Schrödinger’s Book: On Partnering with Physical Archives in the Digital Age

Check out our newest blog post to learn more about our partnerships with physical archives!

By Emily Dalrymple, Graduate Assistant

I’ve always had a fondness for museums. Wide, open halls filled with art or research from all over the world. A space for all ages, where questions and discussion were encouraged. When I was younger, my dad and I would spend hours walking around the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Free admission with multiple buildings to explore, the Kimbell was always a marvel to me. As the years went on, the museum visits became not only an activity to share with my dad, but also an opportunity to broaden my worldview and consume alternative forms of media. Now that I’m older, museums and physical spaces of learning continue to be places of worldbuilding and internal reflection. I’m excited to be working with a team that values these spaces and the knowledge gained from them. 

As we move further and further into the digital age, the relationships that we keep between physical archives are more important than ever. As a university press housed inside a library, our arms are linked with the physical spaces that make up our literary and artistic institutions. Bookstores, music halls, libraries, galleries, museums—we have the privilege of living and working in a city rich with cultural heritage and memory. UNO Press is dedicated to maintaining this legacy, publishing materials that emphasize institutional collaboration and accessible information-sharing. Keep reading to learn more about the partnerships that make up our collection of literary artifacts!

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Clementine Hunter: A Sketchbook

In collaboration with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, UNO Press published Clementine Hunter: A Sketchbook, edited by Bradley Sumrall, in 2015. One of Louisiana’s most iconic visual artists, Clementine Hunter (1886 or 1887-1988) was born only two decades after the American Civil War in the Cane River area of northern Louisiana at Hidden Hill Plantation. She moved to Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches Parish when she was around fifteen years old and worked a variety of jobs, including field hand and cook, while living on the property. She began to teach herself to paint during this time and quickly established herself as a talented “memory painter.” Hunter painted Black Southern life from her own recollection of events, including important occasions, such as weddings, funerals, and baptisms, as well as scenes of plantation labor, such as picking cotton or pecans. She began to formally sell her paintings after the death of her husband, bringing in much needed revenue for her family. She initially sold her paintings for twenty-five cents, but by the end of her life, her work was sold for thousands of dollars and exhibited in museums around the country. 

This 1945 sketchbook contains twenty-six of Hunter’s previously unseen oil-on-paper sketches. These paintings were the first group of sketches that she ever created and depict a personal and thoughtful view of Creole plantation life in the Cane River area of rural Louisiana. Richard Gasperi purchased the sketchbook from the Henry family of Melrose Plantation in the early 1970s and kept the sketchbook until he could find a proper home for the work. UNO Press is honored to have collaborated with the Ogden in bringing these sketches to the public. 

Clementine Hunter: A Sketchbook
Clementine Hunter: A Sketchbook

Salazar: Portraits of Influence in Spanish New Orleans, 1785–1802

Three years later, in a second collaboration with the Ogden, UNO Press published Cybele Gontar’s Salazar: Portraits of Influence in Spanish New Orleans, 1785–1802. This text features the artwork of portrait painter José Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza (1750–1802). Born and married in the Yucatán peninsula, Salazar and his family moved to New Orleans in 1782—the height of Spanish colonial power. Salazar painted portraits of many prominent citizens of colonial Louisiana, including members of the church, military, and government. In Gontar’s Salazar, these paintings are accompanied by essays that explore the historical and artistic context of the era, as well as link Salazar to several early New Orleans portraitists, such as Antonio Meucci, François M. Guyol de Guiran, and Louis Collas. Through this collection, Salazar’s works act as physical artifacts, depicting the history of Spanish colonial New Orleans and transatlantic artistic exchange. 

In conjunction with the tricentennial celebration of New Orleans, the Ogden exhibited several of Salazar’s portraits, reexamining his artistic themes and colonial influences. As the largest collection of Southern art in the United States, the museum is dedicated to providing a comprehensive story of the South—a story which emphasizes the interconnected relationships between visual art and music, literary, and culinary history. 

Whitney Plantation Museum

Bouki Fait Gombo: A History of the Slave Population of Habitation Haydel (Whitney Plantation) Louisiana, 1750–1860 

Released for the opening of the Whitney Plantation Museum in 2014, Dr. Ibrahima Seck’s Bouki Fait Gombo: A History of the Slave Population of Habitation Haydel (Whitney Plantation) Louisiana, 1750–1860 maps the history of Habitation Haydel, now known as the Whitney Plantation. His work follows the journey of an enslaved community from Africa to the German Coast of Louisiana. While the book does not hide or distract from the brutalities of slavery, it seeks to focus on the unique cultural contributions made by enslaved populations to the American South. As Seck notes in the introduction, “The history of slavery should not only be the history of deportation and hard labor in the plantations. Beyond these painful memories, we should always dig deep enough to find out how Africans contributed tremendously to the making of Southern Culture and American identity.” One of the only plantations in the South to provide public tours from the perspective of enslaved people, the Whitney Plantation Museum is committed to providing educational resources about the history and legacy of slavery. This commitment is highlighted by their permanent exhibitions The History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in Louisiana, which include information about enslaved workers, the transatlantic/Louisiana slave trade, and resistance movements.

The Neighborhood Story Project

The House of Dance and Feathers: A Museum by Ronald W. Lewis

The publications of The Neighborhood Story Project, one of our closest collaborators, promote community storytelling and cross-cultural communication. The House of Dance and Feathers: A Museum by Ronald W. Lewis, written by Rachel Breunlin (director of the Neighborhood Story Project), Ronald W. Lewis, and Helen Regis, documents the creation and evolution of Lewis’ museum of New Orleans performance tradition. The House of Dance and Feathers, which was built in 2003 and then rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, contains artifacts from several notable New Orleans organizations, including the Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, Bone Gangs, and Parade Krewes. The House of Dance and Feathers: A Museum by Ronald W. Lewis highlights the importance of physical archives and community collaboration in times of hardship. 

Founded by UNO Press editor-in-chief Abram Himelstein and author and ethnographer Rachel Breunlin in 2004, The Neighborhood Story Project (NSP) is a nonprofit community cultural organization. They produce a variety of books, exhibits, and events to share what they call the “individual life histories” of New Orleans. 

Fire in the Hole: The Spirit Work of Fi Yi Yi & The Mandingo Warriors

Another collaboration with NSP, Fire in the Hole: The Spirit Work of Fi Yi Yi & The Mandingo Warriors (2018), edited by Rachel Breunlin, includes over two hundred photographs from Jeffrey David Ehrenreich and depicts the cultural traditions of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors. Told through a collective oral history, this text combines testimonies from the costumers, anthropologists, and photographers who document the history behind the New Orleans tradition of Mardi Gras Indians. While many may be familiar with the visual imagery of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors, this collection offers an intimate glimpse into the individual stories that make up the larger web of this generational culture and memory. 

The Neighborhood Story Project continues to be a beacon of community projects and partnership. We are grateful for their long-lasting friendship as we search for the stories that matter. 

New Orleans African American Museum 

Seeing Black: Black Photography in New Orleans 1840 & Beyond

Our latest partnership is with the New Orleans African American Museum. Their current exhibition First Frame is the preludial installation of the larger project Seeing Black: Black Photography in New Orleans 1840 & Beyond, which will include other exhibitions at various local arts institutions and museums as well as other public programming. Seeing Black will also manifest as a photography book to be published by UNO Press in 2023, which will complement and memorialize these immersive physical installations. Historical photos for the Seeing Black project are being sourced from a proud assortment of New Orleanian archives, including those of Xavier and Tulane Universities and our own University of New Orleans; the New Orleans Public Library; the Historic New Orleans Collection; the annals of local newspapers; and the Amistad Research Center, which also partnered with us on New Orleans Griot: The Tom Dent Reader by making the legendary Dent’s papers available to collection editor (and Seeing Black co-author) Kalamu ya Salaam.

First Frame will be on display until June 4, 2023 and features photography from Florestine Perrault Collins—the first documented Black woman photographer in New Orleans.

Located in the historic Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, the New Orleans African American Museum contributes to the rich cultural legacy of Black excellence and art within our city. With programs like their Saturdays @ NOAMM and Museum Takeover, the NOOAM supports Black business and growth while also providing the public with access to the physical space and promotional support of their museum.  

The last couple of years have had an interesting effect on literary and artistic projects. Unable to visit the physical archives and communities that make up some of our most memorable artifacts, many of us found our way to digital resources and collections. And while we can celebrate the renewed accessibility and collaboration that comes from strong digital institutions, we must also remember to celebrate the physical environments that bore the weight and joy of those initial journeys and stories. We are excited to see what future collaborations come our way!

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