New Orleans prepare yourself for the archivist invasion

Mardi Gras Parade float
Mardi Gras Parade, New Orleans, Louisiana (LOC)

When I was a wee lass pondering my future I did what any bookish young person (pre-Google) would do–I went to my local library. In this case, I went to my childhood library to interview the library director about careers in librarianship. This is the only tidbit I remember – librarians love conferences.

It’s true. Think about it for a moment. Librarians love information and learning new tricks of the trade and what better venue to do that in than an overly air-conditioned, poorly decorated hotel conference room in Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., or Anaheim.

Archivists also like their conferences and our big one is coming up in a few weeks. Yay, New Orleans in August! In honor of our soon to be host city I thought I would highlight some IAWA collections from the Crescent City.

One of the many institutions of higher learning in New Orleans is Tulane University. For 120 years (1886-2006) Newcomb College operated as a coordinate college of Tulane. Founded by Josephine Louise Newcomb’s desire to establish a college in memory of her daughter, Harriot Sophie, Newcomb College would in time flourish academically becoming by 1916 one of only seven southern schools to hold a standard college designation within the Southern Association of College Women. Two departments in particular garnered regional and even international admiration: the Department of Physical Education and the Newcomb Art School (1910-1945).

The Newcomb Art School offered an industrial art program featuring pottery, interior design, furniture making, and many other arts and crafts in an effort to educate women in the “practical side of life,” as well as, to provide employment opportunities for women when few existed. The IAWA has 16 original pencil drawings from students who attended the Newcomb Art School featuring drawings of furniture and interiors by Wanda Simmons and Fannie Magee.

Our next collection with a Big Easy connection is the Betty L. Moss Architectural Collection. Moss was an architect in New Orleans who opened her practice in the 1940s and continued until her death in 2007. A graduate of both Newcomb College and Tulane she was a proud New Orleans resident and an outspoken defender of building preservation and conservation. In October of 2005, a mere 2 months after Hurricane Katrina, she submitted designs for 3 + 4 bedroom prototype houses for the new New Orleans to city officials. These raised houses were designed to protect life and property and to fit the historic New Orleans lot sizes and aesthetic.

Moss along with our third New Orleanian, Abbey Gorin, worked ardently to defend against the demolition of the Rivergate, a mid-20th century Expressionist structure that existed on Canal Street, where the main thoroughfare of the city meets the Mississippi River. The futuristic convention center designed by New Orleans architectural firm Nathaniel C. Curtis Jr. and Arthur Q. Davis lasted only 27 years before it was demolished in 1995 to make way for a Harrah’s casino. Moss and Gorin wrote a six-minute film about the history and importance of the structure and it is present in Gorin’s collection.

Our conference hotel is just a mere 0.1 mile from Harrah’s casino, and I would much rather see the undulating concrete roof line of the Rivergate, meant to mimic the Mississippi River, than the bright lights of Harrah’s.

If anyone has any suggestions of what I should see and where I should eat in the City that Care Forgot please drop me a line in the comments section below.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin, and the IAWA

At a time when women could find little work or credibility in the field of architecture Frank Lloyd Wright unhesitatingly employed and mentored women accepting them into his Taliesin Fellowship as peers. Over the years more than 100 women architects, designers, and artisans worked with Wright. The IAWA has architectural collections from three of these women: Eleanore Pettersen (1941-1943); A. Jane Duncombe (1948-1949); and Lois Davisdon Gottlieb (1948-1949).


Longtime proponents of “Learn by Doing,” Frank Lloyd Wright and his third-wife Olgivanna Wright envisioned a self-sufficient school and community where architecture and the arts would flourish. Therefore, when they established the Taliesin Fellows at Wright’s summer home, Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1932 they put into place a system that would emphasize painting, sculpture, music, drama, and dance “in their places as divisions of architecture” as well as requiring that the apprentices be responsible for the entire work of feeding and caring for the student body.

Apprentices at Taliesin worked in the gardens and fields, did laundry, cooking, and cleaning while simultaneously working on the construction, daily operations, and maintenance of the school. Taliesin quickly developed into an architectural laboratory producing some of the nation’s best design work and attracting talented artists and creative thinkers from around the word.

Under Wright’s direction apprentices created renderings, made models, did the engineering and produced construction drawings. They supervised construction on projects like the Johnson Wax Headquarters (Racine, WI), Fallingwater (Bear Run, PA), and the first Usonian houses. In the winter of 1935, the entire Fellowship moved to Arizona, where they eventually established Taliesin West in Scottsdale (1937) after spending the first two winters in temporary quarters.  The 1935 migration inaugurated the tradition of seasonally moving the school between Wisconsin and Arizona.

Wright passed away in 1959 and upon his passing the ownership of the Taliesin estate in Spring Green, as well as Taliesin West, passed into the hands of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The Foundation continues the educational mission of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship has evolved into the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.


Eleanore Pettersen (1913-2003); apprentice at Taliesin from 1941-1943.

Pettersen studio and home in Saddle River, NJ.
From Ms2003-018 Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection. Pettersen in her studio and home a renovated 200-year-old barn in Saddle River, NJ.

Pettersen was one of the first women licensed as an architect in the state of New Jersey in 1950, and was the first woman in New Jersey to open her own architectural office. She primarily designed residences. Among her clients were President Richard Nixon and jazz artist George Benson. She became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

Pettersen on Wright: “I am a tactile person and must really enter into the process of a given field. In this case, the process is construction. In 1941, such an aspiration seemed impossible for a woman. Being an apprentice afforded me the opportunity to participate in the building process – concrete, wood, electrical work, etc. This experience I have carried with me my whole life. It was the foundation of my architecture career. Mr. Wright was my architectural father and from him came my desire for excellence and architectural integrity.”

Pettersen on Taliesin: “It was a beautiful life. We had time for everything, time to be creative. We made our own music and entertainment, had our own dress parties. The only thing was that it was so insular; you didn’t see anyone from the outside. It was like living on the moon. When I left, my bloodstream ran differently.”

Thurkauf House, Amador City, CA
From Ms2002-004 A. Jane Duncombe Architectural Collection. The west elevation of the Thurkauf House, Amador City, CA designed by A. Jane Duncombe (1987).

A. Jane Duncombe (1925-); apprentice at Taliesin from 1948-1949. A. Jane Duncombe graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago’s School of Industrial Design where she studied under Marya Lilien. Lilien was the first woman to receive an architectural degree in Poland and was a Charter Apprentice at Taliesin. Lilien told Duncombe early in her studies, “You must be an architect, you have it!” Duncombe teamed up with fellow Taliesin apprentice Lois Davidson Gottlieb to form the design team Duncombe-Davidson, based in Sausalito. During their partnership (1951-1956) they designed residences in Marin County starting with the Val Goeschen house, a one-room unit with 576 square feet, in Inverness, CA. Duncombe continued to practice in the San Francisco Bay area for forty years where she completed a broad range of projects.

Duncombe on Taliesin: “The impact of Taliesin was Taliesin itself. I am convinced that having lived in those incredible buildings was the ‘teaching’ that was necessary. For the first time I was aware of the ‘wonder’ possible in buildings. It changed the way I look at everything and I know it is essential to all of us who work with land, light, space, and materials.”

Lois Davisdon Gottlieb (1926- ); apprentice at Taliesin from 1948-1949.

Woman at loom
From A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright by Lois Davidson Gottlieb (2001). Caption reads: “Lois Davidson weaving at the loom (Davidson was my maiden name before I married in 1955.)”

Gottlieb is a residential designer based in San Francisco, CA. After her partnership with A. Jane Duncombe (see above) she worked as a freelance designer on over 100 projects in the Bay Area and in Riverside, CA, as well as in Washington, Idaho, and Virginia.  She also published several books including, Environment and Design in Housing (a book based on her lectures for a course of the same name published in 1966) and A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright (which was based on the traveling exhibit of her photos taken while at Taliesin in the late 1940s).

Gottlieb on Wright: “The first time I saw a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright it was as if I suddenly heard a Beethoven Symphony, never having listened to music before. It was the Hanna house on the Stanford campus. During my last quarter as a student there my architecture class went on a tour of the house. Stunned by the experience I had to do something about it.”

Gottlieb on Taliesin: “Mrs. Wright informed me, the first time that we met, that at Taliesin everything was done from scratch. We sleep in sleeping bags, weave our own cloth, grow our own food, and play live music. Fortunately, I knew how to play the piano and weave. True to my word I made new pillows for the living room.”

From the Donor to the Shelf: A Few Words on Acquisitions

One of the reasons Special Collections launched this blog was to show off some of our cool materials. We can talk about new acquisitions, new discoveries, and old favorites all day! (Curious, just come by and ask us!) Another reason, though, was talk a little about the who, what, where, and why of Special Collections. One of the questions we are frequently asked, in one form or another, is “How to you get stuff?” The short answer is that we acquire books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and other materials in three major ways: donation, purchase, and transfer (this last is the least common, but is vital to our mission of preserving university history!). The much longer answer continues below…

I’m Kira Dietz (aka archivistkira), and since part of my job as Acquisitions and Processing Archivist is to work with donors & potential donors, book & manuscript dealers, university employees, alumni and more, I thought I might spend a post or two over the next couple months tackling the “How do you get stuff?” query. The best way to do that is to answer a few more specific question potential donors might have.

Culinary Pamphlet Collection, Ms2011-002
From the Knox Gelatine: Desserts, Salads, Candies, and Frozen Dishes (1933). This pamphlet is one of a collection of 92 items donated in 2011 that went on to form the basis of the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, Ms2011-002. This collection continues to grow through donations and purchases.

Why donations?

While Special Collections does have a budget to purchase materials (more on that in a future post), we rely heavily on donations. We have just that–a limited budget. Donations make up more than half of our holdings and are the backbone of our manuscripts, university archives, and rare book collection. There are financial costs involved in the acquisition, processing, maintenance, and access of our collections, but donation of materials can help us save a little on the acquisitions part. Donations that come with a financial contribution can help us further reduce some of the processing costs. Basically, without donations, the University Libraries would never have acquired much of the materials that led to the creation of Special Collections, and we wouldn’t be here today!

Where do donations come from?

Donations can come from anyone! We receive materials from staff/faculty and departments on campus, from alumni of Virginia Tech, from community members and organizations, from current students, from professionals active in fields related to our collecting areas, from researchers and scholars, and from people around the world! Sometimes, donors already know who we are. Sometimes, they hear about us at an event or through word of mouth. Sometimes, they have an item or collection that they just want to be available to a wide range of researchers, scholars, and visitors, rather than keeping it in their attic.

John Newton Carnahan Letters, Ms2009-112
The John Newton Carnahan Letters, a series of Civil War letters by Carnahan to his family at home in Wytheville, Va., were donated to Special Collections in 2005. You can see a guide to the collection here:

What kinds of donations do you want?

We’re always on the lookout for new items and collections! While an exhaustive list is tricky to provide, here are some general sorts of formats we seek: Correspondence, diaries, and manuscripts (preferably original documents), logbooks, ledgers, memorabilia, photographs, drawings, architectural collections, and other records of historical importance to the mission of the university and that support existing collections.

We are actively collecting materials in a 7 or 8 major subject areas at present. These include, but are not limited to, local history (SW Virginia and nearby parts of Appalachia), university history, the American Civil War, science and technology, speculative fiction, women & architecture, and food & drink history. You can see more about the kinds of collections we have in all these areas in the individual subject guides listed here.

What do you do with donations once you receive them?

One of the phrases you hear often in archives is, “it depends.” What we do with a donation once we receive it depends on a number of factors: what the donation consists of, how large it is, what condition it’s in, whether further donations may be expected, and more.

In general, the first thing we do is create a record of the donation in our database. Books and other publications that can be cataloged to the University Libraries’ Technical Services, then are returned to our Rare Book Collection. Manuscripts, photographs, drawings, maps, and mixed material collections are placed in acid-free boxes and added to our processing queue. If there are fragile or damaged items, we may do some preservation work like placing torn documents in polyester sleeves, unrolling and flattening rolled photos or documents, or photocopying acid paper. Preservation issues may also be addressed when a collection is processed at a later date.

Susana Torre  Architectural Papers, Ms1990-016
This drawing of Garvey House, designed by architect Susana Torre, is part of the Susana Torre Architectural Papers, Ms1990-016. The collection includes more than 24 cu. ft. of correspondence, project files, articles, teaching notes, and designs.

What do I do if I have something I want to donate?

Contact Special Collections! Whether your potential donation is a single item or lots of boxes, we’ll talk to you about what you have and how it might fit in with our holdings. We can also talk to you about how we process, house, and provide access to collections (I could write a whole series of posts on that subject, so I won’t cover it today). If you live nearby or are passing through Blacksburg and want to visit us, we’re happy to show you around the department, too.

If we all decide Special Collections is the right place for your donation, we’ll make arrangements to receive the material. It might mean a pick up, a drop off, or something being sent via the mail. As a record of your donation, we’ll ask you fill out and sign our “Deed of Gift” form. We’ll keep a copy and we send one to you, too. We also follow up with a thank you note from us.

On the whole, we try to keep our donation process as simple as possible for everyone.

What if Special Collections at Virginia Tech isn’t the right place for a collection?

That’s one of the main reasons we encourage you to talk to us about your donation. Sometimes, we just aren’t the right home for a book, a letter, or a diverse collection of materials. Whether or not you know it, though, there are LOTS of special collections, archives, historical societies, museums, and other institutions out there. All of them have different interests and collecting areas, and many of them accept donations. If we aren’t the right home, we’ll use our network of colleagues and resources to help you find an appropriate home.

William MacFarland Patton Papers, Ms1954-001
This bridge drawing comes from the William MacFarland Patton Papers, Ms1954-001, donated to Newman Library in 1954, years before Special Collections was born! Patton was a professor at VAMC (now Virginia Tech) from 1896-1905.

I hope this is a helpful introduction to donations at Special Collections. There are plenty more questions I could try to answer here, but each potential donation is different. Each one has its own needs and poses its own challenges. If you have something else you’d like to know, feel free to post a comment below or contact Special Collections.  I’ll give you the best answer I can!

Why no, we did not forget April was National Landscape Architecture Month

Spring has finally sprung here in Blacksburg. After an unexpected snowstorm earlier in the month the trees are now flowering, birds are singing, and flip flop weather is upon us once again.

Suddenly, nature is front and center and thoughts (mine anyway) turn to planting. Flowers, herbs, vegetables, the possibilities for shaping our environment and bringing forth color and sustenance abound.

In case your thoughts, like mine, turn to soil and planting during this time of year here are some landscape architecture drawings by Elsa Leviseur from our International Archive of Women in Architecture collection for inspiration.

WANTED: Researchers interested in women’s contributions to the built environment

Want an opportunity to win $2500 and take a road trip to Virginia Tech Special Collections? (Airlines, cruise ships, or a brief walk across the Drillfield are other forms of acceptable transportation.)

Photo: Milka Bliznakov in a car
Milka Bliznakov, IAWA founder

Well, you are in luck because proposals are now being accepted for the 13th Annual Milka Bliznakov Research Prize sponsored by the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center, Virginia Tech.

The Board of Advisors of the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center (IAWA) presents this Annual Prize of $2500 (with an additional $500 available for travel) in honor of IAWA founder Milka Bliznakov.

The Prize is open to architects, scholars, professionals, students, and independent researchers with research projects that would benefit from access to the IAWA’s collections.

More details and submission guidelines can be found here. The proposal must be submitted by May 1st, 2013. The winner will be announced by June 15th, 2013.

Opinion Makers: Women writers on architecture

The world of architecture lost a passionate and opinionated voice when Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic for The New York Times (1963-1982) and The Wall Street Journal (1997-), died earlier this month at the age of 91. How opinionated was she? Check out this New Yorker cartoon by Alan Dunn that appeared in 1968. And although the Pulitzer Prize-winner was the first full-time architecture critic at an American newspaper when she started at The New York Times in 1963, she was actually following a tradition of women who wrote about extant architecture.

Book Cover, 'The House in Good Taste' by Elsie de Wolfe
America’s first decorator. Elsie de Wolfe’s seminal book that banished Victorian gloom. Special Collections call number: SPEC Large NK2115 D6 c.2

In the mid-to-late 19th century architecture was a relatively new profession engaged in a public campaign to separate itself from common ‘builders.’ Authors such as Louisa C. Tuthill, Mariana Van Rensselaer, Mary H. Northend, Edith Wharton, and Elsie de Wolfe served as intermediaries between the lay audience (i.e. potential client base) and architects. Though not trained in architecture per se, these women were often from privileged backgrounds that afforded them the highest levels of private education, an early knowledge of art and culture, and the ability to travel – often abroad. They published primarily in general periodicals aimed at the emerging middle class: Century, House and Garden, and American Homes and Gardens, although some such as Van Rensselaer did contribute to the trade publication American Architect and Building News (AABN).

Embracing the 19th-century notion of the cult of domesticity, they served as style dictators endorsing particular aesthetics and architects, and instructing the new glut of middle class homeowners on how to create a domestic sanctuary. Subjects such as the history of architecture and general principles of architecture were also perennial topics during this period.

Book page, 'The History of Architecture' by Louisa C. Tuthill
Page from Louisa C. Tuthill’s “The History of Architecture from the Earliest Times: Its Present Conditions in Europe and the Unites States (1848). Special Collections call number: SPEC LARGE NA200 T8 1848

Their writings did not go unnoticed by the professional architecture establishment. Van Rensselaer was praised by the profession and even had her essay “Client and Architecture” recommended for reprint and distribution at an American Institute of Architects (AIA) meeting (1890). She was made an honorary member of the AIA that same year. The tables could quickly turn, however, as they did in 1892 when the AABN panned Van Rensselaer’s book English Cathedrals saying that it “smacks of the magazine and so, almost …of the literary hack.”

The entry of women into an architecture practice that did not center around the domestic sphere would be a gradual one that would eventually make way for renowned critics such as Huxtable and Pritzker-winning starchitects.

Want to know more about women in architecture? Special Collections is home to the International Archive of Women in Architecture. Visit the IAWA page or come see us in person!

**The historical research for this post was culled from Lisa Koenigsberg’s book “Professionalizing domesticity: a tradition of American women writers on architecture, 1848-1913.” and her essay ‘Mariana Van Rensselaer: An architecture critic in context’ published in “Architecture a place for women.” **