Memories of a Memogram

The following is written by graduate student worker Emily Schartz

As we get ready for warmer weather and summer vacation, we look longingly at a group of travelers 90 years ago who were preparing to start a 137 day-long worldwide cruise on their own vacation to much warmer places. 

Bound copy of Memograms

This epic vacation is recorded in a book now found in Special Collections & Archives. This book is a bound collection of colorful memograms, created during the Empress of Britain’s Round the World Cruise. The memograms were created while the ship was at sea and distributed to the travelers on board. A bound copy, like this one, could then be purchased at the end of the trip as a souvenir. Read together these memograms create a “pictorial record” of the crew and travelers’ “journey around the world.”  

The 1932 cruise featured in this particular book was the 10th annual cruise by Canadian Pacific and the second completed by the Empress of Britain liner. Around 300 cruisers left aboard the ship on Saturday, December 3, 1932 at “noon sharp” and would not finish their cruise until April 19, 1933, when they arrived back at Cherbourg and Southampton. Over the course of their journey, the Empress of Britain would cover 30,000 miles, stopping in 81 ports across 23 countries. Truly a world-wide cruise. 

Each memogram is a colorful sheet with information and illustrations for the travelers and they cover a variety of topics. There are maps and itineraries for travelers to use when planning their day-to-day excursions, information about the places they were visiting and their cultures, and posters for ship-wide events, such as a treasure hunt and a Christmas party. The level of detail in the sketches varies from page to page, some are barely more than stick figure cartoons, while others are detailed drawings of specific locations. Many of the memograms within this particular copy show signs of their use. Some are folded as if they were slipped into a pocket or have notes in the margins and sketched out additions to the maps. Some additions are a mystery, such as the bold line added to a map of Palestine helpfully labeled “FISH.”  

The memograms are as diverse as the activities the travelers participated in. Listed on the calendar pages are sightseeing excursions, educational lectures, concerts, and dinners with dancing aboard the boat in the evening. There are also pages that depict anecdotes and “remember when” moments from the cruise.

There is a whole page dedicated to bananas from the ship’s time in Ceylon and another page devoted to the “Tropical Fruits of Java” that mentions fruits that definitely don’t grow in Iowa, such as doekoes and mangoesteens. 

The Empress of Britain continued her annual cruises until 1939 and eventually ended her career when the liner was sunk in an attack by German forces in 1940 while being used for wartime service as a transport vessel. She certainly left behind a legacy, carrying hundreds of travelers on trips around the globe.

Sources: 

By PERCIVAL KNAUTH Wireless to THE NEW YORK TIMES. “EMPRESS OF BRITAIN REPORTED BOMBED: FORMER CANADIAN PACIFIC LINER REPORTED SUNK BY BERLIN.” New York Times, Oct 27, 1940, pp. 1. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/empress-britain-reported-bombed/docview/105285677/se-2?accountid=14663. 

“New Empress of Britain Sails Friday on Maiden Trip.” New York Times, Apr 18, 1956, pp. 62. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/new-empress-britain-sails-friday-on-maiden-trip/docview/113884909/se-2?accountid=14663. 

Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. “BRITISH ANNOUNCE EMPRESS SHIP LOSS: ADMIRALTY FIXES DEATH TOLL AT 45 OUT OF 643 ABOARD CANADIAN PACIFIC LINER TORPEDOES FINISH JOB U-BOAT OVERTAKES BURNING SHIP IN TOW AND COMPLETES TASK STARTED BY BOMBER SHIP ATTACKED THREE TIMES WOMEN AND CHILDREN CALM.” New York Times, Oct 29, 1940, pp. 11. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/british-announce-empress-ship-loss/docview/105415046/se-2?accountid=14663. 

“WORLD CRUISE STARTS WITH NOTABLES TODAY: EARL OF CADOGAN AND PRINCESS DE LIGNE AMONG PASSENGERS WHOM SHAW WILL JOIN LATER.” New York Times, Dec 03, 1932, pp. 14. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/world-cruise-starts-with-notables-today/docview/99789304/se-2?accountid=14663. 

Image of Sherman in field of high grass

Decolonizing the Kitchen: Sean Sherman

The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Matrice Young 

Image of Sherman in field of high grass
Sean Sherman foraging. Photo from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen taken by Nancy Bundt

Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, was born in 1974 and spent the early days of his childhood on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Much of his childhood was spent on his family’s ranch, playing out on the edge of the Badlands. Coyotes, rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, mallards, sandhill cranes, prairie dogs and more were a common populace of the area. At seven, Sherman was hunting animals like grouse and pronghorn antelope, while also helping gather chokeberries, and dug up wild turnips and timpsula.  Along with his cousins he pitched in to help around the family farm, moving cattle, tracking horses, and mending fences. 

Sherman and his cousin Justin on Pine Ridge in 1982, from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen

However, his childhood wasn’t all work. Much of it was spent immersed in his culture: attending powwows, Sun Dances, holiday parades, and family gatherings. Even in school, the Lakota-language class they had was just as important as their English, math, and social studies classes. While he was close to his culture, Sherman remarks that the land around them wasn’t the best “growing area,” supporting mostly cactus and desert plants.  

In an interview with American food journalist Francis Lam, Sherman states that “We didn’t have a lot of the traditional foods growing up; we definitely had a lot of commodity foods. … But looking backwards as a chef much later in life, I realized there should’ve been a lot more knowledge of the traditional foods of the Lakota. That’s what set me off on the path; I was trying to figure out the food of my own heritage.” 

After his parents separated, Sherman, his sister, and his mother moved to Spearfish, South Dakota so his mother could pursue her college degree. He and his sister put food on the table for the family as their mother was now a single parent working two jobs and busy with school. During this time of his life, chef-hood crept closer into his life, into his future.  

At 13, he bussed tables and prepped food at Sluice, a restaurant nearby. The next summer he worked at the Sylvan Lake resort as the youngest on staff, working on the grill, where the college-age kids experimented with meats, switching from steaks to rattlesnake and beaver. Sherman remarks “I knew then that I loved this work.”  

Sherman’s culture has always been a large part of his life, and as such, so has Indigenous food. When Sherman’s grandfather was a child, he was one of the first Native American children to attend a mission school on their reservation. The forced assimilation that started during the 19th century eliminated a lot of Native American food culture across the country, and that was no exception for Sherman’s family. Despite this experience, Sherman’s grandfather still maintained parts of his tribe’s food culture, becoming one Sherman’s first teacher. He passed when Sherman was 18, leaving the budding chef with a plethora of unanswered questions, both in general and about the culture of their food. 

After spending his early 20s in Minneapolis as a sous chef and becoming an executive chef at La Bodega in 2000, Sherman decided he wanted to create a Lakota cookbook. Finding the research on plants and game native to the Great Plains severely lacking, Sherman devised his own research plan to study ethnobotany. He spent time talking to elders and looking at how Native Americans in other parts of the country had their own food systems and pieced together what commonality they shared. 

At 29 he moved to San Francisco, Nayarit in Mexico. This region was colonized by Europeans later than other areas, leaving much of the native plants and foods intact. He found the culture there very similar to his own back home in the Midwest.

Sherman states in his introduction to his book  The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, “In an Epiphany, I tasted how food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure. After seeing how the Huicholes [the native individuals in the area] held on to so much of their pre-European culture through artwork and food, I recognized that I wanted to know my own food heritage. What did my ancestors eat before the Europeans arrived on our lands?”  

Sherman spent a lot of time reading cookbooks, magazines, research publications, along with traveling across the US to visit other Indigenous Americans to learn more about their food cultures. He states that one of the biggest parts of Native American cuisine was the method of preserving their food, as during the summer they were preparing for the next winter. He relied on a food dehydrator and experimented with drying by wood fires or using the sun. His research is continuous, but in 2014 he was able to  put his work into fruition by creating the organization The Sioux Chef. He describes The Sioux Chef as “a mission-driven enterprise of Indigenous team members.” It includes the Tatanka Food Truck which is a full-service catering company, Indigenous Food Labs,  an Indigenous kitchen and training center, and Sherman’s restaurant: Owamni.   

Bison steak with carrots
Owamni Bison Entrée, image by John Yuccas Photography

Owamni was started by Sherman and his wife Dana Thompson in Minneapolis, MN in July of 2021. Thee restaurant is run by an over 80% Indigenous staff. Many individuals on the Owamni team and in the community find the restaurant to be more like a community service than a regular restaurant, according to Thompson. Even the name of the restaurant is integral to the communal history and the mission of the restaurant.  

Owamni was named after a map of the Eastern Sioux that Thompson’s grandfather and his best friend made.  Without this map, many of the original names of the natural landmarks before colonization would’ve been lost. Owamni sits on an area which used to be full of waterfalls with sacred islands to the Dakota and Anishinaabe people. 

Owamni, like the organization The Sioux Chef, is dedicated to de-colonizing food. Thompson, who is of Dakota ancestry has stated that “These foods were systematically removed by forced assimilation and genocide and the culture was almost erased. The fact that we have these foods here is an act of resistance itself.” 

The name origin of Owamni, the food that they serve, and The Sioux Chef entirely are part of Sherman’s mission to engage the community in conversations about race, equity, sustainability, and the history of Indigenous Americans. To teach a history that has often been left out and erased.  

Sherman states “I’ll never learn everything about Indigenous foods, but we’re setting up structures and systems to be able to preserve it and maintain it for the following generations … We envision eventually being able to drive across the U.S. or anywhere in North America and having the option of Indigenous food businesses: to be able to stop there and to experience the immense diversity and culture and language and stories and food.” 

In our library here at University of Iowa, we have Sean Sherman’s book, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, so, if you’d like to learn more about Sherman, his journey, different Indigenous foods and their importance, and want to learn to cook some of his recipes yourself, this book is worth a read!  

 

 

SOURCES: 

Meet the Sioux Chef 

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen 

The ‘Sioux Chef’ Is Putting Pre-Colonization Food Back On The Menu 

One of Minneapolis’ Newest, Hottest Restaurants Is Also One of the Country’s Most Important 

‘Our whole mission is Indigenous education and Indigenous food access’: A Q&A with owners of Owamni by The Sioux Chef 

How this Minneapolis chef is reintroducing Native American cuisine to the world 

 

Further interviews/talks with Sean Sherman:

Sean Sherman: What Can We Learn From Indigenous Culinary Traditions? 

Exploring indigenous kitchens of North America with Sean Sherman 

 Sean Sherman – Author of The Souix Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen LIVE Q&A at R-Future 2021 

Native Minnesota podcast: Revitalizing Indigenous food with Sean Sherman 

The (R)Evolution of Indigenous Foods | Sean Sherman | TEDxSiouxFalls 

page from acrobats

Poems That Just Are

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Luke Allan from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001). 

Poems That Just Are

By Luke Allan

Ian Finlay in front of wall with letters on it
FIG 1: Ian Hamilton Finlay with his poem acrobats on the wall of his house in 1965. Photo by Jonathan Williams

In a letter to a friend in the late 1950s, Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) admits to feeling that he must be “about the only contemporary writer who believes that the purpose of art is to—oh dearie me, I forget exactly what—let’s say: be beautiful.” Finlay is in his early thirties, living alone on a remote Scottish island, recovering from the collapse of his marriage, struggling with his mental health problems, and desperately poor. In 1959 he’ll move to Edinburgh, and from there to a dilapidated farmhouse in the Highlands. In the meantime he’ll meet his second wife, Sue, and in 1966 the young couple will move into a slightly less dilapidated farmhouse in the Pentland Hills, called Stonypath, and have their first child. For the next fifty years Ian and Sue will transform Stonypath, and the square acre of wilderness it sits on, nicknamed Little Sparta, into a unique “poem garden”, cultivated by the world’s first self-proclaimed “avant-gardeners”.

But let us take a step back. At some point in those years between moving to the city and leaving it again with Sue, Ian meets Paul Pond and Jessie McGuffie, and together they start a small poetry magazine, Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. The title is borrowed from a Robert Creeley poem, “Please”, and this borrowing itself hints at one of the motivations behind Ian’s interest in running a magazine: the wish to establish a community of likeminded poets and friends. In the mid-sixties Ian was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an event that, if nothing else, gave a name to the feelings of anxiety and alienation that had troubled him for many years, and which fenced him off from the world. Running a magazine would be, whatever else it would be, a way of having friendships in exile.

Editing POTH took Finlay on a long journey into the contemporary poetic avant-garde that would radically reorient his own writing. He already sensed that he no longer cared for poems that were merely “about” things, that he wanted instead poems “that just are” (letter to Gael Turnbull, 29 April 1963). But it was his encounter with the work of the Brazilian poet Augusto de Campos in winter 1962, while editing issue 6 of POTH, that lit the fuse for Finlay. De Campos’s poems were concretos—concrete. They demonstrated a way of thinking and writing that short-circuited traditional logical and grammatical structures. Feeling alienated from the “ordinary syntax” of “social reality”, as he put it in a letter to Jerome Rothenberg in 1963, Finlay found in concrete poetry a mode of thinking and writing that freed him from the grammar of a world he didn’t recognize as his own: concrete poetry became, for Finlay, “a model of order” within a world “full of doubt” (letter to Pierre Garnier, 17 September 1963). The encounter is crucial for Finlay. In POTH 8 (1963) Finlay publishes his first concrete poem, “Homage to Malevich”, and over the next five years he produces some of his greatest hits, including “acrobats” (1964) and “wave/rock” (1966). Much as Finlay used the magazine to establish a safe social space inside a larger, unstable world, so the concrete poem served as a microcosm of stillness and clarity within the disorder of modern life.

The poem-object shown in the images below is a calendar. Published in 1968, it collects twelve of Finlay’s early concrete poems, and is his first real encounter with a US readership. The calendar’s title, The Blue and the Brown Poems, is a reference to Wittgenstein’s Blue and Brown Books, transcriptions of lecture notes in which the philosopher first develops his destabilizing ideas about the relationship between words and meanings. The calendar is larger than you might think: at 20 inches tall, it’s probably too big for your fridge door or the space beside your desk. It asks, unusually for a calendar, for a more monumental setting, hung on a large wall like a framed painting or poster.

The calendar begins, also unusually, in September. This may be a reference to the calendar of the Roman Empire, in which case it’s an early example of Finlay’s interest in classical culture, a central theme of his later work. Each month features a concrete poem printed in color on white paper, accompanied by a short commentary by the critic Stephen Bann.

Finlay believed that concrete poems were for contemplating, so it followed that their ideal presentation was in a place where they could be readily contemplated. The calendar, like the wall or the garden, is a quintessentially Finlayian form. It is a way to turn the poem into something we can live around or within. Underpinning these considerations of form and space is a more fundamental belief in the relationship between poetry and ordinary experience: the calendar is a bridge between the heavens of literary culture and the ovens of real life in the home.

In ‘wave/rock’, the words “wave” and “rock” bear the colors of the sea and the land, and where the two words overlap there is a sonic collision that produces the “wrack”—seaweed washed up on the shore. Visually, the superimposed blue and brown letterforms give an impression of seaweed-covered rocks. A “wrack” is also a wrecked ship, the word suggesting sudden violent damage, and as these two words collide the wreckage miraculously takes on the form of a word for wreckage. In this sense the poem borrows the kind of forces found at sea as metaphors for the kinds of forces found in language.

FIG 4: “wave/rock” (February) The poem was first realized as a glass poem-object in 1966 (pictured here) and later exhibited as a sculpture in a park in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1969. It was also printed across a page spread in the magazine Aspen. Later still it was realized as a fabric wall hanging

Finlay started out as a writer of short stories and plays. In the middle of his life he found concrete poetry, and he set out on a journey into small-press publishing that would serve as his primary medium of friendship. In the final third of his life he realized the full potential of the concrete poem as a part of a landscape. Later, Finlay disassociated himself from concrete as a movement, because he felt that it did not share his views on the important function of tradition within the avant-garde. Today it is his garden domain, Little Sparta, for which he is best remembered, but at one level the garden is only the final manifestation of a poetic impulse to make enclosures that characterized Finlay’s oeuvre. The social enclosure of the magazine and the press, the aesthetic enclose of the concrete poem, and the physical and philosophical enclosure of the garden: these were ways of dealing with a sickness Finlay had diagnosed in the world and for which he spent his life discovering—oh dearie me, I forget exactly what—let’s say: beautiful cures.

FIG 5: “you / me” (April). The yellow of “you” and the blue of “me” combine to make the compound green of “us”. The two colors then separate again, continuing on a path that is at once shared and separate, on which they are, so to speak, alone together. The metaphor of color—one crucial to Wittgenstein too, we should remember—reminds us that relationships, like compound colors, are more than the sum of their parts. Blue and yellow make something unique, called green, that was in neither, and that cannot be kept if the colors are separated back out.

* * *

When the University of Iowa acquired The Sackner Archive in 2019, work began to unpack and classify the 75,000 works of visual and concrete poetry that Ruth and Marvin Sackner had collected over the course of their lives. Ruth Sackner passed away in 2015, and Marvin Sackner joined her just a few weeks after the Archive’s inaugural exhibition, in September 2019. The work required to process the many books, prints, periodicals, letters, and objects that make up their enormous collection continues behind the scenes, and items from the archive are currently available to view by special request. Over time, the archive will be fully integrated into ArchivesSpace, but even now it is possible to browse the archive here.

Over the course of forty years Finlay published more than a thousand books, booklets, cards, prints and poem-objects, many through his publishing imprint Wild Hawthorn Press. It’s clear that Ruth and Marvin Sackner were enormous fans of Finlay’s work, because their collection contains several hundred of these publications.  It’s a rich seam, and one that is still largely unexplored.

 

FURTHER READING

In print:

Yves Abrioux and Stephen Bann, Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer (London: Reaktion Books, 1985; 2nd edition, revised and expanded, 1994)

A Model of Order: Selected Letters for Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed. Thomas A Clark (Glasgow: Wax366, 2009)

Patrick Eyres, “Gardens of Exile”, New Arcadian Journal 10 (1983)

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections, ed. Alec Finlay (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)

Wood Notes Wild: Essays on the Poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay, ed. Alec Finlay (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1995)

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Rapel: 10 Fauve and Suprematist Poems (Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1963)

John Dixon Hunt, Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay (London: Reaktion Books, 2008)

Caitlin Murray and Tim Johnson, eds., The Present Order: Writings on the Work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (Marfa, TX: Marfa Book Company, 2011)

Jessie Sheeler, Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Photographs by Andrew Lawson (London: Frances Lincoln, 2003)

 

Online:

Carli Teproff, “A force on the Miami art scene, Ruth Sackner dies at 79”, Miami Herald, October 12, 2015. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/obituaries/article38777727.html

Andres Viglucci, “Marvin Sackner, a physician, inventor and renowned collector of word art, has died”, Miami Herald, September 30, 2020 https://www.miamiherald.com/article246121525.html?fbclid=IwAR1Tur1UbivcjHp3HaTx6AN2r8KJNNYXIcdFQc0meVeUXPieXJvQYhuUEJ8

Padded Cell Pictures, Concrete! (documentary about Marvin and Ruth Sackner) https://www.kaltura.com/index.php/extwidget/preview/partner_id/1004581/uiconf_id/15920232/entry_id/1_bv84gwjw/embed/dynamic?

Sackner Archive Live Exhibition. 

Sackner Archive Exhibition Guide. 

University of Iowa Library Guide to the Sackner Archive.