What do you get when you cross an uncensored and sexually exploitative art show put on by GCSU’s Art Department with a cacophony of performance reactions and concerns?
You get “Mexotica.”
In 2004, an art show put on by performance artist and writer Guillermo Gomez-Pena and a number of volunteers, in conjunction with the school’s Art Department, was held in Russell Auditorium. The reactions erupted discussion that traverses the entire spectrum.
Gomez-Pena works in a number of artistic mediums exploring cross-cultural issues, immigration, and the politics of language. His mixing and blending of genres and art forms, of truth and fiction, seeks to create a “total experience” for the viewer/reader. He is the creator of La Pocha Nostra–an online collaborative art laboratory for performance artists to link up and connect with other rebel artists. Its main function is to destroy borders separating people by race, gender, and other cultural differences. La Pocha Nostra’s mission statement is “to provide a base for a loose network and forum of rebel artists from various disciplines, generations, and ethnic backgrounds.” The term is meant to represent Mexican empowerment and to praise abnormality and indecency. Click on this interview for Guillermo’s detailed explanation of the where the name originates from.
The school’s Colonnade featured several articles of audience reaction following the performance. President Dorothy P. Leland, who was newly appointed president at the time, is quoted in the articles. Mexotica was the first visual arts performance she attended at GCSU, and what a way to acclimate her to the fine arts within the university. Gomez-Pena allowed students the freedom to wear what they wanted to wear and to perform what they wanted to perform and I think that’s one of the most important factors that went in to all of this. Performance is about trusting other artists. One student told The Colonnade that she felt like she was in the red light district; others felt it was fuel to confront issues regarding sexual exploitation. Continue reading “Mexotic-huh?”→
Dr. Bob Wilson of Georgia College spends many of his afternoons in the research room of Special Collections, rifling through stacks of folders and pages of books from the archive, as he updates the college’s history. Recently he stopped by to request help in locating a very specific, rather unusual item. He recalls a story he heard from a dinner party thrown by Dr. James C. Bonner several years ago. Somewhere in Bonner’s collection existed an elusive “Dandelion Wine” recipe. Mikaela and I vaguely recalled coming across a wine recipe of sorts, but where it lay within the stacks, we had no idea where to begin. Bonner’s papers house eight shelves in the archive, an entire section of an aisle. We knew finding the recipe would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Dr. Bob first learned of the recipe through Dr. George Kirk, the chair of his graduate program at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He invited Dr. Bob to a dinner party where they enjoyed the distinct yellow colored wine. “The idea was cool, but I wasn’t a big fan then. So hopefully now, my tastes have changed.” He remembers it being very potent. Dr. Bob had forgotten about the wine until Dr. Ralph Hemphill, former Vice President and Dean of Faculties of Georgia College from 1968-2002, shared a story with him from a dinner party Bonner held years ago. Hemphill worked with Bonner, who was head of the social studies department at the time.They often saw each other outside of the university. Since his conversation with Hemphill, Dr. Bob has wanted to give the recipe a go himself. Continue reading “Wine Not?”→
As graduate assistants working in Special Collections, Mikaela and I have gotten hands-on experience in just about every step of what it means to sustain a collection and/or donation. We’ve inventoried materials from the acquisitions room, we’ve processed and re-processed documents, and we’ve learned about the actions taken to seek out a collection. But how do we get there? How do the items in the acquisitions room come to be in our possession? Suffice it to say they do not magically appear though that would certainly make things easier, wouldn’t it? Of course, that wouldn’t make for as interesting a story…
Recently we took our first “field trip” (as I like to call it) out to Lake Sinclair in Milledgeville to appraise personal items at the home of William Julian Usery, Jr., a labor union activist who served in the Ford and Nixon Administrations and was eventually named United States Secretary of Labor under Ford. Born in Hardwick, Georgia, W.J. Usery attended Georgia Military College and later enlisted in the Navy as an underwater welder on a repair ship in the Pacific Feet. He’s also widely known for being a special mediator in resolving labor conflicts. When we arrived at his home, we met with Doug Heene, executor of W.J. Usery Jr.’s estate. Doug was Mr. Usery’s assistant in his consulting business. We came into his acquaintance through Melvin Usery, W.J. Usery’s son, who hoped to have several of his father’s possessions detailing his accomplishments placed in an archive. We’re grateful he’s chosen Georgia College and the town in which W.J. Usery grew up to do so.
Appraisal is defined by the National Archives as “the process of determining the value and thus the final disposition of Federal Records, making them either temporary and permanent.” The National Archives and Records Administration “works with interested parties to ensure that essential evidence is created, identified, appropriately scheduled and managed for as long as needed.” I asked Digital Archivist, Holly Croft, what appraisal has come to mean for her. She describes it as a more three-dimensional act, looking at the entire picture.
“There’s this belief that archives are ‘neutral’ and there’s a concern in the community today about the difficulty of keeping everything. There’s just no way to keep every single scrap of paper. You want to be sure you’re getting the items that are most representative of the contribution the person made.” In Usery’s case, we were concerned with showcasing his contributions in labor relations on the national level, but also Usery as a person. Some of the objects featured in this blog post, such as what we’ve dubbed, “The Dung Pony”, exemplify this. (Scroll down for a detailed picture). Holly says, “It’s really about creating the story of who the person is. It’s not a neutral act; it is making a judgment call. You have to be aware of biases, think about who is going to be using this information in the future, and do your research on whose stuff is being appraised.”
For the acquisition, Special Collections’ Associate Director Nancy Davis Bray, did an initial appraisal to ensure what we are getting has enduring value. Nancy believes she has an “unorthodox opinion” of appraisal. “I recognize the pedagogy surrounding appraisal and try my best to abide by it, but there are times when you need to go past it, in that, not only are you accepting and soliciting materials, but you also need items that illustrate the person for exhibition.” She believes in an approach of “take more and then use a discerning eye later.” In other words, you do an initial appraisal and later take a closer look at what you’ve acquired.
Georgia State University owns W.J. Usery’s paper materials, oral histories, and speeches, while we have come into possession of his personal belongings: airplane model collections, hard hats in memory of his work in labor unions, framed certificates of his accomplishments, etc. during this appraisal.
On the day of the appraisal, Nancy, Holly, Mikaela, and I walked into a two story condominium filled with Usery memorabilia – empty boxes, packaging tape, and bubble wrap in hand. Doug showed us around and instructed us what was now Georgia College’s to take and, with that, we got to work. What seemed on the outside like another overwhelming game of tetris ended up being an entertaining and enlightening insight into who W.J. Usery, Jr. was. There’s a really nice pay-off to a task like this. Beforehand, we learned about Usery in the professional sense – what he did as Secretary of Labor, and what he will be remembered for doing. Boxing his personal items for the archive feels like part responsibility, part voyeurism. But I say this in a good way. I got to learn who Usery was as a person as well as outside of his career. The more I work in Special Collections, the more I realize the significance in knowing what the archive holds. It’s one thing to be familiar with the contents of the collections, but it’s another to know something of the people they’re about or the people who donated them. People come to this space to learn, to research, and it’s a good feeling knowing you helped them in their pursuit.
Below is a closer look at some of the items Nancy, Holly, Mikaela, and I came across in our appraisal that helped to create a full, three dimensional shape of who W.J. Usery was and will remain in his legacy.
Two different hard hats in relation to the unions W. J. Usery Jr. was affiliated with. The left picture is from the Boilermakers Union and the right features Mikaela wearing the Space Team hat, in association with Usery’s involvement in the Kennedy Space Center.
Below are two framed political cartoons we found among other framed photographs.
What made the work extra special at the end of it all was getting to end the day with this lake view from W. J. “Bill” Usery Jr.’s backyard.
Many tasks presented to us in Special Collections can prove a bit overwhelming in their seemingly bottomless scope, and familiarizing ourselves with the acquisitions room was no different. A room full of boxes piled on top of each other in unfitting ways, like an awkward game of Tetris. It didn’t help that all three of us — Mikaela, Aurora, and I — have height working against us, the boxes towering over our heads and concealing several corners of the room. Still, the three of us got to work.
Going into this assignment, I thought it would be similar to how we processed the James C. Bonner papers. In some ways, yes, the two overlap; the same basic principle of sorting through materials and dusty documents is consistent, but I soon learned assessing inventory is very different. The acquisitions room contains donated materials that have yet to be sorted through, so the boxes’ contents are unknown. The Bonner papers, which have become infamous here for its infinity (we’ll probably still be processing newly found pieces of Bonner ephemera by the time I’m a third year, which Holly has firmly informed me is not allowed), was a series that already had several eyes peer through its contents and several hands sift through its manila folders before Mikaela and I tackled it. Our job there was to reprocess. Inventory, on the other hand, is a first look at what we’ve got. Several boxes marked with sticky notes or permanent marker from their respective donors gave us an idea of what the contents were, but beyond that we were unsure, and that is what inventory intends to uncover. We soon learned that white cotton gloves and surgical masks were necessary. And this is where the adventure begins…
In 1943, Georgia State College for Women was selected as one of four colleges for training U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the W.A.V.E.S., which stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, it was a program created by The United States Congress in 1942 — aggressively sought after by former senator Carl Vinson — to include women as military personnel for World War II. The W.A.V.E.S. were accepted into the U.S. Navy and treated equally as male personnel in many respects: They were given the same pay and same discipline, with the difference being that W.A.V.E.S. could not “serve aboard combat ships or aircraft, and initially were restricted to duty in the continental United States.” This U.S.-only duty stipulation would later change during the war when the W.A.V.E.S. were given permission to serve in specific overseas U.S. occupations. By the end of WWII, about two and a half percent of the Navy’s total power were made up of Navy W.A.V.E.S. “In some places WAVES constituted a majority of the uniformed Naval personnel.” The other sites for training chosen by the Bureau of Navy Personnel were Smith College, the University of Indiana, and the University of Wisconsin. One of the original reasons for the W.A.V.E.S.’ formation was to create a group of women Navy personnel that could relieve men from shore duty so they could assume active sea duty roles.
What is approximately one meter long, comprised of twenty two silvery and spindly aluminum reeds, two brass cuffs inscribed with historical dates and locations, a grip made of Georgia pecan wood, has symbolically had thousands of hands clutching its center, and is notably burned to a crisp at the top? (I know, I know; it could be anything, and an archive full of objects fit the bill).
I have just described the 1996 Olympic Games torch.
On a summer night in a quiet small town in middle Georgia, a well known community leader traveled across the expansive greenery of Georgia College’s main campus, Olympic torch ablaze in hand, determined to reach the end of his relay, while dozens of pairs of eyes watched from the sidelines, a crowd of people illuminating Milledgeville, Georgia as considerably as the Olympic flame. Since 2015, it has been in the possession of Special Collections at the Ina Dillard Russell Library.
The idea for the Olympic flame was first introduced in the 1928 Amsterdam Games where it burned bright and remained lit through the entire two-week ceremony. It has been a tradition ever since. In 1936, the first relay from Olympia to Berlin was introduced by Dr. Carl Diem (who served as the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee for the Games that year) and has also remained a tradition ever since. Scholars on Ancient Greece say the flame burns in dedication to the Geek God Hera, the goddess of marriage and family and the Queen of Olympus. What started out as an ode to a figure of Greek mythology has become intrinsic in the passing of the Olympic flame, a flame that represents “the light of spirit, knowledge, and life”. Continue reading “Torched”→
Miranda Campbell is one of our Graduate Assistants in Special Collections this year. She holds a B.A. in Film–Cinema Studies from University of Central Florida and is a first year graduate student in Georgia College’s M.F.A. program.
Aimlessly searching through our Special Collections archives, I discovered a compilation of scrapbooks associated with the school, scrapbooks that have been donated through the years and have fallen under the many name changes the school has had: Georgia Normal and Industrial College, Georgia State College for Women, Georgia College at Milledgeville, etc.
Flipping through these scrapbooks I started to realize that it sort of felt the same as the project I’d been tackling at work for the past couple weeks. Mikaela and I—Special Collections’ other graduate assistant—had been given the task of re-appraising and re-processing the entire collection of Dr. James Calvin Bonner, a notable figure of Georgia College responsible for heading the History Department for twenty five years. Bonner was Chairman of the Department of History and Political Science from 1943 to 1969, a time when the school was known as G.S.C.W.
In short, re-processing is the sifting through and sorting of archival letters, photos, manuscripts, what we’ve been donated, etc., and ordering it in a way that is accessible for researchers interested in the collection, through which we create a finding aid. We seemed to have fallen down a rabbit hole with this collection, as it has taken up the better portion of our work time for the past three weeks.
Most recently in the Bonner collection we’ve stumbled upon what at first looked like a bottomless box filled with photographs, but what we quickly realized were collections of thoughtfully placed photographs that Bonner himself glued on single sheets of paper. We then imagined he stuck these pages in binders since the papers have the mark of three ringed holes on the left hand side. In figuring out where to home this newly processed box – if it should be its own series or be absorbed into another – we learned that Bonner called these notebooks, though most of the pages are comprised as photos with captions and other paper stubs that match or add to the material. We continued along this new label called “Local History Notebooks,” however, it got me thinking how the pages were so similar to the resemblance and style of a scrapbook. This started another rabbit hole in an infinite amount of rabbit holes and conundrums that make Special Collections the special place it is, and is the train of thought that inspired this post! (And how fitting that it is American Archives Month!) Finding these radically different scrapbooks that serve as a magnifying glass laid over the years at this university, the different name changes its endured, made me realize that scrapbooking is a lot like archiving, just a little more fun. It’s archiving with a part hat on. Continue reading “Scrapbooking Vs. Archiving”→