September 18, 2017

IU Professor’s Archives Inspire Cross-Discipline Projects

“Lineage as Legacy” exhibition at the Ivy Tech
John Waldron Arts Center

When Carrie Schwier moved into her position as outreach and public services archivist at the Indiana University (IU) Archives, Bloomington, in 2015 after serving as a full-time staff member at the Archives for nine years, she decided to reach beyond her “avid partners” such as the history department “to departments such as fine arts, folklore, media studies, [and] theater.” This outreach program “has grown from one that was virtually nonexistent three years ago, to one that last year served nearly 700 students in 60 separate sessions. We are now regularly serving about 20 separate departments.”

What she considers the most creative outcome to emerge from these efforts is a recent exhibit at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center created and curated by fine arts students, Lineage as Legacy, inspired by the archives of metal- and silversmith and jewelry designer Alma Eikerman, founder of the jewelry making program at IU and a professor from 1947–78.

Eikerman, who died in 1995, left her papers to IU. The collection arrived in 2016, and Schwier contacted professor of metalsmithing Randy Long, “to alert her to the fact we’d recently received the Alma Eikerman papers,” she told LJ. “The plan [was] to have the students write short biographical sketches of Eikerman and then design two pieces of art inspired from the collection or her work. It was actually the students who proposed the idea of the exhibit—they were so excited with what they were finding and producing that they wanted to be able to share it with a wider audience.”

Long was grateful to the library for paying shipping costs for the archive and for providing “the perfect room for researching in the archives for a class of 12–18 students” and considered this “one of the best learning experiences the students ever had.”

Nicole Jacquard, head of jewelry and metalsmithing at IU, who also taught on the project, said that this was the first time she had ever worked with an archive, “and we thought it would be a wonderful way to show our students…how the program developed—back in the 40’s—by a woman who is still having a very strong influence through her legacy in the field today.”

Jacquard believes the students “really got the opportunity to find out how important archives are to understanding history.” Each student was assigned a box and asked to write a paper on the contents reflecting on what they found interesting and relevant. They were also asked to each make two pieces of jewelry—“one inspired by the work/style during Alma’s tenure,” explained Jacquard. The collection included photos and personal correspondence, including extensive correspondence with her students: “She kept in touch with many of them long after she retired and even put out a newsletter for years, which she sent to her former students on all their accomplishments,” Jacquard told LJ.

Jacquard felt that the students were inspired by direct access to the tangible archives. One student, Angela Caldwell, said she does not usually do research before she starts her artwork, but “the personal relationship of Alma’s archives and her connection to IU made the process more interesting.” She had a box of personal correspondence and “was inspired to learn the deep connection Ms. Eikerman had with her students and the mutual respect they had for one another. It was also exciting to learn how she inserted herself into traditional male positions and what a force to be reckoned with she was.” Caldwell was inspired by this project to donate materials from her own grandmother, who attended IU in the twenties, to the IU Archives.

In addition to discovering material on Eikerman’s work and teaching history, said Jacquard, when students dove into boxes they were “pulling out photos of their [own] professors. I found the sign in book for her retrospective and saw my high school teacher’s signature—he studied with her and brought me to the show.”

From the archive, Jacquard created a “family tree” that showed how their professors and even high school teachers linked back to Eikerman, which allowed the students, who were from both the BFA and MFA programs, to see “how they are now a part of our family and enduring lineage and legacy.”

MOVING FORWARD WITH THE ARCHIVES

Given the success of this exhibit, it was surprising when Caldwell mentioned being “heartbroken” that the art library had closed and her fear that primary materials in the archive were being replaced by digital images.

When asked about this, IU Libraries director of communication Michelle Crowe, responded, “Primary source materials in our University Archives are an important element of that tradition. We remain vigilant in our guardianship of these original documents, but also know that digitization leads to additional use and discovery. By offering our students both paths of access we can achieve the highest level of impact.”

Crowe said that the Archives’ primary sources remain available, but some are also being digitized for wider access. She confirmed that the Fine Arts library had closed, and those collections—including the Eikerman papers—moved to a renovated area in the main library building, resulting in some confusion about their ultimate home during the summer construction.

Having hands-on access to Eikerman’s archives clearly inspired the art students, and Schwier plans on reaching out to more departments. When asked about the pros and cons of working across disciplines, she wrote, “I only see pros with these sorts of relationships—students get to engage with primary sources in an authentic way that is relevant for their discipline, a wider audience uses our collections, and for myself personally, I love hearing the new insights that students from a range of disciplines bring to our collections. Students from the various disciplines all see different things in the same documents, which I think really demonstrates the power behind primary sources.”

What is Schwier’s next mission? “I’m dying to work with a psychology class and have them do a personality analysis on some of our diaries and scrapbooks.”

Meanwhile, the IU Archives, according to its mission “the largest and most comprehensive source of information on the history and culture of Indiana University,” continues to expand the teaching program and “last week the IU Libraries held it first ever Primary Source Immersion Program.” The Archives, with an estimated 18,000 cubic feet of records and papers in all formats, remains central to IU’s mission, and the library is committed to providing access to this material for students and the wider community. Under Schwier’s watch, the Archives will be activating creative scholarship across multiple disciplines at IU in years to come.

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Comments

  1. Randy Long says:

    Julia, thank you for focusing on the Alma Eikerman archive in your article on primary resources and for writing about our MFA and BFA students creative use of the archives and our students being inspired to make work for the exhibition, from Lineage to Legacy at Waldron Art Center in Bloomington, IN. Your article is well research and well written.

  2. Carrie Schwier says:

    Thanks so much Julia for the wonderful article! I’m so excited to share this experience – I hope it will inspire others to consider developing similar partnerships. For those who are interested, I’d be happy to chat about this class and our instruction program in general.

    Just an FYI – the finding aid for the Eikerman papers can be found here: http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/findingaids/archives/InU-Ar-VAD7700 and related photographs can be found here: http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/archivesphotos/search/search.do?userQuery=eikerman&sortKeys=

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