Tag Archives: History News

Black Science Fiction: Joy, Reimagining, and Alternative Futures

Introductory page of The Telescoping Effect: Part 1 by Rasheedah Phillips. Philadelphia, Pa.: AfroFuturist Affair, 2017.

Writing in a largely white-dominated space, Black science fiction authors have been creating fantastical stories since the earliest days of the genre. From space opera to alternative history to time travel to imagined utopias, their stories critique social structures, explore issues of oppression, and imagine futures and alternate realities for Black people throughout the world—and beyond. A pop-up exhibit in the Special Collection Research Center‘s reading room for the month of February 2023 highlights several Black science fiction authors using materials from the SCRC’s collections, including the Paskow Science Fiction Collection.


Martin Delany (1812-1885)

Martin Delany was an abolitionist, author, journalist, physician, Civil War soldier, and one of the most important African American political leaders of his time. Delany’s Blake; or The Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States, and Cuba, is considered to be the first work of science fiction written by an African American author. The story, an alternate history and utopian speculative fiction narrative, was published in multiple parts between 1859 and 1862. The novel as it is now known is unfinished, since the final parts were supposedly published in the May 1862 issue of the Weekly Anglo-African, and no known copies of that issue exist. Harvard University Press published a book version of the story in 2017.

The exhibit features Delaney’s Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party. In 1859, Delany led an African American exploring party to the Niger Valley, seeking a possible location for a new Black nation of African Americans.


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

Frances Harper was one of the leading Black woman poets of the 19th century, as well as an abolitionist, suffragist, speaker, and teacher. Her 1892 novel Iola Leroy was another early African American utopian speculative story.

The exhibit includes a copy of Harper’s Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects.


Samuel R. Delany (1942- )

Samuel Delany is a science fiction writer, memoirist, and literary critic. His work has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. Delany has taught literature and creative writing at multiple universities, including at Temple University from 2001 to 2015.

Cover of Delany's Babel 17.
Displayed in this exhibit is a paperback copy of Delany’s Babel-17 (New York: Ace Books, 1966).
Photograph of Octavia Butler at a convention
Octavia Butler at the Inconjunction convention, July 1988. Carlos Roy Lavender Papers.



Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006)

Octavia Butler was one of the most important science fiction authors of the twentieth century. She won both the Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times, and she was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant.”

The exhibit includes photographs of Octavia Butler at the Inconjunction convention, Indianapolis, Indiana, July 1988, her first published story, “Crossover,” and her novel Kindred. “Crossover” appeared in the 1971 Clarion Writers’ Workshop anthology. Clarion : An Anthology of Speculative Fiction and Criticism from the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, Robin Scott, editor.

Butler’s novel Kindred, perhaps her best-known story, is a time travel narrative in which the heroine, a Black woman named Dana, and her husband, a white man, travel back and forth through time to and from a Maryland plantation.

SCRC’s first edition copy of Kindred (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979) is inscribed by Butler “To Bea + Aubrey, Thanks for the complements, Octavia E. Butler,” and includes a program from “A tribute to Octavia E. Butler” held June 5, 2006, at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, as well as an advertisement for the tribute and a newspaper clipping of the New York Times obituary for Butler, dated March 1, 2006.


Rasheedah Phillips

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia activist, artist, author, and housing attorney at Community Legal Services. She founded the Afrofuturist Affair, a science fiction and Afrofuturism community; is co-founder with Camae Ayewa of the Black Quantum Futurism (BQF) artistic collective; and is a founding member of the queer science fiction collective Metropolarity. She is a graduate of Temple University (2005) and Temple University’s Beasley School of Law (2008).

This exhibit includes a copy of Style of Attack Report (Philadelphia: Metropolarity, 2016) and The Telescoping Effect: Part 1 (Philadelphia, Pa.: AfroFuturist Affair, 2017).


–Katy Rawdon, Coordinator of Technical Services, SCRC

New Accession Spotlight: the John Dowlin Papers

Bike for a Better City Button

“Bike for a Better City”

John Dowlin used the bicycle as a means of political, diplomatic, and environmental activism. In 1974, after recently relocating to Philadelphia, he co-founded the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition. Dowlin and the Coalition saw the bicycle as a viable, cheaper alternative to the car and the answer to environmental concerns, as well as traffic and congestion issues in the City. With a goal to increase bicycle ridership, they pushed for accommodations for bicycles on all public transit, including buses, trains and even planes, and safe bicycle lanes on city streets and even the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Dowlin was director of the Bicycle Parking Foundation, founder of the international Bicycle Network, and editor of Network News and the Cycle and Recycle reusable wall calendar. Internationally, Dowlin led Tour de Cana, bicycle touring in Cuba and Latin America, and was president of Citizen Diplomats, ‘people-to-people’ diplomacy in Cuba. In the 1980s, Dowlin participated in Bike for Peace, during which he and other bikers rode together from Leningrad to Washington, DC. He was also an active neighbor in West Philadelphia’s Powelton Village. Together with Drexel University and the Powelton Village Neighbors Association, he worked on the Westbank Greenway Project to improve the Schuylkill River banks in West Philadelphia.

A small selection of John Dowlin’s papers documenting his work is on display in the Greenfield Special Collections Research Center Reading Room, Charles Library, for the month of December 2022.

Dowlin, with the assistance of his daughter Debby, donated his papers to the SCRC in Summer 2020. Staff are preparing the collection for research use. Among his many projects, Dowlin also worked with Rick Shnitzler on Taillight Diplomacy, promoting the preservation and restoration of Cuba’s old cars. Shnitzler’s papers, also in the SCRC, were recently opened to research use.

–Courtney Smerz, Collection Management Archivist, SCRC

LGBTQ+ PRIDE MONTH: Pride in the Archives

Stonewall to San Francisco event flyer

Pride month began in 1970 and is celebrated every June. It honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, when members of the LGBTQ+ community responded to a June 18, 1969, police raid at Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York City, with a series of demonstrations. The demonstrations lasted six days, with many people arrested.

On June 28, 1970, the first Pride March occurred in New York City on the uprising’s one-year anniversary, with up to 5,000 marchers demonstrating against centuries of abuse and discrimination. Celebrations in the years afterward include parades, picnics, parties, concerts, workshops, and other events to recognize the impact LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations have had on history. Memorials are also held for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.

The first gay pride demonstration in Philadelphia took place on June 11, 1972, with over 10,000 people marching from Rittenhouse Square to Independence Park. While pride events took place every year, the parades would only continue for the next three years due to the more popular New York City parades. However, on June 18, 1989, the city resumed its gay pride parade and rally with over 1,000 people marching from 10th and Spruce Streets to JFK Plaza. The parades and rallies have continued in the city ever since. This year’s parade, scheduled for June 5, will look a little different, however, with a community march instead of a parade. It will be followed by a pride festival in the Gayborhood.

1993 Pridefest flyer

The Special Collections Research Center commemorates Gay Pride Month 2022 with a pop-up exhibit in our reading room featuring selections from collections that focus on the LGBTQ+ community and their coverage of pride events around the city through the years. The exhibit includes material from the AIDS Library (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records, the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force Records, the Philadelphia Gay News, and the Scott Wilds Papers.

–Ann Mosher, BA II, Special Collections Research Center

exhibit case

A New Declaration of Independence: Equality Activism in the Anti-sexual Assault Movement

Signing the New Declaration of Independence

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) takes a closer look at one of the first rape crisis centers that was incorporated in 1973 in the United States, WOAR-Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence, formerly known as Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), and the ongoing work to preserve their historical records.

Since the mid-1970s, WOAR has participated in a national network of local rape crisis centers and maintained membership in national and state organizations that guide the movement to end sexual assault. In 1989, along with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), it was host to the eleventh annual National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA) Conference. With its theme, Diversity, Strength and Freedom: A New Declaration of Independence, the conference included several days of workshops, panel presentations, and events related to rape and sexual assault and sought to lift up the voices and experiences of women of color in particular. The conference opened on July 18 with the Women of Color Institute-–a full day program for, by, and about women of color, with Angela Davis delivering the keynote address. The next day, 150 women gathered in front of Independence Hall to sign a New Declaration of Independence. This document addressed the people and freedoms neglected by the original Declaration, citing racism and sexism to be the real lasting sources of tyranny and oppression in American society. It called for collective action to combat those forces.

The conference was well attended and received media attention, including a controversial article published in the Philadelphia Daily News on July 19, accusing conference planners of “drawing a color line” for the exclusion of white women from the Women of Color Institute. What the Daily News article failed to report was that the 1989 conference concluded at least a decade of increasingly active efforts of NCASA and WOAR to be anti-racist organizations and to provide safe spaces for women of color to speak and be heard.

The Women of Color Institute, a 1983 directive of the NCASA, was one of several initiatives to increase participation of Black, Latinx/a/o, and other under-represented groups in the anti-sexual assault movement. WOAR embraced these ideas noting a need to recruit more volunteers from communities of color throughout the 1980s. At that time in Philadelphia, close to 75% of people served by WOAR were Black women and children, while WOAR’s volunteer crisis responders remained predominantly white.

The events of the 1989 NCASA conference and WOAR’s activities to diversify the crisis response community are documented in the WOAR Records as well other collections held in the SCRC. WOAR’s records were recently reorganized and the collection finding aid expanded. As part of this effort, previously inaccessible digital records from WOAR’s archives including records about the state-wide initiative Women of Color Network were migrated from over 150 5.25-inch floppy disks and will be available for research soon. This is the first time SCRC staff has preserved digital content from that many computer disks from a single organization.

WOAR floppy disks

Flexible magnetic disks like the 5.25-inch floppy played a key role in workplace technology, record keeping practices, and personal computing from the 1970s through the 1990s. Digital records saved on 5.25-inch floppies are virtually trapped due to the lack of available hardware and the high susceptibility to damage caused by magnetic and electrical fields, dust and other contaminants, and temperature and humidity fluctuations.

So how easy is it to rescue digital information from these technological dinosaurs? It’s becoming increasingly more difficult, but archivists, digital preservationists, and retrocomputing enthusiasts have adopted tools like the FC5025 by Device Side Data to do this work. What’s a FC5025, you ask? It’s a 5.25-inch floppy controller that plugs into a computer’s USB port, attaches to a 5.25-inch floppy drive, and is compatible with IBM PC formatted disks, as well as Apple, Atari, Commodore, and TI, among others. Together, the floppy controller and disk drive facilitate read-only access to the files on the disk, meaning new files can’t be written to it, but existing files can be copied to newer media for long-term preservation without altering them. This is an integral and important step to safeguarding historical materials that record the actions and legacy of organizations like WOAR.

Courtney Smerz, Collection Management Archivist, SCRC
Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

Patti Smith at Middle Earth Books

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Temple Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) is featuring a small pop-up exhibit about the publication of poet and punk musician Patti Smith’s Kodak in 1972 by the Philadelphia bookstore, Middle Earth Books. The one-case exhibit is in the SCRC Reading Room on the 1st floor of Charles Library and will be up through April, Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 5:30.

In the early 1970s, Patti Smith was just beginning her punk rock singing career, but she was already known in New York’s punk scene for her poetry, where she regularly did poetry readings before shows at the Mercer Art Center and at the Poetry Project in St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in the East Village. During this time, she was also doing readings at Middle Earth Books in Philadelphia. Founded in 1969 by Samuel and Sims Amico, the bookstore, located at 1134 Pine Street, began hosting readings and publishing their own chapbooks, highlighting the underground literary and art scene. The Special Collections Research Center houses a collection of the records of the bookstore from 1972 to 1979. Donated by the founder Samuel Amico in 2009, the records include materials relating to Middle Earth Books’ poetry readings, publications, and commercial activities promoting poetry and poets. It includes correspondence, posters, paste-ups, and broadsides of many well-known poets of the 1970s.

In a 1995 Philadelphia City Paper interview entitled “Seventh Heaven” by A.D. Amorosi, Patti Smith was asked about what Middle Earth Books meant to her and she responded, “If it wasn’t my first reading, it was the first out-of-town thing because I was living in New York at the time, which made it very exciting. Like a first job….I was 22 and Robert Mapplethorpe and I were living together at the time in the Chelsea Hotel and he took the Polaroid for the cover. Didn’t make any money (laughs) but just the thrill of seeing one’s work, that someone thought it worthy of printing…”.

The exhibit includes pages from the original typescript of Kodak, two photographs of Smith reading at Middle Earth Books, two letters from Smith to the owners of Middle Earth, and the published volume, one of only 100 copies printed. In one of the letters on exhibit, she writes of the impact her association with the Philadelphia bookshop had on her creative process: “That reading at Phillie was so good for me. Something snapped. Ever since then I got better. looser. Sacrifice the art for the moment. It feels so good.”

The Special Collections Research Center has numerous contemporary poetry volumes and broadsides throughout our collections. Several of our archival collections, like the Middle Earth Books records, are dedicated to documenting the writing and publishing of poetry. For more information about our collections, please visit our website or email us at scrc@temple.edu.

Kimberly Tully
Librarian and Curator of Rare Books

Smith standing on table
Patti Smith reading at Middle Earth Books, Philadelphia, circa 1972

SCRC Staff Picks Exhibit: What’s Great, New, Next?

Visit Charles Library to see our latest exhibit highlighting a few of our collections.

8 staff members; 18 stories

Zoo promotion slideCollecting and organizing collections may have slowed a little during the pandemic, but that work did not stop altogether. SCRC staff believe we consistently acquire collections with significant research value—they’re all ‘great’ by definition. These staff picks are purchases and donations from individuals and organizations that represent our collecting strengths, caught our fancy, have already been used for research and instruction—or should provide the ‘next’ research project for a fortunate user.

For more information about these materials and the  SCRC’s rich holdings, visit library.temple.edu/scrc.

FEATURED COLLECTIONS

URBAN ARCHIVES
Asian Arts Initiative Records, 1992-2018
Caroline R. Johnson Mackie Ledger and Diary, 1906-1908
Masonic Lodge, “Welcome,” No. 453, Philadelphia, Pa., Records, 1869-1890
Philadelphia Zoo Records, 1859-2017
Philco Oral History Project Files, 1930s-50s, 1988-89
Society Hill Playhouse Records, 1938-2016
Tasty Baking Company Records, 1930-2006TastyKake factory

PHILADELPHIA JEWISH ARCHIVES
Jewish Community Relations Council Records, 1920-2004
Shaindele di Chazante Collection, 1929-1968

ARTISTS’ BOOKS  Halah Khan. Love Letter II, 2021.

page from Halah Kahn book
Halah Kahn, Love Letter II

RARE BOOKS
Complete Commercial Artist (現代商業美術全集 / Gendai shōgyō bijutsu zenshū). Tokyo: Ars, 1928-1930.
Selected Broadsides. Dublin and Churchtown, Ireland: Cuala Press, 1908-1915.

MANUSCRIPTS
“Great Britain Statement of Conditions Permitting Trade with the West Indies,” December 15, 1801
“Stratto del pagamento dello gabella delle porti della citta di Firenze,” after 1423
Jazūlī, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān (1404-1465), جزولي، محمد بن سليمان “Dalāʼil al-khayrāt wa shawāriq al-anwār fī dhikr al-ṣalāh ʻalá al-nabī al-mukhtār,“
دلائل الخيرات و شوارق الانوار في ذكر الصلاة على النبي المختار, Egypt, 1801

page from Jazuli manuscript
Dalāʼil al-khayrāt; دلائل الخيرات.;

CONTEMPORARY CULTURE COLLECTION
Craig Lentz Public History Ephemera Collection, 1952-2015
Youth Liberation Press Records, 1967-2002

UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES/URBAN ARCHIVES/
CONTEMPORARY CULTURE COLLECTION
John Groutt Commune Research Materials, 1969-1971

 

With thanks to SCRC staff members Casey Babcock, Brenda Galloway-Wright, Josué Hurtado, Katy Rawdon, Margery Sly, Courtney Smerz, Kim Tully, and Holly Wilson for their ‘picks,’ and to Ann Mosher for graphic design and production.

 

–Margery Sly, Director

 

Uptown Theater

Exterior of Uptown Theater, April 7, 1972
Exterior of Uptown Theater, April 7, 1972, Philadelphia Daily News, Sam Psoras, Photographer

The Uptown Theater, located at 2240 North Broad Street, opened on February 16, 1929. The five-story Art Deco theater was designed by the noted architectural firm Magaziner, Eberhard and Harris, and featured a terracotta façade, high ceilings, stain-glass windows, plush carpets and velvet seats. The theater was originally owned by the Stanley Theater/Warner Brothers chain, and movie-goers included wealthy industrialists and working-class immigrant families that resided along the bustling North Broad Street corridor.

In the decades following the Great Depression, with the collapse of Philadelphia’s manufacturing base, and rising unemployment and crime, many white residents moved out of Philadelphia and into the suburbs. By the 1950s, North Philadelphia had become the center of African American culture as the Black population grew significantly due to migration from southern states, and the pervasive practice of housing discrimination that limited the mobility of many African Americans to inner city neighborhoods.

Theater mogul Samuel H. Stiefel purchased the Uptown Theatre in 1951, where he promoted live rhythm and blues, gospel, and soul music shows that targeted African American audiences. The theater became a pivotal player along with the Apollo Theater in New York, the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, and Regal Theater in Chicago, on the “Chitlin Circuit.” This nationwide network of performance venues helped to advance the careers of Black singers, musicians, and comedians in the era of Jim Crow and racial discrimination at white mainstream entertainment spots.

newspaper clipping
Public Ledger, February 10, 1929

In its heyday, the Uptown featured performances by Ray Charles, James Brown, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, Patti Labelle, and the Temptations, to name a few. Comedians such as Redd Fox and Flip Wilson also performed at the Uptown Theater. The theater hosted amateur nights where local artists could compete for prizes. The Uptown was also unique in that it had its own house band. The longest tenured band director, Sam Reed, led the band from 1963 to 1971.

From 1957 to 1972, WDAS personality and civil rights activist Georgie Woods produced the groundbreaking shows at the Uptown and played a key role in the economic growth of the neighborhood as theatregoers shopped and dined in the surrounding businesses. Georgie Woods also organized “Freedom Shows” held at the Uptown. The money raised from these events funded various civil rights organizations and causes.

newspaper clipping
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 1962

The Uptown Theater closed in 1978 due to continued neighborhood decline following the riots, “white flight,” and changes in the music industry. It was used as a church in the 1980s before storm damage and neglect forced the building to close in 1991. In 2001, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC) headed by the late Linda Richardson purchased the building. In the years following UEDC’s acquisition, they secured funding from private and public resources , beginning renovations on the building to include a theater, technology center, artist lofts, and office space. In 2019, the Uptown commemorated its 90th anniversary by relighting the marque. The organization envisioned that the Uptown would serve as a hub for the cultural and economic regrowth of the neighborhood, and play an important role in the ongoing revitalization of the North Broad Street corridor. The Uptown is scheduled to reopen sometime in 2022.

The Uptown Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

–Brenda Galloway-Wright, Associate Archivist, Special Collections Research Center

The Church of the Advocate

Church of the Advocate Interior, 1953
Church of the Advocate interior, 1953

The George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate was built between 1887 and 1897, honoring a Philadelphia merchant and civic leader. Noted church architect Charles M. Burns (1838-1922) designed the impressive structure in the Gothic Revival style, adorned with intricate stone carvings, flying buttresses, and striking stained glass windows. The church compound located at 18th and Diamond Streets in North Philadelphia included a chapel, parish house, clergy residence and baptistery.

 

Front of Church of the Advocate, 1979
Church of the Advocate, 1979

From its founding, the church leaders believed that religion should be “free for all time” and eliminated the widespread practice during that period of renting pews. This action made it possible for parishioners to attend services regardless of financial or social status. The church also provided missionary services to a growing middle and working-class immigrant community that lived and worked in the surrounding neighborhood. During the 1950s, the evolving social and economic factors in Philadelphia would eventually lead to a change in the church’s social mandate to address the needs of a previously white but now predominantly African American community in North Philadelphia.

 

Rev. Paul M. Washington, 1969
Rev. Paul M. Washington, 1969

Paul M. Washington served as rector for the Church of the Advocate from 1962 until his retirement in 1989. Under his leadership, the church played a significant role in the civil rights movement in Philadelphia. The church hosted major events including the Third National Conference on Black Power in 1968, the Black Panther Party Convention in 1970, and the rally to raise money for the Angela Davis Defense Fund in 1971. The church also offered a variety of social services and outreach programs to the surrounding neighborhood including The Advocate Café (soup kitchen) established in 1983 to provide meals and coordinate the distribution of gently used clothing to those in need.


In support of women’s rights, the Church of the Advocate hosted the ordination of the first eleven women deacons into the Episcopal Church priesthood on July 29, 1974. Episcopalian leadership mounted a challenge to the legitimacy of the ordination which ultimately failed under worldwide public scrutiny and mounting pressure from women’s advocacy groups. The ordination of women priests was approved at the denomination’s General Convention in 1976. Barbara Harris who served as a senior warden at the Church of the Advocate during that historic service would eventually become the first woman consecrated as a bishop in the Anglican Communion in 1989

Ordination of women priests, 1974
Ordination of women priests, 1974


Between 1973 and 1976, Reverend Washington commissioned local Black artists Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson to paint fourteen murals installed in the main sanctuary. These murals depict scenes from slavery to the civil rights movement and offered a connection between biblical themes and the Black experience in Africa and America.


The church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and designated a National Historic Landmark on June 19, 1996.

Church of the Advocate remains a showpiece of architectural design with a legacy of social activism amid the ever-changing landscape of North Philadelphia communities.

–Brenda Galloway-Wright, Associate Archivist, Special Collections Research Center

Photographs from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection, SCRC, digital.library.temple.edu

Creating Art in Quarantine: Temple University Libraries’ 2020 Mail Art Call: Summer Exhibit Opens in Charles Library

mail art image
“Luchando Contra Covid-19” by Sabela Baña, Spain

 

In 2020, Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) issued an open call for quarantine mail art to document this unprecedented time. We received 381 submissions from 158 artists from around the world. Mail artists, representing 25 countries and 24 of the United States including Puerto Rico, sent hundreds of pieces of art through international and domestic postal services to Temple’s campus over the course of the summer of 2020. The submissions, many in the traditional postcard format and employing elements of mixed media and collage art, directly reflect our shared experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic through images of masks, healthcare workers, the virus itself, and through references to sickness and social distancing. Some are overtly political while others are abstract expressions of the artists’ personal experience of quarantine. The submissions are on exhibit in Charles Library this summer, and some are being featured on the SCRC’s social media accounts as well.

What is Mail Art?

The term Mail Art was used as early as 1971 to describe a genre of art that had been making its way through the art world for over a decade. In the 1950s, American artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995) began mailing small drawings, collages, and prints to constituents in the art world, including his close friends, mild acquaintances, and even non-acquaintances such as artists, gallery owners, and curators. Through this form of correspondence art, a network of mail artists formed who utilized the postal system as part of the art-making process, embracing and often pushing the boundaries of that system. Artists would embellish the envelopes with drawings, rubber stamps, and collages, and some would manipulate the addresses with creative phonetics. Others experimented with the shipping container by using unconventional materials for postcards and envelopes. The physical apparatus of traditional correspondence became a playground for these artists. Opposing the mainstream art world, mail artists adhered to egalitarian principles. Their exhibitions were not juried, all submissions were accepted, and no fees were required of the artist for entry.exhibit case   image

The Call Goes Out in May 2020

In Spring 2020, Jill Luedke, Temple’s Art and Architecture Librarian, noted the reemerging popularity of mail art during the COVID-19 pandemic. She suggested that we do a new call for mail art that would create a unique record of the first summer of the pandemic when people around the world were in quarantines or lockdowns and officials were urging everyone to stay at home, wear masks, and socially distance. We announced the open call for quarantine mail art on May 18, 2020, and it ran until Labor Day, September 7, 2020. There were no limitations on medium or content. We just asked that submissions be in the mail art genre, specifically small scale works of art sent through the postal service. The call was open to all ages, all artistic abilities, Temple community members, and the general public.

exhibit caseAll submissions will be added to a new collection within the Special Collections Research Center’s existing Mail Art collections and made available in the SCRC for future educational and research use, including publication. Artists were asked to consider applying a CC-BY license to their submissions to facilitate long term access and use, but it was not required. We initially planned to exhibit submissions in late Fall 2020 around the Libraries’ planned programming theme of “Interruption,” but the exhibit was subsequently delayed until this summer. The call was publicized through social media, reaching out to local artists, and by submitting information about the open call to websites dedicated to mail art.

Temple, Tyler, and Mail Art

This is not Temple’s first mail art call, and the submissions sent to Temple Libraries this past summer join an existing mail art collection housed in the Special Collections Research Center. The original Mail Art Collection was built as a result of two separate calls for entries for mail art exhibitions in 1980 at Temple University. The Spring 1980 call was part of a class project with Tyler School of Art faculty Bilgé Friedlander and her students. Later in 1980, Friedlander invited Paley Library to participate, resulting in an exhibit in February 1981. The collection contains over 230 separately posted pieces of mail from over 170 artists, not counting anonymous contributions. All of the Mail Art collections, including the collection formed by the 2020 call, will be available for research use in the SCRC and will be used in instruction and outreach for years to come.

The Mail Art Exhibition Ethos

mail art image
Anonymous artist, New Mexico

The only standard policy for mail artists, informally agreed upon within the community, relates to the required exhibition of materials received in a mail art call, whether they are sent to an individual mail artist or to an institution. The rules for mail art shows are 1) no fees 2) no jury 3) all works are displayed, and 4) the exhibit must be documented, usually in a list of exhibited artists distributed to participants after the exhibit. Accordingly, we are exhibiting every piece of physical mail art that we could in the exhibit space on the 1st floor of Charles Library, and any work that is not able to be shown due to space restrictions will be featured on the Special Collections Research Center’s social media accounts. This exhibit was curated by staff members of Temple University Libraries’ SCRC: Kimberly Tully, Curator of Rare Books, and Ann Mosher, Bibliographic Assistant II, with assistance from Jill E. Luedke, Art and Architecture Librarian. A list of exhibited artists will be made available online shortly and upon request. Please send inquiries to scrc@temple.edu.

-Kimberly Tully, Librarian and Curator of Rare Books, SCRC

In Memoriam: Tom Whitehead

Whitehead at podiumTemple University Libraries mourns the loss of Thomas Whitehead, who worked for 45 years to  grow the extraordinary archives and special collections held by the Libraries today. 

Tom’s long and distinguished career in special collections librarianship began at Syracuse University, where he served in the Rare Book Department, first as cataloger and then as bibliographer. A native of Jamestown, New York, Tom received his BA from Bucknell University with a major in history and a minor in mathematics. He received his MLS from Syracuse University, where he also spent time as a lecturer in the School of Library Science, teaching a graduate course entitled “The Library and the Adult Reader.”

On August 14, 1967, little more than a year after Paley Library opened, Tom came to Temple as Rare Book Librarian.  Through the years, Tom’s titles changed but his passion for rare books and manuscripts remained constant. Over the course of five decades, he acquired amazing additions to special collections, ranging from a stunning William Morris Kelmscott Chaucer, to illuminated manuscripts, to a wonderful Holinshed’s Chronicle. One of his final endeavors was completion of an extraordinary lithographic manual collection, including an 1818 edition of Aloys Senefelder’s classic work on lithography, considered one of the most important books published in the nineteenth century.

Whitehead in rare book vault
Tom Whitehead with the Kelmscott Chaucer, 1986

Tom  brought many wonderful manuscript collections to Temple ranging from the literary papers of poet Lyn Lifshin, to the records of the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to the papers of Father Paul Washington and the papers of Franklin Littell, a father of  American Holocaust Studies. Other significant collections expanded by Tom include the Contemporary Culture Collection; the Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection; printing, publishing, and bookselling collections; and the list goes on and on. One of Tom’s lasting legacies is our Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection. Temple is the home of this incomparable resource documenting 20th century Philadelphia because of Tom’s single-handed efforts to save the material and house the archives here.

Starting in 1968, Tom was active in the Philobiblon Club of Philadelphia, serving as its secretary and on its board.  As collector with wide reaching interests and a printer, “Amber Beetle Press,”  he had a natural affinity with the Philobiblon members who are collectors, dealers, and curators. 

Tom also served as Temple’s representative to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) from the organization’s inception in 1985 until 2006. He retired as Senior Curator for Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts in January 2013.  His retirement occasioned donations to the collections in his honor, and SCRC again plans to acquire an appropriate item dedicated to his memory.

Tom made an indelible impact on our special collections and the scholars and researchers who use them–a legacy that will continue to benefit future generations. 

–Margery Sly, Director, Special Collections Research Center