Promotional image for #AskAnArchivist Day 2020 from the Society of American Archivists.
One day every October (American Archives Month), archivists flock to Twitter for #AskAnArchivist Day. The event, organized by the Society of American Archivists (SAA), allows archivists to explain what they do and answer questions from the public in real-time.
This year, four representatives from our Archives--Sr. Manager, Archives & Library, Brian Wilson; Reference Archivist Kathy Makas; Processing Archivist Janice Unger; and Processing Archivist Hilary Severyn--took shifts answering questions from The Henry Ford's Twitter account. Between the four of them, they covered topics ranging from the availability of research assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic to our Ford Motor Company records to mustache-related puns. Below are some highlights from the day's Q&A.
As you might expect, a car company with as long a life and as many different vehicles in production at various times as Ford Motor Company needed to document down to individual nuts and bolts each part of each vehicle. Over the 50 years between 1903 and 1957, Ford produced more than one million parts drawings, a comprehensive microfiche set of which now reside in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center. We’ve just digitized several hundred of these parts drawings, including a couple dozen, like this one, that cover Model T ambulances built by Ford to be used during World War I.
It's usually a safe bet that when someone asks us, "Do you have FILL IN THE BLANK in the collections at The Henry Ford?" odds are pretty good that we do. Today is #NationalSpaceDay and, as you guessed it, we've got space-related artifacts in our collections to share. Digital Access & Preservation Archivist Brian Wilson took a look in our archives and found these designs from Sundberg-Ferar. Take a look. - Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
In the early 1980s, Detroit-area industrial design firm Sundberg-Ferar, Inc. worked with the Lockheed Corporation and NASA to develop concepts for a manned space station.
Through a series of drawings, including those shown here, Sundberg-Ferar illustrated what life in space could be like for astronauts aboard the station.
The designers considered how the astronauts would perform normal earthbound tasks in the tight quarters of the space station, including the need to exercise, bathe and sleep, and how a near-zero gravity environment would affect those tasks. For example, the shower design features a retractable toe restraint in the floor, while the treadmill uses a waist belt to keep the user in place.
In addition to the space station renderings, our collection of Sundberg-Ferar material includes their work on designs for a variety of other transportation and travel vehicles dating from the 1960s-1980s, including supersonic transport and large passenger jet planes, commuter trains, and rapid transit rail cars used in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Atlanta.
Brian Wilson is Digital Access & Preservation Archivist at The Henry Ford.
The Wright Brothers are perennial favorites among our visitors and staff, and so we have just digitized a couple dozen Wright-related photos (including this one showing Orville prepping for a 1908 flight), pamphlets, and other items from our archives, as selected by Chief Archivist Terry Hoover. Explore more Wright Brothers material in our digital collections related to the Wright Brothers, Orville Wright, and Wilbur Wright—or pay a visit to the Wright family home and cycle shop.
Last November, I made a trip to the Benson Ford Research Library to see a small (8-by-6.75-inch) album of watercolor drawings made by Lewis Miller, a Pennsylvania German carpenter who lived from the time of the American Revolution to the Centennial. I have long been intrigued by his drawings, which have provided me with great material for the history of American landscape design, my specialization as an art historian.
Over the years I had seen hundreds of Miller’s drawings, which are primarily in two collections: the York Heritage Center, York, Penn., and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum, Williamsburg, Va. There are about 2,000 of his drawings in these collections. The album, however, is alone in Dearborn and how it got there is an interesting story.
Donald Shelley, former executive director of Henry Ford Museum was himself from York, and knew well “the Chronicler” of his hometown. When Miller’s album appeared on the market in New York in the 1960s, Shelley purchased it for The Henry Ford collection. In his introduction to the only major work on Miller, (Miller, Lewis. Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles: The Reflections of a Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania German Folk Artist. York, Pa: Historical Society of York County, 1966) Shelley said Miller’s work was unmatched by that of any other American folk artist.
When the opportunity arose to write an online article for Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, my colleagues, Kathryn Barush, Emily Pugh, and I immediately saw that Miller, whose large body of work had not been seriously studied in almost fifty years, was an ideal topic. The Dearborn album is a guide to Central Park, the greatest public urban park in America. It offered a focused entry into both Miller’s worldview and into the study of the most important landscape undertaking of the nineteenth century, New York City's first public park. The 54 leaves are filled with watercolors of the park’s earliest features and structures and inscribed with English and German poems and commentary.
Upon seeing the album, my first reaction, after delighting in its bright colors and charm that are lost in reproductions, was to query, what is this object? Why did this folk artist make it? How does it relate to the rest of his work? Kathryn Barush undertook the identification of all the texts that filled the sketchbook, English and German. That was the first breakthrough in terms of understanding the breadth of Miller’s literary appetite: William Cullen Bryant, Shakespeare, Martin Luther--a miscellany of poems, fiction, and travel literature as well as botanical lists. Then the images, once analyzed, compared and decoded, revealed a wealth of pictorial sources that drew from newspapers, magazines and again, travel literature. Miller was not the naive folk artist we took him to be, but rather a man of his times, and his works were an omnium-gatherum of visual culture.
This study has taught us a great deal about the penetration of the new pictorial press, especially in the middle decades of the 19th century, when innovations in printing and photographic technology revolutionized popular publishing. It is fitting that today’s innovations in online publishing has made it possible to bring the Miller album to the Web in a multifaceted digital facsimile. The online article designed by Emily Pugh unifies traditional scholarly interpretation with new tools and links to rich digital resources. Thus, the Dearborn album is important for two reasons. First, its study provided a model for how digital humanities can be a tool to enhance scholarly communication. More significantly, it has provided a key to writing a new interpretation of Miller’s lifetime of drawing and writing, one which sees him not as an exponent of a closed tradition but as a person partaking very much in contemporary life, where the deluge of visual and textual culture impressed and shaped his worldview. This is just the beginning of a new history of Lewis Miller.
Therese O'Malley is associate dean at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She oversees the Center's publications and scholarly programs. Her scholarly publications have focused on the history of landscape architecture and garden design, from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, concentrating on the transatlantic exchange of plants, ideas, and people.
Her recent publications include Keywords in American Landscape Design (Yale University Press), The Art of Natural History, co-edited with Amy W. Meyers (National Gallery of Art), and several articles on aspects of the early profession of landscape design and the history of botanic gardens.