The following is written by student worker Jack Menzies
Thor Rinden was an artist born in Marshalltown, Iowa in 1937 and studied at the University of Iowa before attaining his Master of Arts at Hunter College, New York, NY. Living with his wife, Jane,the couple spent decades renovating their home in Brooklyn, which garnered substantial media attention and brought focus to his artwork.
Combining elements of geometry and architecture with the organic influence of his Iowa roots, Thor Rinden created little worlds within his pieces. Employing differences in texture, as can be seen in his “wovens,” interlocking strips of canvas and other materials to create textured designs, and “slab paintings,” in which smaller canvas paintings are placed within a larger canvas frame, his work invites viewers to not only view the art but interact with it and unfold its meanings. Check out examples of woven and slab paintings on the Thor Rinden website.
The combination of mediums with which he worked perfectly marries his Iowa origins and appreciation for New York abstraction. Farmland scenes and quiltlike patterns juxtapose with the clean lines and sharp angles of a modern skyline. To better understand the artist, I took the opportunity to talk with Thor and Jane Rinden’s close friends Samuel Scheer and Rosetta Cohen, who helped shed more light on Rinden’s work. Scheer described Rinden’s art as “lucidly geometrical,” a study in how things are exquisitely and imperfectly joined in the world. His work is deliberately imperfect and showcases his humorous side, thus showcasing humanity alongside mechanical precision.
Though Rinden loved his homes in Iowa and New York, he was an avid world traveler, and his travels hugely impacted his work. He was especially influenced by his experiences in Asia and his introduction to Buddhist culture. Though not quite mandalas, his woven work showcases some similarity with the intricate sand paintings created by Buddhist monks. Creating art was a spiritual experience for Rinden, and that spirituality can be seen within the inter-animated aspects of his paintings and wovens. He appreciated both agrarian and industrial development and his work showcased his dual appreciation. Much of his work can be plotted as grids, like neat Iowa cornfields or the network of New York streets, perfectly exemplifying his desire to portray the interconnectedness of all things and places.
Some of Rinden’s work has come back to Iowa and is housed at theStanley Museum of Art.His collection here at Special Collections & Archives contains 25 sketchbooks that include his blueprints for paintings, many sketches and life studies, plans for his renovations, and poetry. A common factor with all of these is his connection to Iowa and its landscapes. His collection will resonate with anyone who feels a connection to their homes and those who are moving into a new phase in their lives. His collection speaks to the integral and involuntary connection we have to our origins and invites people to carry their roots with them even as they move out into the world. It asks the question, “What will you bring with you as you enter the world?”
Also included in the collection is a book of his poems titled Subway Seizures: Poems. The poems are accompanied by sketches, and they showcase the humor and left-handedness of Rinden’s character.His poetry can be seen as a dialogue with his wife Jane, who was a poet herself and an English teacher. Subway Seizures is seen as a “language of love” in which he embraces her love of language. As his friends describe, when coupled with the originality and innovative artwork, his poems reveal satirical elements within his paintings and open new ways of approaching his work.
While Rinden never created art with the specific intent of showcasing it at museums and exhibits, several of his paintings were showcased during his life, and over 20 pieces have been placed in museums since his death in 2009. Rinden was an artist who created out of need to express himself, not desire for acclaim or recognition. However, his work deserves to be shared and perfectly captures the ideas of home and forward progression.
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.
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.
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.
The following is written by Academic Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Reuter
Mauricio Lasanky was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1914 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. Lasansky showed artistic skill from a young age — printmaking was his preferred medium, a choice perhaps influenced by his father, who worked as a printer of banknote engravings. After completing high school, Lasansky studied printmaking at the Superior School of Fine Arts and after just three years, was named director of the Free School of Fine Arts in Cordoba, Argentina. His work caught the attention of Henry Francis Taylor, who was then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taylor recommended Lasansky for a Guggenheim Fellowship, a distinction Lasansky was awarded in 1943—with a renewal in 1944. This fellowship allowed Lasansky to travel to New York City, where he worked at the famed printmaking workshop Atelier 17 and, over the course of two years, reportedly studied every. single. print. of the old masters in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Drawings and Prints (an estimated 150,000 works!).
In 1944, as Lasansky’s Guggenheim Fellowship was coming to a close, University of Iowa president Virgil Hancher was looking for a Printmaker in Residence as part of the development of the University Art Department. Mauricio Lasansky accepted the position and while he initially planned on being in Iowa City for “just a year”, Lasansky taught at the University for forty years and established one of the most respected printmaking workshops in the country. By all accounts Lasansky was an exceptionally dedicated teacher; in his farewell letter to the director of the University Art Department in 1984, he wrote:
“Somehow I will miss teaching since I don’t recall one day in my teaching one-to-one that was not enjoyable. For that I am grateful to the University, the Art Department, and above all to my students, who are scattered all over the world as you know. I can honestly say that I did the best I could. Was it good enough? Time will say.”
-Letter to the Director of School of Art & Art History. Oct. 31, 1984 file: Lasansky, Mauricio. Vita and Farewell Correspondence, 1983-1984 collection: Iowa Print Group Records
Throughout his time teaching, Lasansky continued to earn accolades for his own work – in fact, in 1961, Time magazine called him “the nation’s most influential printmaker”.
Because of his skill and success as a printmaker, it is somewhat surprising that Lasansky’s most famous works are a suite of drawings. The Nazi Drawings — a set off 33 portraits of Nazis, other perpetrators of the Holocaust, and bystanders — are haunting depictions of the disgust and pain that Lasansky felt about the Holocaust and atrocities of World War II. Created over a period of five years, the drawings are made primarily with pencil on paper, with some treatments of turpentine, earth colors, and collaged newspaper. With simple materials, Lasansky was able to conjure a thick layer of horror and tragedy onto paper. The drawings vary in size: a few measure about two feet in height, but the majority are around five feet—and the largest is almost seven feet tall. The scale of these works makes them feel unescapable, they violently confront the viewer with deeply dark depictions of humanity. To see a grotesque image as a sketch on a page is one thing, but these large drawings force us to see the figures as the same size as us. They are fully disturbing.
Although the end of World War II and the liberation of concentration camps occurred in 1945, Lasansky would not begin work on his drawings until 1961. This gap in time is because, like many people around the world, he did not fully know the extent of the tragedy until decades after the war. Immediately following the war, media attention on the Holocaust was minimal, and it was only years later that stories of the persecution and genocide of Jewish people and other groups were introduced into wider public consciousness.
As an example, one of the most famous works of literature to come out of the Holocaust, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, would not be published in Amsterdam until 1947 – and only after great effort by her father Otto Frank. As a post by the Anne Frank House explains, “It was not easy to find a publisher so soon after the war, because most people wanted to look to the future.” Similarly, an English translation of the book for publication in the United States was turned down by 10 publishers before Doubleday Publishers agreed to publish the translation in 1952. The diary is undoubtedly a vital piece of history, but the writings are about Anne’s quiet life in hiding — the reality of genocide and the horrors of labor and death camps were not included in the published volume. The climate of the 1950s was heavy with post-war optimism and American society at large was saturated with a culture of positivity; most people preferred not to grapple with the tragedy and grief of the Holocaust.
For many, full recognition of the horrors of the Holocaust was spurred by the widely publicized 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi officer and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. Eichmann was responsible for the logistical planning of genocide and escaped capture at the end of the war. In 1960, Nazi hunters found Eichmann living in Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial for 15 criminal charges. This trial was broadcast around the world, from April to October of 1961, and people watched on their televisions as over 90 Holocaust survivors gave testimony about the horrors of the Holocaust and the brutality of the Nazis. There had never before been this level of exposure for Holocaust survivors and the terrible truth of their experiences. During the Nuremberg Trials, for example, only 3 Holocaust survivors gave testimony because the prosecution decided to rely on documentary evidence in building their case. The Eichmann trial was widely followed by the media and exposed many people, including Mauricio Lasansky, to the truth about the horrors of the Holocaust.
In The Nazi Drawings, Lasansky was putting his rage and grief onto paper. In a biographical essay, scholar Alan Fern summarizes:
“Both the formal and the iconographic development of Lasansky’s work reached a climax in The Nazi Drawings of 1961-1966. For Lasansky, this was both an artistic watershed and an emotional catharsis, during which he turned his major creative energies away from the print to give physical embodiment to his seething reaction against the Nazi holocaust. He saw the unleashing of bestiality in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s as a brutal attack on man’s dignity, and felt it carried the potential seeds of man’s self-destruction.”
– “The Prints of Mauricio Lasansky” by Alan Fern (page 17) in Lasansky: Printmaker John Thein, Phillip Lasansky – University of Iowa Press 1975
Even with greater public awareness of the Holocaust, The Nazi Drawings were difficult for many to stomach. In 1967 Time magazine noted that the works were on display at the Whitney Museum and called them “as unsettling a set of drawings as any museum has shown in years” and reported “the impact of the drawings is so devastating that the Chicago Institute of Art declined to show them altogether…” With just pencil and paper, Lansky managed to illustrate intensely uncomfortable images and convey the immense tragedy of the Holocaust. The Nazi Drawings are an example of the power of art as process – they were a way for Lasansky to lance the wound and pour out the heavy emotions he felt. The drawings have also endured as an example of the power of art to unsettle viewers; to provoke emotional reactions from an audience. No one would venture to call these drawings beautiful, but there is no mistaking their power.
The entire set of drawings are currently on display for the first time in over 15 years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. This exhibit, on display until June 26th, pairs the drawings with archival media of the Eichmann trials as well as contemporary prints by Lasansky.
Undoubtedly significant to the rise of printmaking in the United States, Mauricio Lasansky’s legacy is also deeply imprinted on Iowa City. The tradition of excellence he established continues in the University of Iowa’s printmaking program, and members of Laskansky’s family run The Lasansky Corporation Gallery on Washington Street in downtown Iowa City.
As another way of remembering this difficult time in history, on April 29th, 2022 the University of Iowa will plant a new tree on the Pentacrest: a sapling propagated from the old chestnut tree that grew behind the Amsterdam annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII. Learn more about the event here.
Books in Special Collections:
– The Nazi Drawings / by Mauricio Lasansky FOLIO NE539.L3 N3 1976
– Lasansky, Printmaker FOLIO NE594.L3 T44
Material in University Archives:
– Papers of Mauricio Lasansky University Archives RG 99.0030
– Iowa Print Group Records RG 06.0007.002
– Howard N. Sokol Papers (RG 99.0017) Subject Files – L. Lasansky, The Nazi Drawings 1972.
View more digitized photos of Lasansky (from the University Archives) as well as digitized prints (from the collection of the Stanley Museum of Art) at the Iowa Digital Library
“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 Lisa Tuzel from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001).
It isn’t hoarding if it’s books – or is it?
By Lisa Tuzel
In her NYT Best Seller The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up, Marie Kondo made headlines with her strategy for minimizing belongings, including books. Kondo claimed to winnow down her own collection to just 30 titles (93 – 95). Book lovers and readers on social media had a visceral reaction to Kondo’s plan – “30 books, you mean on my nightstand, right?” Kondo’s tendency toward minimalism is one that has been common in the United States since World War II, however, this tendency is at odds with an older aspect of book culture: bibliomania.
Bibliomania, the passion for collecting books, was coined by John Ferriar, a physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, in an 1809 poem dedicated to his friend, Richard Heber. The term was commonly used through the nineteenth century to describe obsessive book collecting. It is widely agreed that a tense bidding war over Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decamerone between Lord Spencer and the marquis of Blandford in 1812, which ended in a staggering price of £2,260, marks the “central, defining moment in what was known as the ‘bibliomania’” (Connell 25). From this moment, writings concerning the trend of book collecting flourished. In them, the obsession of book collecting by the upper classes in the 19th century is optimistically attributed to saving the literary and cultural history of a nation, to a more cynical view of “book gluttony” that saw collectors “preserve learning … almost in spite of themselves” (Connell 36).
One of the seminal works regarding bibliomania is Rev Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s Bibliomania or Book Madness (1811), of which two editions can be found in the University of Iowa Special Collections & Archives. Written as a series of dialogues about book collecting, the work offers up a satiric mock-explanation of the disease bibliomania, its symptoms, and possible cures.
In the 20th century, Holbrook Jackson, a British journalist and avid book lover, published a number of essay collections that extolled the virtues of books and reading. UI Special Collections owns a copy of The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930) and Bookman’s Pleasure: a recreation for book lovers (1945). Anatomy of Bibliomania explores questions that all book lovers and collectors mull over, such as The Art of Reading, The Uses of Books, and How Bookmen Conquer Time
and Place . The Table of Contents proceeds beyond the love of books to Parts XXIII through XXIX, a discussion of the evolution to bibliomania.
The conversation regarding bibliomania was not confined to Great Britain. In the United States, Eugene Field, also a journalist, published The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896, which became part of the canon of books about books. Following a fictionalized bibliomaniac protagonist, The Love Affair highlights the sensual nature of loving books (Shaddy 53-54).
Maybe the most unique title book about book collecting from UI Special Collections is The Joys and Sorrows of a Book Collector by Luther A. Brewer. It is an essay Brewer wrote about his hobby: book collecting. But what makes this specific item so interesting is that it was not for national or international consumption. The Joys and Sorrows of a Book Collector was privately printed in Cedar Rapids, IA, and given to friends for Christmas in 1928.
The conversation around book collecting has continued for more than 200 years. Why does this conversation persist? It could be the symbolism attributed to books: that the number of books on one’s shelves is directly proportional to the value placed on knowledge and learning. Perhaps the number of books is equal to the intelligence of the collector. Or maybe a full bookshelf is aspirational. Perusing the Table of Contents of these foundational works about bibliomania demonstrates the varied paths collectors take. Whether they collect for love of knowledge, appreciation of the physical artifact, preservation of text, or for vanity, book collectors enjoy the meta-exercise of thinking about why they collect books. Whatever the reason, critics and authors continue to delve into what it means to be a collector of books and whether or not the tendency is symptomatic of mania.
Connell, Philip. “Bibliomania: Book Collecting, Cultural Politics, and the Rise of Literary Heritage in Romantic Britain.” Representations, vol. 71, 2000, pp 24 – 47.
Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Ten Speed Press, 2014.
Shaddy, Robert A. “Mad About Books: Eugene Field’s The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac.” Midamerica: The Yearbook of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, Vol.24, 1997, pp. 53 – 73.
The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Matrice Young
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.
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.
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!
“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 Kelli Brommel from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001).
Mass Market Ads of a Bygone Era
By Kelli Brommel
Amongst the wide variety in the female-driven comics in the Jen Wolfe Comic Book Collection (MsC 879), you will find a well-worn copy of Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica from July 1963. If you’ve never read an Archie comic, what might strike you first is the unabashed stereotyping of the characters. The second thing to catch your eye will most likely be the advertisements. Taken as a whole, the comic manages to be aimed both at everyone and no one in particular.
Imagine scrolling through your social media and being confronted with an ad that seems so off, so… not you. Chances are this off-putting ad will leave you feeling misunderstood, even angry. We are now so accustomed to targeted ads that mass marketing feels laughable, the relic of a bygone era.
Step into that era with Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica.
Within the pages of this issue, readers are tempted with a “live sea circus,” Bendix bike accessories, Popsicle brand safety awards in which cartoon characters announce that anyone up to age 16 can be nominated to win, and 147 model cars for only $2.49. These promotions are clearly geared toward children with enough money to spend on novelties.
However, there are also ads which feature adults and teens, where one can learn to play guitar in seven days, attend international correspondence school to finally get that high school degree, buy a set of “self-teaching” encyclopedias to “fill the gaps in your Family’s Education,” and learn to hypnotize in “just one evening.” Inside the back cover is an especially confusing ad calling on “Boys! Girls! Ladies! Men!” to sell Cloverine Brand Salve and be rewarded with prizes ranging from air rifles to jewelry boxes to “a real live pony for your very own.”
Archie Comics has been around in one form or another since 1939, founded initially as MLJ Magazine (Wikipedia, 2022). The lack of ad targeting could very well have resulted from a confusion about audience and a desire to reach anyone who might pick up a copy.
“The first decades of comic book publishing were experimental in many ways, as creators and publishers tried out formats, genres, and narrative strategies in an effort to determine what was most saleable. Presumably, they were also figuring out who would read comic books and what products could be sold to them.” (Beaty & Woo, 2021)
Archie comics have sometimes been described as “romance” comics, with adolescents as the intended audience. Romance comics, as opposed to the typical superhero fare, are thought to have “helped define the role of the American teenager as a viable entity in society” (Andrus, 2021). However, Archie comics have also been described in terms of their cheap accessibility, making their presence as a “lowbrow art form” nearly ubiquitous (Beaty, 2014). This meant that anyone could get their hands on these comics, therefore people of all ages could be (and probably were) reading them.
Parental concern with inappropriate comic book content, stemming from the publication of the book Seduction of the Innocent and subsequent congressional hearings, resulted in the creation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) in 1954. The CCA oversaw the enforcement of thirty-seven laws related to comic book production, which included a code for “advertising matter.” The obvious prohibitions were nudity, weapons, gambling, and fireworks. They also hoped to exclude ads which made false claims and did not “conform to fact.” (Andrus, 2021). In 1974, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) was created by the Council of the Better Business Bureau. One of the basic principles they hoped to reinforce was that advertisers should not give “unreasonable expectations of product quality or performance” (Heinzerling & Chandler, 1992). While the CCA was specific to the comic book industry, CARU dealt with any advertising aimed at children, in all available media. Both were established as self-regulating entities. In the 1963 issue of Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica, several of the ads proffer wild claims, most notably the one for a hypnotism course, making the CCA seal of approval on the front cover feel, itself, like false advertising.
One of the most endearing qualities in Issue 91 of Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica, is that so many of the mail-order coupons have the original owner’s information filled out in what appears to be a child’s handwriting. Pinkie Smith of St. Louis, Missouri seemed interested, at least temporarily, in many of the ads, including the sea circus and the set of encyclopedias, but none of the coupons were taken out and mailed. We will never know whether this was because Pinkie had a change of heart, the comic was misplaced, or a parent intervened. Whatever the case may be, Pinkie was wise enough to avoid the hypnotism ad entirely.
Doyle, F. & Edwards, J. et al. (1963, July). No 91. Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica. [Comic book]. Close-Up Inc.
Andrus, W. (2021). The Infinite Crisis: How the American Comic Book Has Been Shaped by War. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Beaty, B. (2015). Twelve-Cent Archie. Rutgers University Press.
Beaty, B. & Woo, B. (2021). From Mass Medium to Niche Medium: Advertising in American Comic Books 1934-2014. Comicalitiés. https://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/6468
Heinzerling, B. & Chandler, T. (1992). A Review of Advertisements in Children’s Magazines. The Journal of Consumer Education, 10, 32-37. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.590.3823&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Wikipedia contributors. (2022, February 20). Archie Comics. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Comics
For Further Exploration
Berube, L. (2020). Context is Everything: A Review of Comics Studies: A Guidebook. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 10 (1). https://doi.org/10.16995/cg.221
Duke University Libraries Repository Collections and Archives, Ad*Access, John. W. Hartman Center for Sales Advertising & Marketing History. https://repository.duke.edu/dc/adaccess
Wertham, F. (1954). Seduction of the Innocent. Rinehart & Company, Inc.
“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 Abbie Steuhm from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “Reading Culture History & Research in Media” (SLIS:5600:0001).
Private Catholic: Zines for Catholic School Kids
By Abbie Steuhm
In the U.S. education system, private schools are unique as scholarly institutions that stand outside of government funding and therefore government regulations. Catholic private schools in particular mix religion and education for young students. While there is a lot of debate around these schools, we find ourselves knowing little about the stories and thoughts of the students themselves who attend. However, some of these stories are told within the minor-league zine Private Catholic found within the Sarah and Jen Wolfe Zines Collection (MsC0878) held in the University of Iowa’s Special Collections & Archives.
“Zines” are handmade booklets self-published by a variety of people, usually members of alternative subcultures. Due to the accessibility of self-publishing and lack of mainstream censorship, many zines detail deeply personal experiences relating to issues of misogyny, classism, racism, anarchism, and empowerment. This makes zines rather difficult to collect and showcase to a wide audience, since these stories were meant to be seen by a small group of collectors and self-publishers instead of an entire academic institution. However, the University of Iowa Libraries staff—many of whom are part of the zine subculture—are dedicated to preserving this small history. This allows stories from unheard voices like Catholic students to be read and experienced by researchers today.
The unnamed creator of the Private Catholic zine gave their personal statement in the first issue, starting with an all-caps statement “OK, LET’S BOND.” They continue by saying they had “originally intended this zine to be a handbook… for poor souls like me who are stuck in Private Catholic school—and trust me, it is HELL” (Private Catholic, no. 1). While the average reader may take this statement as an intense dislike for private Catholic schools, the author explicitly states in issue two how they are “not decidedly for or against Private Catholic schools… They can be pretty cool (uniform means you don’t have to worry what to wear), etc.” Private Catholic allows teenage Catholic school-goers a place to vent their frustrations and air some outrageous stories. For example, underneath the “True Stories” section of the zine’s first edition, someone named Gina tells her single-sentence story of how she received detention for, quote, “being bad at volleyball.”
Private Catholic earns its place within the zine subculture as it details narratives that go against the strict grain of private Catholic schools. In the first issue, one contributor talks about how the spelling book Wordly Wise “introduces and incorporates alternative philosophies and lifestyles” besides an image of Alice from Alice in Wonderland surrounded by definitions of various words such as “anarchy” and “funeral.” Within the same issue, a two-page spread of cut-and-paste pictures from popular magazines displays various images of girls posing in Catholic school uniforms. The commentary on these pages tells how those magazines were selling the look of a Catholic school girl as “sexy, alternative” despite how students were conforming to authoritarian standards with those uniforms.
Both current and former students cognizant and articulate difficult topics that even adults find trouble voicing at times. This is the reason zines deserve their space within Special Collections & Archives; the original, unedited thoughts of underrepresented groups, minorities, and the youth of the past are scissored, glued and typed in various, abstract ways into self-published magazines, a feat worthy of preservation and admiration from fellow students who made their way from Catholic school to public university.
Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism by Alison Piepmeier (2009)
Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk (2014)
Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture by Stephen Duncombe (1997)
“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
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.
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.
* * *
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.
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)
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?
The following is written by Community and Student Life Archivist Aiden Bettine
The University Archives is embarking on a new, hands-on project to collect the history of student organizations on our campus, Student Organizations Archiving their Records or SOAR. The Purpose of SOAR is to ensure that the legacy of each student organization on the University of Iowa campus is being actively preserved. This project provides student organizations with archiving kits for their materials so they can engage in the archival process. Involving students in the organization, description, and care for their organization’s archival collection is an integral part of making the history of student organizations visible on our campus. Organization leaders will work closely with our Community & Student Life Archivist, Aiden Bettine, to ensure their collections move into the University Archives.
Students are an integral part of our campus history. One of the primary ways that students make an impact on our campus is through student organizations whether as founders, members, or leaders. Yet a challenge with collecting this history is the reality that leadership and organizational records change hands every couple of years. Through SOAR, our goal is that when a student organization has a leadership change, the awareness of being able to work closely with the University Archives is passed down.
Although the organizational records will vary from group to group, there are some consistent types of materials we collect to capture the history of an organization:
Annual financial budgets
T-shirts, buttons, stickers, etc.
Whether physical or digital versions of materials, the University Archives is ready to help preserve your organization’s history on our campus.
For student organizations that are affiliated with a center, office, or department on campus, SOAR offers the opportunity for archival storage outside of the University Archives in another campus space. This affords students the opportunity to keep their records close to where they gather regularly for ease of access and use. Storing materials on campus but outside of the Main Library also invites library patrons to learn more about an organization in context, to understand how institutional spaces for student organizations function on campus.
The University Archives is here to support the preservation and accessibility of each student organization’s history, regardless of where the materials are stored on our campus. We will work directly with each group to ensure the best decisions are made for the preservation and use of their collection. We want all our Hawkeyes to SOAR! To learn more about SOAR visit here.
Are you part of a student org and want to get involved in preserving your org’s history? Fill out the SOAR participation survey to tell us more about the materials you have.
The following is written by Elizabeth Riordan and Anna Holland for Silent-ology‘s Buster Keaton Blogathon
Sitting in a dark auditorium in Iola, Kansas, two friends watched Our Hospitality with a live band accompaniment. The annual Buster Keaton Celebration had begun, and the audience around them clapped and cheered as the screen illuminated Keaton donning his signature pork pie hat. The utter glee of watching the antics of this silent cinema star filled the room almost a century later.
But there lies the magic of Buster Keaton. Time may pass, but Keaton’s stunts and storytelling continue to intrigue audiences, old and young alike. Associate Curator of Iowa Women’s Archives Anna Holland and Lead Instruction and Outreach Librarian Elizabeth Riordan sat in that auditorium back in 2012, partaking in the Keaton Celebration. Neither one realized that they would soon be working in the archives that held the research files of Marion Meade, Buster Keaton biographer.
Meade undertook the monumental task of capturing the life of Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton for a biography on the actor. She had already made a name for herself in the literary world with a series of feminist-themed novels and had broken into the biography scene in 1988 with a book on American poet Dorothy Parker. By the mid 1990s, she was ready to discover what was under the “Great Stone Face.”
Buster Keaton – Cut to the Chase by Marion Meade hit bookstores in 1995 nearly 30 years after Keaton’s death. Published on the 100th anniversary of Keaton’s birth, it aimed to underline his cinematic legacy with a definitive biography and introduce him to a new generation of cinephiles who may not have gotten a hold of a VHS copy of The Navigator or encountered his 1960 autobiography. Since its release, the book has received critiques for its sometimes-harsh take on Buster’s early life, as well as a general lack of objectivity. Despite critiques, the book still holds sway, with rumors that it will soon be turned into a film with 20th Century Studios.
Meade’s chapters are reminiscent of silent film shorts, barely any exceed 20 pages, making Keaton’s life easily digestible. She sets scenes artistically, and engagingly. Meade introduces Keaton by transplanting us in a noisy, cold Times Square before describing a 21-year-old who “looks younger, with a solemn, pretty-boy face and a shock of straight dark hair” (Meade, 1). After setting the mood, she takes a deep dive into the history of Keaton’s family and then on a step-by-step journey through his life and career. The book gives ample attention, and several pages of photographs, to the joys and scandals in his personal life along with his films.
Despite its shortcomings, Meade’s meticulous research is evident throughout the book. Not only did she dig into details like Keaton genealogy, but Meade also held dozens of interviews. She went out to gather oral histories with family, friends, and colleagues of Keaton. Tapes and tapes of interviews soon stacked up, including interviews with Keaton’s third wife Eleanor, his son John, and those who worked behind the scenes on his famous film The General. Meade took advantage of something biographers today can only dream of: still-living vaudevillians, actors from the golden age of Hollywood, and members of Keaton’s own family who all told detailed stories of their lives and Keaton’s. These interviews, doggedly pursued by Meade, are perhaps the most important and lasting contribution of Cut to the Chase.
Meade’s research and interviews on Buster Keaton were bought by the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives, along with her work on Woody Allen, Nathanael West, and Eileen McKenney. Meade’s papers are open to researchers, or simply the curious public, and anyone can find out more about what is in the collection by exploring the online finding aid here.
For Keaton fans Elizabeth and Anna, using this collection at work has been a dream come true, but anyone can access these research files. For those of you interested in following in the research footsteps of Marion Meade, contact UI Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives , and we’ll walk you through visiting the collections.