Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Intrigue and Accessibility of Amateur Film and Home Movie Collections

Last week I journeyed to Los Angeles to participate in a workshop organized by Northern Arizona University professor and NHF advisor Janna Jones called The Intrigue and Accessibility of Amateur Film and Home Movie Collections at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference. Other presenters on the panel included May Haduong and Lynne Kirste of the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, and Snowden Becker of the Center for Home Movies. The workshop was well received and spurred quite a bit of interest afterward by attendees, several of whom are part of the growing community of amateur film scholars at SCMS.

My presentation focused on the activities we are working on for the CLIR/Mellon project including Katrina's catalog work and the Collective Access database in development, as well as a bit of promotion about the inherent social and cultural value in archiving and studying amateur film collections.

Below is a clip I showed from NHF's Palermo Historical Society Collection by amateur filmmaker and [then] future Palermo historian Milton Dowe.
Dowe's films left behind a legacy of his tribe and the surrounding community, but their significance is underscored by an artistic value worthy of recognition. Just as Fine Arts has sub-genres of folk art, naïve art, and recently outsider art, for describing works by Grandma Moses, Henri Rousseau, and Henry Darger, so do amateur works by filmmakers like Milton Dowe belong in a sub-category of Amateur film described by the quality of their technical achievement and the artistic intent of the creator.

The conference turned out to be very enjoyable with a huge variety of panels to take in. I was pleased to see a decent representation of scholarly work on non-theatrical film, but found amateur film studies remain largely marginalized; proving once again that now is an exciting time to be looking at amateur film as there are great opportunities open in its scholarship.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Meet Tim Rohe!

Hello. My name is Tim Rohe and I am doing an internship at Northeast Historic Film (NHF) through Simmons College, where I am a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I have always been interested in almost all aspects of film, leading me to take several classes in film studies at Rutgers University, and my ideal job would be to work in a film archives. Because of this, I was very excited to have been assigned to NHF for my internship at Simmons.

I have been given two collections to work on, one about the history of Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Markets, better known as Quincy Market, and another collection about Charles Houston, a well-known mountain climber and doctor. So far, in my research, I have managed to dig up some fascinating information about both collections that has been incredibly useful in terms of putting the films into context. The more I learn, the more I become fascinated with the people and the places portrayed in them, as well as the people who made the films.

The most exciting part is that my research is only the first step in the process and there is still so much to learn about the unique processes involved in preserving and providing access to moving image collections. I am positive that my experiences here at NHF will be invaluable to me in the future.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meet Betsy Sherman!

I’m a graduate student from Simmons College in Boston working on the CLIR project for Northeast Historic Film during the spring semester. I’m working towards a Masters of Library and Information Science degree, with a concentration in Archives Management. My professional background is in journalism; I’ve been a film critic for several Boston publications, most notably for the Boston Globe over a span of 14 years. I look forward to using my geek-o-rrific knowledge of cinema and showbiz history working in a media or pop culture archive.

For this project, I’ve been working with two collections of home movies that touch upon work issues: the Whipple Family Collection and the Janice V. Smith Collection.

The Whipple Collection consists primarily of films shot during the 1920s, mostly at the family’s summer home in Plymouth, Mass. Sherman Leland Whipple was a prominent Boston attorney during the first part of the twentieth century; he and his wife’s extended family and friends populate the films. In addition to family frolicking, there is a passage shot outside of the Chilton Company factory in Webster, Mass. (which was run by a member of the family), and one of ice-industry workers cutting ice on a river.

I made contact by phone with a descendent of Sherman Whipple, and was quickly plugged into an email network of relatives, including a woman who is one of the babies in those home movies. I look forward to finding out more about the context of what we see in the collection.

The Janice V. Smith Collection contains films shot by Janice’s mother, Helen V. Bird, from the 1940s through 1961. Along with the chronicling of a middle-class family’s life in Quincy, Mass., there are scenes of Janice’s dad, Charles A. Bird, playing minor league baseball. Mrs. Bird also got her camera out to document workers moving the family house to another street to make way for the Southeast Expressway (an important Boston-area highway) in 1957.

I haven’t yet made contact with Smith or any Bird relatives, but I did have this rather weird occurrence: Since a clipping of Charles’ obituary mentions that he played basketball for some amateur teams, including that of the West End House (a social club in the neighborhood of Boston where both my parents grew up), I asked my father if he’d ever heard of Charles Bird. He doesn’t remember Bird as a baseball player, but swears he can remember a Charlie Bird playing basketball for the West End House when he was a kid. Dad, how come you vividly remember watching someone play basketball in the NINETEEN-THIRTIES, but you can never remember where you put your reading glasses?

But it isn’t all watching movies and doing detective work on the donor families. I’m also learning how to describe and catalog film collections so they can be made useful for researchers. This aspect of the project complements the work I’m doing in the two courses I’m taking at Simmons this spring, Archival Access and Use (taught by Susan Pyzynski) and Photographic Archives (taught by Martha Mahard).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Work Life

This week, Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science LIS440 intern Betsy Sherman asked, Why did Northeast Historic Film collect the Whipple Family and Helen V. Bird films and others like them?

For a student, it's an important question--why this? When we started Northeast Historic Film the question was more like why wasn't anyone else collecting this? There was no precedent for regional moving image preservation on this scale in the US. Our collecting policies (see below), crafted with Pam Wintle, founder of the Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian Institution, direct us to collect at-risk materials, to collect in areas where we are building critical mass, to care for rare materials, and to look for under-represented voices.

From 800 collections at NHF, for the 50 in this Hidden Collections project we looked on two axes: collections not already described in NHF’s Online Collections Guide and those that relate to work and labor. You'll be hearing more about the records created by the Whipple family of Plymouth, Mass., Helen V. Bird of Quincy, Mass., Dr. Charles S. Houston of Burlington, Vermont, and Philip Davis, Medford, Mass.

Collecting Policy

High priority is given to moving images with the following characteristics. Materials preserved elsewhere, widely distributed, or requiring severely restrictive donation conditions are considered low priority.

  • Related to the northern New England region through location, subject, maker, source or other connection.
  • Unique, or inaccessible to the northern New England population.
  • Otherwise likely to be damaged or lost.
  • As close to the original film or tape generation as possible and is of good picture quality.
  • Well-documented, and where possible accompanied by related non-motion picture references such as notes, still photographs, audiotapes.

Yesterday my train from South Station to Framingham, Mass., passed the Dennison Manufacturing Co., now offered as condos. In footage from the Dennison Collection, Henry Sturgis Dennison (on right) confers with John Kenneth Galbraith, 1936.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

At the Council on Library and Information Resources Hidden Collections program symposium in Washington, D.C. last Monday and Tuesday (Katrina Dixon will report) we considered the impact of More Product Less Process, and discussed the drive for streamlined student and staff output--in tension with subject engagement.

While we are meeting our output goal (ten draft finding aids through March) and are engaged in team effort to create all-new software tools with CreativeAccess for Moving Images with EAD, we also seize a few moments to celebrate moments of content delight.

One of the collections described last month contains a short edited and intertitled 35mm film about Provincetown, Mass., produced in 1916 by Metro Pictures. As a record of work life we knew that it contained a town crier, a Portuguese fishermen, a woman making bayberry candles, and some footage of fine arts.

We did not know that it depicts the artist and teacher Charles Webster Hawthorne en plein air with his painting students.
Hawthorne founded the Cape Cod School of Art, said to be the first outdoor school for figure painting, in Provincetown. He was born in Maine and was a founding member of the Provincetown Art Association in 1914.
Several subject threads arise connecting holdings related to Charles Hawthorne: 1. Hawthorne family home movies at the Library of Congress include film of kayaking (more on that when we describe our Norman Skene film (author of Elements of Yacht Design), and 2. also at LOC, Hawthorne family film of the 1939 New York World's Fair.

his week we received a call from the National Building Museum about their exhibition Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s seeking film of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. By coincidence, we were surveying our 1938-1940 hidden collections, and talking with the Archive Center at the Smithsonian Institution NMAH and others about the Fair. We expect to find more amateur film of the Fair and its context in our collections and residing quietly in other repositories.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Did You Learn at Camp?

Through these posts you will be meeting Katrina Dixon, Monica Nicola, Gemma Perretta, Betsy Sherman, Tim Rohe, and other members of the moving image team. Our goal this month is ten finding aids, products being crafted at the same time that the project infrastructure is being created.

Katrina's first group of finding aids are all about summer camps in Maine. Today's Times had a story on funding for youth employment with an irresistible hook for people who have had anything to do with summer camps: "I learned everything I needed to know at camp."
When reviewing job applicants, Doug Herzog, the president of the MTV Networks Entertainment Group, said he would light up if one had experience as a camp counselor. “College is great; everyone who has the opportunity should go to college, but I learned everything I needed to know at camp.” New York Times, March 8, 2010
Our holdings reflect the importance of the summer camp industry to the northeast. The National Film Preservation Foundation, which provided funding to preserve the original work, is about to launch streaming clips from a 1926 film of Wohelo-The Luther Gulick Camps. Many of the camps, like this one, are family owned and run over generations.

Katrina's hidden collections include Camp Runoia, Chewonki, North Star Camp, and Medomak. The latter employed Henry Perley, Chief Red Eagle, for many years. Perley also appears in the Sanders Family Collection, guiding a 1948 canoe trip in the Moosehead Lake area.

Besides being a multi-generational industry, wonder what camps have to do with work life? A report for the Maine Youth Camping Association finds camps an economic driver for the region: "Camps create about $245 million per year in direct and indirect economic impacts, contributing about $25 million in tax revenues for Maine's state and local governments."

Wohelo-The Luther Gulick Camp Collection, 1926.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Beginning-

Welcome! And thank you for joining us as we begin work on our CLIR Hidden Collections Project, "Intellectual Access to Moving Images of Work Life, 1916-1960."

Throughout 2010, we will be working to process and catalog 50 film collections (16mm, 8mm, 35mm) believed to be related to work life in early 20th Century New England. The 50 selected collections document work by men and women in northern New England agricultural environments, traditional and modernizing industries, and early twentieth century urban situations. The reels hold hidden research materials with a range of cataloging requirements from among 800 collections gathered at Northeast Historic Film over 23 years. Many relate to non-moving image documents in other repositories, as moving images are a demanding medium, often times separated from related materials. With the help of funding and awareness, it is the eventual hope that media archives can be reunited, included, and properly utilized as the phenomenal historic and cultural resources they truly are.

Over the past few weeks, we have been working to lay a proper foundation for the project. Among other tasks, I have been working on further development of NHF's subject terms - expanding the list to include our scope and usage notes. We are ironing out details of our CollectiveAccess database system, and working on proper EAD (Encoded Archival Description) mapping for our data. The Assistant Cataloger, Rita Monica Nicola (Monica) is diligently working to clean, process, and transfer the first five collections (all related to camps!) in preparation for cataloging. Karan Sheldon, Co-Founder of Northeast Historic Film, and CLIR Project Manager, has been getting two interns from Simmons College, Tim Rohe and Betsy Sherman, started on research for the eventual creation of four collection-level finding aids. I plan on letting Monica, Tim, and Betsy update you on their work and findings.

Last night, Northeast Historic Film, in collaboration with Maine Boats Homes and Harbors Magazine, held a free screening here at the Alamo Theater. Each screening provides the opportunity for the community to view snippets of their history, allowing audience members to help solve the mysteries of who might be starring in each film, what kind of boat they are in, and helping enhance the overall context of what they are watching. The recent announcement to close a sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor hit particularly close to home upon seeing a 1930s clip from the Ernest G. Stillman Collection. The clip depicts two men filling their boat from the weir (fixed trap) until they were up to their knees in fish, and the eventual manual layering of fish and salt into the hold. The audience shared in this invaluable, poignant record of the seining process juxtaposed by knowing that an era ends when the last can of sardines is sealed in April. Each film in our collection is a captured piece of history we cannot afford to lose.

I look forward to sharing in this process with you all. I invite you to share your thoughts, stories, suggestions, and even your nightmares -- every bit of your own processes, as we reveal our hidden treasures.