Knowledge: A Map, An Island

For about 100 years, sometime after 1622, mapmakers portrayed California as an island. Among the history of cartographic errors this is always one enjoyed in US scholarship–becoming a comedic synecdoche in CA’s political history. Uniquely, and perhaps adding to the enigma of the story, the error has an origin. The culprit was Juan de la Fuca.

There is perhaps nothing entirely new in this bit of trivia. But in studying many of these maps, I am often left astounded by their detail. I fathom at the intricate and precise nature of these hand-drawn, works of art.

Without access to anything remotely similar to our cartographic technologies, how could they be done so well? I assume that many of the maps are palimpsest; or they build on a former version of the area. They are recursive. Like a sculpture fashioned over generations or by a multitude of hands, these maps arrive at a better understanding of the land through collective, historical paradox of iteration and revision.

Philosophically, this can send some into the deep end–maybe just speaking for myself. I think of simulacra in knowledge production. It seems ages and ages ago, but for over a century California was an island. That is a knowledge that would exceed my entire life. In a way, what we know, what knowledges we produce are islands. Then, over time, the map is redrawn.

Frozen in Time

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.

An early sculpture by Annette Françoise taken during her time as an undergraduate in Long Beach

35 Millimeters of Art

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.

Guano Crazy

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.

Reflections on My Initial Impression of Archiving the Rundel Latin American Map Collection

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.

Annette Françoise: Textiles in Toronto

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.

Photographs taken by the artist of original pieces

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.