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.

A Processing Story: The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012

The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012 are now available for research!

Claire C. Robertson (b. 1944) received her B.A. from Carleton College in 1966, her M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1968, and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. She is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African studies. Dr. Robertson was a professor at Ohio State University and a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. Robertson’s teaching and research focused primarily on the history and culture of women in Africa and on women’s studies. This collection consists of a portion of Robertson’s teaching materials, her research materials, manuscripts and writings, and other records relating to her career and professional activities. The collection arrived at the University Archives in multiple accessions between 2010 and 2012 totaling over 60 cubic feet of records.


Boxes from the Claire Robertson papers

Archival processing, a term that encompasses the tasks of arrangement and description for the collections in an archive, can often be a time-consuming task. Depending on the size of a collection, the level of organization that a collection has when it is donated to the archive, any preservation issues, and the level of detail which needs described in a finding aid, processing archival collections can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months, or maybe even years! Processing the Claire Robertson papers took some time between 2017 and March 2018 because of the size and condition of the collection.

Archivists often work on multiple tasks at a time. For student processors (like me!) this provides a great chance to learn how to ‘wear many hats’ so to speak. This project was ongoing while I managed other smaller projects and had the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of processing needs for different collections. The end result is an arranged collection and a detailed finding aid to help researchers access all parts of the collection!

Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive
Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive

The Claire Robertson papers contains materials relating to Robertson’s time in graduate school, her teaching files from classes taught at places other than OSU, manuscripts and drafts of her many articles and books, items relating to her professional activities, and a large amount of research and data that she created and used while writing her books Sharing the Same Bowl and Trouble Shows the Way. Much of her research involved surveying participants in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya, and then compiling the data to analyze with a computer. But, in the 1980s and early 1990s computers weren’t very advanced. The print-outs of the computer data fill numerous oversize boxes on their own!

Robertson’s collection contains her drafts, manuscripts, research, and other materials relating to her many books and other publications

As a professor and instructor, Robertson taught history, African studies, and women’s studies courses at a number of universities, including Indiana University, Bloomington. She is also the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African Studies. In 1985, she was the winner of the African Studies Association’s  Herskovits Book Award. In 1987-1988, she held a Fulbright Fellowship to study the development of Kenyan trade and market women in the Nairobi area. Robertson was a professor of history and women’s studies at The Ohio State University for over twenty years, and active on numerous committees and projects.

She also served in various capacities at Indiana University throughout her career. Beginning in 1978 she served as a Faculty Research Associate in the African Studies Program and in 1984 she was the Co-Director of the Office of Women’s Affairs. From 1992 until 1993 she was appointed as a Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Studies Program, and she has since served as a Lecturer and been involved in IU’s Fair Trade Bloomington selling artisan-made items to benefit two projects. The Indiana University Press published her books, Sharing the Same Bowl: A Socioeconomic History of Women and Class in Accra, Ghana in 1984 and Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men, and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890-1990 in 1997. Much of the archival collection consists of Robertson’s data and analysis for her various research projects and publications.

Central Accra Market Photos, 1978, Claire Robertson papers, Collection C633, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

In Bloomington, Robertson now works on two projects to provide help to children affected by AIDS and to assist women in Kenya. For each of the projects, Ndethya wa Ngutethya Women’s Group and Spurgeon School for AIDS Orphans in Kenya, Robertson raises funds in the U.S. to buy clothing for African women and children, and then travels to Kenya and brings artisan-made items back from the Nairobi markets to sell at Fair Trade Bloomington and other fundraisers to benefit the Kenyan artists.

Claire Robertson’s papers in the IU Archives are now open for research. Anyone interested in the research process, or in topics relating to African Studies or Women’s Studies will find this collection to be full of interesting material!

In the Claire Robertson papers there are many items that she collected relating to her interests in Africa and women’s studies

In addition to items relating to Robertson’s work, the collection contains some other materials relating to her interests which she collected throughout her career. Contact the IU Archives for more information.

Portions of the collection such as African Newspapers and journals are now part of African Studies Collection here at IU, and  files documenting her teaching activities at the Ohio State University  were transferred to the OSU Archives.

The varied research interests of Charles Heiser

Charles B. Heiser, August 1988. (P0030550)
Charles B. Heiser, August 1988. (P0030550)

Charles Heiser was a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Botany Department from 1947-1986. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Washington University in St. Louis in 1944, and his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1947. Heiser joined the faculty at Indiana University in 1947 and was honored as a Guggenheim Fellow in 1953 and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in 1962.

During his professional career, Heiser served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, vice president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and as a council member for the Society of Economic Botany. Heiser was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious distinction given only to the top scholars in the field. Other awards include the New York Botanical Garden’s Henry Allan Gleason Award and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists Asa Gray Award.

How to write a letter of recommendation
How to write a letter of recommendation

As a well-respected authority in the field, Heiser established a network of colleagues. Many of the files in this collection contain 40-50 years of correspondence with these peers. This length of time provides ample opportunity to share personal life stories. While the pieces of communication relate in some way to a research project, several close friends sent research of a different kind. “Fun” articles like the one on National Pun Week or the how-to article on writing a recommendation letter can breathe life into a collection of papers.

Heiser spent many years as a consultant for Tabasco, the pepper sauce company, conducting research on the variety of pepper used to make the sauce. The company was disputing a copyright issue with a Canadian company that marketed a similar sauce with a similar name. Ultimately, the dispute came down to the naming conventions for the varieties of capsicum, since there is a species commonly referred to as Tabasco. Heiser also worked to determine which countries could not grow the variety of pepper, and therefore possibly establish a trademark for the region.

The collection is filled with information on the unexpected uses of the plants Heiser studied. Gourds, for example, were sometimes used as penis sheaths or musical instruments. Boats can be made from totora. Capsicum could be used as a weapon. Other unique items in the collection include a box of seeds–mostly from gourds. One small canister contains numerous seeds from a tobacco plant–originating in 1657!

For further information on Dr. Heiser and his papers, please see the finding aid!

IU Professor of Chemistry Had Personal Connection to Indiana Explosives Plant

IU Professor of Chemistry, Marvin Carmack, devoted most of his career to researching organosulfur chemistry, specifically Lithospermum Ruderale, the agent of fertility control used by the American Indians. But during World War II, Dr. Carmack worked on contract with the National Defense Research Committee on high explosives and later on anti-malarial agents. Much of his attention during this period was focused on developing more efficient production methods for cyclonite (also known as RDX — Research Department explosive), an explosive more powerful than TNT. Given its power, the U.S. government approved the use of RDX in mines and torpedoes in the early 1940s. This created high demand for the explosive — a demand that couldn’t be met by existing reserves of RDX. This shortage led to the construction of the Wabash River Ordnance Works in Vermillion County, Indiana (north of Terre Haute). The E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company ran the plant; Dr. Carmack also worked for du Pont later in his career. (The ordnance plant eventually became known as the Newport Chemical Depot and was used for chemical weapons storage for the rest of the twentieth century.)

Dr. Marvin Carmack (third from left) talks with other chemists after delivering a lecture at du Pont Laboratories (1952).
Dr. Marvin Carmack (third from left) talks with other chemists after delivering a lecture at du Pont Laboratories in 1952.

After his retirement, Dr. Carmack returned to researching RDX, this time focusing on George C. Hale, an Indiana University alumnus and scientist who was one of the first people to develop RDX during World War I. The fruits of that research turned into a lecture delivered to the American Chemical Society annual meeting in 1990. (All of Carmack’s research and drafts of his talk can be found in his papers.)

But professional research were not the extent of Dr. Carmack’s connections to RDX. They extended to the personal: Dr. Carmack, himself born and raised in Vermillion County, had ancestors who traveled to the area in 1830. The land his ancestors claimed eventually became the site of the Ordnance Plant one hundred years later. As Professor Carmack wrote to a friend in 1990, “Our family seemed to have a destiny with RDX!”

To read more about RDX or to learn about Dr. Carmack’s other research interests, correspondence, and teaching notes, visit the finding aid for the Marvin Carmack papers and contact the IU Archives for questions on access to the papers!

IU Professor of Zoology Conducted Research across the World

IU Professor David G. Frey’s papers recently opened to researchers at the IU Archives. Hired as Professor of Zoology in 1951, Dr. Frey taught in Bloomington until 1986. Dr. Frey was a specialist in limnology (acquatic ecology) and an authority on the Cladocera (water flea) . At IU, he established a laboratory containing over 10,000 specimens (now housed by the Smithsonian in the Museum of Natural History).

In addition to his teaching and research at IU, Dr. Frey was active in several national and international limnological organizations. Due to his involvement, which included serving as president of the American Society of Limnology and as executive vice president of the International Association of Limnology, he traveled extensively to attend conferences and to conduct research on lakes around the world.In all, he visited forty-four countries across six continents. (He never made it to Antarctica.)

Photographs and postcards from some of his travels are included in his collection at the Archives.

Hungary

Dr. Frey traveled to Hungary in 1967 to attend the first International Symposium on Paleolimnology. During the Symposium, the attendees visited Tihany, a village in Hungary on the northern shore of Lake Balaton.

Hungary 1
A view from Lake Balaton of the village, Tihany, and a Benedictine abbey (top of the photo).
A view of Lake Balaton in Hungary.
A view of Lake Balaton in Hungary.

USSR

In 1962, Professor Frey visited the USSR as part of the National Research Council exchange with the Soviet Academy. He spent most of his time in Borok, Russia, a small, protected area in the southwestern portion of the country. Heavily forested, Borok is home to a variety of birds, including a colony of grey herons, and raccoon dogs. Visits to the region are limited to fishermen, hunters, and scientists.

Main Street in Borok, Russia.
Main Street of the small community in Borok.
Borok, Russia.
Research pond at Borok.
Borok, Russia.
Road toward pond used for Dr. Frey’s research near Borok, Russia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austria

In 1953, Dr. Frey won both a Fulbright and Guggenheim award giving him the opportunity to study lakes in Western Europe and Austria. (He won the Fulbright again in 1985 to teach in Ireland.)

Dr. Frey exiting an Amerika Haus, likely in Austria.
Dr. Frey exiting an Amerika Haus, likely in Austria.
Dr. David Frey working on research, likely in Austria.
Professor Frey working on research, likely in Austria.

 

A partial list of the countries where Frey conducted research includes: Czechoslovakia, Nepal, Malaysia, France, Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uganda.

To see the rest of the photographs or to learn more about Dr. Frey’s travels, contact the University Archives. The Frey Papers also contain his published articles and research notes.