This week I was fortunate enough to begin processing Annette Francoise 35mm slides of her original artwork. I found myself delving further into abstraction even when I was away from her collection. I read up on powerhouses such as Franz Kline, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Wassily Kandinsky. This increased appetite to consume fine art in my free time is one of the many fond memories I will have of my time spent processing this collection.
Annette Francoise’s collection and her artwork is a glaring reminder of the importance of preservation. The hundreds of slides I pored over this week gave me glimpses of the artist’s life and the level of dedication that went into her creative pursuits and final pieces. The opportunity to archive an artist’s collection is not lost on me and I am grateful for the ability to observe fine art. The (Thorley) Francoise collection is unique not just through the medium but due to the thematic nature of the artist’s pieces. There appears to be competing levels of cohesion and distinctiveness, in which the artist achieves a style attributable solely to her. This week I began processing the 35mm slides of Francoise’s original artwork and next week I will likely move on to processing her hand drawings and sketches, something I am looking forward to sincerely.
After an hour of processing the Rundel collection, somehow the novelty of maps from the 18th century attenuates. In a way their forms can resemble sheep, lulling me as each one bounds across my field of vision.
That is when a print woke me from the malaise. It was an illustration of a rather impressive stone monument, not unlike the foundation of Egyptian pyramids. Even more remarkable though was the caption beneath: GUANO BEDS, CHINCHA ISLANDS–VIEW TAKEN IN 1875.
Guano? Like bat feces guano?
So I took a moment to research. The Chincha Islands did in fact indicate guano, but from sea birds. It was from guano that saltpeter had been extracted for gun powder and fertilizer. The island was not just a coincidental find nor an attraction, but a highly lucrative mining enterprise.
Also, it was Spain’s seizure over the Chincha Islands in 1865 which led to the Spanish-South American War. As the island produced nearly 60% of Peru’s annual revenue, the occupation was an effective but antagonistic measure interpreted as a Spanish attempt to recapture its former colonies.
Whatever the intent of the Spanish occupation, they left eventually after demanding the Peruvian government apologize for their treatment of Spanish immigrants. Some consider it to their interpretation of reparations.
Even with the colonial powers gone, the guano deposits were nearly exhausted by 1874.
This print, dated 1875, illustrates a massive enterprise with significant infrastructure and people still at the yolk, lugging wheelbarrows of guano here and there.
I’m still unsure about this structure and timing of this depiction. There is a lot to speculate further on these inconsistencies. But that is history for you in its multivalent ways.
During my first week with the Rundel Latin American Map Collection Working as an archivist I handled engraved maps, articles, letters, postcards, and prints from European mapmakers and discoverers of the South America, South East Asia, and Africa. So, I unfolded these maps made primarily in the 18th century, read handwritten notes of conquistadors surveying routes through Argentina, and transport to their time. The grooves of an engraver’s trace and the biblichor overwhelm the senses. Aesthetically alone, these maps are stunning works of art, all the more powerful in person than in viewing online.
Going into this I figured that the material would be mostly of Spanish or Portuguese origin. But it surprised me to find that a great deal of the maps are French, English, and German . From a historiographical perspective this makes sense and even many of the descriptions on Rundel’s receipts reflect similar trends in that period’s mapping industry. It was unexpected though to find greater themes of trade routes, harbors, and forts in coastal regions. I wonder if there is material detailing Spanish and Portuguese in their extractive enterprises.
After the first day, I realized that this research might be more personal than expected. Coming from Azorean and Mexican descent, yet raised in the Central Valley of California, the experiences and understanding of colonialism and neocolonialism in the Americas center the context of my scholarship and identity. Yet, despite the collection’s clear relevance to my research, my position as an archivist in processing these maps and source material produces a complex feeling that could be unique platform to understand my own past.
Both as an academic and in my personal life, I try to be a diligent student regarding the struggle of my own mestizo history, California upbringing, and larger historical processes that shape who I am and where I live today. In my own research, I focus on primary sources derived from oral histories, natural environments, archeological ephemera, or other emergent methods used to uncover silences in subaltern pasts. This is not my research though. I am an archivist now. This tension between being a historian verses being an archivist and the way I will handle material will be a knot worth teasing out.
It is important, I believe, to better understand the purposes of these maps, letters, and surveys. It is difficult to ignore what they symbolize and tools they provided for settlers. I feel it is valuable as an archivist to acknowledge the role these maps played and to understand what they are as I formulate ways of processing them. I look forward to examining further the complexities.
As a CCEPS fellow I am grateful for the opportunity to archive the collection of Annette (Thorley) Françoise, a prolific textile fine artist, professionally lauded for her incredibly abstract quilts. Her archival materials lend themselves to the portrait of the artist in question and illustrate how thoughtful and inspired every piece was. I have been a long time admirer of fine art, particularly European surrealism constituting the likes of René Magritte, thus as an appreciator of the abstract I was intrigued by the textile medium. The beauty that lies in abstraction and Françoise’s original pieces is in part due to the freedom of perception and interpretation, they evoke feelings rather than prescribe them.
Françoise was an alumnus of the Claremont Colleges, receiving her MFA from Claremont Graduate in 1967, originally interested in sculpture art. However, it was a newfound interest in Amish quilts at the time that oriented her to textiles as a medium, this would come to be her entrée into the Toronto art scene. In the Toronto fine art scene her quilts were a welcome and eye-catching presence in galleries such as the Isaacs Gallery, the Atrium Gallery and the Gallerie Dresdnere to name a few. In the states her work was featured in the Deson-Zaks Gallery of Chicago and the Long Beach Museum of Art in sunny southern California in which she personally contributed to the legitimization of the textile medium in fine art spaces. In a piece profiling Françoise she discloses a motivation behind her proclivity: in the fabric she saw vibrant colors utilized by paintings waiting to be stitched together in their own ensemble.
At the end of my first week with the Françoise collection I am happy to say all of her materials have been surveyed, a processing plan has been conducted and processing of the collection is underway.
This week was a busy week, both with Barbara’s collection and finals at CGU! As we head into the winter break I will be thinking a lot about the things I learned from some of Barbara’s materials this week. This week began the processing phase, where her materials are arranged into formal series and subseries for future research. One of the subseries covers her educational materials on different tribal histories as well as geographical locations related to these tribal histories. In these folders she had a nearly perfectly preserved Alaska: The Magazine of Life on the Last Frontier issue from July of 1978, dedicated to all things Alaska. I was fortunate enough to be able to sift through the pages and get a candid peek into decades before my existence and to a place I had never been. The blue toned images of snow caps stood in juxtaposition to the clippings from Arizona Highway which revealed a rust colored landscape with a brimming blue sky, accented by stone and clay housing. Drake’s attention to detail when curating these images is evident, she reminds anyone who looks at them that Indigenous people and Indigenous spaces are anything but monolithic.
When reading through her educational materials I couldn’t help but notice the gaps in my own public school K-12 education. I had heard names like Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse but didn’t know the details of their courage and resolve, or extraordinary lives, until reading through Barbara’s materials. I learned from the materials that Chief Sitting Bull refused to surrender, even in his last moments. I learned that it was Chief Sitting Bull who forced General Custer to take his last stand in the battle of Little Big Horn. Needless to say, I am grateful Barbara’s materials fill some of the gaps in my American history education. As I continue to process this collection I have no doubt that I will continue to learn more from Barbara and all the materials she thoughtfully curated.