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VRA 2012, Beyond These Four Walls, Colonial Williamsburg’s Photo Archives


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Presented by Marianne Martin at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, April 18th - April 21st, 2012, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. …

Presented by Marianne Martin at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, April 18th - April 21st, 2012, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Session: Beyond These Four Walls: Optimizing Traditional Collections Through Outreach and Collaboration

With the advent of digital technology, image repositories are no longer limited to a single physical presence on campus or in a museum. This provides motivation for creative thinking and prompts the establishment of new working relationships within our own institutions as well as on a national level. As curators, librarians, and faculty become well versed in the use of digital technology, many have been able to optimize the development of their resources through successful collaborative ventures. This session will highlight some of these recent projects at academic institutions, museums, and cultural archives.

ORGANIZER & MODERATOR: Karin S. Whalen, Reed College

• Jen Green, Lamson Library and Learning Commons, Plymouth State University
• Marianne Martin, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
• Laura Anne Heller, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
• Stephanie Post, The Metropolitan Museum of Art & Jenni Rodda, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Published in: Education

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  • Good afternoon! Thank you for attending our session.
  • When most people think of photography in connection with Colonial Williamsburg, they envision the museum objects held by the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum,
  • the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum,
  • or the colorful marketing photography of the Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area taken by our Photo Services Department.
  • The vast photo archive of over 350,000 slides, black and white prints, negatives, and digital images does include a large percentage of subject matter relating to museum artifacts,
  • exhibition buildings,
  • and educational programming.
  • However, hidden within the archive are many historic photos that document people, places, and events with broader potential research appeal. In recent years, our library staff has made an effort to expose these hidden gems to larger audiences via collaboration with college students, faculty, and local community groups.
  • Photos play a critical role in answering questions about 18th-century evidence preserved in structures studied by our architectural historians, excavations conducted by our archaeologists, and material culture analyzed by our curators. Photographs augment and compliment evidence presented in other items housed in Special Collections, such as architectural drawings and manuscripts.
  • Colonial Williamsburg’s extensive photo archives first began to accumulate during discussions between John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin about restoring Williamsburg to its 18th-century appearance. Goodwin used photos to illustrate the plans that he presented to Rockefeller in 1926. A few months later, Rockefeller requested additional sets of photos of the houses under consideration. Goodwin made arrangements with Langley Aviation Field to take a series of aerial photos of Williamsburg in January 1927.
  • A combination of architectural plans, photographs and historical prints formed the basis of the presentation Goodwin and architect William G. Perry gave to Rockefeller during his May 1927 visit to Williamsburg.
  • Once restoration work was approved and underway, photography played a crucial role in documenting the town as it looked on the eve of restoration and the ongoing progress of reconstruction work.
  • The period between 1926 and 1936 led to the formation of a core group of historical black and white photographs that continue to be studied and carefully preserved for future generations of scholars. A variety of town residents, architects, contractors, and professionals all contributed photos to this archive as they sought to assist with both the practical and promotional aspects of developing Williamsburg’s historic district.
  • In 1935, New York photographer F.S. Lincoln was hired on a contract basis to take the first promotional photographs of exhibition buildings at Colonial Williamsburg. A portfolio of his photos accompanied articles about the restoration of Williamsburg in two special issues of Architectural Record published in 1935 and 1936. The beginnings of the historic preservation movement in the United States are highlighted in many of these early founding collections of the photo archive.
  • In 1946, Colonial Williamsburg hired its first permanent professional staff photographer. During the course of the next decade, the Audiovisual Services Department evolved. Colonial Williamsburg’s dedicated photographers have recorded the living history museum’s evolution over the course of sixty years. Their extensive output is preserved as part of the photo archive along with the core founding collections.
  • Intriguing pieces of local history, personalities who have played a role on the world stage, and visual documentation of social change can all be found hidden within groups of photos relating to Colonial Williamsburg’s development over time. A few examples will provide an overview of some of these images with extra layers of significance.
  • Within our distinguished visitors series are groups of photos documenting international relations efforts between the United States and various foreign countries. During the 1950s, Colonial Williamsburg worked cooperatively with the State Department to provide a venue for entertaining foreign dignitaries and guests. Before attending official functions in Washington, D.C., many dignitaries spent a day or two at Colonial Williamsburg to learn more about American history. The Hiroshima Maidens, young Japanese women who came to the United States for reconstructive surgery after the atomic bombing, are pictured at Colonial Williamsburg in 1956.
  • President Nicolae (nih-kuh-LY) Ceausescu (chou-SHESS-koo) of Romania’s visit to Colonial Williamsburg , captured in these images of him playing volleyball with CW staff members, is credited with helping to thaw the United States’ relationship with the notorious dictator.
  • The era of segregation in Williamsburg can be studied via a series of photos relating to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s donation of funds to build Bruton Heights School, a segregated facility for African-American students. “White City,” a neighborhood of pristine white homes built on the perimeter of the Historic Area to house African-American service workers, is a long forgotten chapter in Williamsburg’s history that is documented in construction progress photos.
  • Night life, social clubs, businesses, and church activities of the African-American community in Williamsburg during the 1940s & 1950s are also vividly captured in the Albert Durant Collection, an archive of a local African-American photographer.
  • The impact of World War II upon Williamsburg, including the establishment of a USO on Merchant’s Square, the billeting of officers at the Williamsburg Inn, and morale raising troop visits to Colonial Williamsburg, are all documented in the photo archive.
  • Effects of blue laws are captured in our series of photos relating to hospitality functions. Prohibition of sales of liquor by the drink in Virginia during the 1950s led to the formation of bottle clubs. One such club is featured in early interior photos of the Williamsburg Inn, an elegant hotel built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to provide lodging adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg. Known as the Golden Horseshoe Club, the facility included lockers that residents and hotel guests could rent to store their own individually purchased bottles of alcohol. They were then able to ask the waiter to provide cocktails from their private locker while enjoying musical entertainment and dancing.
  • While some of these fascinating photos occasionally received exposure in Colonial Williamsburg publications, very few had reached the attention of students and researchers beyond our traditional library clientele. Our Library Director, Dr. James Horn, who has ties to the College of William & Mary, was keen to foster broader recognition and use of the library’s resources. Our photo archive seemed like one area with hidden potential.
  • Our new educational initiative began serendipitously when a music class from the College of William & Mary became interested in a 1970s video produced by Colonial Williamsburg titled “The Music of Williamsburg.” The class visited our photo archive and became fascinated with the still photos taken by folk music specialist Alan Lomax during the production of the film. Hired by Mr. Arthur Smith, Head of the Audiovisual Department, Lomax served as a research consultant. Mr. Lomax donated a set of the photos he took during the filming process to Colonial Williamsburg
  • Members of the music class were particularly fascinated with Lomax’s photos, which focus upon many of the African-American performers in the film. Lomax conducted fieldwork to identify folk musicians from all over the Southeastern United States to perform in the film. They discovered that Bessie Jones, one of the singers, had a grandfather who had lived as a slave in Williamsburg. Other performers of note included the Georgia Sea Island Singers, whom Lomax later recorded in a seminal work documenting African motifs retained in American spirituals.
  • As part of the coursework, the professor wished the students to place digital copies of the Lomax photos on their class website. This request raised a new issue for our museum – should we allow copyrighted photos associated with a Colonial Williamsburg film production to be distributed to students for web projects, now a growing segment of the college curriculum. Our Legal Counsel, Vice-President of Productions, Director of Research, and the class professor met to discuss concerns over release of copies of the photos. Our Legal Counsel decided that the project was an allowable use of copyrighted materials for scholarly purposes, but asked that the project be limited to the college’s internal intranet. The class signed a one-time use agreement to underscore their understanding that the photos were provided for the individual assignment only.
  • As a result of our willingness to share our archival photos, our library received copies of the students’ research findings, titled “Music of Williamsburg Unsung.” An added bonus to this particular collaboration was that we exchanged digital images for copies of archival documentation at the Lomax Archive located in New York. Dr. Carol Oja, the class professor, also publicized the photos via an article in the “Newsletter of the Institute for Studies in American Music.” One student even pursued her research to the point of writing a master’s thesis titled “Alan Lomax and The Music of Williamsburg.”
  • Here is an example of one of the publications that resulted from our collaboration with Dr. Carol Oja’s class.
  • A merger of the photo archive with our library’s Special Collections Department in 2009 provided staff with an opportunity to reach out to a wider clientele. An American Studies professor at the College of William & Mary approached Special Collections staff about the possibility of hosting a class visit for his “Williamsburg Documentary Project” course. This project offers students a chance to assemble research materials relating to Williamsburg’s more recent past and to present their findings via online exhibits, oral history interviews, and blog posts.
  • While we found little in the way of rare books, manuscripts, or architectural drawings that tied into the time frame under investigation, the photo archive yielded a large quantity of images that might be of potential interest to students. The class held a session in our Special Collections Department and examined examples of archival materials that might tie into their proposed research projects. Several ended up making extensive use of the photo archive to assemble information about …
  • Grocery stores and restaurants in Williamsburg
  • entertainment and night life
  • and the history of local public school systems.
  • The successful multi-year collaboration with “The Williamsburg Documentary Project” led to the class visit of another American Studies course focusing upon urban history. A doctoral student who had worked at our Photo Lab over one summer approached me about the possibility of bringing his class to examine our photo archive as an example of a repository of city history. I agreed to meet with the students and as a group, we discussed the different layers of historical significance within what were originally record photos taken to aid architectural restoration. The students especially enjoyed learning more about evidence of daily life within Williamsburg that can be extracted from street scenes, special events, and even scenes of groups visiting the Historic Area.
  • As with the “Music of Williamsburg” class project, most the of“Williamsburg Documentary” and “Urban Landscape” class projects involved obtaining digital copies of archival photos and posting them to the class website. Since we had already ironed out the usage guidelines with the music class, we were able to allow the students to place the photos on an internal intranet site with the understanding that they were not to be distributed beyond the scope of the College of William & Mary. Exhibits and blog posts of the “Williamsburg Documentary” website allow the greater college community to examine portions of our photo archive remotely. Reciprocal information has been shared with our staff via oral history interviews conducted by students with members of the community.
  • Due to financial and staffing limitations, Colonial Williamsburg does not yet have an extensive digital image database that is internet accessible. Our Photographic Services Department administers a growing internal image database, MARS (Media Access and Retrieval System), which is soon to migrate into the Open Text DAM system. Nevertheless, a few online finding aids and digital images available for viewing via our website have alerted more researchers to interesting facets of our photo archives.
  • A professor at Virginia Tech was delighted to discover the archival finding aid for the Albert Durant Collection on our website. This collection of over 10,000 photos taken by an African-American photographer in the 1940s and 1950s presents a side of town life that is not apparent in the promotional photos of the period. For a presentation about segregated recreational facilities, the professor identified a group of photos that show African-Americans at Log Cabin Beach, a segregated swimming and picnic area on the James River.
  • Local community groups are another segment of users who have discovered the breadth of our archive in recent years. The Williamsburg Reunion, a group of local residents who meet biennially to reconnect with classmates and friends from the area, has made extensive use of historic photos to illustrate short, informative essays and reminiscences about growing up in Williamsburg.
  • They often help us to discover forgotten history within our archive, such as the story about the bottle club mentioned at the beginning of this presentation.
  • Their biennial reunion publication has expanded to feature essays by William & Mary professors with an interest in local history. Arthur Knight, the professor who oversees the “Williamsburg Documentary Project,” contributed the article “At the Movies in Williamsburg,” based upon research he and his students conducted in our archive during their class fieldwork.
  • Reunions of students who attended Bruton Heights School, built by Rockefeller to educate African-Americans during the age of segregation, also make use of the photo archive. Several of the reunion groups have held sessions at our library to examine photos of Bruton Heights students and events. As a result of their efforts, many photos that were previously unidentified now have individual names and locations associated with them.
  • Collaborating beyond our traditional curatorial community has resulted in numerous benefits for our institution and in new library users. Information exchanged between professors, students, our staff, and other archival repositories has enriched our library in many ways. We have received additional documentation about some of our photos, while researchers have offered wider publicity for our collections via web projects, articles, and exhibits. Our museum has become more comfortable with allowing class project use of our copyrighted images, as long as certain guidelines are observed. We have become more committed to trying to find ways to make more of our archival collections Internet accessible as a way to overcome our lack of evening and weekend hours. In addition, our staff has grown from working with researchers who interact with our materials in a different way from internal employees. We are beginning to see new potential in previously untapped parts of our collections.
  • Although serving the internal needs of our living history museum remains our top priority, Colonial Williamsburg’s photo archive would like to continue reaching beyond our walls to a broader research community. Our Special Collections staff hopes to feature more of these intriguing historical photos as part of an Internet accessible CONTENTdm database in the future. Our Head of Special Collections, Doug Mayo, is currently in the midst of a pilot project to explore how we might use CONTENTdm to highlight our manuscripts, rare books, architectural drawings, and photos.
  • We also wish to make use of our dedicated staff of volunteers to help identify more hidden pockets of photos and possibly create a web-based finding aid that outlines the broader strokes of history present within the archive.
  • The stories behind some of these photos are sure to stimulate further dialogue with new user groups among Virginia college campuses, community groups, and beyond.
  • Thank you very much and I look forward to any suggestions you may have about our outreach efforts.
  • Transcript

    • 1. ColonialWilliamsburg’sPhoto Archives:A Hidden Resourcewith Broader PotentialMarianne MartinColonial Williamsburg FoundationApril 2012
    • 2. Decorative ArtsDeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum Masterworks Gallery
    • 3. Folk ArtAbby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art MuseumThe Quilting Party, America, probably 1854-1875
    • 4. Promotional Photography Bill Barker as Costumed Interpreters, Thomas Jefferson Duke of Gloucester St.
    • 5. Archaeological ArtifactsChowning’s Tavern dinnerware, fragments & reproduction
    • 6. Exhibition BuildingsGovernor’s Palace Wigmaker’s Shop
    • 7. Educational ProgrammingCostumed interpreters participating in “So Far from Scioto” program
    • 8. Hidden GemsWinston Churchill & Dwight D. Shirley Temple at WilliamsburgEisenhowerat the Raleigh Tavern, Inn, 1938March 8, 1946
    • 9. Role of Photo ArchivesAnswering questions about historic structuresDocumenting archaeological artifacts and excavations Providing material culture for analysis by curators Augmenting evidence presented in typical 18th-century formats Recording the Foundation’s activities
    • 10. Birth of Photo ArchivesJohn D. Rockefeller, Jr. examining plans and photos with the Rev.W.A.R. Goodwin and others
    • 11. Bodleian Plate, ca.1740 Aerial Photo, 1927 Preliminary Plan, 1927
    • 12. Pre-Restoration & Progress Photos Pre-Restoration View John Blair House, Duke of Gloucester St. Restoration Progress
    • 13. Core Historical ArchiveDuke of Gloucester St., Construction progress onWilliamsburg, Virginia King’s Arms Barber Shop 1928
    • 14. F.S. Lincoln CollectionBar Room, Raleigh Tavern Ballroom Wing, Governor’s Palace
    • 15. Audiovisual Services Department
    • 16. Examples of “Hidden Gems” International Relations Era of Segregation in WilliamsburgBlue Laws in Virginia Film HistoryWorld War II Era Williamsburg
    • 17. Hiroshima Maidens
    • 18. Nicolae CeausescuPresident of Romania
    • 19. Era of SegregationBruton Heights School “White City”
    • 20. African-American Life Albert Durant Photography Collection
    • 21. World War II WilliamsburgMr. & Mrs. Rockefeller with Troops from Camp Pearysoldiers at the USO entering Williamsburg Theater
    • 22. Bottle Clubs in Virginia Golden Horseshoe Club Williamsburg Inn
    • 23. Traditional Library Clientele Museum Curators Architectural Historians Archaeologists Historians Costumed Interpreters Product Managers
    • 24. New Collaborations:Music of Williamsburg Production still from “Music of Williamsburg”
    • 25. Alan Lomax Photos
    • 26. Issues Raised by CollaborationCopyright ComplianceMounting Photos on Class WebsiteLimited Use Agreement
    • 27. Outcomes of Collaboration Student research findings added to our library’s holdings Exchange of information with Lomax Archive in New York Publicity for the archive via publications Student M.A. thesis topic
    • 28. Class Publications
    • 29. Williamsburg Documentary Project
    • 30. Student ProjectsGrocery Stores & RestaurantsEntertainment & Night LifePublic School SystemsFilm HistoryMovies Filmed in Williamsburg
    • 31. Grocery Stores Restaurants
    • 32. Entertainment Night Life
    • 33. Public Schools
    • 34. History & Memory in the Urban Landscape Archives as repositories of city history Examination of pre-restoration views of Williamsburg Comparison with more current city views Effects of restoration on city’s growth
    • 35. Outcomes of CollaborationPhotos shared with greater college community via internal intranet siteOral histories conducted by students compliment our holdingsStudent web exhibits archived via D-Space at Swem Library, College of William & Mary
    • 36. Challenges with Online Access
    • 37. African-American Life
    • 38. Reunion Groups
    • 39. Golden Horseshoe Bottle Club
    • 40. At the Movies in WilliamsburgRev. W.A.R. Goodwin & guests outside the Williamsburg Theatre, ca. 1932
    • 41. Bruton Heights School Reunions
    • 42. Summary of Collaboration Benefits New findings/documentation about photos Publicity for photo archive via student or community group projects Increased classroom use of images Highlights need for Internet accessible image database Researchers interacting with photos in new ways
    • 43. CONTENTdm Pilot Project
    • 44. Web-Based Finding Aids
    • 45. More Hidden Gems Hillside CaféTanks on Dukeof Gloucester St. World War II Soldiers in Pillory
    • 46. AcknowledgementsWith special thanks to the following:Cathy Grosfils, former Visual Resources Editorial LibrarianJenna Simpson, Ph.D. candidate, College of William & MaryPhotographic Services Department, The Colonial Williamsburg FoundationDoug Mayo & George Yetter, Special Collections Department
    • 47. Contact InformationMarianne MartinThe Colonial Williamsburg FoundationP.O. Box 1776Williamsburg, VA 23187-1776Phone: 757-565-8542Email: