Spring Break Class Solving Research Mysteries

Today a team of librarians, archivists, and museum professionals from around campus including University Archivist David McCartney again begin teaching a week long Spring Break class, “The Continuing Role of Real Collections.” The students have been researching mystery items as part of the class and often come up with very surprising revelations!  What follows is a post from a student from last year’s class, Lindsay Schroeder, and the surprising story she unearthed:

The Mystery Portait

The Mystery Portrait

During spring break of 2013 I took Topics in Museum Studies:The Continuing Role of Real Collections, taught by David McCartney with many prominent guest speakers within the museum and library fields. We were given a project to research artifacts within the University of Iowa that had little to no information connected to them so little is known about what they are. I chose a large painted portrait of a man with a wood, ornate frame and held only one clue, the artist’s signature. This mysterious artifact was found in the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History’s attic storage cabinet, hidden between large animal hides this spring.

The artist’s name was Marie Koupal, dated 1882. I researched her name and found an article within the Daily Iowan, dating November 19, 1920. It was about a man named Dr. Mark W. Ranney and his cherished book collection that stood in the Ranney Memorial Library at the University. The article concluded with a major clue, “Besides the books there are about twenty pictures on the walls that belong in the collection. Most of these are portraits…A portrait of Dr. Ranney stands on an easel in one corner of the room. This was done in 1882 by Marie Koupal and is framed in a fine hand made frame of several kinds of wood” (Daily Iowan). This was the same portrait, of Dr. Mark W. Ranney. This object’s original purpose had to be a memorial piece done by Koupal, because on January 13, 1882, Dr. Ranney died of acute pneumonia.

Special Collections has information in their collection guide pertaining to the Dr. Mark Ranney papers, with an additional link to a biographical report written by Margaret Schindler Bryant, in Books at Iowa, Issue 30, April 1979, about Dr. Ranney. This report gave me a lot of information regarding Dr. Ranney and his passion for collecting rare books along with other artifacts. Bryant’s report gave great insight to who this man was and why his portrait was originally located in the library during the 1920s, commemorated on an easel. Dr. Ranney’s wife bequeathed his entire collection to the University of Iowa after her death on July 18, 1907. She left a trust that created the “Mark Ranney Memorial Fund”. This established the Mark Ranney Memorial Library that was located in room 305, Schaeffer Hall.

The day before my report and presentation was due, I was searching the Iowa Digital Library within the time frame of 1920-1940. After endless searching for more concrete information, I came across the ultimate completion of this project, a photograph from the digital database of the Mark Ranney Memorial Library with the portrait of Dr. Ranney on the easel in the 1930s. It was truly amazing and reminded me of why I am in this field of work.

Photograph of Ranney Memorial Library with the portrait visible in the room

Ranney Memorial Library, Schaeffer Hall, University of Iowa, between 1902 and 1907.

 

The Mystery Portait

Portrait identified as Mr. Ranney

Visit this photograph here

Many thanks to Lindsay Schroeder for identifying this important portrait so it could be reunited with the Ranney Collections in Special Collections!