Altered Images and Words: A Call for Creative Submissions

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Make an animation. Make a gif. Make a collage. Write some microfiction. Write a poem. Get out your digital black-out marker to create some redacted poetry. Make something entirely unique that was inspired by an image or string of text. Remix and stretch your creativity. Archives are here to inspire!

Archives matter. They preserve records of human history and offer glimpses into the past. Historians mine them for the sources that make up their books and artists, musicians, and writers pull inspiration for their creative works. Genealogists seek out threads of family history and alumni find scholastic treasures.

October is American Archives Month and to celebrate special collections departments everywhere we’re holding an Archives Remix event all month long. Take some inspiration from the Virginia Tech Library archives and stretch your creative muscles by producing a visual or written work that uses one or more of the VT Special Collections images that are posted above.

Share your work on social media (Twitter or Instagram), tag #VTArchivesRemix and @VT_SCUA, and let us know which image(s) inspired your work. We’ll be sharing your artwork and written pieces all month long!

Send us your creations:

Crumbling under the weight of words:
Send us a piece of microfiction inspired by one or more of the images. Economy is key, so make sure to exercise efficiency of language. Submissions should be 200 words or less.

Altered images:
Use one or more of the images to create a new visual work. Think beyond boundaries and remix the images with your own work or repeat elements of the same picture to create something entirely new. Stills or animations, collages, videos, photographs, memes—we want to see it all.

Brief and bold:
Poetry is the ultimate in brevity and elegance of prose–no room for stray words or useless turns of phrase. Take inspiration from a fleeting image or line of text. Redact words on an existing page to unveil something entirely new. We can’t wait to read your poems, written or redacted.

Choose from the following images to inspire your own works:


Need a little extra inspiration?

  • Read this incredibly moving microfiction piece, Sticks, by George Saunders.
  • Explore eleven amazing pieces of microfiction.
  • View some collages and gifs from the Mid-Atlantic Region Archivists Conference (MARAC) and from the Library of Congress.

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  • Learn about redacted poetry and read some phenomenal examples.
  • Delve into practice with this Atlantic article about the process Lydia Davis uses to create her very short stories. It’s worth visiting just to read her 69-word composition In a House Besieged.

Check out the following link if you want to see more images and consider also entering the Virginia Archives Month 2018 Archival Oddities Remix Contest.

We can’t wait to see what you produce!

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Student Activism at Virginia Tech

Throughout the month of May, Special Collections is displaying an exhibit on five decades of student activism at Virginia Tech. The exhibit highlights several campaigns and demonstrations from 1968 through today, including impromptu vigils for Martin Luther King Jr. and Trayvon Martin, the student occupation of Williams Hall in the wake of the Kent State shootings, anti-war marches and pro-military responses, demonstrations against racism and sexual violence, calls for the protection of natural resources in Appalachia, protests against exploitative labor conditions, LGBTQ pride rallies, and campaigns to highlight ADA violations across campus. These materials come from the University Archives and manuscript collections of Virginia Tech alumni.

Alongside these materials, we’ve chosen to highlight the work of a single student organization at Virginia Tech. The Appalachian Student Organizing Committee (or Appalachian Student Committee) operated as an official student organization of Virginia Tech in the early 1970s. The Committee aimed to raise awareness of Appalachian issues and provide support for other grassroots groups in the region. Under the leadership of student organizers David Tice and Allan Cox, the group worked throughout the region to address issues such as land use, energy policy, poverty, access to health care, labor rights, systemic racism in Appalachia, and the Vietnam War.

In May 1971, several chapter members traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national civil disobedience campaign which resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people. The Special Collections exhibit includes memos and training materials distributed on campus to student affiliates. Additionally, visitors to Special Collections can review information about the Community Free Clinic of Blacksburg (1971-1972). This initiative was part of a national movement to establish locally responsive and accessible health care throughout the country.

To see these materials in person, visit Special Collections in Newman Library anytime during the month of May.

Flora Virginica and the Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands

An advertising graphic that reads: "Flora Virginica" within a border of dogwood blossoms. Below the graphic is the text "On display in the Special Collections Reading Room February 5 - March 16." In the lower right corner is the Virginia Tech University Libraries logo.Over the past few months, I’ve stepped outside my normal topical areas of social justice and the history of traditionally marginalized communities. This departure was related to an exhibit titled Flora Virginica that is on display in our reading room from February 5, through March 16. I enjoy putting together exhibits, so I was happy to take this on even though it was something I knew nothing about. This blog post will include a description of the exhibit, the reasons for its existence, and the interesting history I discovered while putting it together (only not in that order). Enjoy!

An Exhibit, In Partnership

In 2012, the Flora of Virginia Project published Flora of Virginia (QK191 .W43 2012), a 1,572 page comprehensive compendium of Virginia plants. It’s a thick botanical tome of little interest to most people outside the botanical sciences. We acquired multiple copies in the library when it was first published and it isn’t one of our particular collecting focuses. It wasn’t something we were particularly focused on highlighting.

Skip ahead to fall of 2017 and an email from the Massey Herbarium to the Director of Special Collections mentioning an exhibit about Flora of Virginia that the Massey was going to be hosting. Special Collections was being involved because there was an opportunity to display an original Flora Virginica in support of the Massey exhibit. This is where I entered the process.

Over the course of a couple of months, I worked with Jordan Metzgar at the Massey Herbarium and Bland Crowder, editor of the 2012 Flora of Virginia, from the Flora of Virginia Project to arrange a loan of an original 18th century Flora Virginica. During the process of arranging this part of the exhibit, it was suggested that I might also wish to exhibit some 18th century Mark Catesby prints alongside the book. Still not knowing much about the project or the books, I opened discussions with Lynn McCashin, the Executive Director of the Garden Club of Virginia, to arrange a loan of some of their Catesby prints. The next few months consisted of multiple emails negotiating the logistics of the loans. As the date for the exhibit approached, I began to research these items so that I could create some didactic labels for the exhibit (those short little descriptions that go next to items in museum-type displays).

In order to adequately describe the 1762 edition of Flora Virginica and the 1771 Catesby prints – and explain what they had to do with one another and Virginia history, I had to learn that history myself. Where did I start? A general web search, of course. Wikipedia offers great superficial overviews on just about any topic. That was enough to get me oriented before moving on to better sources including the Encyclopedia Virginia, JSTOR Global Plants, the Catesby Commemorative Trust, The Royal Society, and the University of North Carolina Libraries. During the course of this research, I learned some interesting details about the people who created these items and their places in botanical and zoological history.

Flora Virginica, 1762

A photograph of a copy of the 1762 Flora Virginica open to the section on Monandria and Diandria. On the left side is a fold-out map of the Virginia colonial region that is larger than the bound book.
Flora Virginica, 1762 printing

Flora Virginica (QK191 .G86 1739a) is a precursor to Flora of Virginia. They are actually named the same – just in different languages. The original Flora Virginica was published in two parts, the first in 1739 and the second in 1743. Then, a combined edition was published in 1762. All three editions were published in Latin by Lugduni Bavatorum publishers in Leiden, Zuid Holland, Nederland. They all list Johannes Fredericus Gronovius as the person who classified the specimens and wrote the book. They also list John Clayton as the observer and collector of the plants. This attribution has led to much debate over the correct citation of authorship. Many, using modern standards, have claimed that Gronovius plagiarized Clayton’s work. Scholarship as recent as 2004 has addressed the authorship issue directly and concluded that Clayton likely did not have much chance of being published without the help of someone like Gronovius and the actions of the latter would not have been deemed plagiarism using the standards of the 1700’s. Proper credit for authorship, then, is probably to list them both.

Amidst the issues of authorship, I discovered some interesting things about the men who created what was the only comprehensive listing of Virginia plants for over 200 years. John Clayton was born in England in 1694/5 and came to America sometime before 1720. His move to the Virginia Colony was likely due to his father’s position as Attorney General of Virginia. Clayton was an amateur botanist. He was a plantation owner, a slave owner, and Clerk of Gloucester County, VA for more than 50 years. He liked to travel around the state and collect specimens of flora and fauna.

Gronovius was a Dutch naturalist and friend of Carl Linnaeus. He built up a reputation in the Netherlands as a botanist and had his own herbarium. He was considered a professional and had standing within the scientific world to publish. As part of Clayton’s  amateur botanical work, he compiled for Gronovius a catalog of various plants using Linnaean classification. This catalog is what Gronovius eventually turned into Flora Virginica.

So what about Mark Catesby?

Mark Catesby was born in 1683 and was an English naturalist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He first traveled to Virginia in 1712, accompanying his sister and her children. Over the next seven years (1712-1719), he collected and sent to England a variety of botanical specimens from Virginia and Jamaica before returning to England himself. During this time, at least one ornithological specimen and several plants were provided to Catesby by John Clayton. That one connection is why the Catesby prints are often displayed with Flora Virginica … that one connection and the fact that the Catesby prints include gorgeous illustrations of many of the plants mentioned in Flora Virginica.

After a few years in England, where he became a member of The Royal Society, Catesby returned to America to begin work on his grand project. He spent the next 20 years compiling specimens, teaching himself to illustrate them, and writing his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (QH41 .C28 1754).

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He wrote and illustrated the book(s) entirely himself, publishing them in eleven sections totaling more than 220 hand-colored etchings. In order to finance all this work, Catesby sold subscriptions, offering the book in sections of 20 plates every four months. The first section was published in 1729 and he presented Her Majesty Queen Caroline with her copy in person. Following Catesby’s death in 1749, his work was republished twice, in 1754 and 1771. Catesby’s work was done before Linnaean classification was developed but the 1771 reprint includes a catalog of the Linnaean names for the flora and fauna depicted in the book.

While Flora Virginica is recognized as the most comprehensive listing of Virginia plants from 1739 to 2012, Catesby’s History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands is known as the earliest published work illustrating and describing North American flora and Fauna. It was published almost 100 years before Audubon’s The Birds of America (QL674 .A9 1827a).

The Exhibit

Through the generous courtesy of the Flora of Virginia Project and the Garden Club of Virginia, we have an exhibit containing a 1762 original Flora Virginica, a 1946 reproduction Flora Virginica, and two Catesby prints from the 1771 reprinting: The Summer Red-Bird, The Western Plane Tree and The Red Start, The Black Walnut. This exhibit gives viewers a chance to appreciate the wonderful history of all of the items with an abbreviated version of the information presented here. If you’re in the area and want to see the exhibit in person, stop by Special Collections and take a look.

While you’re visiting, if you are interested in taking a look at a copy of Flora Virginica in person (reading Latin helps),  Special Collections has one copy of the 1946 reproduction on site and two in remote storage (QK191 .G86 1739a). If you want to see the amazing Catesby illustrations in person, Special Collections has a copy of the 1754 reprinting of Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (QH41 .C28 1754). As for the 2012 Flora of Virginia, Newman Library has two copies and Special Collections has one (QK191 .W43 2012). And, if you’re curious about Audubon’s The Birds of America (QL674 .A9 1827a), Special Collections has a 1985 issue of the double elephant folio in our reading room – it’s our only item with its own piece of furniture.

A full listing of events related to the Massey Herbarium Flora of Virginia exhibit is available at masseyherbarium.org/fov.

For the Birds

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The Birds of Florida, Plate 58: Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Female), Florida Cardinal (Male & Female), Blue Grosbeak (Male & Female), Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Male)

Nestled among our primary collecting areas focused on the American Civil War, the History of Food and Drink, and the History of Women in the Built Environment, there are a few collections on ornithology (the study of birds) and oölogy (the study or collecting of bird eggs). One of those collections has been blogged about here before in Hidden History at Special Collections II: The Harold B. Bailey Autograph Book with a focus on a unique autograph book hidden in a collection about birds. Unlike that previous post, this one is For the Birds!

Today, we’re flying in to take a look at the Bailey-Law Collection 1825-1971 (Ms1982-002). This collection has 32 containers of manuscript material in Special Collections and over 350 monographs (books) in both the main library collection and our rare books collection that can be found in the library catalog by searching “Bailey-Law Collection”. In addition to the holdings that remain here at Newman Library, the collection included numerous bird skins, bird eggs, and mammal skins. These were of particular interest when the collection was originally acquired by the Department of Biology in 1969. When the collection transferred to the library in 1990, they were placed in the Virginia Tech branch of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. They were later transferred to the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, VA. In 2014, some of the museum staff came here to look through the papers related to their specimens. You can check out their blog post about the visit here: A Visit to the Bailey-Law Special Collection.

Much of the collection includes personal correspondence and notes from research and field work. What really grabbed my attention when looking through the collection were the two books by Harold H. Bailey: The Birds of Virginia (1913) and The Birds of Florida (1925). Not only do we have copies of these works – we also have the author’s personal correspondence, papers, and research notes from his time writing the books. It’s all pretty swanky. The Birds of Florida is especially thrilling for a bird enthusiast because it is full of lithographs of gorgeous water-color paintings done for the book.

The first of these volumes is The Birds of Virginia. Published in 1913, it has 362 pages of information about birds that nest in Virginia. The photographs are primarily black-and-white and often depict bird nests filled with eggs. For your viewing pleasure today, we have a picture of the cover, some advertising for this book, an couple interior shots of the book, and scans of three of the plates used to print the photos in the book.

Left: Cover of The Birds of Virginia by Harold H. Bailey (1913)
Upper Right: Pages 102-103 of The Birds of Virginia showing images of baby Marsh Hawks and a chapter on Family Buteonidae (Hawks, Eagles, Kites, Etc.)
Lower Right: Pages 250-251 of The Birds of Virginia showing part of a chapter on the Summer Redbird and an image of Summer Tangers.

Note the insect damage on page 250-251. This is likely the result of a larval anobium punctatum or similar beetle – one of many insects colloquially referred to as a “book worm”.

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Above are some ads from yesteryear. These ads are all extolling the virtues of The Birds of Virginia. Would you have been moved to purchase?

Upper Left: “The Virginia Rail” “At Home” (top) “After Leaving” (bottom). Photos by V. Burtch
Lower Left: “A Red-Tailed Hawks’ Nest” Photo by C. F. Stone
Right: “The Author in a Heron Rookery” Photo by W. D. Emerson

Finally, for The Birds of Virginia, three plates used in the printing process for the book. Two of nests and one of the author, H. H. Bailey.

Next up: The Birds of Florida (1925). This book was just a few years later but has a very different focus. Where the earlier book was focused on nesting behavior of the various bird species and included photos of nests and eggs; this book is more on par with The Birds of America by John James Audubon — A reprint of the double elephant folio of the Audubon book is on display in our Special Collections reading room. It has gained the nick-name “The Big Book of Birds” thanks to the library’s radio show Stacks on Stacks on WUVT — which depicted what the birds look like in beautiful watercolor. Here for your viewing pleasure are some shots of the different versions of this book we have, advertising, interior shots, and scans of some of the lithographs of the watercolors.

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Two copies of The Birds of Florida by H. H. Bailey

Here are the two copies of this book that are in our rare books collection. The one of the left is a proof and contains all of the original watercolor paintings pasted onto paperboard. The one on the right is an actual published copy.

Left: Ad for The Birds of Florida from Library Journal
Middle: Ad for The Birds of Florida
Right: Ad for The Birds of Florida

These are some ads for The Birds of Florida. At least one appeared in Library Journal and two are very directly targeted toward librarians. One mentions that the author knows the book came out too late and everyone had already spent their budgets. It asks that people still order the book now and pay for it later.

Left: Original watercolor from proof of The Birds of Florida
Right: Lithograph from published copy of The Birds of Florida

Above are two images from The Birds of Florida depicting the Carolina Paroquet (parakeet), Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, and Southern Hairy Woodpecker. The one on the left is from the proof and is the original watercolor painting done for the book. The one on the right is the lithograph that appears in the published copy of the book. I chose this image because I happen to like parrots and the Carolina Parakeet, now extinct, was the only species of parrot native to North America.

There is so much more I could write about this collection but this is already a massively long post. So, I’ll just leave you with a selection of images from The Birds of Florida. If you should wish to see these wonderful books for yourself, there are copies in the Newman Library collection and in Special Collections. To see the additional materials we have from the author, visit the Special Collections reading room anytime Monday-Friday 8 to 5 and request collection Ms1982-002.

Upper Left: The Birds of Florida, Plate 36: Swallow-Tailed Kite, Everglade Kite (Adult & Immature), White-Tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite
Upper Middle: The Birds of Florida, Plate 40: Bald Eagle (1st year, 2nd year, Adult), Osprey, Harlan’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk
Upper Right: The Birds of Florida, Plate 19: White Ibis (Adult & Immature), Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, White-Faced Glossy Ibis, Scarlet Ibis, Wood Ibis
Lower Left: The Birds of Florida, Plate 47: Chimney Swift, Whip-poor-will, Chuck-Wills-Widow, Nighthawk
Lower Right: The Birds of Florida: Plate 68: Magnolia Warbler (Male & Female), Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-Throated Warbler, Black-Throated Blue Warbler (Male & Female), Myrtle Warbler

 

The Peabodian, 1939

While looking through some recently acquired items, I came across a yearbook from 1939. Generally, an old yearbook is a good reference book for research about people or a school but they’re also relatively easy to find. This one, however, seemed special. The yearbook is The Peabodian from 1939. There are a few things that make it interesting: the history of Peabody High school, the content of the yearbook, the construction of the yearbook, and how few copies are available for use. This book has history.

It’s clear from the moment one picks it up that this yearbook is special. The cover is faded and stained with a late-art deco style design. The interior contains 111 pages printed on the front only. Each page is mimeographed and bound through two holes to the cover. The photos in the yearbook are black-and-white prints that were pasted to the pages. Looking at each page, the age of the volume is apparent. The paste used to secure the photos began to release at some point and someone taped the photos in. Then, the tape was removed and the photos were glued in again. Because of the failing adhesives over the years, there are some photos missing. Still, the volume is beautifully made and was likely somewhat expensive when it was printed. At this time, the only copies of this yearbook that we know of are the one we just acquired and one other at the University of Virginia.

About the school

Peabody High School was originally known as the Colored High School. Instruction began in 1870 in an old First Baptist Church building in Petersburg, Virginia. It was the first public school established for people of color in Virginia. The first five principals were white men. In 1874, after outgrowing the old church, a new building opened to house the school. It was named for Massachusetts Philanthropist George Peabody because much of the funding for the new building came from The George Peabody Fund. In 1882, the first person of color was named principal: Alfred Pryor. In the early nineteen-teens, the school moved again. The new site had two buildings: Peabody, the senior high school, and Williams, the junior high school – named for Henry Williams, the minister of the Gilfield Baptist Church in Petersburg. This came shortly before Virginia schools moved from a three year high school course of study to a four year course. By 1921-1922, Peabody had an accredited four year high school course of study. It moved again in 1951 to a new facility. Due to Virginia’s campaign of Massive Resistance, the school remained segregated until 1970. When it was finally integrated, the school board decided Peabody would be a middle school and Petersburg High School would be the area’s only high school. The school is in operation to this day as Peabody Middle School.

The yearbook contains a dedication to Mr. H. Colson Jackson. This is Henry Colson Jackson who was born in 1903 in Petersburg, Virginia. During his 70 year teaching career, one of the places he taught was Peabody High School.

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Dedication page

The dedication reads:

We dedicate this book to one who has held a place of respect and admiration among the students of Peabody High School for many years. One who has been a friend and advisor to all who have asked his help or advice. One who is untiring in any endeavor he undertakes, and who strives for perfection, a man who is cooperative and understanding – – – – Mr. H. Colson Jackson.

More about H. Colson Jackson and his wife can be found in Special Collections and Archives at Virginia State University in The Alice and Henry Colson Jackson Papers and The Colson-Hill Family Papers.

This yearbook comes just a few years after the start of many of the school’s clubs:

  • The Peabody Script (school newspaper) – Started in 1936
  • Dramatic Club – Started in 1937-1938
  • Girls Club – Started in 1937
  • Peabody Melodic Club – Started in 1938
  • Civics Club – Unknown start date but sponsoring faculty changed in 1939
  • Domestic Science Club – Started in 1934
  • Domestic Art Club – Started in 1936, Reorganized in 1939
  • Peabody Hi-y Club – Started in 1932, split into a Senior Hi-y Club (for juniors and seniors) and a Junior Hi-y Club (for freshmen and sophomores) in 1939
  • Public Speaking and Debating Club – Started in 1936
  • Athletics (football, basketball) – Started in 1936

These extracurriculars mostly began during the short time that Clarence W. Seay was principal and then continued once Donald C. Wingo took the position. During the short time they existed up to this point, the clubs were active in bringing art and entertainment to the student body and the area. The Dramatic Club had already participated twice in the Annual State Dramatic Tournament and the Peabody Melodic Club had hosted the Huntington High School Chorus and was raising money to buy a “radio-victrola” (a radio).

At the back of the yearbook, there is a section for advertisements which mostly consists of ads from local establishments in Petersburg, Virginia. In addition to that, there is a full-page color advertisement for Milton Bradley Co. School Supplies. This is indeed the Milton Bradley Company that comes to mind today as a board game manufacturer. Milton Bradley (the person) believed strongly in early childhood education and this led him to expand his business beyond games and into school supplies. Some interesting information on this can be found on the FindingUniverse site or in various biographical articles about Bradley. This part of the business continued until the end of the 1930s depression era.

Looking through this volume of Virginia history, U.S. history, and the history of education for people of color highlights the joy and pride this group of students and educators took in their pursuits. From senior quotes to senior superlatives and debate to football, the students at this school were engaged and amazing.

More about the history of the school can be found on the Peabody High School National Alumni Association site. For more on education for people of color in Virginia and the commonwealth’s struggle to desegregate, check out the Desegregation of Virginia Education (DOVE) project hosted by Old Dominion University’s Special Collections and University Archives. To see the yearbook for yourself, stop by Special Collections at Virginia Tech and we’d be happy to let you take a look.

Illustrations from a Magnificent Character

6449374-mRecently added online are a collection of illustrations by Lucy Herndon Crockett, a successful author and illustrator from Southwest Virginia’s Smyth county. Lucy authored nine books during her lifetime, the most well-known being “The Magnificent Bastards” in 1954, about her experiences with the U.S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1956, it was adapted by Paramount Pictures into an Oscar-nominated film “The Proud and the Profane,” starring Deborah Kerr and William Holden. In addition to her writing career, Lucy lead a very interesting life. 

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Movie Poster from Paramount Pictures’ ‘The Proud and the Profane,’ 1956, adapted from Crockett’s book ‘The Magnificent Bastards’

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1914, Lucy spent most of her childhood on various military bases around the world, including Venezuela and Switzerland. After high school, she accompanied her father while he served as advisor to Governor General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who was overseeing both Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands. During World War II, she served a five year tour of duty with the Red Cross in New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, the Philippines, Japan and Korea.

It was this time period that inspired much of the material for her books, including ‘Teru: A Tale of Yokohama,’ for which we have the original illustrations. Her passionate personality and strong sense of duty comes through in many of her characters. Interviewers described Lucy as a lady who “seemed too gentle for the ugliness she described” in her writings. In her book ‘The Magnificent Bastards,’ she said “The theme of my book actually is how each person has a breaking point, and if you are lucky in life you are not put to it. In my book I say it is frightening how we can never anticipate how we will react under strain, and my book is about strain.” When asked why she got into the war, she said that “war, horrible as it is, is an experience that some people cannot resist participating in if they possibly can. With me, I am sure a sense of duty is wrapped up in it.”

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Illustration from Terru: A Tale of Yokohama

In 1947, Lucy retired from the Red Cross and settled in Southwest Virginia. Her creative pursuits, many travels and strong opinions made Lucy a well-known eccentric character in Seven Mile Ford, where she lived most of her adult life in a historic 22-room house called ‘The Ford.’ Alongside her mother Nell, Lucy ran a gift shop out of the house called “The Wilderness Road Trading Post.” The shop featured her books, illustrations, paintings, decoupage and hand-hooked rugs. She designed the rug patterns which were then executed by local craftsmen.

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Illustration from Terru: A Tale of Yokohama

Over the years, Lucy became increasingly eccentric and paranoid of those around her; at one point, threatening behavior toward then President John Kennedy led to a period of house arrest. She was known to write many letters to local newspaper editors. One of Lucy’s most interesting letters detailed her objection to a landfill being built just north of Seven Mile Ford, near the Middle Fork of the Holston River. She described county officials as “displaying an ape-like display of leadership genius” in proposing to “turn this heavenly segment of landscape into a dump.” She argued that the site instead be turned into a resort that would attract tourists. She even suggested a name the project-“Cayetana,” after a friend of hers, Cayetana Alba, the “Duchess of Alba, grandee of Spain.” According to Lucy, the Duchess and her friends were “enthusiastically prepared to sponsor this project.”

Lucy Herndon Crockett died in 2002. The closing paragraph of her obituary best describes her character. She “always had people who were willing to try to help her. Perhaps they were drawn to her complex personality, her prominent possessions or her seeming helplessness. A caregiver who may have known her best at the end of her life described her as kind, loving, generous, selfish, fearful, distrusting and confused. Ironically, these are the same universal emotions which she so skillfully wove into her characters in her best known book, The Magnificent Bastards.”

 

Mary Sinton Leitch & Two-Degrees of Sherwood Anderson

Last time I wrote a post, it was on Sherwood Anderson and our newly-acquired copy of The Cornfields, one of Anderson’s poems which was separately printed. In that post, I mentioned a collection relating to Mary Sinton Leitch, which I had recently processed and was indirectly connected to Anderson. This time around, I thought I would talk about Mrs. Leitch and her letters to J. J. Lankes.

Mary Sinton Lewis was born in New York City, New York, in 1876 to Carlton Thomas and Nancy Dunlap McKeen Lewis. After attending Smith College and Columbia University, as well as schools in Europe, she worked in New York City, first as a women’s prison inspector, and later as a contributing editor to several magazines and newspapers. In 1907, after taking some time to travel, she married John David Leitch and the couple settled in eastern Virginia. She helped to found the Poetry Society of Virginia, serving as both its president (1933) and co-president (1944-1945). She contined to service in editorial capacities, editing the Lyric Virginia Today (vol. 1), though writing became her larger focus. Between 1922 and 1952, she authored seven collections of poetry and short fiction: The Wagon and the Star (1922), The Unrisen Morrow (1926), The Black Moon (1929), Spider Architect (1937), From Invisible Mountains (1943), Himself and I (1950), and Nightingales on the Moon (1952). Leitch died in August 1954 and is buried in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

In 1932, she was introduced to J. J. Lankes, a draftsman turned draftsman/artist and illustrator for much of his life. Lankes would collaborate for many years with Sherwood Anderson. Lankes, it seems, was brought to visit Leitch in the company of writer Louis Jaffe. Our collection consists of letters written by Leitch to Jankes between 1932 and 1950, during which they maintained a more than 18-year correspondence that contained conversations of personal news & friends, the Virginia literary and art scene, and their own writing and artistic efforts (including Lankes collaborations with poet Robert Frost). Leitch seemed to a center for social activity for writers and artists, hosting Lankes, Frost, Louis Jaffe, and others, and many of her letters include plans for events relating to the Poetry Society of Virginia. The majority of the letters were written at “Wycherley,” Jack (who she often refers to in her letters as “Himself”) and Mary Leitch’s home in Lynnhaven, Virginia.

There’s a nice collection of Mary Sinton Leitch’s papers at VCU, including some of her original works and more of her correspondence with other friends, poets, and artists, which you can read about online here.  The finding aid for our collection is available online. I only digitized a couple of letters for this post, but we do have transcripts of the letters currently under review and I hope to have the whole collection scanned in the near future.

A few of the letters in this collection are currently on display in our reading room for Women’s History Month, but I scanned three others to share today. The first is among the early letters between the two, written on Easter Sunday, 1940. Leitch was involved not only in the Poetry Society of Virginia, but also an art league. This letter details Leitch’s efforts to have Lankes’ work displayed somewhere in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area. (Mrs. Leitch’s handwriting seems a bit daunting at first, but if you give it a few minutes, it starts to become mostly readable–that being said, I’ve posted a transcript below, too.)

Easter Sunday

1940

Dear Mr. Lankes:

Stera Bosa (Mrs. Frank Walton, 636 Redgate Ave, Norfolk) Pres of our art league is ? us & we have talked ? with various members of her board the matter of your woodcuts. They are very eager to exhibit them in the fall. At present & on into May, the space in the museum is filled. Anyway, even were it available then, Mrs Walter says, would be a most unsuitable home to show the pictures. Very few persons visit the exhibits after this date & to put your pictures on display so late would not be to your advantage.

To show in our library is, is seems, not possible. There are no exhibits held there: theres no space, as far as we know. But in the museum you will find your work will be seen not only by the art group but by the general public. All the intellegensia of  Norfolk flock there.

We’ll just let Mrs Walton know what’s what about the autumn; also whether you could let her have enough of your woodcuts—or paintings also–to make up say forty pictures.

This would complete the number needed for a one-man show. With fewer pictures, how about exhibiting someone else’s work with yours, though I think the other way (all Lankes) would be very preferable.

I must run. This is a servantless day & I hear Himself setting the table.

It was delightful having you with us together with Mr. Frost. Come again!

Cordially,

Mary Leitch

I am really very keen to see the Country Churchyard woodcuts. I shall have the Frost farm house framed this week.

In February 1945, she typed a letter to Lankes talking about activities of the poetry society, a desire to host Lankes again, correspondence with a mutual friend (another writer), and a discussion on the nature of writing and art. The envelope in which was sent also includes a sketch, probably made by Lankes after he received it.

The final letter I picked is from March 1947. It’s a bit more of the same: news about common friends and poetry society activities, but it had a few lines and ideas that struck me. Leitch, clearly in reply to a letter we don’t have, talks about the challenges of receiving praise for one’s work. Then, despite that she was on her second round of leadership in the Poetry Society of Virginia, she writes that “Poets are such d— d— critters to deal with”–yet she seems to have suffered her efforts for good reason. Lastly, the very end of the letter has a small post script: “Your letter has been destructively destroyed.” I love reading and deciphering correspondence–it’s one of the things that drew me to this profession–and notes like this can haunt someone like me. Because we only have a piece of the record in this collection, which doesn’t include Lankes letters to Leitch, all I can do is wonder about what his last letter said that she would destroy it (likely at his request?)!

Mar 5 1947

Dear J.J.:

Bob Coffin writes that he will visit “Wycherly” & read at Williamsburg the 2nd Sat in May. So he lived up to attend that meeting!

Tut tut! I can’t believe Mrs Mahler is sneaky unless she were caught in flagrante delicto! She seems so open & aboveboard I just can’t believe she snoops among private documents. I wonder why you suspect her of such a naughty habit.

Yes, one can be damned with much praise as easily—more so perhaps—than when the praise is faint. However much you may deserve such ? I know exactly how you feel. I often wish one friend would cease telling people that I am a rival of Shakespeare & Milton. He only makes a fool of me & sets people against me.

There’s no doubt that his admiration of your work is deeply sincere. That is something anyway!

I wired something on Friday asking when he arrives & when he leaves. I can’t make any plans till I know & friends are clamouring to entertain him. The answer came on Mon & was from Mrs Carl “lecturing in the west & left no forwarding address” His agent made all the arrangements & clinched the ? So I suppose the lion will turn up. But I’m powerful jittery. There will be a big crowd to hear him & if he doesn’t turn up?? We got to get out of this co-presidency. It will be the death of me. Poets are such D— D— critters to deal with. But not Sir Frestrain. He’s all right. The reason I asked him again is that the Soc. has grown—has doubled in since since he read here. Also I’m wishing he will be heard by heaps of folk who couldn’t come to Norfolk, from Richmond, Hampton, Newports News et al.

Yours

Mary L

Your letter has been destructively destroyed

Until we acquired these letters, I had never heard of Mary Sinton Leitch. But, one thing I’ve discovered as I’ve been processing these Anderson and Anderson-adjacent collections in the last few months, is that I’m learning quite a bit about the literary and artistic circle of Southwest (and now eastern) Virginia. Mrs. Leitch brought the work of well-known writers and artists of the time to her community, recognize the important role poems, woodcuts, short stories, novels, or paintings can have on anyone in any place or time. And, even more so, she contributed to the literary conversation taking place, publishing extensively herself. So, on the last day of Women’s History Month, I thought she needed some time in the spotlight. She might just inspire us all to be creative in our own ways.