This post was contributed by Sophie Archambault, a rising junior at the University of Connecticut. In Summer 2021, Sophie interned with Michael Rodriguez, Collections Strategist, and Rebecca Parmer, Head of Archives & Special Collections, to help increase the visibility and accessibility of UConn Library’s archival collections by adding content, references, and media to Wikipedia.
All through school, I’ve been taught that Wikipedia is a risky resource. Anyone can edit or contribute, and the sources used to build the articles aren’t always reliable. Additionally, though editors are anonymous, the topics covered on Wikipedia are overwhelmingly white male centric. When topics outside of this realm are introduced they are often shut down by fellow editors who claim a lack of adherence to protocol. Recently, however, efforts have been made to diversify Wikipedia editors and content, so that marginalized groups are given more attention. This is what my project with the UConn Archives focused on. I was to find topics covered by archives collections that could use increased visibility on Wikipedia. I generated a list of possible topics and ended up working on four Wikipedia pages, all of them female authors.
After completing a few training modules, I began this project with Grace Lin. I remember reading her books in middle school, so she was a familiar name. Her page was also in a good place for me to jump in as someone very new to editing Wikipedia. The page was already pretty clearly established, but there was obvious room for improvement. After investigating the already cited sources and doing some research of my own, I ended up adding information to the biography section and creating an awards section. Something I had not expected to encounter was references that could not be accessed. A few of the sources for Grace Lin linked to pages that were no longer active. Did that mean I had to remove those sources completely? Find the information that had supposedly come from those sites in different places? I brought the issue up to Rebecca and Michael, who suggested I use the Wayback Machine (yes, that’s what it’s actually called). Using the Wayback Machine site, I could put in a dead link and have access to all previous versions of the page. I could then insert a link to an archived version of the page in the resources section of Wikipedia. Nothing ever really disappears on the internet.
Lin’s page took me a couple of weeks to complete, but it was a good chance to get used to navigating Wikipedia. After Grace Lin, I tackled Magdalena Gómez, a playwright, poet, and social activist based in Springfield, MA; Eleanor Estes, a late children’s book author known for The Hundred Dresses and The Moffats; and Rosemary Wells, whose picture books of animal characters—Max and Ruby, Noisy Nora—my parents read to me. It got easier to edit the pages. I got into a routine of reading what was there, making note of what needed to be changed or added, investigating the already cited sources, and finding more sources if necessary.
One of the main goals of this project was to hopefully increase web traffic to the UConn archives. On every page I completed, I added that so-and-so’s papers were held at the University of Connecticut, and I provided an external link to the specific finding aid. Unfortunately, as it was summer and covid, I was not able to go to the archives and take a deeper look into each of these women’s collections. However, I hope that my small contribution to the vast world of Wikipedia will bring more people to the archives’ site and encourage them to find out more in person. I was inspired by each of the authors I researched and it made me feel good to increase their visibility on a widely accessed site. Hopefully, with edit-a-thons and projects like this one, those who have been deemed irrelevant or unestablished by editors will get the attention and space they rightfully deserve.
We’re excited to announce that UConn Archives & Special Collections will reopen to the public for onsite research visits on Monday, August 30th. We have made some changes to our service model to respond to changing COVID-19 conditions and to best serve our community. Below, you’ll find details about our reopening plans, including how to schedule research visits, information about facilities work which may impact access to our collections, and how to get support for your research (onsite and online). Additional details can be found on our website.
Fall 2021 Reading Room Schedule
9:00 – 12:00
12:00 – 1:00
1:00 – 4:00
Open by appointment only
Closed for lunch and cleaning
Open by appointment Walk-ins welcome*
If you are visiting in-person, please book an appointment at least two business days in advance of your visit due to limited walk-in hours and limited space in the reading room. You are welcome to select both morning and afternoon slots on a chosen day or to reserve space on multiple days, if capacity allows. Unfortunately, same-day appointments cannot be accommodated at this time.
Once you’ve submitted your appointment request, ASC staff will confirm your appointment and follow up with any questions or additional information.
*Walk-in visits: Please be aware that access to the reading room for walk-in visitors is subject to capacity limits and staffing resources. Due to scheduled facilities upgrades, please be aware that collections materials may not be available for walk-in visitors. The best way to ensure that resources will be available for your research is to book an appointment in advance of your visit.
As the University responds to changing pandemic conditions, access to our reading room and onsite services may be limited from time to time. Current information about our services will be posted on our website, blog, and social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
If you can’t visit us in person, we’re ready to assist you remotely!
We continue to support remote research by responding to research inquiries, digitizing materials, and preparing for virtual classes and instruction. Our staff are available to meet with researchers via email, phone, or virtually by appointment.
Please use our Reproduction Request form to request scans and copies from our collections. We will try to accommodate reasonable requests free of charge, but large or resource-intensive requests may incur a fee.
We will do our best to assist you as the situation and our services allow. Please be aware that there may be some delay in the fulfillment of research and reproduction requests. We appreciate your continued patience as we all work through this dynamic, challenging time!
Please reach out to us at any time with questions, comments, or concerns:
Over the summer, we began critical maintenance work in our collections storage area. This work, which we anticipate will be completed by mid-fall, includes upgrading the electronic and mechanical systems for our mobile shelving, and will help ensure that our collections will remain safe and accessible for future generations. However, it may occasionally impact our access to collections material. In the event that material is not available for onsite use, ASC staff will follow up with you to discuss other ways of supporting your research.
Archives & Special Collections of the UConn Library has recently acquired the papers of Lottie B. Scott, UConn alumna (‘86), author, civic organizer, and civil rights advocate from Norwich, Connecticut. Ms. Scott’s papers [1969-present] include records from her work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Norwich chapter, from the 1960s-2010. A founding member of the chapter, Ms. Scott held multiple positions including arts liaison, first vice president, and president.
Ms. Scott’s civic involvement is documented through her service in various positions (often as the first woman of color) with the Norwich Arts Council and the Rotary Club, as a board member of Backus Hospital, and in her work for the Commission for Human Rights and Opportunities over 22 years. Her ongoing contributions to her community are also documented through the various awards and recognition she has received from local and national organizations and individuals of distinction. Ms. Scott’s 2018 memoir Deep South – Deep North: A Family’s Journey is included in the collection, chronicling her family history during the Great Migration from Longtown, South Carolina to Norwich.
For more information on accessing the Lottie B. Scott Papers, contact the UConn Archives: email@example.com
This guest blog post is written by Aidan Brueckner, a graduating honors student majoring in Digital Media and Design, and minoring in Human Rights which he completed an internship for at the Archives & Special Collections in the Spring Semester of 2021. Aidan’s descriptive work can be found in the Alternative Press Collection online.
It is no secret that youth activism is on the rise. Across the world, demonstrations occur for myriad reasons related to racial justice, climate change, drug control, and countless more key issues. Not only are these matters far-reaching across all aspects of society, touching on numerous disparate sectors, but the apparent frequency of social justice events is increasing quickly as well. The push for recognition and change from a world that has proven unforgiving and unfair is picking up steam. Naturally, college-age students tend to be a large portion of the ones driving these agendas, as the nature of college itself encourages collaboration and a drive to excel, as well as an increased emphasis on critical thinking. Most importantly, however, college allows students to collect as a group of like-minded individuals, and presents them with an opportunity to make their voices heard. UConn is no exception, having had a well-documented history of activism on campus from its inception. Much of this activism is contained within the Archives, and this semester I had an opportunity to explore and evaluate some of it.
Article in the November 27, 1934, Connecticut Campus about the choice of a Husky dog as the Connecticut State College Mascot
Continuation of article about new mascot in Connecticut Campus, November 27, 1934
February 19, 1935, article showing the burial of Jonathan I
The funeral of Jonathan I, the Connecticut State College first mascot, on February 15, 1935
In the Fall of 1934, after the famous “Ram-napping” incident where students from the Connecticut State College kidnapped the ram mascot of the Rhode Island State College (you can read the story here) prior to a football game between the two rivals, the CSC decided it was time to get its own mascot. Its one attempt at securing a mascot was in October 1906, when a fat white bulldog, who received the unfortunate name of “Piggie,” was hired for the job. Piggie didn’t last long because the students felt it would have been confused with Yale’s bulldog mascot, “Handsome Dan,” and no one liked the name Piggie.
By late November 1934 the student newspaper, the Connecticut Campus, announced that a 14 week old thoroughbred Eskimo dog “of high pedigree,” born on July 23 in Huntington, Connecticut, and donated by the college’s alumni, was chosen as the CSC mascot by an almost unanimous vote of the student body. The students were delighted by their new black and white Husky mascot. It was determined at that point that the athletic teams would be known as the Huskies.
It was purported that the dog’s great-grandfather was one of the team that pulled the sled of famous American explorer Robert Peary, who claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole, in April 1909.
Around Christmas 1934 the dog settled with the family of Music Professor Herbert A. France, who lived with his wife and four children in North Windham. In 1995 Professor France’s son, Herbert France, Jr., sent a reminiscence to the UConn Archives about life with the first mascot. Mr. France was six years old at the time they owned the dog, who was very much a family dog to the France children. Mr. France recalled a snowy day in January 1935 when he hitched the dog to his sled and tried to get the dog to “mush.” The dog apparently turned around, looked at the boy, jumped over him and the sled, and took off with the sled bouncing behind him, with little Herbert left face down in the snow.
Now that the college secured the dog they also had to give him a name. In January 1935 the Alumni decided they would hold a contest among the students to determine the name, which was to be announced by February 15.
Alas, even before the dog could be formally named his life was tragically cut short. On February 13, 1935, the poor dog dashed into the road in front of the France’s house and was struck by a car. Attempts were made at resuscitation but were futile. The dog died at the tender age of six months. He apparently had been to only a handful of basketball games in his short time of service as mascot.
The CSC students were stunned and saddened by their mascot’s sudden demise. Two days later, on February 15, at a small and somber funeral attended by CSC President Charles McCracken and the presidents of each student class, the dog was formally named Jonathan, in honor of Connecticut’s first governor, Jonathan Trumbull. George Potterton, President of the Student Senate, gave a short speech where he said that Jonathan “…was a symbol of the forward progress that we as students are bound to make. He was a symbol of the coming greatness of our athletic teams as well as those other activities in which we enter in order to make our college greater. Connecticut State’s Jonathans will go out to do battle on the court, field and gridiron, for Jonathan’s is a fighting tradition.”
The next Jonathan, number II, arrived at the college in the fall of 1935 and ably served as mascot until 1947, when he died of natural causes. Apparently three more Jonathans – III, VI and X — also met tragic ends as the victims of car accidents.
You can read more about Jonathan I, and the tradition of Jonathan as the Connecticut State College/University of Connecticut mascot, at these sources:
Articles in past issues of the UConn Advance, written by staff writer Mark Roy, at
The post was contributed by Michael Rodriguez, Collections Strategist at the UConn Library.
The University of Connecticut has a strong presence on Wikipedia, which goes under the tagline “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” In a personal summer project, I wrote thirty new encyclopedia articles and expanded seven others about influential figures in UConn’s history. For sources, I drew on texts and images from Archives and Special Collections, as well as other UConn Library resources that brought to life the university’s remarkable history and people.
Wikipedia is one of the world’s most-viewed websites. Founded in 2001, Wikipedia has over 6 million articles and 3.5 billion words in English alone. Edits happen at a rate of 1.9 per second. Wikipedia is the first stop for millions of people seeking a quick fact, a topic overview, or links to other sources. But because Wikipedia is 100% crowdsourced, articles exist only if someone cares enough to write them and then navigate Wikipedia’s maze of rules to publish them.
When I began editing, eleven of UConn’s twenty-one presidents and principals lacked Wikipedia articles about them. Notable scholars such as Henry P. Armsby and Nathan L. Whetten had zero representation. Wikipedia had little coverage of influential faculty and philanthropists whose names we see on campus buildings. Not a single woman who had a campus building named after her was represented on Wikipedia, reflecting Wikipedia’s longstanding gender gap.
Wikipedia cautions against editing where editors may have a conflict of interest. I wrote my contributions off the clock, but even so, I generally avoided writing about living people. I wrote about no one I knew. I consulted a range of sources, citing not only university publications, for instance, but also the Hartford Courant and other sources unaffiliated with UConn.
Second, I wrote about UConn presidents. Did you know that the college’s first leader, Solomon Mead, patented a special plough? Or that Harry J. Hartley was named Man of the Year by the Daily Campus student newspaper in 1978? Or that Charles L. Beach commissioned Ellen Emmet Rand to paint a posthumous portrait of his beloved wife, Louise? Or that Benjamin F. Koons fought in 17 Civil War battles and ran an Alabama freedman’s school during Reconstruction?
Third, I wrote about the chroniclers of UConn’s history. Did you know that Jerauld Manter, who served as UConn’s unofficial photographer for half a century, has a gnat named after him? Or that forty-eight erstwhile Daily Campus student editors attended the retirement party of their mentor Walter Stemmons, chronicler of UConn’s first semicentennial? Or that Bruce M. Stave, who literally wrote the book on UConn, was president of the Federation of University Teachers during the campaign that brought collective bargaining to the university in 1976? Stemmons and Stave wrote authoritative histories, including Connecticut Agricultural History: A History (1931) and Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits(2006). These chroniclers were such key sources for so many articles that I had to celebrate them with articles of their own.
Fourth, I wrote about influential faculty. Sidney Waxman brought along his .22 rifle on car trips, shooting down pinecones to augment his dwarf conifer collection. Henry Ruthven Monteith’s daughter, Marjorie, scored the second goal at UConn’s first women’s basketball game. George Safford Torrey played the organ and carillon at Storrs Congregational Church. Albert E. Waugh, provost for decades, was the only American member of a German group called Friends of Old Clocks. While I necessarily focused on getting facts right, the humanity of these figures, as well as their remarkable contributions to science and to the school, shone through my sources.
Finally, I wrote about figures who, while not faculty members or presidents, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence on the university’s history. Charles and Augustus Storrs donated land and money to start the university in 1881. T. S. Gold was godfather of the school from its inception, shepherding it through its infancy and ensuring it remained viable and appropriately resourced. The Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture was named for an industrialist up the road in Tolland. Ratcliffe’s daughter, Elizabeth Hicks, has a UConn residence hall named in her honor.
Using the archives
UConn Library’s Archives & Special Collections (ASC) were an incredible resource. ASC collects the papers of presidents, prominent faculty, and other figures associated with the University. To inventory materials and guide researchers, archivists write finding aids, which often include biographical information. Finding aids proved a valuable source, as well as helping me assess who was notable enough to merit Wikipedia articles about them. I linked to finding aids in the “External links” section of most of my Wikipedia contributions, ensuring bibliographical depth.
Finally, I drew on the expertise of archivists. I requested high-resolution images from University Archivist Betsy Pittman when scanned online copies proved too pixelated for Wikipedia. Betsy even found me a never-before-digitized photo of UConn coach and acting president Edwin O. Smith. I am grateful for both archives and archivists—the collective memory of the university.
In addition to contributing text, I contributed images to Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia. I took photos of various named campus buildings—and a European larch dwarf conifer cultivated by Sidney Waxman—and released the images for unlimited public use on Wikimedia Commons. I downloaded pre-1925 portrait photographs from the CTDA and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons too, maximizing their discoverability and linking back to the CTDA. Where no portrait existed online, I tracked down group photos in yearbooks or newspapers, took screen captures, and cropped them. When the only extant photos were not clearly uncopyrighted, I used one of the very few fair use exceptions permitted by Wikipedia, in which historic portraits of deceased persons may be uploaded solely to illustrate their Wikipedia biography. I sourced most images from UConn’s archival collections, as well as from UConn Today and various books and serials in HathiTrust Digital Library. Contributing images to Wikipedia is a great way to boost visibility of those images while driving traffic to UConn’s digital archival content in the CTDA.
UConn’s people, places, and unique resources are better represented on Wikipedia than ever. But this work is hardly done. I plan to monitor the in-memoriam section of UConn Today—what better way of acknowledging a prominent professor’s passing than ensuring that they get the most widely read Who’s Who-equivalent entry on the planet? In fact, one of my most recent articles was on Roger Buckley, founding director of the Asian and American Studies Institute, who died in August 2020. I will continue to create articles for UConn people with landmarks named in their honor, such as puppeteer Frank W. Ballard and cellist J. Louis von der Mehden.
On September 21, 1938, just two days before the start of the fall semester, the Great New England Hurricane hit Connecticut State College. The campus had dealt with natural disasters before, such as the ice storm of 1909, but the damage inflicted by the Hurricane of 1938 was unprecedented. The loss of electricity and the impassability of the roads meant that of immediate concern was the water and food supply for the faculty, staff, and students. The College had to resort to using an emergency water pump and chlorinator to provide safe drinking water, and a battery-powered shortwave radio was the only means of receiving outside news. In the days following the storm, workmen and student volunteers scrambled to clear the damage and repair electric lines. The local telephone company hurried to get a pay station working on campus. Fewer than half of the 668 students registered for the fall semester were on campus at the time of the storm, and there were concerns about the rest making it in before classes started.
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, news was spread across campus through the College’s publication, the Connecticut Campus. The Campus published special editions on both September 22 and 23 with the use of a hand-cranked mimeograph machine. It supplied updates on the water and food situation, informing students that although the Dining Hall was stocked with enough supplies, “no pie will be served tonight and no ice cream tomorrow.” The newsletter also shared statements made by President Albert Jorgenson and other College staff regarding campus conditions. The superintendent of the grounds speculated that “it would take about one hundred years for the campus to regain its former beauty.” Mixed in with reports on the state of the roads and estimates for the cost of repairs was a concern for returning to the College’s regular activities. The Campus was uncertain if the upcoming football game between CSC and Brown would be cancelled, although it optimistically reported that planning was underway for a barn dance.
Although most buildings on campus suffered some degree of damage, the grounds and barns experienced the worst effects of the storm. In the weeks following the hurricane, various departments across campus reported their losses to President Jorgenson, including those from Forestry, Poultry, Animal Husbandry, Horticulture, Zoology, and Genetics. Some of the campus’ barns, outbuildings, and fences needed to be completely rebuilt, including the horse barn and two sheep barns. One sheep barn was lifted off its foundation in the storm, and the estimated cost to rebuild totaled $16,000. The poultry department also suffered heavy damages, with piles of rubble all that remained of some chicken houses. Not only was the College’s agricultural activities put on hold by the storm, but its scientific research in genetics and animal diseases was also at an impasse until barns could be repaired and rebuilt. While the College’s horses and cattle survived, over 500 birds sadly perished.
There was a great concern with the damage to the trees on campus, and students were involved in assessing and cleaning up some of the destruction. The Campus bemoaned the loss of the Valentine Grove, where some of the trees destroyed had been over 200 years old. Two students counted 1,762 fallen trees on campus, and others were paid 30¢ an hour to salvage apples from the orchard. Workmen used tractors and teams of horses to pull trees back up, however many could not be saved. The College owned over 900 acres of woodlands, and one report advised that the trees lost should be salvaged if possible and cut into lumber. It was estimated that the labor required to clean up the woodlands would cost $10,400.
Fortunately the academic and student housing buildings suffered relatively minor damages. All buildings with slate roofs needed to be repaired, and some of the fraternity houses reported broken windows, leaking roofs, and damaged chimneys. Despite the hurricane, and as a testament to the hard work of both staff and students, the fall semester began on time. However, it would be many months until the campus could return to the extent of its pre-hurricane operations.
Written by Alexandra Borkowski, a UConn PhD student and student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.
Learning never stops, even during a pandemic. Many researchers — students, academics, historians, genealogists, and the general public — have had to revert to online sources during the COVID-19 crisis, given that virtually every archives, library, historical society and museum has had to shut down to the public. It is fortunate that many institutions have spent the last several years scanning large swaths of their collections and making them available in digital repositories, or have highlighted their collections in online exhibitions. Given the vast amount of primary sources held in the institutions’ physical spaces the resources that are available online are often just a drop in the bucket, but for many researchers the materials now available online have been as helpful as if they had made the trek to the research institution.
Here are some ideas on how to do your research from home, in this time of limited travel and even after.
How to find archival materials in the UConn Archives:
The UConn Library digital repository holds holds scanned items from the archives. Note that while there are over 500,000 scanned items from the UConn Archives this represents only a small percentage of our overall collections: https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/
How to find archival collections at archives in the United States:
The Digital Public Library of America provides access to digital collection across the United States, https://dp.la/. It also provides themed primary source sets and online exhibits at http://dp.la/primary-source-sets and http://dp.la/exhibitions. If there is any one source to go to for comprehensive information about digital collections this is it!
Creator of The Magic School Bus non-fiction series of children’s books, Joanna Cole, passed away on July 12, 2020.
Ms. Frizzle, the teacher leading field trips in the series, reflected Joanna Cole’s own lifelong love of science. “Ms. Frizzle is first and foremost an enthusiast…what she likes most is the subject she is teaching…she carries the class along on her enthusiasm.”1 Joanna Cole’s first book published in 1971 and illustrated by Jean Zallinger was about cockroaches. She went on to make a career out of sharing that love of science by writing about the wonders of human biology, insects, evolution, our animal friends, the earth and the stars. She was an equally prolific fiction writer and edited over a dozen anthologies for children, compiling party games, riddles, rhymes and tongue twisters among others.
Ms. Cole donated her papers to Archives & Special Collections in 2003. The collection documents her career authoring over 250 books for children and includes manuscripts, correspondence, book dummies, research materials and storyboards for The Magic School Bus series and other works.
We send our sincere condolences to Ms. Cole’s family and friends.
Today marks what would have been Maurice Sendak’s 92nd birthday and the 8th anniversary since his death on May 8, 2012. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 10, 1928, Maurice Sendak was a largely self-taught artist who went on to illustrate over 100 books during his sixty year career. Books for which Sendak became singularly identifiable include Nutshell Library (1962), Where the Wild Things Are (1963), In the Night Kitchen (1970), Outside Over There (1981), and many others. He was honored with numerous awards, including the international 1970 Hans Christian Anderson Award, the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award given by the American Library Association, the 1996 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Sendak was the 1964 Caldecott Medal Winner forWhere the Wild Things Are.
He later held a second career as a costume and stage designer in the late 1970s, completing work on operas by Wolfgang Mozart, Sergei Prokofiev, and Maurice Ravel. Of music, Sendak said in a 1966 interview produced by Morton Schindel at Weston Woods Studios in Weston, Connecticut:
“I do most of my work to music, and music plays an extremely important part in my work. Depending on what I’m doing at the moment, there is always a specific kind of music I want to listen to. All composers have different colors, as all artists do, and I kind of pick up the right color from either Haydn or Mozart or Wagner while I’m working. And very often I will switch recordings endlessly until I get the right color and the right note and the right sound and then settle down happily to whatever I’m doing.”
Maurice Sendak moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1972 with his partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn. He supported the University of Connecticut for many years, speaking to the children’s literature classes of Professor Francelia Butler in the 1970s and 1980s and making important contributions over the years to support the legacy of Professor James. On September 5, 1990, Sendak was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at UConn.
To honor Maurice Sendak’s birthday anniversary, it feels appropriate to celebrate with The Birthday Party (1957), one of eight collaborations between Sendak and children’s book author Ruth Krauss (1901-1993) between 1952 and 1960. The Birthday Party follows a young boy, David, who “had been everywhere” except to a birthday party. He arrives home one day and after searching through the rooms in the house, finally finds everyone in the dining room singing “Happy Birthday dear David” and only then does he realize that not only is he at a birthday party but that the birthday is his own.
Sendak reflects on his relationship with Krauss in the 1994 obituary “Ruth Krauss and Me: A Very Special Partnership”:
“Ruth wasn’t so patient, or quiet, and she could frighten me with her stormy tirades. It was hard for such a fiercely liberated woman to contend with a potentially talented but hopelessly middle-class kid. In the end, she slapped me into shape — almost literally. When Ruth approved of a sketch, I was rewarded with the pleasure of her deep belly laugh, which rose upward and exploded in little-girl giggles. But her disapproval could be devastating…
…My favorite Krauss is A Very Special House, published in 1953. That poem most perfectly simulates Ruth’s voice — her laughing, crooning, chanting, singing voice. Barbara Bader, in her American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within (Macmillan), sums up that text: “It runs on, it erupts, it runs together — like a dream, daydream or nightdream or playdream; and the disarray, the flux, the indeterminacy were essential to the personal and private fancies that were to chiefly occupy Ruth Krauss thereafter.” “Thereafter” was the series of books Ruth and I collaborated on, eight in all. They permanently influenced my talent, developed my taste, and made me hungry for the best. But nothing was so satisfying as A Very Special House; those words and images are Ruth and me at our best. If I open that book, her voice will laugh out to me. So I will leave it shut a while.”
The Birthday Party charms. A petite book accordingly sized for children’s hands, the images consist of ink drawings with yellow and grey washes. David wanders alone from a scene of a beach, the woods, and a street corner until he reaches the party and suddenly, turning from one page of David peering into a dark room to another, everyone comes into full view. He is surrounded by smiling adults and a young girl, candles set in cupcakes raised high in the air. Sendak’s imagery captures Ruth Krauss’ playful use of rhythm and David’s surprise, delight and joy.
The Birthday Party is a gentle reminder to celebrate the special days of one’s life and to cherish those fleeting moments. Happy Birthday, dear Mr. Sendak!
The following guest post is by K-Fai Steele, recipient of the 2019 James Marshall Fellowship.K-Fai (www.k-faisteele.com) is an author and illustrator who grew up in a house built in the 1700s with a printing press her father bought from a magician. She wrote and illustratedA Normal Pig. She illustrated Noodlephantby Jacob Kramer (a Kirkus Best of 2019 picture book) and Old MacDonald Had a Baby by Emily Snape. She also illustrated the forthcoming Probably a Unicorn by Jory John and Okapi Tale, the sequel to Noodlephant. She wasa Brown Handler Writer in Residence at the San Francisco Public Library, and the 2018 Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellow at the University of Minnesota. K-Fai lives in San Francisco.
The job of a professional children’s book author and illustrator is challenging. There’s no one formula for, or definition of success. The job walks the line between commercial and creative disciplines and requires a bizarre combination of skills: not only writing and illustrating books but being able to perform in front of large varied audiences (toddlers one day, fifth graders the next), deftness at publicity and social media, teaching, and generally being able to project an aura of success and expertise. It can often feel competitive and lonely. And one is paid as a freelancer, so (at least in the United States) there is no economic safety net and it’s hard to plan for a long term career.
Another aspect of the job requires constant learning, growth, and improvisation which can either be stressful or exciting and luxurious (if you have the time and space to fully devote to it). Whenever I feel stuck I end up in a library and I’ve learned that some of the best libraries and collections contain public collections of children’s literature preliminary materials. The University of Connecticut is one of these places, and through the James Marshall Fellowship I was given the time, space, and funding to spend time learning and luxuriating in their collection.
If you spend enough time with someone’s work you get a sense of their process; in a way it’s the closest thing you can get to a mentorship. In his essays Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, Maurice Sendak quotes Alphonse Mucha (a mentor to one of Sendak’s heroes Winsor McKay, the creator of the Little Nemo comic): “I think it would be wise for every art student to set up a certain popular artist whom he likes best and adapt his ‘handling’ or style… when you are puzzled with any part of your work, see how it has been handled by your favorite and fix it up in a similar manner.” It’s a very clever way to get a very good (and free) education.
When you read a picture book you only see the finished product. When you visit archives, you see evidence of an often messy process, from sketches and sketchbooks to drafts, manuscripts, and original art. Occasionally you find very special pieces of media, like collections of audio cassette lectures. Francelia Butler was a professor of Children’s Literature at UCONN from the 1960s to 1990s and she invited dozens of authors, performers, and otherwise impressive thinkers to speak in her Children’s Literature 200 class, or as students referred to it, “kiddie lit 101.” She had the foresight to record most of these lectures which are now housed in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection. James Marshall lived a couple of miles from the UCONN Storrs campus and would give a yearly lecture to her class of primarily undergraduates from 1976-1990 when he was 34 to 48 years old (he died when he was 50). These lectures are mostly off the cuff; he reads a book aloud (often George and Martha or The Stupids), discusses how he came up with ideas for books like Miss Nelson, then takes questions from the audience.
Marshall is the perfect guest lecturer. He is funny, insightful, knows how to work a crowd, and best of all he’s a generous lecturer. He knows how to communicate ideas and make them accessible. At his core he was an educator; he worked professionally as one for a while, having taken over Maurice Sendak’s picture book making class at Parsons. Much of the insights he shares in these recorded lectures are still deeply relevant today, particularly in terms of the creative process and the job of a children’s book creator. Marshall agonized about writer’s block and felt the pressure to make money. He also spoke from the perspective of an outsider who worked extremely hard and never took the joy of making books for granted.
When I arrived at UCONN to start my fellowship I didn’t anticipate that most of my time would be spent using my ears rather than my eyes. I had spent three weeks in 2018 at the Kerlan Collection looking through dozens of his sketchbooks in their collection and since then have tried to read all of his books. I realized I was engaging in a bit of detective work, trying to put the pieces together of a fascinating, talented, funny creator through the crumbs he left behind. Hearing him talk about his work (getting a firsthand narrative) made me feel incandescent. I popped in one cassette after another and was grateful for my fast typing (as of the time of this blog post’s publishing only two of the cassettes have been digitized; according to the archivist it’s an expensive and laborious process). In this post I’m going to share some quotations from these audiocassettes, what surfaced for me as a picture book creator, and what I think other people in the field might find interesting, from his process to how he thought about creative work.
“I start off drawing. I develop a character, make it as crazy as I can, and put that character in a situation. I start with a visual. I couldn’t sit at a typewriter and start a story with words… Drawings first, and then I type it up” (1977, cassette 504). Marshall was known for his strong characters; consider George and Martha, Fox, or The Stupids; the story revolves around them and how they interact with other characters. It’s not so much about plot; Marshall at one point describes George and Martha as a comedy of manners. “I teach my kids at Parsons that to start out you must have a very solid rounded character that lives. I have lots of sketchbooks and I just develop characters as they go along” (1982, cassette 515). Marshall trusted that a good story would organically come out of a good character, particularly if put in an interesting situation where they have to react. There’s a sort of faith required in starting with a character; you don’t know who’s going to show up on the page. You get to know a character by the way they look, their gesture, and how they react to other characters.
Marshall didn’t discuss a specific method that he used to generate stories because he didn’t seem to have one. He described working intuitively, relying on his brain and hand to put together funny ideas. “People ask me often where the ideas come from. If I knew that I could probably spell it out to you… I don’t know where the good stuff happens. It happens when I work a lot, and late at night. Usually If I’ve been working 8-10 hours doing just mechanical stuff I’m so tired all my defenses are down. I’m not worried whether it’s going to be a success or not, and some nutty idea comes in, it’s like someone else told me that… You know it came from inside your head but you don’t know why or how” (1979, cassette 506). “What I do is try to sit down, and if I fall down and start laughing that’s a good sign” (1980, cassette 508). It seemed that he didn’t examine his story-making because he was worried that if he figured it out he would lose the muse. “What I do is intuitive and I don’t know why I’m sitting here talking to you because I don’t really know why I do what I do, and to talk about it is a little scary to analyze it. I’m afraid if I look at it too much and try to figure out what I do it’ll go away” (1985, cassette 525). Since he relied so heavily on intuition his fear of losing the muse makes sense. He mentioned this fear in several lectures, and it seems to really be the thing he feared the most: the bucket going down the well and coming up dry.
Perhaps this fear came from a sense of what we would now describe as imposter syndrome. “Often I have so much trouble coming up with endings. It’s just like hell. Because you think here I am, this is what I do for a living, but maybe I’m not so good anymore, maybe I never had any talent in the first place” (1987, cassette 527). Marshall continues in a 1990 lecture, “I’ve thrown up in my studio from the fear of thinking I’m all finished, I’m washed up, I have no talent, I can’t even write one of these dumb books, I can’t think of another joke” (cassette 531).
Perhaps it came because making good books for children is deceptively challenging. There isn’t a roadmap, particularly when you’re making something that pushes boundaries of humor, style, etc. “When I’m drawing it’s like heaven, even when it’s not going so well I’m really, really happy. I feel connected, I feel like I belong. Why it’s such hell to get started, I don’t know. I guess it’s because I’m scared. Chekhov had the same feeling, he thought he was no good, couldn’t cut it. If a guy that great can have those feelings maybe it’s not so abnormal, maybe you should have those feelings of insecurity. Because if you’re absolutely sure that what you’re doing is brilliant what you’re doing is copying yourself or copying someone else” (1988, cassette 529).
Or perhaps the pressure was more external; he needed to make more books in order to keep his career (and income stream) flowing. This is when his practice of writing intuitively probably chafed against a demanding publishing schedule. “I have an artistic problem: when a book is successful, editors like to see success perpetuated, so they hire you to do a sequel. I’ve done so many sequels but I haven’t gotten any quite right. It’s the hardest thing in the world to capture the spirit of another book when you don’t have an idea. I’m doing three picture books, all three are sequels, and I’m stalled on all three. It’s a sickening feeling to think that you’re going to have to turn that money back and that you’ve run out of ideas” (1985, cassette 525). Marshall’s output was prodigious; he made around eighty picture books during his 50-year life. What is the result of working faster than your machine wants to run? The quality may suffer, at least in the creator’s eyes. In one lecture Marshall says, “I’ve made 60 books and only about 20 am I really proud of” (1983, cassette 517).
Marshall’s writing and drawings have a sense of lightness and ease to them, particularly in the way he draws characters and communicates their emotions through their eyes (often simple dots). In 1997 several years after Marshall’s death, Sendak wrote in the New York Times, “Much has been written concerning the sheer deliciousness of Marshall’s simple, elegant style. The simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page. Not surprising, since James was a notorious perfectionist and endlessly redrew those ”simple” pictures.”
Marshall drew with joy, and this is most evident in UCONN’s collection of his sketchbooks. In his lectures he talks about the phenomenon I hear a lot of other author-illustrators experiencing when they move from sketches to final art; some freshness is lost. “It’s when you have to prepare something that’s going to get published, at least not only me but everyone I know in the business, you get tense and frightened because this is going to be out there, there are going to be 20,000 copies of this, and it gets tighter and tighter. The best stuff I’ve done of any quality is in my sketchbooks and I pick that stuff out and I’m like why can’t I do that here?” (1984, cassette 520). Perhaps it’s different when you’re making final art because you know that you have an audience, that you’re relying on the art to make money.It’s less about amusing yourself; it goes from a private activity to a very public one. “The sketches are so much more interesting, that’s the fun part. It’s when you do a line that you know is going to be published you start to clutch and tighten up. I’m just now learning to do books and get a line that’s going to be published that’s as good as the one in the sketches. I’d love to take my old sketches out and publish them. I feel so much more comfortable with them. I don’t know if it’s a fear of success or fear of failure, it’s a really terrifying process to go through” (1981, cassette 511).
Marshall also shared insights into how he thought he was perceived by gatekeepers of the industry, specifically librarians who had a more traditional sense of illustration and who also reviewed books and selected for awards (in particular the Caldecott Award). “I work in basically creative periods of about 3 weeks that’s all I can stand… This is dangerous because when I tell librarians (“conventional people”) if I tell them how short it takes me to do a book I can see in their eyes my stock going down. You have to tell them you worked 5 years on this book and you’ve drawn with the blood of your slaughtered children and then it’s a masterpiece” (1985, cassette 519) Marshall drew somewhat injured and bitter conclusions about why he had been overlooked, “People who are in children’s books are ashamed of being in children’s books. People on committees want to pick a book that shows they’re an important, art-minded profession” (1985, cassette 519).
Sendak wrote that Marshall “paid the price of being maddeningly underestimated — of being dubbed ”zany” (an adjective that drove him to murderous rage)… he was dismissed as the artist who could — or should or might — do worthier work if he would only dig deeper and harder. The comic note, the delicate riff were deemed, finally, insufficient. James knew better, of course, and he was right, of course, but he suffered nevertheless. There was nothing he could do to impress the establishment; that was his triumph and his curse. Marshall did fulfill his genius, and its rarity and subtlety confounded the so-called critical world. The award-givers were foolish enough to consider him a charming lightweight, and when Caldecott Medal time came around, they ignored him again and again.” Marshall also spoke about competition in the children’s literature world, which undoubtedly was connected to him not feeling appreciated, validated, or celebrated by the people who held power. “The world of children’s books I used to say is a nice world. It is not, it’s a nest of vipers, we all hate each other… we’re very competitive” (1982, cassette 513).
It was interesting to hear Marshall talk about the other authors and illustrators he was in community with. In nearly every lecture he named some of the people who he thought were doing the best work in children’s literature: Arnold Lobel, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Rosemary Wells, William Steig, Edward Ardizzone, and Quentin Blake were all mentioned. “If you want to see some magnificent small jewels, look at the Frog and Toad books. I thought, oh I can do that. First I saw Sendak: oh, I can do that. Lobel: oh I can write stories about two friends too. They sort of gave me confidence. I didn’t know how hard it is. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s impossible to try and write two-page stories with a beginning, middle, and end” (1990, cassette 532). He clearly adored Maurice Sendak, who he referred to as “the granddaddy of us all” (1980, cassette 508) in terms of contemporary illustration. The Maurice Sendak Collection of James Marshall at UCONN contains several of Marshall’s books that he inscribed for Sendak, including a rare copy of his first illustrated book, Plink, Plink, Plink (1971) by Byrd Baylor which Marshall said “sunk, sunk, sunk” due to the “awful poems and awful pictures” (1977, cassette 504).
This collection of recordings is a very rare and special item; you just don’t find a lot of authors speaking in their own words, at length, about their work. I think that this speaks to Marshall’s experience as an educator; someone who has good communication skills, a sense for what might be interesting content, respect for their audience, a willingness to be generous with the knowledge they possess, and their love for the work.
One of my favorite things that Marshall said had to do with the joy of getting to do the thing you love most in the world as a job. “To be able to support myself by doing what I really like to do best and by being creative, I never dreamed that that could be. I was raised with protestant puritant [sic] ethics. In Texas you had to bring home the bacon by doing stuff that you hated; my daddy hated his job, my mama hated being a housewife, everyone in my family hated everything. I thought when I became an adult I had to just swallow it. It’s not true. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling” (1983, cassette 517). This is something that you can easily lose sight of a children’s book maker as you get involved in the day-to-day of trying to meet deadlines, negotiate with art directors, redo cover art, schedule school visits, make money and budget wisely, etc. I’m writing this blog post in late spring 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic which has made clear that nothing is guaranteed, in particular human life, especially those most vulnerable in our society. For a while I wasn’t sure if books or art even mattered. But of course they do, and the act of engaging in joyful creative work is a much-needed lifeline, as Marshall attested to during his short life, ended by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 1992. “One of the most wonderful things in the world is to do creative work, it is the greatest high, it makes your life come together” (1987, cassette 527).
In the Spring semester of 2020, an exciting use of historical photographs by UConn Digital Media and Design students brought to life the images of student protest in the 1960s and 1970s held by the University of Connecticut Archives. In collaboration with Assistant Professor Anna Lindemann and MFA graduate Instructor Jasmine Rajavadee of the Digital Media and Design Department, the Motion Graphics 1 class (DMD 2200) spent a portion of their semester in the archives to understand the context of photographic collections and practice their skills on digital collection items. This exploration led to the creation of new uses for the recorded past. The class assignment drew on digitized 35mm negatives, Kodachrome color slides, and black&white photographic prints to demonstrate a 4D animation process of still images to bring static subjects to life. Collections utilized for this project ranged from the Cal Robertson Collection of anti-nuclear demonstrations in New London, Howard S. Goldbaum’s Photography for the Daily Campus newspaper documenting anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in Storrs, New York, and Washington D.C., and University of Connecticut Photography Collection images of the 1974 Black Student sit-in at Wilbur Cross Library. To view a selection of the Student Unrest Photography in 4D project, follow this link to our Youtube page.
This is the second time that the UConn Archives has worked with Prof. Lindemann and the DMD department to utilize photographic collections for class projects, the first drew on child labor images from the U. Roberto Romano Collection which can be viewed here.