Someone has to say it. “A ‘favorite” thing? That’s like picking my favorite child. But, since he has only one child, that’s an easy task. A favorite? The William Hopkins Photo Collection, a “hidden gem and untapped resource.”
Raindrops on roses are unlikely, as are kitten whiskers, but there are plenty of treasures in the nooks and crannies of Special Collections and Archives. Row after row of archival boxes line shelves, and climate controlled environments protect the delicate. In a business where collections are measured in linear feet, there’s a lot to discover, whether it be a document in the classic definition or a digital file. For anyone who appreciates the old — and not so old in this digital age —Special Collections and Archives is a place to work and to explore. It is a place to appreciate.
Here are a few favorite things revered by staff at Special Collections and Archives.
Favorite? She doesn’t have to think twice. She was hooked the minute she walked in as a student. It was the first thing she was shown and, she says, it is the epitome of her department. For Ann Buttars, curator of Western and Mormon Americana, it is a first-edition of The Book of Mormon. Her favorite item is a memorable highlight with library users and visitors but many are surprised to see how the first edition originally appeared. As one opens the leather-bound volume, the surprise is its physical layout. It isn’t broken into verses and columns — that came later — it flows in sentence-paragraph form. Buttars says it is always intriguing to see people’s reaction to the volume.
Dream job? Yes, but it would be more “dreamy” if he could spend more time with the documents. So says Brad Cole, associate library dean, Special Collections and Archives Division. Cole’s favorite item is a letter from the Ridgway Collection written by the then 17-year-old Robert Ridgway who was the zoologist on the important 1867-69 Clarence King Survey of the 40th parallel. While Ridgway eventually went on to become curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s bird collections, the letter reveals the impressions of an impressionable young man. The Ridgway Collection also holds personal meaning for Cole. It was the first major collection he was responsible for obtaining.
With the enthusiasm of someone starting a career, Clint Pumphrey is the newest staff member to join Special Collections and Archives. He serves as manuscript curator and says he entered the library archives business “through the side door.” Now, he’s all in. His interests carried him to a master’s of science degree at USU in environmental history with a nod to tourism. With that background, it was natural for Pumphrey to pick a favorite that combined his interests — the Edgar Bentley Mitchell Papers, a small but rich collection that shows how hotels and motels were promoted during the 1950s, a time when road trips boomed. Mitchell, a noted Logan businessman, was active in regional efforts to promote the hospitality industry and tourism. He was an officer in the 89ers International Highway Association — an organization that promoted tourism along U.S. Highway 89. His collection includes meeting minutes, publicity materials and a rare copy of a bright red vinyl disc — a 45-rpm recording of a promotional song to highlight Highway 89, Treasure Trail, recorded by Frank Barker and the Latin-Airs. Included is a copy of the original contract: no more than $700 to produce 3,000 records.
With a background in art — she earned both BFA and MFA degrees in drawing — it’s a natural that Preservation Manager and Exhibition Program Director Rose Milovich would pick illustrations as her favorite thing. She is intrigued by the amazing artwork created by book illustrators, and one example in particular comes to mind: a scrapbook by John L. Ridgway. Yes the name is familiar, it’s the same family noted in Brad Cole’s favorite, a brother to be exact. The scrapbook chronicles Ridgway’s career as a scientific illustrator. There are archeological illustrations, birds, sea shells and more. It includes lithographic proofs and his notes, along with original pen and ink drawings. It is, Milovich says, a beautiful piece that mixes incredible artistic skill and the scientific. And, like a growing number of items at Special Collections and Merrill-Cazier Library, the scrapbook can be seen by everyone in the digital library.
Every office has one; that person with the organizational skills to keep everything on track and running smoothly. That’s SCA Staff Assistant Liz Kline. In the Google age, it’s no surprise what people can track to Special Collections and Archives and Kline is often the gatekeeper; she’s the knowledgeable, smiling, resource who leads them to the proper source. She sees first-hand the dramatic, often emotional connections when patrons find a long-lost photo, letter or even an Extension Service Bulletin. It sends them ‘over the moon,’ she says. And that is Kline’s favorite thing, a sentiment seconded by Brad Cole.
Meeting Randy Williams, curator of the Fife Folklore Archives at Special Collections, one can immediately see she is well suited to her job. She’s a passionate people-person and language is important to her. She’s conducted a number of oral history projects and says she takes inspiration in her job from Austin and Alta Fife — namesakes of her pick for favorite — the Austin and Alta Fife Fieldwork Collection. The entire folklore collection, including the Fifes’ fieldwork, is about people and the voices of people, Williams says. The Fifes’ fieldwork collection is important because it was the first, the foundation of many more fieldwork and oral history collections housed at SCA. In her role as curator of folklore, Williams says it is not only important to be a steward of the earlier material, but to ensure that fieldwork goes on.
Someone has to say it. “A ‘favorite” thing? That’s like picking my favorite child.” So quips Dan Davis, photo curator for Special Collections. But, since he has only one child, that’s an easy task. A favorite? The William Hopkins Photo Collection, a “hidden gem and untapped resource.” Acquired by Davis several years ago, it includes 3,000 nitrate negatives that require very specific storage: cold. If not preserved in a cool environment, the negatives become brittle, break and crumble to dust. Hopkins was a Salt Lake City dentist but his passion, working in the early decades of the 20th century, was promoting Utah’s recreational opportunities. He was an early pioneer in developing the concept of outdoor recreational tourism. Davis, who joined SCA in 2000, says the collection offers countless research opportunities. In the ever-changing digital world, photographs will continue as a vehicle to connect. They are a visceral link to the past, Davis says.
As the Art Book Collections manager, Kathy Schockmel is among those who doesn’t have a hard time picking a favorite. From her collection area, they are the Seminas, “mail art scrapbook” photo assemblages published by Wallace Berman in limited editions and sent to friends. They are primary documents that chronicle the early counter-culture of the 1950s and 1960s, heralding the radical cultural changes that rocked those momentous decades. The editions came to the library as gifts purchased by George Wanlass on behalf of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation. The original Semina editions are illusive — rarely available in the usual book or art outlets — and are completely unique for the library and challenge classification. They also led to other important acquisitions, items that make up the Beat Literature and Little Magazine collections. Those collections prompted a major academic seminar, the 2006 O.C. Tanner Symposium The 1950s, the Beat Generation and the Power of Expression. The three-day symposium brought national attention to Utah State and its collections on beat culture, with Schockmel playing an active role.
Library Assistant Sara Skindelien doesn’t look beyond Cache Valley for her favorite item. The Minnesota native and self-professed history buff also has a taste for architecture and design, especially details from period homes. So, a natural pick is Fred W. Hodgson Architectural Drawings. Born in Salt Lake City in 1886, he trained in San Diego, Calif., as an architect. Hodgson and his wife, Mary, moved to Logan where he established his own business. For 15 years he developed architectural plans for numerous schools in Cache and Box Elder counties, as well as churches, jails, libraries and private homes. Hodgson’s drawings and designs were donated in 1988 by his daughter, Virginia Hodgson Dibble, but weren’t processed until Skindelien joined SCA. The drawings hold multiple research opportunities, from capturing a snapshot of architectural trends in the early part of the 20th century — including period details of moldings and trims — to restoration guides for modern families who might now live in a home designed by Hodgson.
As an archivist, Bob Parson says his job is to make order out of chaos and to determine whether or not a document has value beyond the time it is created. The USU Archives in Special Collections is the repository of the university’s official records and its important and sometimes unique artifacts. An item from the institution’s early days is Parson’s favorite. It’s a small brass disc with an odd looking figure and some animal heads. The figure is Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, and the brass circle, with the words “Utah Agricultural College,” is the institution’s first intended official seal. But, like a true archivist, Parson knows there is much more to the story. In the early days of what would become Utah State University, John T. Caine, Jr., played a significant role. Secretary to the first board of trustees, he seemed to be everywhere, doing everything. Caine was also responsible for commissioning the first official seal for the school, a seal that turned out to be quite unsatisfactory. In a letter found in his 1889 letter book to a firm in Salt Lake City, Caine’s displeasure is noted, from the poor artistic execution of the figures to the price. He notes an early quote of $8, a later one of $12 but not as high as $14, the price asked for the final product. Billing consideration is requested until a suitable replacement could be ordered from a “reputable” East Coast firm. But, the story continues. Parson was in his office approximately 20 years ago when an employee from USU’s Physical Plant walked in and said ‘you might be interested in this.’ A crew digging in the yard of what is now the university’s Caine House, located immediately south of the original John T. Caine home, found an unusual brass object — an odd brass disc with a figure. Parson connected the dots — the archival letter, the Caine home and the brass disc. Here was the university’s first intended official seal, long buried in the Caine yard. Now, 100 years later it was back where it belonged, the Utah State University Archives. Oh, and the final price of the unsatisfactory seal? $10.
For those who want to use the resources of Special Collections and Archives and, perhaps, find a few favorite things of their own, it’s easy. The SCA website has specifics, but guests simply need to stop by and fill out a user registration agreement. Picture ID is required. Stop by the lower level of Merrill-Cazier Library, room 035. A staff member will be on hand with full details. SCA is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with some select Saturday openings. Call ahead to confirm the schedule, (435) 797-2663.
Jack London Society Coming to Logan
Utah State University’s Special Collections and Archives hosts the Jack London Society’s 11th biennial symposium Oct. 4-6 at the Riverwoods Conference Center in Logan. Papers and other presentations on the life and works of Jack London are part of the activities.
In conjunction with the gathering, Special Collections and Archives is creating an exhibit, drawn from its London collection, that can be seen in the atrium of the Merrill-Cazier Library on the Logan campus. A gallery talk, open to all, is Friday, Oct. 5. The University Libraries exhibit can be seen through Dec. 15.
The Jack London Society is an international non-profit organization that promotes the study of Jack London and his work. It was founded in 1990 as an author society affiliated with the American Literature Association. It includes 200 members.
Those attending the symposium are invited to take advantage of the research opportunities provided by Special Collections and Archives.
Photo GalleryMouse over thumbnail for detail
A Fred W. Hodgson idea for The Bluebird in Logan.
Oral history projects have long been a passion of Randy Williams, left, shown interviewing
legendary USU folklorist Barre Toelken.
Special Collections and Archives photo
Ann Buttars: It's always intriguing to see reactions to the first-edition of The Book of Mormon.
Kathy Schockmel returns time and again to the 'mail art scrapbooks' of Wallace Berman,
which exude the early counter-culture of the 1950s and 1960s.
Clint Pumphrey: Celebrating Hwy 89 with a 45-rpm record of
Treasure Trail, a delightfully snappy road-trip tune.
Brad Cole's favorite? This letter from a 17-year-old Robert Ridgway, future curator
at the Smithsonian Institution.