Discovering the hectographic world of Mae Strelkov

The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant, Rich Dana

In the 1970s, a remarkable woman from Argentina was an underground art sensation.

While researching the forgotten art of hectographic printing, I discovered the work of Mae Strelkov, a little-known visionary artist from Argentina. This discovery was the sort of experience that illustrates precisely why those of us who frequent special collections libraries love them so much; when I followed the finding aid (M. Horvat Science Fiction Fanzines Collection, MsC0791) and opened the folder, the contents were not just a reproduction or a digital scan of some of her creations, but a nearly-complete collection of her hand-made zines, including post-marked, hand-made envelops and personal notes. 

 

Purple landscape of mountains with tree and owl in foreground
Example of Mae Strelkov’s purple-hued landscapes

Some readers may have never heard of a hectograph. Hectography is a technique for duplicating documents using inks made from aniline dye rather than pigments. The ink is transferred to paper via a rubbery copy pad made of gelatin and glycerine, yielding up to 40 prints before becoming depleted. The hectograph was the precursor to the spirit duplicator, commonly known as a “ditto machine,” remembered for the bright purple text and sweet methyl-ester smell it produced. “Hecto” was used widely by school teachers and churches and in the production of early science fiction fanzines. It fell out of favor as newer copiers became available after WWII, making Mae Strelkov one of a handful of artists still using hectography in the 1970s. 
 
I began to search for more information on Mae Strelkov, and found several articles written by SF fans in the early 1970s. I was also very fortunate to speak with her son, Tony Strelkov, from his home in Argentina via Zoom. Tony explained that his mother was born and raised in China, the child of English missionaries. As a teenager she met his father, Vadim Strelkovwho had fled Russia after the revolution. They married when Mae was 18 and were immediately forced to flee China to escape the Japanese invasion in 1937 

The young refugee couple found a new home in Chile, and then Argentina. In Buenos Aires, Mae worked as a translator and secretary.  In 1960, Vadim was hired to manage an estancia (estate and cattle ranch) in the Cordoba hill-country of Argentina. In these beautiful surroundings, Mae raised their children, wrote and created art. Mae was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and despite the isolation of ranch life, or perhaps in response to it, she became an amateur publisher, trading her zines by mail with other fans in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. She became close friends with Donald A. Wolheim, the legendary science fiction publisher and founder of DAW books. Tony described to me the boxes, packed full of science fiction novels and fanzines, that would regularly arrive from her American friend, Wolheim. 

For Mae, printing options were limited for creating her publications. She settled on the hectograph, making her own printing pads (a fan legend that Tony confirmed) by boiling cow bones to extract the gelatin. Because of the limited ink colors available, her idyllic landscapes are rendered in pinks, purples, and blues, giving them a psychedelic quality. Her writings reflect on her missionary parents’ spiritual traditions, those of her childhood home in rural China, and the Andes’ indigenous people. Her landscapes are fantastical, and her accounts of everyday life on the ranch are infused with a mystical quality. Her missives are also full of observations on linguistics. She created symbols for what she considered universal human sounds– a far-out idea at the time, but one that is now widely studied among language scholars. 

In 1973, Susan Wood (Glicksohn), a Canadian literary scholar/feminist/environmentalist (and SF fan) wrote in her fanzine Aspidistra: 

“SF conventions, for me, exist mainly as places to meet other fannish people whom I only know on paper, people whom I have never met, who are my friends. One of those friends is Mae Strelkov…Mae has lived most of her life in Argentina, where she and her husband Vadim share a ranch with children, cattle, crazy goats, pumas—a whole world she’ll create for you with skill and zest. A talented author and an artist too, Mae is equally at home, and equally fascinating, writing about her lively family—or the world’s problems; about linguistics, and the strange pattern of words and symbols she finds repeating themselves through the oriental, western and Amerindian cultures she knows so well—or the antics of her pet skunk; about the Catholic Church, and its effects on the world as she sees it—or your latest fanzine.” 

Picture of Mae's head on an orange background
From “The Mae Strelkov Trip Report,” 1975

 Susan Wood and Ohio fan Joan Bower mounted a successful “fan fund” (commonly used in fandom to subsidize travel for fans who cannot otherwise afford it) to fly Mae from Argentina to the US, where she would attend the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention in Washington DC (DISCON II) and DeepSouth Con in AtlantaAccording to Con reports, the grandmotherly 57-year-old Strelkov made a splash with the young American con-goers. She also purchased a Greyhound Bus Ameripass and zig-zagged from coast to coast and back, visiting fans, pen-pals, and distant relatives on an epic solo adventure, all of which she recounted in The Mae Strelkov Trip Report. The 35-page report was mimeograph-printed and distributed by one of her biggest fans, NASA engineer and fanzine publisher Ned Brooks. 

No description of Mae Strelkov’s writing and artwork can fully impart the actual documents’ utter uniqueness and magical quality. Unlike the vast majority of fanzines, Mae’s were produced almost entirely outside of the direct influence of American pop culture and fannish activities. For American SF fans in 1974, she must have appeared much like the character Valentine Michael Smith, a fascinating stranger in a strange land. 
 
Mae Strelkov’s zines, as well as those created by Susan Wood and Ned Brooks,  all available in the Michael Horvat Science Fiction Fanzines Collection, Msc0791.  

 

A special thanks to Tony Strelkov for sharing his mother’s story.  

A Virtual Bibliophiles

Today is April 8th, 2020, the day we were supposed to gather for the last Iowa Bibliophiles of the academic year. The plan: come together, eat some tasty snacks, and explore some of the highlights from our collection with the help of our wonderful student workers. Our students had selected manuscripts, books, and more, researched them, and planned to present the information at their own “viewing station” for anyone interested.  

That’s how it was supposed to go. However, as all of us have experienced in the last few weeks, plans had to change. The world threw us an unexpected twist, and to protect our family, friends, and community, we cancelled this event.

Yet, the students had picked some interesting collection material, and it would be a shame not to find a way to share them with you. While we cannot meet in person, perhaps this blog can provide some of the entertainment and education we are seeking at this time. Below are a few items described by our hardworking students, a virtual Iowa Bibliophiles if you will. We hope you enjoy.

 


Star Trek Fandom with Zoë Webb

The Mary Jennara Wenk Star Trek Collection (MsC1031) was originally acquired in 2015 as part of the continuing efforts to collect and preserve pop culture and fandom material. Because we have many new collections, the donor of the L. Falcon Media Fandom Collection gave the library a very generous gift to allow a student (it’s me, Zoë Webb) more time to focus on processing a number of newly acquired fandom collections, including the Wenk Collection.

Mary Jennara Wenk was an active member of the Star Trek and Star Wars fan communities of the 1970s and 1980s, attending conventions, collecting fan art, and engaging in lively correspondence with other fans, as well as creating award-winning content for fanzines. This collection reflects her active lifestyle, containing a number of Star Trek zines, a sizable stack of fan art (including a painting done by author Hal Clement), correspondence, convention material, and an impressive collection of 3D objects—notably including some ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on the set of Star Trek. There are many quality items in this collection, but my personal favorites are the handmade dolls, the Starfleet Academy Class Rings, and, of course, Spock’s ears.

Star Trek dolls

Both the Andorian girl (right) and the Vulcan child (left) were made by Devra Langsam, co-editor of Spockanalia, the very first all-Star Trek zine ever published, and apparently an excellent crafter. The doll version of Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek (center), was made by a mystery artist in the 1970s. The Andorian girl is perhaps my favorite of the three, with her little pipe cleaner antennae, the pearl-decked gold bikini, and her adorable yarn braids.

 

 

Starfleet rings
Starfleet Academy Class Rings of ’66 and ’67

The Starfleet Academy Class Rings (Class of ’66 and ’67) were commissioned by an unknown genius of a fan, and was legitimately made by Jostens, the company that still has a monopoly on class rings. The 14k rings depict the Starfleet Command insignia on top, the Academy’s official emblem with the Golden Gate Bridge, and the flag of the United Federation of Planets. I never bought a class ring in high school because they were absurdly expensive, but would I have bought this and worn it in public on a normal day? Yes.

 

 

Spock's ears
A set of Spock’s ears and the purse they came in

Of course, we can’t talk about this collection without mentioning Spock’s ears. Leonard Nimoy went through dozens of these flimsy foam ears, held on by glue and coated in makeup, melting under the hot lights of the set. Everyone was terribly excited to see them, but during the initial unboxing of the collection, to everyone’s horror, the ears were nowhere to be found. They re-boxed and re-un-boxed the collection several times before someone thought to look in the plastic Barbie purse which, in hindsight, did seem like a very incongruous part of the collection. Now the ears are housed in a sky blue bespoke box with a secret drawer underneath for their original home, the Barbie purse.

 

 

The Beauty of Handwritten Cookbooks with Diane Ray

I really admire everyday items that are well made and functional, but also beautiful in a way that enhances use without interfering with functionality. Well-crafted wood furniture comes to mind, or mosaic floors. After looking for items to highlight for Bibliophiles, I have a new item to add to that list—cookbook manuscripts!

This 1818 cookbook from East Hartford shows that the writer was intentionally enhancing the titles, as many of them are unfinished. A few show the writers intent, with flourishing capitals and dark, filled in

Pudding recipes from the 1818 East Hartford cookbook

letters. However most simply start with the second letter, lightly sketched, as though the author never got around to finishing. I think that’s something most of us can relate to.

The book is only 6 1/4 x 4 inches, bound in marbled paper-covered boards. There is not a lot of information given about the author of this cookbook, and the recipes are in a few different hands, suggesting multiple contributors, maybe from the same family. The last person to write in it gives us a clue of origin, as they write after their last entry “East Hartford, July 29, 1818.” 

Recipe “To Make Past of Apples” from American Cookbook 

This is an American cookbook from 1759, written in a style of handwriting that calls to mind cobbled streets, buckle shoes and pewter shops. Similar to the other recipe books from this era in our collection, rather than listing ingredients with detailed instructions as one expects today, the writer assumes a certain level of base knowledge of cooking in a colonial kitchen. Details for preparation are given in a rather conversational tone, as if they were in your kitchen talking you through it.

We presume it is American because at one point it mentions the purchase of “Indian meal and corn”. There are clues to ownership with inscriptions in the beginning and end of the book “M. Ragen” & “From M. Regan to Hannah Wade.”, respectively. Other recipes include: To preserrve Quinces white; To make Marmalad of Orenges; To make Raspberry Cakes, To make Marmalad of Abricots; the best kind of perfuming Cakes to Burne; The Ordinary Sort of perfuming Cakes; and To make Puff & Past, very double & good” 

 

 

Cakes page from cookbook
Close look of “Cakes” page from this Emma Cornelius Ricketson’s Cookbook

Emma Cornelius Ricketson’s cookbook has the nicest cover of the three cookbook manuscripts mentioned, with the presumed writer’s name “Emma C. Ricketson’’ embossed in gold on the cover. Said author also took the most care to insure proper inheritance, which is spelled on the first page: “Published by Wm. K. Tallman to whom it is willed in case he outlives the above Emma Cornelia. But in case the said Emma Cornela outlives the Publisher then it is to pass over to Abby Y. Gherman provided however she outlives the 2 aforementioned.” Special Collections, while not listed, is proud to take their place in what was surely a distinguished line of previous owners.

Similar to the previous cookbooks, these recipes do not offer extensive instruction. In fact, it often simply lists the ingredients and trusts the reader knows how to do the rest.

Dated 1862 and labeled as being from New Bedford, the recipes are broken into categories such as “Meats,” “Breakfast and Tea,” “Sauces,” “Puddings,” “Pies, Desserts, Jellies, Gingerbread Cookes, Etc.,” “Cake,” “Wines,” and “Miscellaneous,” which includes recipes for such things as cologne, pomade, hair tonic, and to perfume sick rooms (A few drops of oil of sandalwood dropped onto a hot shovel in case you were interested)

 

An Introduction to the Archival Manuscripts Collection of Chinese Writers with Shu Wan

Close up of Chinese manuscript
Look at Ting Ling’s letter to Hualing Nieh Engle

I feel delighted to introduce the rare Chinese-language collection, Manuscripts of Chinese Writers held in Special Collections & University Archives. Growing up in a family with the tradition of bookworms, I have been passionate about reading literary works since my childhood. Chinese writer Wang Meng’s novels, journalist Xu Chi‘s non-fiction books, and poet Can Xue’s poems were my “pillow books” (Zhen Bian Du Wu). This Chinese phrase refers to the books placed under someone’s pillow, which enables them to read those books for convenience before falling asleep. So, when I found the rare Chinese-language collection containing those writers’ manuscripts, I felt excited to introduce them to my American friends and patrons. As a graduate student working in Special Collections & University Archives, I was given the opportunity to touch those manuscripts in the Chinese Writers’ Collection.

The history of this rare Chinese-language collection can be traced back to the early 1990s. The first Chinese reference librarian in the UI Libraries, Dr. Peter Xinping Zhou, was engaged in the creation of this collection. According to his memoir, “in October 1991, the University of Iowa Libraries authorized the creation of a Chinese writers’ special collection consisting of the complete works and selected manuscripts authored by Chinese writers who have participated in the International Writing Program or the Iowa Writers’ Workshops.” (Peter X. Zhou, “Chinese Writers in Iowa.” Books at Iowa, no.58, 1993, p. 6. https://doi.org/10.17077/0006-7474.1229) Thanks to Dr. Zhou’s efforts in contacting those Chinese writers and seeking the donation of their manuscripts, we can now read them in the reading room of the UI Special Collections.

The most interesting discovery, which I took when processing the manuscripts in the collection, is the new lens to look at the Chinese feminist writer Ting Ling. Different from the impression I took from reading her books, I found a very “personal” face of Ting Ling. As seen in the following photocopy of Ting Ling’s letter to Hualing Nieh Engle in 1980, in its end, she wrote, “let me shake your hand closely again. ” She is so passionate and emotional!

Although the lack of knowledge in the Chinese language may hinder local readers’ exploration of this collection, they may take opportunities to read and grasp those manuscripts very soon. The librarians, archivists, and student workers in the library are working on selectively translating these literary works. For example, I am engaged in establishing a bilingual linked-data database. The initial outcome of this project will be presented in the 2020 LD4 Conference on Linked Data in Libraries in Dallas this summer. Moreover, another in-progress project of an annotated bibliography of those literary works in the collection will be posted online late this summer.

A look at Mary Shelley the Film

This Halloween season, Frankenstein is everywhere. And no wonder, for the book turned 200 this year and is overdue for a party. While the monster is everywhere, what about the woman who created the famous story? We’ve asked our own Frankenstein expert and Curator of Science Fiction and Popular Culture, Peter Balestrieri to review the latest film on the famed female author. 

Review of Mary Shelley, from Peter Balestrieri

In 2018, the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a new film by director, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Mary Shelley, opened and died quietly. Not the subject, writing, direction, nor the talent and reputations of its stars could save it. I saw it and enjoyed it very much. I anxiously waited for this film after it went into production and hoped it could do justice to its subject and the Romantic period. It comes not long after a recent biopic of doomed John Keats, and, featuring doomed Percy Bysshe Shelley, doomed Lord Byron, and doomed John Polidori, along with possibly the greatest teenage author ever, Mary Shelley, it promised to be a welcome addition to all the scholarly and pop culture attention focused on Frankenstein. Alas, it bombed.

Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth in Mary Shelley (2017)

Some critics panned the film for deviating from historical fact; it is actually very close to the mark with a few notable exceptions. Some have objected to the acting; it was certainly good enough, with Elle Fanning doing a wonderful job, proving again that she is one of film’s best young talents. Familiar faces from Game of Thrones and BBC productions round out the cast. Most reviewers agree Mary Shelley is a very good film to look at; I thought so too, especially the costumes and interior shots. Also good: the dialog, both sharp and poetic. For me, though, one feature more than any other makes this a film worth seeing for anyone interested in the period, the subject, the personalities involved: the troubled, complex relationship between Mary and Percy.

I began research into Frankenstein years ago, using materials from Special Collections and Shelley biographies and it was Mary’s story that impressed me the most. I think Mary put much of her pain and frustration with Percy and his treatment of her into the novel, writing Percy as Victor Frankenstein and herself as the Creature. The film goes into this territory in a way unseen before and I loved it. Percy Shelley is a Bad Boy, who, along with Byron and others, creates the lifestyle emblematic of the Romantics, doomed libertine artists who blaze comet-like and are gone too soon. When Mary rejects her husband’s hypocrisy, cruelty, and excess, the film sends a powerful message to young women and men. See Mary Shelley if you get the chance. I will definitely be seeing it again. It is, however, not a good Halloween film; the only monsters in Mary Shelley are the people in her life.

 

Zine Month in Special Collections

Happy International Zine Month! Throughout July Special Collections & University Archives will be celebrating by highlighting zines from our collections.

Every day this month, Olson Fellow (and zine enthusiast) Kalmia Strong will be selecting a zine from our collections to share on Twitter. Follow us @UISpecColl to see her picks, which will cover a broad range of subjects, styles, and locations.

We will also have a cart of zines in the reading room for drop-in reading. Anyone is welcome to come in and spend a few minutes (or hours!) browsing the zines. They include art zines, Riot Grrrl zines, science fiction fanzines, and zines made in Iowa, among many others.

Did you know that we have approximately 20 collections of zines adding up to over 500 linear feet?  They range in subject from sci-fi to food to punk to comics to feminism, and date from the 1940s to the present. We also regularly receive donations of zines. Two recent acquisitions are several issues of Dishwasher and Moonbeam #3 .These zines are very different in focus but are both excellent examples of the scope of self-produced publications, produced on a copy machine, bound with staples, and distributed through the mail for little more than the price of materials.

Dishwasher was published by Pete Jordan (AKA Dishwasher Pete) in fifteen issues from 1989-2001, and chronicles his journey across the United States washing dishes in every state. By turns tongue-in-cheek, political, and personal, it includes stories of work as a dishwasher, contributions from other dishwashers, collage, comics, quotes, and movie reviews (focusing on dishwashing scenes, of course).

Moonbeam #3 was published in 1978 by Deborah M. Walsh, and was one of the first Star Wars fanzines created after the film was released in 1977. It is an anthology of contributions of original art, fan fiction, and poetry, with a focus on Alec Guinness/Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is particularly interesting to look at early Star Wars zines because of the great excitement and speculation about characters and plot that would be revealed in later films and because of the complicated relationship between Twentieth Century Fox and the growing community of Star Wars fans.

Walsh writes on her website: “Everyone warned me that I shouldn’t try to do a Star Wars zine, because at the time, conventions were frequently the scene to FBI search and seizures of bootlegged Star Wars merchandise. But I was headstrong and crazy for the Force. It proved to be an amazing experience publishing this zine.”

If you’d like to learn more about zines or browse our zine collections, check out our Zine Resources page, or stop by the department on the third floor of the Main Library 8:30AM-5PM Monday through Friday.