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.

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.