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April Wrap Up

By Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

Today marks six weeks since SCRC and SU Libraries moved to online operations. April, however, has been the first full month that staff members have worked remotely, and it certainly changes the way our department typically functions.

Updates on past and upcoming public events and news of newly processed collections have lessened significantly this month, as opportunities to meet publicly and work directly with special collections materials onsite have been unavailable. We are figuring out what special collections looks like in the immediate future one step and one day at a time, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still working to make our collections available and accessible for current and future use.

Classes taught with special collections items continue as we hurtle towards the end of the spring semester, our processing department has been hard at work providing metadata for online collections, and our public services team continues to answer reference questions to the best of our limited abilities. Starting this month, we will be sharing some of these staff member experiences (and home office set-ups!) while we work remotely. Please enjoy our April wrap up!

Looking Back at April Events

  • Thursday, April 23, 2020: SCRC Chief Curator Colleen Theisen participated in a Folger Shakespeare Library virtual event in honor of William Shakespeare birth/death day for the “In the Collection: Staxpeditions” session, exploring digital library collections in a panel discussion. You can watch the full recorded session here.

Newly Processed Collections

  • Special Collections. George Family Photograph Collection: A collection of candid family photographs, most from the Georges, reflecting African-American life in the mid-twentieth century.

SCRC Works from Home

By Jim Meade, Audio Preservation Engineer

In audio preservation engineering, I’ve completed post-production on 30 hours of analog tape transfers over a glitchy VPN, (which library IT worked tirelessly to help solve, thanks guys!). Unfortunately, the speed of my domestic IP connection does not help.

I miss our excellent preservation studio at Belfer. Trying to monitor audio over barking dogs and traffic certainly emphasizes the upside of the Belfer studio as a work environment.

Jim Meade's home workstation
My home workstation, backed by speakers and a charcoal portrait of Jimi Hendrix and flanked by antique prints of lute playing angels from the Uffizi galleries for maximum inspiration.

I have also completed editing and metadata gathering for all student transfers on our Latin American 45 project, which is now up-to-date.

Producing materials for online class presentation was something I did not expect to be so time-consuming, so I learned a lot in that process. Presenting to classes online is frustrating for me personally, because I like to work with physical media samples for discussion, things I can point to and hand around to students, as well as playing legacy formats live in the room as a listening experience. There are definitely professional development opportunities for me in learning how to do this more efficiently.

Catching up on lots of writing, especially in my role on the SULA executive board.

I’m also looking forward to getting involved in upcoming projects with the Head of the Digital Library Program, Deirdre Joyce and Digital Projects Coordinator Mike Dermody.

Belfer is definitely keeping busy!

Highlight from Social Media

Take a look at this beauty of a dance card from the 1912 SU Junior Prom! Why yes, they DID have proms here! Dances were…

Posted by Syracuse University Archives on Thursday, April 16, 2020

April Blog Roundup

Online Resources

Finally, even though our buildings are closed, we have some great online collections and resources that we would encourage you to review in the meantime:

The photograph featured in the header image of this post is from ourGrace Hartigan Papers (Grace Hartigan Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.


New Sesquicentennial Digital Exhibition: A Legacy of Leadership

By Vanessa St.Oegger-Menn, Pan Am 103 Archivist and Assistant University Archivist

University Archives and Special Collections Research Center staff have been working on several projects throughout this academic year to commemorate the University’s sesquicentennial. Among these are exhibitions of various sizes, both onsite and digital, including 150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University, curated by University Archivist Meg Mason, and Let the Reader Emerge! Milestones of the Syracuse University Libraries,  curated by Curator for Rare Books and Manuscripts Sebastian Modrow.

We’ve recently added another digital exhibition to our list: A Legacy of Leadership: The Chancellors and Presidents of Syracuse University. An on-site version of this exhibition has been on display on the first floor of Bird Library since September 2019. As the curator of this exhibition, I’m very pleased we can now offer visitors the opportunity to view it online while current circumstances with the COVID-19 health emergency are keeping us all away from campus for the time being. Below are a few highlights and personal favorites from the exhibition.

CHANCELLOR ALEXANDER WINCHELL

January 1873 – June 1874
Portrait of Chancellor Winchell, a person in a dark suit and long beard.
Portrait of Alexander Winchell, circa 1875. Syracuse University Portrait Collection, University Archives. Photograph by W.V. Ranger.

Although Syracuse University marks 24 March 1870 as its official founding date, our first chancellor wasn’t inaugurated until 13 February 1873. Unlike many of his successors, Alexander Winchell was not a member of the clergy of the Methodist Church – the religious denomination that founded Syracuse University. During his tenure, Winchell oversaw the establishment of the College of Medicine and the College of Fine Arts, as well as the completion of the Hall of Languages – the first university building on “The Hill.”

CHANCELLOR CHARLES SIMS

April 1881 – October 1893
A handwritten transcript of Chancellor Sims’ remarks
Excerpt concerning the benefits of co-education from Chancellor Sims’ annual report to the Board of Trustees, 24 June 1884. Chancellor Charles N. Sims Collection, University Archives.

I’m proud to work at a university that has been co-educational since its founding and that has championed the contributions of women students and faculty from such an early date. That’s one of the reasons why this excerpt from Chancellor Charles Sims’ 1884 annual report to the Board of Trustees is one of my favorite items in this exhibition. Not only were women like Sarah Loguen breaking barriers at SU in the 19th century, the University recognized the importance of their accomplishments in contributing to a more robust education for all students. “[T]hose dangers which many suppose to attend the system…are imaginary, not real,” Chancellor Sims stated in his address. “[C]o-education…does in fact secure the best education in refining and elevating, and secures the best preparation for practical life.”

CHANCELLOR JAMES ROSCOE DAY

April 1894 – June 1922
Chancellor Day with several members of the Japanese Commission, all in dark suits and hats. Campus buildings in the background
Photograph of Chancellor Day with the Japanese Commission, 9 October 1909. J. Herman Wharton Papers, University Archives.

The University underwent one of its first periods of rapid growth and expansion under Chancellor James Roscoe Day, including an increase in enrollment from roughly 800 to over 6,000 students. With the establishment of 13 new programs and schools, Syracuse University was well and truly on the map as an institution with an international reputation. In 1909, SU even drew the attention of the Japanese Commission who toured campus accompanied by Chancellor Day and the University’s deans. One interesting piece of information I found while researching this visit was that several of SU’s Japanese students were recruited to serve as interpreters. Our University has a long history of welcoming students from all over the world, and it was a pleasure to see several of our early international students acknowledged as key participants in this piece of university history.

CHANCELLOR JOHN E. CORBALLY JR.

September 1969 – March 1971
Chancellor Corbally at a podium addressing an audience gathered in stadium seating
Photograph of Chancellor Corbally addressing the Assembly on Governance town hall meeting, 26 February 1970. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Although John E. Corbally Jr’s tenure as Chancellor and President was among the shortest in SU’s history, it was arguably one of the most  fraught. Both the 1970 Student Strike and the Syracuse 8 football boycott occurred during the time Corbally was in office. The University faced the same questions and conflicts confronting American society and higher education during the period of civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activity of the late 1960s into the 1970s. Despite the turbulence of the times, Corbally appears to have been generally remembered for having managed this volatile period on campus well. Though there was much speculation about the reason for his departure in March 1971, Corbally stated he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to become president of the University of Illinois and that he left SU with no animosity.

CHANCELLOR MELVIN EGGERS

June 1971 – August 1991
Chancellor Eggers at a podium surrounded by other speakers and dignitaries.
Photograph of Chancellor Eggers at the memorial service for the 35 Syracuse University study abroad students killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, 18 January 1989. Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection, University Archives.

As the archivist for the Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives, I spend a great deal of time researching and teaching about the ways in which Chancellor Melvin Eggers and his administration responded to the loss of 35 Syracuse study abroad students as a result of that 1988 terrorist bombing. One of the personal benefits of curating this exhibition was having the opportunity to learn more about Eggers’ career at SU prior to the tragedy, which occurred relatively close to the end of his tenure. All told, Eggers spent over 40 years in service to SU. Among his many contributions during that time, we also have Chancellor Eggers to thank for the Carrier Dome and Schine Student Center – two areas on campus where so many student memories are made.

You can learn more about these items, as well as the other administrations not highlighted in this blog post, by visiting the Legacy of Leadership digital exhibition online. We hope this digital trip through part of Syracuse University’s history can provide an interesting and informative distraction from current events.


The Syracuse University Photograph Collection (Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection (Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Syracuse University Portrait Collection (Syracuse University Portrait Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Chancellor Charles N. Sims Collection (Chancellor Charles N. Sims Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), and J. Herman Wharton Papers (J. Herman Wharton Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of our University Archives collections.


An Artist in Pictures: Photographs of Grace Hartigan

By Tiffany Miller, Reference Assistant

I am a process artist. You start off with an idea and then ideas keep coming as you’re creating and eventually the painting tells you what it wants . . . I paint things that I’m against to try to make them wonderful very often, to give them the magic they don’t have . . .

Grace Hartigan, Smithsonian American Art Museum documentary

In the Grace Hartigan Papers held at SCRC, the vibrant Abstract Expressionist paintings Hartigan is best-known for are rendered almost exclusively in black-and-white photographs. Rather than tempering or restricting our understanding of Hartigan, these photographs illuminate aspects of her life that I, as an art history student, had not been fully aware of prior to studying her papers.

Grace Hartigan, born in 1922 in Newark, New Jersey, was an Abstract Expressionist artist in New York City, active primarily in the 1950s and 1960s. Her papers include photographs of the artist painting on canvas and spending time with friends on trips. As an art history student, I have studied and been fascinated with the art of the Abstract Expressionist movement for its dynamism, color palette, and artist personalities. However, the female artists identifying with the movement and their bright, mesmerizing works have remained my primary interest.

Recently, I was able to research the Grace Hartigan Papers for a patron, and found myself in awe of Hartigan’s personal and professional letters and photographs. Her letters to dear friends and fellow renowned artists captured my attention through her casual writing style and her group of correspondents. Then, I noticed photographs of Hartigan painting dynamically and gracefully as well as photographs of her laughing with friends and playing games in parks. As art historians, we learn about, look at, and research different art movements, but by seeing the artists make the art that we study and their personal lives, we can relate to these artists on a closer level.

Woman painting on canvas
A young Grace Hartigan painting in her studio in the 1940s at the beginning of her artistic career.

The first photograph (above) that strikes me portrays a young Hartigan painting an abstracted female figure in a room with foliage. Likely taken in the 1940s before her move to New York, Hartigan appears to be painting inside her studio or in her home with her materials. The combination of a peasant top and billowy skirt was Hartigan’s primary uniform for painting in the early stages of her career. Even though she is associated with a dynamic and masculine art movement, this photograph renders herself, her space, and her art as gentle. Although it is unclear if this photograph is posed, this photograph was taken before her publicity images of the 1950s and 1960s when she was largely active in the Abstract Expressionist movement. This photograph serves to show an early glimpse of Hartigan’s artistic style and how she could be rendered as an artist. She was only in her twenties here, and this action scene shows her creative process and early style as an emerging artist.

Grace Hartigan moved to New York City during the 1940s, and made a name for herself amongst the thriving New York art scene. She made friends with the most well-known Abstract Expressionists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, and through her papers here at the SCRC, we are able to better understand her relationships and exhibits. Hartigan often exhibited as George Hartigan instead of using her first name. Her paintings are mostly oil on canvas that primarily depict energetic, expressive lines and blocks of color and later paintings depict recognizable figures of specific men and women.

Grace Hartigan with self-portrait.
Grace Hartigan posing with her painting, Self Portrait in Fur, at a 1953 art show.

The second photograph (above) is a posed image of Hartigan with her work in 1953, likely taken by her boyfriend at the time, photographer Walter Silver. Silver took many of the professional and personal photographs that exist of Hartigan. Here, she stands alongside her self-portrait in a gallery setting in front of works on display. The painting in the foreground is titled Self Portrait in Fur, a very colorful piece in shades of blue, brown, yellow, and white, which is unfortunately lost with the black and white image, but one can imagine the hues based on the other bright and abstracted paintings in her oeuvre. This photograph was taken at an exhibit entirely of Hartigan’s works, and by 1953, Grace began using her real first name to exhibit. As a publicity shot of Hartigan taken with one of her famous portraits in her exhibit space, this image provides some insight into art and commerce in the 1950s. Hartigan and other artists relied on and participated in the traditional art market in order to sell their works. Life magazine featured Hartigan and other female Abstract Expressionist artists in 1957, and Jackson Pollock earlier in 1949, and Hartigan was also featured in Newsweek in 1959. This image, along with the first, directly connects Hartigan with her works in different stages of creation and output.

Woman laughing with kite
A carefree Grace Hartigan flying a kite in the 1950s.

The third photograph (above) of Hartigan is my favorite. She is outside flying a kite in a park with other kite flyers. Her flailing arms and wide smile express her happiness in the moment. The smile on her face says it all. This kind of photograph is my favorite because it is relatable. You can look at this image and remember when you flew a kite or when you were in a park during the summer. If the image were in color, we would be able to see the green grass, the blue sky, the color of her top and skirt, and the kite.

The photographic materials in special collections serve as visual evidence of the real lives of people from the past that otherwise would not be revealed through words. With these three photographs, we get a glimpse of Hartigan’s professional and personal life, including precious memories with friends and Hartigan exhibiting her own work. The emotions, interactions, and relationships of artists shape their artistic output. We as viewers, students, and researchers can place ourselves in their footsteps, just like we can with Grace Hartigan flying a kite with her friends.

The Grace Hartigan Papers (Grace Hartigan Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.

Sources:

Curtis, Cathy. Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter (Oxford University Press, New York, 2015).

“Grace Hartigan.” Guggenheim, 20 May 2013, www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/grace-hartigan.

“Grace Hartigan: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/artists/2520.

La Moy, William T., and Joseph P. McCaffrey, editors. Journals of Grace Hartigan, 1951-1955. (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York, 2015), xiv.

“Meet the Artist: Grace Hartigan.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, Meet the Artist video media series, 16 January 2009,
https://americanart.si.edu/videos/meet-artist-grace-hartigan-154369.

Quilter, Jenni. “The Real Thing by Jenni Quilter.” London Review of Books, 21 April 2016, www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v38/n08/jenni-quilter/the-real-thing.

“Self Portrait in Fur by Grace Hartigan.” Self Portrait in Fur by Grace Hartigan on Artnet, Christie’s Hong Kong, www.artnet.com/artists/grace-hartigan/self-portrait-in-fur-r1jUxSWaUOC1BqDtNzJ4ww2.

Shure, Alice, Janice Stanton, and Grace Hartigan. 2008. Grace Hartigan: shattering boundaries. San Francisco: Microcinema International.

Valdes, Olivia. “The Life and Work of Grace Hartigan.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 18 January 2019, www.thoughtco.com/grace-hartigan-biography-4157516.

Wagner, Grace. “Ninth Street Women and New Books at SCRC.” Special Collections Research Center, 7 February 2020, library-blog.syr.edu/scrc/2019/10/10/ninth-street-women-and-new-books-at-scrc/.


A Century of Syroco

By Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

I work in SCRC’s Public Services department and, by far, the collection that we receive the most questions about is one of our smallest. Less than one linear foot, the Syracuse Ornamental Company (Syroco) Collection consists of two document boxes and a handful of product catalogs, documenting the company’s century-long history.

Whenever I or one of my colleagues sees a question about Syroco arrive by email, we call out, “SYROCO!”, and the question is promptly sent my way. My interest in — one might say my affinity for — Syroco comes from years of discovering the signature black and gold circular logo on the back of estate and garage sale finds.

It is not surprising that so many researchers assume Syracuse University must hold a robust collection of Syroco materials. After all, Syracuse, NY, is where the SYRacuse Ornamental COmpany was originally founded and, in part, where the Syroco Company derived its name. The company was founded in 1890 by Austrian immigrant Adolph Holstein, and continued operating locally for over one hundred years. Its headquarters were located in downtown Syracuse in a factory on South Clinton Street, and, at the company’s height, it employed approximately 400 workers in the area.

Gold lettering on tattered cover
An early Syracuse Ornamental Company catalog, circa 1908 from SCRC’s collections.

One of the hallmarks of the Syroco Company was its astounding ability to invent and reinvent itself numerous times over more than a century of business. Syroco products are distinct, but each era of production is marked by certain hallmarks of the day. In this way, the company serves as an interesting benchmark for trends and progress over time. When Syroco first started manufacturing its unique product, the focus was primarily on ornamental decoration. The earliest catalog in our collection, dating to 1908, features pages of fancy scrollwork, hand-carved from wood.

By the 1920s, Syroco began to shift from this more laborious craftsman style of production to one that was more practical and quickly became the company’s signature. In a 1923 catalog from our collections, the company is still advertising wood carvings and moldings for home decor, but denotes that Syroco is now producing a “90% wood product,” in hopes that their “rare and superior” product would “now [be] made practical.”  The advertised “wood product” was composed out of a mixture of wood pulp from the Adirondacks, flour, and other binding agents, which were poured into moldings to create decorative home goods. The moldings resembled traditional wood-carved objects.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the company put forth their “SyrocoWood” line of novelty items. This is perhaps my favorite era of Syroco design. Among the novelty items manufactured, there was a significant amount of decorative wall art in religious and seasonal themes, as well as shaving kits, tie holders, corkscrews and cigar boxes in traditionally ‘masculine’ themes, like sailboats, dogs and horses.

Women in color-coded outfits with bathroom accessories
Syroco catalog circa 1968-1969: “Discover the colorful world of…Lady Syroco Accessories for Bath & Boudoir.”

The relatively sedate, still-recognizably-wood designs of the 1930s and 1940s began to transform into brightly colored products that were frequently finished with gold by the 1950s and 1960s. A line of “Lady Syroco” products were also introduced in the 1960s, complete with color-coded mod-models hawking bathroom wares, as well as a line of “Syroco Art” in 1970, featuring contemporary and classic works of art in Syroco frames. It might not be surprising to hear that the company was also expanding its production to include more plastic products at this point in time. 

Gold frames and mirrors.
A page from a mid-1970s Syroco catalog, featuring the gilded style of later years of Syroco.

Eventually, the failing company began manufacturing plastic furniture in the 1980s and 1990s, before officially closing its doors in 2007. Still, interest in the company has not waned. In particular, estate sales, garage sales, antique stores, and uncleared garages and basements have given the company a second life. Frequently, researchers who contact us in search of information about their Syroco object are individuals who have discovered their piece in one of these places.

Although I have become relatively familiar with the pages of the catalogs in our Syroco Collection, having reviewed them a number of times for different research requests, I still enjoy helping people discover if their object is a Syroco product. I understand their excitement, because I’ve felt the same way upon discovering Syroco objects I own in the pages of one of the original catalogs. I picked up a Scottie dog tie holder, a “SyrocoWood” product, at an estate sale a few years ago that now holds some of my jewelry. Although the tie holder has only been hanging on my wall for a few years, many mid-century homes in Syracuse and across the United States never removed their Syroco decorations since they were first hung on the wall.

Woman sitting at table in the 1950s.
My Grandma Lou sitting at her kitchen table in the 1950s with a piece of SyrocoWood art likely hanging on the opposite wall just out of sight.

Recently, I realized that my grandma fell into this category. As long as I have visited her Ohio home, and likely since her house was first built in 1956, she has had one of Syroco’s products, a depiction of The Last Supper (also part of the “SyrocoWood” series), hanging over her kitchen table. I have a picture of this object, thanks to my uncle, and I can confirm that it was manufactured by Syroco in the 1930s, thanks to a picture in one of our collection’s catalogs, but I can’t seem to find a family picture documenting its familiar presence on her kitchen wall. I can only rely on my memories for this confirmation. Even so, I am certain that it is hanging just out sight of the camera’s lens in the above picture of her sitting at her kitchen table from the 1950s.

The Syracuse Ornamental Company (Syroco) Collection (Syracuse Ornamental Company (Syroco) Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and the Plastics Artifacts Collection (Plastics Artifacts Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.