be leaving here for good in about two weeks

Sincerely Yours: Madeleine L’Engle and “children’s” literature

The Ava DuVernay-directed A Wrinkle in Time is the most recent example of beloved children’s book-turned-blockbuster hit. For many of us, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is more than just a “children’s book.” Many of my friends have turned to L’Engle repeatedly through life, similar to other supposed “children’s” authors like J.K. Rowling or Ursula LeGuin. L’Engle’s commitment to manifesting authentic childhood experiences is reflected in her mighty oeuvre, which often expanded the A Wrinkle in Time universe across multiple series centered on families with young protagonists. Despite this, L’Engle confirms her discomfort with the label of “children’s literature” in a 1965 letter Indiana University Writers’ Conference organizer Robert W. Mitchner. The Indiana University Writers’ Conference records at the IU Archives include letters from literary icons such as Joan Didion, William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, George R.R. Martin, and the aforementioned LeGuin. Madeleine L’Engle’s file, though, shows what a uniquely lovely correspondent she was. Continue reading “Sincerely Yours: Madeleine L’Engle and “children’s” literature”

Sincerely Yours: The Origin Story of Folklore at IUB

For a vast majority of the world, 1942 was a year to remember.  However, history wasn’t just being made overseas fighting in World War II; it was also being made right here at Indiana University Bloomington.  During the summer of 1942, Indiana University was host to what would be the first of many Folklore Institutes. The Institute was created by Professor Stith Thompson, who had long-held the dream of bringing together like-minds from all over, both faculty and student, to meet and discuss the field of folklore; both folklore itself and the future of the field.  This eight-week gathering was so successful that they continued to meet every summer.

This edition of ‘Sincerely Yours’ showcases correspondence with Herman B Wells  following the conclusion of the first Institute in 1942.  The first piece of correspondence comes from Jacob A. Evanson, Special Supervisor of Vocal Music for Pittsburgh Public Schools.  His letter describes the success of the first Institute as “historic” and notes it as a cultural progression.  This letter provides a perspective of the importance and impact of the Folklore Institute outside of Indiana University.

Stith Thompson, May 1955, Archives Image no.
P0021913

The main correspondence is from Stith Thompson to Herman B Wells.  The correspondence opens with a list of resolutions from the members of the first Institute.  These resolutions include the declaration of a “permanent” Folklore Institute of America, and that the Journal of American Folklore be declared the official channel of news distribution.  Also included is the Institute’s purpose statement: to  bring together faculty, students, and fellow workers to create a “professionally-minded group” for study and consult not included in ordinary curricula.

This letter also contains an impassioned speech by Thompson in which he reflects on the experience of the Institute.  Additionally, Thompson briefly discusses the issues at present within the field of folklore, and plans for the future of folklore in terms of professional organization, public relations, and academic development .   He talks about the need for researchers to cease their reclusive ways and come together in circles like the Institute to help the field prosper through internal collaborative efforts and understanding, and by forming relations with the public.  Also discussed is the implementation of proper techniques surrounding the  collection and classification of folklore, from the individual collector to the establishment of a fully functional national archive.

Thompson’s description of the impact of folklore from a local to a national stage, and even a global one is captivating.  He states that the support of local folklore organizations can help to further the development of larger, national folklore directives by organizations.Also addressed is the presence of folklore in the academic field.  Thompson states that the presentation of folklore by universities should be done in such a way that will “infect” students and whether they be teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc., they should show interest in the traditions of their community.

Thompson closes his letter by reaffirming the purpose of the Institute by saying that research rather than teaching is the main goal, and that its value lies in its existence as the only place (at the time) to foster collaborative and individual research,and the overall growth of the folklore field.

The best part of this correspondence lies in its last few pages in the form of a poem.  Nearing the closure of their time together, this group of scholars pooled their creativity to construct a retelling of events of events that they could carry with them in memory.  The result of their collaborative efforts was a poem reminiscent of famous epics of the past such as the Odyssey and Aeneid.  This goes to show that even heavy scholars have a humorous side, even if it may be a little high-brow.

From C213 President’s Office records – Herman B Wells, Folklore Institute 1941-42 folder. 

The Folklore Institute would go on to meet yearly until the early 1960’s. It was at this time, and through the endeavors of professors Richard Dorson and Stith Thompson, that the Folklore Institute became an established department at Indiana University under the same name of the Folklore Institute.  Though not in the same manner as its origin, the Folklore Institute is still present at IU Bloomington and is known by scholars throughout the world.  To learn more about the Folklore Institute from its beginnings to today, visit the IU Archives in Wells Library to see the current exhibit, ‘Collecting Folklore: The History of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University.‘  This exhibit will be up until January 26th, 2018.

 

 

Sincerely Yours: a day in the life of a new student

Harry V. Craig with his Phi Kappa Psi brothers from the 1896 Arbutus yearbook. Archives image no. P0028059

In this Sincerely Yours post, we will explore IU through the eyes of Harry V. Craig, an Indiana native of Noblesville who came to IU in 1890 to study history. The IU Archives first acquired a portion of the Harry V. Craig papers back in 2000, but later received additional materials in 2003 from a man named Mark Brattain.  Mr. Brattain had seen the Harry V. Craig papers finding aid on the Archive’s website and provided letters he found with his father, Hal Brattain, in a wooden box in the hayloft of a neighbor’s barn back in the 1970s. The barn belonged to the late Ray Forrer, who was probably some relation to Harry’s mother Elizabeth (whose maiden name was Forrer).

Most of the letters contained in the Harry V. Craig Papers are correspondence he received from friends, family members (his father, brother, cousin, and mother), and fraternity brothers from Phi Kappa Psi. There are, however, a handful of letters by Craig himself detailing his experience at IU.  In letters to his mother, Mr. Craig’s most frequent correspondent, Craig details his daily life and expenses as well as happenings around town and the campus.

In this first letter, we get a glimpse of Mr. Craig as a freshly minted college student finding his way across campus, making new friends, learning more about the world outside of Noblesville, and settling into his new boarding house likely located on East 6th Street (according to the August 30, 1895 Bloomington Courier).  IU-affiliated readers will most likely recognize the names of some of Mr. Craig’s professors, Professor Atwater and Professor Swain:

September 21, 1890

Dear Mother:

I arrived at Bloomington between 4 and 5 o’clock Thursday evening and was met there by Mr. Chas Shoemaker, who took me around to his room where I staid [sic] for supper slept all night and ate breakfast. It was a surprise to all the boys from Noblesville, for they did not know I was coming.  I was introduced to a large number of college boys and find them as a general rule fine fellows. I have been treated very nicely by all the boys since I came. I have seen many strange things since I came. There is nothing but rock everywhere about Bloom. you can not [sic] dig down anywhere without striking solid rock which extends for many feet downward. (we get no more water to drink, we have to drink rainwater altogether) On my way down here on the train I passed through deep cuts of solid rock, which had been cut out just enough to let a train pass through. It was very strange to me indeed.

Bloom. is a town of about 41,000 inhabitants and is considerably larger than Noblesville but is not so nicely arranged, it is the most hilly town I have ever seen, you can get up on a hill in one part of town and look down on the houses in another part, the streets are mostly rock which have been broken up very fine so as to make  road-bed while the side walks [sic] are of blocks of stone which have been hewn out and placed down, they are very rough and irregular and very hard to walk on, they have no gravel within miles of Bloom.

The College and its surroundings have considerably exceeded my expectations, the buildings and campus are located east of the city on a high elevation and in a beautiful grove of trees, there are 3 very fine brick buildings in use, costing perhaps $60,000 apiece and a large building almost completed, which is composed entirely of stone and will be used for a library building and will be occupied by Christmas.

I presented my Scholarship and have rec’d my card admitting me as a student of the Univ. I was introduced to a number of the professors and was rec’d very cordially, they are a fine class of men.

My classes are all arranged, I will take Latin under Prof. Atwater, Geometry under Prof. Swain and Eng. Lit. under Prof. Griggs who by the way is one of the finest men I have ever seen for his age. He graduated in the University in 2 yrs and is now [a] professor in Eng., he is not more than 21 or 22 yrs of age, he is almost a genius.

I am board[ing] at Mrs. Lawrence’s at $2.50 per week. She is a nice lady and everything is nice and clean, I get the very best of board plenty of everything and cooked nicely. There are some of the things we have on our table – coffee or tea, plenty of cream and sugar, biscuits or light-bread, chicken and beef, sweet and Irish potatoes, nice butter and molasses, corn, sliced tomatoes, celery, pie, cookies, and iced cake and a great many other things, but this is enough to let you know that it is good. I could have boarded at $2.35 in a regular club but you do not get as good a grub, and if you are not there on time you miss your meal, so I concluded to take the $2.50 board, for a person can not [sic] live well unless he has something to live on. I am staying with a Mr. Davis at present, but got a room this morning where I shall stay for good. I will room with a Mr. Robinson from Illinois who is a sophomore or 2nd yr student. I will have to pay $1 per week for my room but it is well worth it. I could have got a room for 75₵ but it was not near so nice or convenient and I think it would be unhealthy. My room is up stairs [sic] in a large brick building and faces the street, it has a brussels carpet, a nice dresser, wardrobe, wash stand and utensils, stove, table, bed, chairs, and lamp and everything convenient and is a large room. I joined a fraternity last night called the “Phi Kappa Psi” named from the greek letter of the alphabet. It is a secret organization, but unlike a lodge, I was initiated last night, it is the 1st organization I even joined and was something new. Our chapter now is on the south-side of the square and is very nice it is [served] by a Mr. Buskirk who is a banker and is also a member of our fraternity, hence we do not pay much rent. I have spent about $10 in paying my Ry. [Railway] fare, and buying my books and paying my library fee and getting other things required, I deposited $25 in the bank. I expect I can get my washing done for 25₵ per week, she is a fine washer for a fellar told me so that has his washing done there. So you can see about what my expenses will be about $4 per week besides books and clothes. Well I must close. I have many more thigs I would like to say but space will not permit. I am well as usual except my throat which is bothering me this morning.

                                I remain as ever your son,

                                                Harry

 

Harry’s mother replies soon after, giving him updates about friends and family and imparting motherly advice about the company he should keep, especially the ladies…:

 

 

October 1st, 1890

Dear Harry: I received your letter yesterday evening[.] [W]as glad to hear you was [sic] geting [sic] along all right. [W]e are all well at this time[.] Pa and Fred went over to the tent to meeting[.] [I]t will be two weeks to morrow [sic] since they commenced their meeting. It is real nice to be there at night[.] [W]e were there monday night and Lida and Maggie Fred and Abner went last night. I thought I would stay at home and write you a fiew [sic] lines as I did not like to take Little Court out at night. Saturday 27th he was 4 month [sic] old and weight [sic] 15 lbs. [H]e is growing so nicely. Mother was hear [sic] yesterday they are all well. Nan and Clara was hear [sic] Sunday evening. Nan says he has such a nice school it just suits him. [H]as no little ones to contend with. When you rite [sic] again tell us something about your school and how you are geting [sic] Along. [O]f cours [sic] you have not gone long enough yet to tell much about it but do as well as you can. Don[‘]t think to [sic] much of other things such as going with the girls. Be very care full [sic] who you go with as you don[‘]t know them yet so you go with nice respectful Ladies. [I]t is going to cost A great deal more than you thought it would. You said you thought $30 would take you through the first term. It will take more than twice 30[.] [T]here is going to be A liturary [sic] societ [sic] at fairview friday night. Maggie Trit as Mollie calls her is hear [sic][.] [Y]ou bet she is A fast worker[.] I like her very much. [S]o far well [sic] as all are in bed that is hear I will close for this time[.] Lida joins in Love write soon from your Ma[.]

                Lizzie

Craig graduated from Bloomington in 1896 with an AB in history.  After graduating, he returned to Noblesville for a while to teach history and then went on to work a wide array of jobs including a salesman, hotel clerk, and a position with the National Engraving Company in New York.  He was also the coordinator for the Denver Training Center of the Veteran’s Bureau at one point in his career. In 1962 the Alumni Association reached out to update their information on him, but found at that time that he was already deceased.  He apparently passed away on November 2, 1955 in California.