The University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections is the new home of the renowned Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry. Founded by Ruth and Marvin Sackner in 1979 in Miami Beach, Florida, the Sackner Archive currently holds the largest collection of concrete and visual poetry in the world.
The archive includes over 75,000 items that document the concrete poetry movement. Annotated books, periodicals, typewritings, drawings, letters, print portfolios, ephemera, and rare and out-of-print artists’ books and manuscripts represent 20th-century art movements such as Italian Futurism, Russian and Eastern European Avant Garde, Dada, Surrealism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Ultra, Tabu-Dada, Lettrisme, and Ultra-Lettrisme.
Among many notable items, the collection includes materials by and about the founders of the contemporary concrete poetry movement, such as Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos, Eugen Gomringer, Öyvind Fahlström, Décio Pignatari, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Also among the richly varied cross section of artists and poets represented in the archive are Dom Sylvester Houédard, Henri Chopin, John Cage, Johanna Drucker, Yoko Ono, and Nam June Paik.
“It’s a great honor for the UI Libraries to become the new home for the Sackner Archive, which will enrich scholarship, inspire generations of students, and draw visitors from around the world,” says John Culshaw, the Jack B. King university librarian at the UI.
Margaret Gamm, head of UI Libraries Special Collections, says the Sackners’ extensive work with item descriptions makes the archive of even greater value to scholars.
“We will soon be able to make a truly remarkable assortment of materials available, thanks to the dedication of Ruth and Marvin Sackner, their love of collecting, and their determination to create a complete archive by creating descriptive item records for each piece,” Gamm says. “I cannot wait to see how our students, faculty, and community use these materials in their research and classes.”
The entire archive has been moved to the UI Libraries, where it will be housed and maintained. The Sackner family has arranged for a scheduled donation of materials to be transferred to the UI Libraries’ ownership. The archive will be open by appointment to students, scholars, and the general public starting January 2020.
The Sackner family chose the University of Iowa Libraries as the new home for the archive due to the Libraries’ reputation as a center for the study of Dadaism, with its substantial holdings in the International Dada Archive. In addition, the Libraries’ world-class conservation program, the UI’s nationally recognized Center for the Book and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, collections in the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, and location in Iowa City (a UNESCO City of Literature) were also factors influencing their decision. The Sackners’ first encounter with Iowa was to loan work for the 1983 UI exhibition Lettrisme: Into the Present, not knowing that those items would eventually find their way back to the Midwest.
“My beloved wife, Ruth, and I had a dream that one day our efforts to build our collection into one that would reside in a world-class educational institution like the University of Iowa would come true,” Dr. Marvin Sackner says. “Our dream has finally become a reality. I am just sorry that Ruth is no longer with us to witness this monumental moment.”
In addition to housing the archive in Special Collections, the UI Libraries will maintain the condition of archive items, including fragile materials and rare or one-of-a-kind items. The Libraries Preservation and Conservation department has begun repairs on items damaged during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
In its new home, the Sackner Archive will continue to function as a living record of the concrete poetry movement, as new works are accepted into the collections. The UI Libraries will house new items as they come in and work to make the material available to all.
“It’s a pleasure to collaborate with the University of Iowa Libraries staff to ensure the safety of the collection during the move and into the future,” says Amanda Keeley, who has served as associate curator of the Sackner Archive for three years. “Margaret [Gamm] has been a particularly helpful partner, allowing a smooth process for moving this substantial archive to Iowa City.”
The University of Iowa Libraries plans to host a celebration of the Sackner Archive in the near future. At a later date, UI Libraries staff will mount an exhibition of select archive items in the Main Library Gallery. The exhibition dates will be announced at lib.uiowa.edu/gallery.
Margaret Gamm, head, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Shipe, curator, International Dada Archive, University of Iowa Libraries email@example.com
Images from the collection
The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry includes items created in a wide variety of styles and media. Initially, the Sackners collected examples of artists who started the concrete poetry movement, but the archive has since expanded in scope and now includes a broad array of works that integrate text and image. Examples include experimental typography, experimental calligraphy, correspondence art, stamp art, sound poetry, performance poetry, micrography, ‘zines,’ graphic design, and artist magazines.
The images below show a variety of materials and techniques such as calligraphy on an ostrich egg, a “handmade” leather book cover, pressed leaves, lithograph, embossed paper, tea bags encased in paper, one-of-a-kind artist’s book in a round box, carved/painted wood, and an altered book page on which poetry was created through a technique called “erasure.”