Who would guess that an artist born and bred on a Vermont farm would create some of the most iconic postcards of New York City? Rachael Robinson Elmer’s ground-breaking “Art-Lovers New York” postcard series is currently on exhibit at the Middlebury College Davis Family Library, on the upper level, through April 17th, 2015. The exhibition, on loan from Rokeby Museum and sponsored by Middlebury College Special Collections and Archives, presents all twelve cards, as well as biographical information, historical context, and the three postcards of London that originally inspired Rachael.
Rachael Robinson Elmer changed the aesthetic of American postcards. She pioneered the fine art city view card when her Impressionist paintings of popular scenes in her beloved New York City were produced as postcards by P. F. Volland in 1914. Her “Art Lover’s New York” cards were immediately copied by dozens of artists in New York and elsewhere.
Rachael Robinson Elmer was born at Rokeby to artist parents Rowland Evans and Anna Stevens Robinson in 1878. Her art education began before she had even started school and continued with a young people’s summer art program in New York City and later, at the Art Students League. She moved to New York as a young woman and commenced a successful career as a graphic artist. Rachael married businessman Robert Elmer in 1911 and died prematurely in February 1919 in the Spanish flu epidemic.
The Middlebury College Special Collections and Archives holds the extensive historical correspondence collection of the Robinson Family on long-term loan from Rokeby Museum. The books of Rachael’s father, Rowland E. Robinson, are part of the Abernethy Collection of American Literature and the Flander’s Ballad Collection. See our previous blog post, Reading Rowland Out Loud, for more on that.
Recently Paul Sommers, Paige-Wright Professor of Economics, stopped by the archives with an unusual item: he had purchased a “melody card” online, a paper phonograph record first manufactured in the 1930s, most notably on cereal boxes or as inserts in magazines.
Baseball Hall of Fame “record” post card.
His postcard reads: Play this record on the PHONOGRAPH, 78rpm speed manual. Prof. Sommers doesn’t have a record player that plays 78s, so he got in touch with the Giamatti Research Center of the Baseball Hall of Fame to see what was recorded on the card. That’s when the story gets interesting. They couldn’t tell him because they don’t hold a copy of the card in their vast collection of baseball memorabilia.
So, Prof. Sommers turned to Special Collections. Armed with a 78 rpm turntable and some audio software, we were able to play his postcard (click on the audio strip below to hear for yourself) :
Every now and then somebody throws us a curveball and we’re thrilled when we hit it out of the park. (Aren’t you glad we resisted the temptation to pepper this post with baseball lingo until the very end?) Play ball!
Middlebury College Library and Information Services does many things to preserve our collections. For instance, we regularly backup up computer file servers, bind heavily used paperback books in the circulating collections, perform conservation treatments on rare books in Special Collections, and digitize photos and films in the College Archives. Plus we spend a lot of time doing one of the most important things– getting and keeping things organized!
And we love this short video, Why do Old Books Smell? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInTfrDnA It reminds us that one of the most important things we can do is provide a good climate for our collections to slow the rate of organic decay.
President Harry Truman once said “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.” Because the site around Twilight Hall and the Middlebury Municipal Building has recently been a topic of community conversation, we thought people might be interested in these photos from the Middlebury College Archives. For more information on the history of the site and adjacent buildings, see pages 11 and 12 of A Walking History of Middlebury.
Click on the photos to enlarge them and see more detail.
View of Middlebury from Old Chapel in 1867. Notice the building site of the Academy (now Twilight Hall) that replaced the previous wooden structure.
Academy Building in 1893, seen from the east end of the park between College St. and Main St.
Graded School in 1900 seen from College St. just east of Weybridge St.
The Graded School in 1900 seen from the corner of Main St. and Cross St.
In conjunction with an ongoing student project and J-term class, Special Collections has mounted an exhibit drawn from the College Archives– A People’s History of Middlebury College: Student Resistance and Social Change. From an uprising of students in 1822 asking for the dismissal of a professor, to the student strike in 1970 to protest of the war in Vietnam, through the formation of diverse activist groups like the Black Students for Mutual Understanding, the exhibit draws on primary sources in the College Archives. These resources have been heavily used by Hanna Mahon ‘13.5 and Kristina Johansson ’14 as they’ve worked on the People’s History of Middlebury project over the past year, and used by the students in the J-term class that Hanna and Kristina are teaching. See the exhibit in the front vestibule, and the Harman Periodicals Reading Area of Davis Family Library.
To listen to an audio recording of the related panel discussion “Middlebury in the 1960s” see this blog post.
Also on display in the Davis Family Library Atrium– Antique wooden toys produced in local toy factories.
Special Collections has enjoyed a busy start to 2014 with several J-term classes visiting this week to use our collections for coursework. Prof. Peter Lourie’s class Adventure Writing and Digital Story Telling came to see 17th to early 20th century examples of travel and adventure writing, as well as to view photos from the College Archives of students engaging in their own adventures over the years.
And below see some photos from Prof. Kacy McKinney’s class Space and Place in the Graphic Novel. Students learned about the history of illustrations in books, viewing everything from a 1484 illuminated Latin text, to recently published graphic novels.
Students looking at a wide selection of illustrated books
Special Collections Director Rebekah Irwin shares a large format art book.
Prof. McKinney and students view illustrated books from the 16th to the 18th century.