As of this week I have started to put the finishing touches on Annette’s small but sweet collection. I have completed the front matter almost to it’s entirety, with just the proofreading left. Front matter included the scope and content of the collection, biography of the contributor, provenance establishment, date ranges and series level descriptors to aid in future research. When attempting to gather the date range Annette’s collection spanned, I was able to once again familiarize myself with parts of the collection that I had forgotten about. On the other hand, I was able to find new glimpses of the collection that did not catch my eye before. Though the date range of the materials is tentative, due to my wish to double check (to make sure everything is being catalogued with the highest accuracy), it appears the collection’s breadth encompasses 1963-2002. With that being said, Annette’s collection in it’s own way is a piece of living history. 1963 was the year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and also the year my grandparents met. They would go on to marry 2 years later, as of 2022 they just celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. All this to say, though much has changed since 1963, Annette’s collection serves as a relic of a past that gets further and further away in the rear view mirror of time. Collections like Annette’s, as well as others that are processed by CCEPS fellows, Special Collections and beyond, provide us with windows to bygone eras.
This may be my last post on Annette’s collection, as there is not much of the process left. However, I look forward to her collection becoming a part of the wide repository of research materials available to the Claremont Colleges, in which she can provide perspective to other inquirers. As for me, I want to thank Annette and her carefully curated materials for orienting me (even as a novice observer) to textiles, specifically quilts, as a medium for abstract fine art. It has been an absolute pleasure to process this collection as a CCEPS fellow under the direction of Special Collections and Lisa Crane. Lastly, thank you to my supervisors Lisa and Ayat, my experience with this collection and others has been a wonderful and formidable experience as a first year graduate student.
As I get closer to finishing the archival process of preserving Annette’s collection, I can’t help but feel like I will always remember the way her pieces exposed me to an entirely new fine art medium. I had been familiar with textile pieces, but primarily tapestries. Until this collection I had never seen quilts serve such an artistic purpose. As I inch closer to finishing this process I can somewhat grasp the amount of finesse (Thorley) Françoise utilized in order to make such coherent yet striking pieces. While putting the finishing touches on the collection and assessing the scope of the materials I was rereading all of her accomplishments outlined in her CV and it reacquainted me with the breadth of her contribution to the textile fine art space. Her prestige is unmistakable, but in her writings and professional communications there is also an unmistakable humility. Despite many awards, published reviews raving about her work, commissions and exhibitions it is clear to me Annette never stopped seeking to evolve. Through that evolution she maintained her originality and novelty, a dexterous feat in which she makes fluidity appear easy, despite the many challenges humans face while attempting to grow.
This collection offered me the opportunity to experience something new, my guess is many observers felt this way in the presence of Annette’s work. This speaks to the many pieces’ longevity and consistency tantamount to being a fixture in the Toronto fine art scene. I am inspired by women like Annette, who put their own spin on an underrepresented path and truly make it their own. Some of my final thoughts while processing this collection revolved around how she was very much an artist cut from a different cloth, and how rare that can be in an epoch like this. While others strived to model masterpieces, she achieved optimal distinctiveness. In the same vein, I am reminded of an excerpt from The Great Gatsby when I think of this collection: “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
This week entailed the end of processing Annette’s total items. Spiral bound sketchbooks were carefully separated and each page was preserved with interwoven tissue paper to uphold the use of color integrity. One sketchbook, that was not spiral bound but was actually bound more like a traditional book, instead had each page separated by a piece of tissue paper in between to protect the illustrative integrity. When looking through the sketchbooks it became even more apparent to me why Annette had chosen to be an artist as a career, there were various styles represented and each of them was attended to with great care. The sketches ranged from cartoonish with a slight edge to life-like abstractions of the human form that really made the viewer (me) think. Her range echoed her simultaneous fastidious attention to detail and her confidence in not being bothered to be confined to a particular style.
Next week I will put the finishing touches on Annette’s collection by double checking what I’ve inventoried and numbering boxes and folders accordingly. Subsequently, it will be time to work on the front matter! In the front matter I will be assessing things like the abstract of the collection, inclusive dates, some biographical information on Annette to include for researchers and the scope of the collection. I look forward to summarizing what I have found in Annette’s collection, though words will not do it justice, it’s truly a collection one has to see for themselves. I encourage anyone with an interest in textiles as a medium for abstract art to take a look at this collection in some capacity, the knowledge extended posthumously by Annette is very much worth gaining.
After a week filled with presentations and module 1 finals at CGU it was cathartic to be able to sit down with Annette’s collection again. This week all of her photographs were sorted and archived to completion and I began to embark on Annette’s sketchbooks, each seemingly with their own voice. In the photographs I came across photos of Annette’s commissioned textile work displayed in a lobby, using contextual clues from the other photos in the collection it appears to have been taken somewhere between the late 60’s and early 70’s. It wasn’t the natural warm tone of the film that caught my eye, or the soft pixelated grain characteristic of the epoch, it was the sliver of a bare window in the foreground that looked onto a sunny city street. Through this sliver one could make out light stone buildings that looked new despite their art deco features and wide boxy cars dotted the streets in front. Annette had such a keen eye even the faint background of her photos are interesting. At the time of this photo the president could have been Johnson, Nixon or Ford, maybe even my favorite President Carter, and it made me think about how things must have changed and how others had stayed the same.
In her sketchbooks I found a different story, these pieces weren’t necessarily reflective of a time or place like her photographs. Rather, they were timeless. One thing her sketches share with her quilts is the dedication to abstraction, which reinforces the notion that Annette saw things in her own way, on her own terms. Some of her sketches seem to have a Dali-like influence, others seem more inspired by Picasso, others seem akin to Kandinsky. However, what they all have in common is that Annette’s own originality never gets lost in translation.
This week I finished sorting all of the slides for the Thorley/Françoise collection in which I found things I did not expect. Annette had carefully and painstakingly catalogued many of her works and thus I was not surprised to see many shots of the angular manicured features of her pieces. However, I was stunned when I came across slides from Annette’s time in undergrad, complete with shots of her early work in Long Beach dating all the way back to 1964! In previous posts I mentioned her initial interest in sculpture, below you can find a carefully crafted juxtaposition between sunny 1960’s Long Beach and one of Françoise’s early pieces, an ash toned abstract sculpture seemingly approximating the female figure. I lived in Long Beach for nearly three years and to me these pictures appear to have been taken near the Long Beach marina or on the southern end of Belmont Shore. My time living in Long Beach impressed upon me the vitality of the city itself, I find solace in the memories of an entirely unpretentious and unique enclave of Los Angeles County where the southern west coast meets the Pacific Ocean. The gravitas of Annette’s sculpture pictured below is somehow the perfect complement to such a backdrop.
Similarly, Annette had a few slides collections that didn’t necessarily contain her artwork (and instead contained snapshots of personal trips), yet still retained her artistic spin. In these collections I found slides from a trip Annette took to Spain in 1971, Palmer Canyon in 1966 as well as a collection titled “Near Istanbul” (presumably Turkey) with slide dates suggesting they were taken in October of 1973. To see such places through Annette’s eyes transported me to both the time and place and created a sense of nostalgia for things I had never experienced. This speaks to Françoise’s framing ability and how she rarely captured scenes and instead opted to capture experiences and impressions. In some of her last slides I found paintings she created for a Scarborough gallery on display in 1969. You can’t quite make out the expression of the onlookers, but if I had to guess I imagine they were rightly enthralled.
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.
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.
This concludes my first week as a CCEPS archival fellow and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to catalogue someone like Barbara Drake’s collection. Through her archival materials it is abundantly clear what a force to be reckoned with she was. As a Gabrieleño/Tongva Elder and a member of the local Tongva community she consistently elevated the voices and perspectives of Indigenous peoples not just in her community, but anywhere she had the chance. Barbara Drake was responsible for countless events that embraced the Indigenous community including workshops, natural foods classes, celebration of life events and traditional ceremonies to name a few. However, she was also instrumental in displaying her culture to educate those that were not Indigenous and she did so all over Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Inland Empire and many other enclaves of California. Later in her career she would go on to be a lecturer at Pitzer College on ethnoecology.
Working on Barbara Drake’s collection will be beneficial in many ways, but one of the most salient benefits is allowing her collection and her work to continue to educate people even after her passing. It is an integral piece of American history to understand what Native American land we currently reside in and what treatment Native Americans have been subjected to since the inception of the United States. Barbara Drake made it her mission to educate people on this front but did not stop at the ethnoecology of the Gabrieleño/Tongva. Through the initial survey of her work, I found research and educational materials that touched on many tribal histories including, but not limited to, the Sioux, Lumbees, Cherokee, Hopi and Navajo. Her research detailed an incredible wealth of knowledge regarding plant species, plant uses, holistic remedies and plant-based recipes. On the other hand, I was totally intrigued by some of her correspondence, relaying what an action-oriented educator she really was. I am grateful for the opportunity to informally learn from Barbara Drake and plan to process her collection with the utmost care and responsibility. This week I fully surveyed Barba Drake’s collection and next week I will move on to the processing phase.