Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Library Obtains Rackham Illustration

By Frank Boles

In late December the library acquired an original drawing created by Arthur Rackham. Rackham was one of the most prolific and successful illustrators in the early twentieth century. The illustration supplemented the now over ninety original works of art drawn to illustrate children’s books founded by Francis and Mary Lois Molson.




A resident of Britain, his illustration was extraordinarily popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The Clarke Historical Library is fortunate to have a large collection of Rackham publications—depending on the title, the Clarke holds a signed “limited” edition, a first United States trade edition, or a first British trade edition. And in some happy cases, all three of the same book; happy particularly for the publishers because they quickly realized that adding a variant illustration or two into each of the three volumes would force serious Rackham fans, as well as libraries with Rackham collections, to purchase all three editions. 

Unlike his books, original Rackham illustrations are rather hard to come by. When Sotheby’s in London offered several for auction this December, the library, using funds from the Francis and Mary Lois Molson endowment, was able to obtain one of the offered drawings. It was from Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, Rackham’s reimagining of that classic New York story about a man who took a very, very long nap. Rackham’s Rip Van Winkle was published in 1905. Rip Van Winkle is often described as Rackham’s “break-through” book. Although already a professionally well-known illustrator, the color illustrations in Rip Van Winkle made Rackham a “household name” and launched him on what would become a legendary career. 

The staff was thrilled to add this wonderful addition to the collection, and grateful to the Molsons for their original gift of art drawn for children’s books as well for creating the endowment that helps make additional purchases to expand the collection.

Jane Hash Speaks

By Frank Boles




On March 15 Jane Hash, of Classy Little Fashions spoke as part of the Clarke Library’s spring speaker series. Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Hash jokes that while she weighs about twice as much as her cat, when the cat stretches out he is longer than she is.

As one might expect, Hash told a variety of stories about growing up. One of the more amusing she told at the reception. As a young girl of about seven she often got tired of other children asking her why she was so small. One day, without thinking much about it, she responded to the question by saying, “because I took a hot bath and shrunk.” Somewhere in America there may be a traumatized middle aged person, who avoids hot baths at all costs.

Her small stature led to a wealth of other stories she shared. While she was in college, Jane and a friend decided to go to a party, but when they arrived the back of the car wouldn’t open and allow them to get out Jane’s wheel chair. In the spirit of a great many college students, Jane shrugged and said, “I’m only going to get a drink anyway,” and her friend carried her into the gathering. Later in the evening one of the guests left in something of a huff, and they later learned the guest was quite upset about ‘that woman” giving a margarita to her baby.

As Jane grew up to become a teenager and young woman she was constantly frustrated that she could not find clothes to wear similar to that selected by her peers. It is hard to be taken seriously as an adult when one is dressed like a five year old (which Jane pointed out didn’t work anyway – clothes designed for five year olds don’t’ fit a woman “ with a J-Lo booty and non-symmetrical limbs and scoliosis.”)

As she writes, “I reacted to this frustration like anyone else would. I posted a rant on Facebook. That proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it lead to the solution."
When Facebook friend Carol E. Briney saw my rant, she responded with a request to meet me and discuss this fashion challenge in person. Together, with the help of my lifelong friend Jess Wallace, we created the nonprofit organization Classy Little Fashions Foundation. Our mission is to provide age-appropriate clothing for adults with nonstandard body-types due to physical disability.”

Classy Little Fashions not only designs age appropriate clothing, it offers counseling to its participants. Hash described her own struggle with her body image, including many self-destructive behaviors. As she eventually realized, while being about two feet six inches tall adult is a very atypical, many people struggles with body image. Almost everyone would like to be a little more something; thinner, taller, shorter, stronger, have a different shaped nose or any of the other things people can obsess over. The issue is not one unique to people with Osteogenesis Imperfecta but one widely experienced – which in the end was Hash’ point; appearance and size does not determine ability; although she did admit finding well-fitted clothing does help in getting people to listen seriously to her (something we all might reflect upon for a moment when we consider another person’s ideas).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How People Who Fish and Read Spend A March Weekend


by Frank Boles

March 10 and 11 Robert Kohrman and I spent the weekend representing the library at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo. That may sound like a peculiar place for us to be talking to people about the Clarke Historical Library, but with over 3,000 angling books in the library which taken together make up what is arguably the strongest collection of fly fishing books in the Midwest, spending a few days talking about our holdings among people who enjoy the sport is a sound outreach strategy.



Bob, who is a true expert on the sport and the literature, and I, who can kind of talk the talk if I have to but have never walked the walk (that is, gone fly fishing) have attended the show for several years with three goals in mind. The first is simply to let people interested in the sport know the collection exists. The second is to find individuals with book collections on the subject and encourage them to think about donating those books to the Clarke. And the third is to reach out to individuals interested in the sport to support the endowment within the Clarke that allows us to continue to grow the collection.

One of the intriguing aspects of sitting for 14 hours on the floor of the show is that you never know to what topic the next conversation will turn. Over the course of the weekend we talked to a number of Chippewa alums who groaned when they realized that for four years all those books were just a few steps away – and who we encouraged to make a trip back to campus. We also talked to a hobbyist boat builder absolutely fascinated by a model of the original Au Sable river boat that we had on display, and was interested in possibly building a full size replica. And we talked with a gentleman who may have the only surviving notes about rod construction left by one of Michigan’s most famous rod makers.

And of course there were the book people. John D. Voelker, one of Michigan’s most celebrated authors and fly fishers, once wrote, “Old fishermen never die, instead they write books about their passion.” In truth, fishermen read books about their passion rather than write them, and are equally passionate about their book collections. Those passionate readers are the reason two book dealers routinely set up shop at the show – they know there is a market there for their wares. Those passionate readers and collectors are also people to whom we like to talk.

Fly fishing in Michigan is deeply linked to the state’s history. The “holy water” of the Au Sable River is steeped in fishing lore, as are many other Michigan streams. There is also a practical aspect to documenting the sport – fly fishing is a major recreational activity and an important factor in the state’s tourism industry. The Clarke’s angling collection gives researchers, a state, national, and international perspective on the sport.

As always, my thanks to the Michigan Fly Fishing Club, which sponsors the show and again this year kindly granted us a complimentary vendor table, and to Bob Kohrman, who volunteers to spend those long hours at the table with me, and who saves the day whenever someone asks a real question about fishing or the fly fishing literature.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Remembering Bill Strickler


By Frank Boles

 


On Thursday, February 22 I attended a funeral for a good friend of the Clarke Library, William J. Strickler. Bill spent more than two decades as a member of the Clarke Board of Governors, many of those years as the chair. He was thoughtful, kind, cared tremendously about the library, and had a refreshing sense of humor about himself and the situations he observed. He also had little time for pomposity or pretense. Over the years I saw him lead the Board to many sound decisions, tell various people in a few polite but well-chosen words why they were being ridiculous, and stare down University presidents who forgot who they were talking to (from the safety of the sidelines – some fights a university employee does not want to be in the middle of).

When I first met him in 1991 he told me he just wanted two things from the new director: straight talk and pie if there was going to be lunch after the Board meeting. It was typical of his approach to most things.

I knew Bill well enough to recognize that he’d be more than a little annoyed if I wrote a long, flowery obituary. He’d just tell me to stop. So, I will simply tell two stories Bill told me, as best I remember them. I think they capture the self-depreciating wit and unique sense of irony that were among the reasons I so liked him.

Bill was a CMU graduate who by his own admission came close to flunking out one semester because he spent most of his time shooting pool. He fancied himself pretty good at the game, able to regularly win small wagers with his friends. One day when a pool shark from the Detroit area was in town Bill challenged him to a match. The shark eyed up his mark and said sure, let’s play one for fun.

That game went pretty well for Bill, who having shown his mettle against a pro from Detroit was feeling his oats. Then the shark said “want to make it interesting? Let’s put some money on the table.  How about a $50.?” Bill was flabbergasted.  That was serious money. But he both had a $50 and felt he couldn’t back down.  “Sure,” he said, with a bit of false bravado. The shark graciously allowed Bill to break. Bill sank a ball or two, then missed a shot. The shark, demonstrating a skill previously not shown when playing for fun, ran the rest of the table and, with the hint of a smile, pocketed Bill’s $50. Shortly thereafter Bill decided pool might not be a good investment of his time.

A second story involved Bill’s prospecting for natural gas in Wyoming. Bill was a petroleum geologist, and a good one. He transferred skills he learned in the Michigan Oil Patch into some very successful wells out West. Out West, however, environmentalists launched serious and frequently successful opposition to well drilling permits.

As is often the case among people who regularly attend public hearings, Bill became acquainted with those opposed to new drilling. A friendly and polite man, he always had a good morning and a kind word for his opponents. One day at a hearing, the regular representative of the environmental group spoke in opposition to a new drilling permit very near where Bill was already operating a successful well. The permit was denied.

Bill, always one to recognize irony when he saw it, walked over to the environmental spokesperson and told her “I guess I owe you one.”  “Why?” she asked, with more than a little surprise in her voice. Killing the proposed permit had made Bill’s nearby existing well much more valuable.  To settle up he sent the environmental group a financial donation.  It was just too good a joke for Bill to pass up.

I am going to miss Bill’s help, advice, and unique sense of humor. And I hope that not only I, but an environmentalist somewhere in Wyoming, is thinking fondly of him today. You don’t run into too many people like Bill.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Clarke Opens New Exhibit: A Thank You Note


By Frank Boles

Every exhibit opening is accompanied by a list of organizations and people to whom we are indebted. Last Thursday we opened “(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability,” and I would like to thank the staff of the libraries for their work in creating this exhibit as well as our CMU institutional partners, including:

 The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

 The Fashion Merchandising Design program within the Dept. of Human Environmental Studies

  CMU History Department 

My thanks also extend to our external institutional partner, the Fashion School at Kent State University, where many components of this show were first conceived and exhibited through a partnership between Dr. Stacey Lim of CMU and Dr. Tameka Ellington of Kent State.

The exhibit crosses disciplinary lines in interesting and informative ways. It addresses the subject of disability and ability both from a scientific and clinical viewpoint, as well from the more subjective world of fashion. In addition the show, as we have constructed it here at CMU, includes substantial additional components reflecting oral history interviews done with individuals with disabilities who are members of our campus community and also, as part of CMU’s celebration of its 125th anniversary, a discussion of both how Central’s academic program has addressed disability as well as how the campus itself has changed to accommodate individuals with disability.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the contributions of the Libraries Exhibit Coordinator, Janet Danek. Although what was created for the exhibit at Kent State was beautiful, their exhibit space is not our exhibit space, and the Kent State show had to be redesigned and sometimes reimagined to work within our galleries, while at the same time honoring the integrity of the original exhibition. In addition Janet had to incorporate substantial additions to the original show, which reflected the contributions of Central faculty and staff who had not participated in the Kent State exhibit but who helped center the exhibit you will see tonight in ways that more fully represent CMU.
 


Much of what you will see in the exhibit reflects Janet’s creative ability and hard work, designing the CMU iteration of (dis)ABLED BEAUTY to high standards and working within a very tight timeline. Despite all the rest of us involved, we collectively could not have created the exhibit without Janet’s many contributions. It just wouldn’t have happened.