David Keller 2014-02-11 11:23:30
Good things happen when people do the right thing. As the senior analyst in the Records Management Department at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), I’ve seen infrequent donations to the archives. That’s why I was excited to read the contents of a somewhat dog-eared letter that came across my desk not too long ago. A potential donor offered to give a variety of much-coveted items to our archives. Because of notations on the back of the photographs, the donor knew to contact MWD. After an extensive period of phone tag, I eventually caught up with the potential donor, John Burgess, who had been a psychologist with Kaiser Permanente medical group in California’s Inland Empire. He lived nearby with his wife in a postwar tract home in the small community of Upland. When a career opportunity came along, the couple decided to move away from Southern California. While boxing up possessions, they discovered a basement cache of photos, posters, and a drawing. They carefully packed up these items, placing them into a family hope chest, where they resided undisturbed and in remarkably good shape for twenty-five(!) Years. Now retired, Burgess and his wife wanted to do the right thing and return the items, if MWD wanted them and on the condition the materials would be “put to good use.” I told him that we most assuredly did want these materials and that we would give them a good home. Based on Burgess’s initial brief description of the photographs, I surmised that I’d have to research the metadata for these photographs to place them into the MWD Image Collection digital database. The Donation The donation included twenty 8”x10” glossy photographs, which were publicity stills for Thirteen Golden Cities, an MWD film about the water the Colorado River Aqueduct would bring to Southern California. I knew about the movie, having worked with our audiovisual team to obtain a DVD copy to catalog a few years earlier. The donation also included ten 16”x20” photographs. One captioned “Engineers camp along Metropolitan Aqueduct route” is part of a series of MWD’s “prehistory” photographs from the mid-1920s that depict Los Angeles City and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power surveys of various potential routes to transport Colorado River water to Southern California. Other photographs depicted Metropolitan Aqueduct News, MWD’s first employee newspaper. MWD also received two color renderings, titled “Boulder City, Nevada” and “Night at the Hoover Dam,” and—most intriguing of all—a pencil drawing of men working inside a tunnel. Captioned “Jack Hammer Symphony,” it is a 1939 Rex Brandt lithograph of miners at work in the San Jacinto Tunnel along the Colorado River Aqueduct. Inscribed to Don J. Kinsey, it is one of only seven known to exist. This is one of Brandt’s early works, made just after he became famous in April 1937 following the publication of his seven-illustration Fortune magazine feature titled “The $220,000,000 Metropolitan Aqueduct.” Brandt lived in Corona Del Mar, California, and on Shaw Island off the coast of Washington state. A famous member of the California Watercolorists, he conducted workshops for years from his California home, which was dubbed Blue Sky. MWD’s External Affairs and Records teams are now investigating the possibility of a display featuring Brandt’s “Jack Hammer Symphony” along with several other MWDrelated Brandt paintings and drawings. He created these when he was given carte blanche to tour and paint scenes of the Colorado River Aqueduct following his Fortune magazine story. Sleuthing More difficult sleuthing was required to find background information about an unknown photographer named J. Frederick Romig. Through the donation, we received three gorgeous, hand-tinted, colorized 16”x32” Romig photographs. Additionally, they were captioned in a calligraphic script no longer seen. Checking through our MWD Image Collection—now at 21,000-plus images— I found no photographs by Romig. A quick Internet search produced no other matches for his work. Then I queried colleagues on the Western Archivists Listserv. In short order, Stephanie George at California State University and Gwen Granados at the National Archives at Riverside, California, provided me with 1935 and 1940 Federal Census information on Romig. Born in Wichita on November 7, 1895, Romig worked in Los Angeles as a “photographic artist,” was widowed and living in Pomona, California, by 1940, and died in Honolulu on December 19, 1968. (If any other archivists have this artist’s photos in their collection, I would be interested in hearing from you.) A Source of Pride Several questions remain about this entire donation. For example, how did these materials, which all seem to be public relations– related, end up in a house in Upland, California? (A title search provided no answers.) Additional questions concern photographer Romig and his Boulder Dam work. But we do know that this acquisition has become a source of pride for MWD and its Records Team. It also has helped build relationships, both internally within MWD and externally. In the latter category, we have begun to work with the Laguna College of Art and Design, where the Brandt Papers have recently been archived by Jennifer Martinez-Wormser. Finally, it’s reinforced the value of forming relationships with the public and potential donors. You never know when a fascinating donation will come to your repository, or who it will come from. Reach Out to Potential Donors Sometimes donors simply need a little guidance—or maybe even a push—to give their records to a repository. SAA recently debuted new editions of three brochures to assist with your outreach efforts: Donating Your Personal or Family Records to a Repository, Donating Your Organization’s Records to a Repository, and A Guide to Deeds of Gift. Revised and updated by SAA’s Manuscript Repositories, Acquisitions and Appraisal, and Electronic Records sections, the brochures provide a comprehensive and straightforward look at donating to repositories. They are designed to educate potential donors about materials they can donate, to explain the donation process, and to advocate for archives and contributing to the public record. The brochures can be purchased in bundles of twenty-five at www.archivists.org/bookstore.
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