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Special Collections remembers Dr. Jane Martin (Class of 1953, MA 1958), the generous donor of a significant collection of African Art and related papers from her professional work in Liberia, who died on April 14. After graduating from Bryn Mawr with two degrees, Martin went on to earn her PhD in African History from Boston University in 1968. Her research focused on the Glebo of Eastern Liberia, and many of her interests there are reflected in the archives she donated to the College, including material on specific individuals in the Kru tribe, African women and their roles in education and society, and governmental and non-profit organizations in Africa.
Martin lived and worked in West Africa for several years, teaching African History at the University of Calabar in Nigeria and the University of Liberia in the 1970s. Her papers demonstrate her careful thinking about how to teach history and what to teach, as well as research interviews she conducted during this time. From 1984 to 1989, she was Executive Director of the United States Educational and Cultural Foundation in Liberia, administering the Fulbright Program and other cultural exchange programs. She was a strong advocate for binationalism between the US and Liberia for all of her life, continuing this work at the African-American Institute in New York, when civil war forced Martin to leave Liberia in 1989.
Throughout her travels in Africa, Martin collected a wide variety of art and cultural objects, some 150 of which she donated to the Art & Artifacts Collection at Bryn Mawr. These include helmet masks danced by women of Liberia’s Sande society, Ashanti gold weights, baby carriers, toys made by the artist Saarenald T. S. Yaawaisan from recycled flip-flop sandals, and a Baule Chief’s chair. She documented her collecting with various field notes, photographs, and correspondences, all of which serve to enrich the gift of objects immeasurably.
Works from Martin’s Collection have been featured in exhibitions organized by students since their arrival at the College in 2016, including On Selecting: Profiles of Alumnae Donors to the African Art & Artifacts Collection (Spring 2017) and Mirrors & Masks: Reflections and Constructions of the Self (Spring 2017). These materials are regularly used in courses across a variety of fields at the College.
To learn more, visit:
by Rachel Grand (BMC ’21)
Student curator Rachel Grand ’21 at opening of ReconTEXTILEize, the 360 course cluster’s exhibition that helped prepare her to organize her own exhibition this fall.
I began my internship with Special Collections as part of the Museum Studies Praxis course, where students find placements in local museums for a practical learning experience. I was placed with a History of Art PhD candidate, Nina Blomfield, who is curating an exhibition in the fall on Lockwood de Forest’s decorative arts program for the College. My initial assignment was to help with her research, but it grew into an opportunity to curate my own smaller exhibition in conjunction with hers on Marcel Breuer, another artist commissioned to design furniture for the College. Compared to my past internships, I felt extremely fortunate for this opportunity with Special Collections because of the real responsibilities that were entrusted to me. In this internship, I felt that the research that I produced for Nina was valued and impactful, and the exhibition that I was able to curate myself, has taught me an invaluable amount about curatorial work. Because of the research opportunities afforded to me in Special Collections, I learned more about the history of Bryn Mawr College than I ever expected to know about my temporary home.
Lockwood de Forest was a designer and architect who first came to Bryn Mawr College in the 1890s. His boss, and friend, was none other than M. Carey Thomas, for whom he designed and decorated a significant portion of her residence and other parts of campus. De Forest is not a well-known name nowadays among students and faculty, compared to M. Carey Thomas, so it was surprising to learn that his architectural touch is all over the College, from the campus center and health center, to the ceiling of the Great Hall! When I walk around on campus now, knowing the history of the buildings enforces a sense of home. While reading correspondence between de Forest and Thomas, I got a sense of Thomas’ strong will, in regard to both interior decoration as well as the future of the college, which provided me with an educated perspective, amidst the controversy surrounding the renaming of Old Library.
The second artist that I studied, Marcel Breuer, was commissioned for a specific project on campus. When Rhoads was built in 1937, he was approached by the college to design a set of furniture for the new dorm rooms. Marcel Breuer was a famous designer and architect who was trained at the Bauhaus, a radically modern art school in Weimar Germany.
In order to learn more about Breuer’s furniture, I looked through the college’s archives. As I searched, I could not help but notice how the College used to place an emphasis on Bryn Mawr being “male friendly.” The yearbook from 1939 boasted that women who lived in Rhoads were more likely to be engaged (to men) than any other dorm. Photographs of students in Rhoads dining hall in the 1960s depicted at least one man in each group of smiling students.
I am told that the student body here has changed in recent years and learning more about the college’s history has only confirmed that. Today, Bryn Mawr students would not tolerate M. Carey Thomas, her elaborate expenditures, nor yearbooks boasting their marriageability. It was very impactful to be able to situate myself, as a student, in the timeline of Bryn Mawr’s past through this research at Special Collections.
Rachel’s exhibition, Bauhaus at Bryn Mawr: Marcel Breuer’s Furniture for Rhoads, opens October 24 in the Coombe Suite Display Case on the second floor of Canaday Library.
Banter Blogger Rachel Hertzberg (Class of 2019) visited Special Collections to look at the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books. Read more.
REFLECTION by Tanjuma Haque (BMC 2021)
Even though I had already seen the set-up of Gardens Speak before and knew what was going to happen, the moment I stepped in through the doors, everything felt completely alien. The lights were dim on the two pews where the ten of us went and sat as the guide handed us one card each person.
As I entered the space where the garden with the graves was made, honestly, I was scared for a moment or two. Since we all had to take off our shoes before we entered the space, the soil was cold under my bare feet as I searched for the person’s grave whose headstone’s picture was on my card.
The humming noise clarified into words as I dug the soil near the headstone with my hands. I put my head next to the pillow with their name, in front of the headstone, and lied and listened quietly. I heard Mustafa’s narrative of how everything was before and after he died, spoken by a man in the first person.
I had taken a Middle Eastern Politics class last semester and I had seen movies from the Middle East that showcased the different uprisings and killings and I knew about the conflicts, but those were nothing compared to when I heard, what seemed to me, Mustafa’s voice, speaking about how he died with many others when a missile struck a peaceful rally and that his girlfriend came and saw him in pieces and that he wanted to say that he loves her, but he no longer could.
I am not a very emotional person and I did not cry then, but when I was writing the letter to Mustafa, I thought that he probably could see me write the letter or something. Later, I went to Tell Me What I Can Do and that is when I almost cried when I saw so many letters full of hope and prayers and support for all the martyrs.
Gardens Speak, possibly the best live artwork I have seen, was a phenomenal experience. From my perspective, it is an extraordinary piece of art, it has the ability to bring people from different parts of the world, with different beliefs, religions, and races, together because nothing motivates love more than the sense of unfair loss. When we, the audience, write letters to the martyr, we all get bound by the same affection.
This past week of training and working on Camp Pause and Gardens Speak has been both exciting and slightly overwhelming in the best way. I started off training for Gardens Speak, but had not realized how jarring it would be to see a piece- especially one I’ve been so thrilled to experience in real life- behind the scenes. Seeing how many people and elements go into the piece makes it more authentic and meaningful in a unique way. I have yet to experience Gardens Speak as an actual showing, but I am eager to see how it differentiates from merely training around it- the different lighting, smells, and feelings that I know I will experience because I was told just how it all happens.
The Camp Pause Training was significantly shorter and more tech-based, but it was also nice because it was the training where I got to see Tania El-Khoury again. It’s interesting to hear how objects in the piece, such as the colorful little chairs, are put there with a specific purpose, for more than just for sitting. The chairs and their coordinating cords were specifically made those colors, and invoke feelings of childhood. The type of chairs are children’s chairs in Palestine and Lebanon. All of which I wouldn’t have known and didn’t know until Tania explained it in training, which I thought was a lovely bonus. Art is always purposeful in what it does, says, and expresses. I felt similarly with the Gardens Speak training and learning that the dirt is sprayed with an earthy essential oil, and flowers are thrown onto the audience while they rest on the graves. These little aspects of the overall piece shape it and make it special.
I have worked both the Camp Pause and Gardens Speak pieces at this point and feel a sort of peculiar feeling watching audiences going into an exhibit and walking out. I feel that particularly with the Gardens Speak piece, there is an intimate, unspoken element of trust required from the artist and the audience. Trust that the audience will respect the piece, trust that they will not make it about themselves, and I feel that this trust is not necessarily always kept up on the audience’s part. Hearing audience members leave the Camp Pause piece, saying things like, “That made me so sad,” and “What a depressing video,” feels selfish and lacks the maturity to realize that as a viewer, you only experience something that is someone else’s entire life for 10 minutes, something which you don’t have to live with once you leave the exhibit space. I suppose that is the side effect of interactive pieces, because self-centered people will turn an interactive piece and make into how they feel about their own lives, their own political climates, when that’s not what these pieces are about. But the beauty of the pieces are their interactivity and the ability to turn an issue that feels remote- like the Syrian war or the Israel-Palestine conflict- and make it feel next door to a viewer, and personal. Humans empathize with other people when they feel like individuals rather than masses, and that’s why pieces like Camp Pause and Gardens are so important.
I applied to intern with artist Tania El Khoury for both personal and academic reasons. As the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant, I feel deep-rooted connections to the country and what occurs within its borders. I make a conscious effort to be aware of its triumphs and of its downfalls, and the presence of refugees in Lebanon has, in my experience, caused controversy. Thus, my involvement in El Khoury’s work is my own personal way of combatting that controversy and being part of the exploration of Middle Eastern politics.
The first thing I noticed about El Khoury is that everyone in a room with her seems to be drawn to her – not only as an artist but also as a person. She has this fascinating energy to her that makes you want to learn more about her or just listen to her speak. She exudes authenticity and warmth. Originally, I could not tell if I felt this energy simply because I feel an innate connection to all Lebanese women because of my own Lebanese heritage, but as I observed the rest of the room and spoke to other interns, it seemed to me that everyone else was just as intrigued. Her presence is not stately and intense, as she truly is very humble and kind, but she radiates strength and knowledge in a way that has you hanging on to every word she says. Conversely, just as El Khoury’s interns attempt to get to know her better, she is doing the same with us. She cares deeply for her work, her subjects, and her audience and wants to ensure those who are representing her and guiding her audience can do so in the appropriate way.
In terms of discussing her work, El Khoury is incredibly particular and precise about every detail about her pieces and the acquisition of her material. Where she falls short, especially in terms of accessibility, she recognizes and seems to be making a conscious effort to create a sensorium that attempts to include all audiences. Accessibility at Bryn Mawr is something that is constantly being brought up, and I think El Khoury was impressed by the students’ advocacy for the utmost amount of inclusion possible. Although she is incredibly particular in her work, I believe she appreciates that her works lose effect the less accessible they become.
I truly am so excited to work with El Khoury in the fall. I know that she has much to teach us about her work, her inspiration, and all the various factors that go into the production of live art. Through her work I hope to grow and witness the growth of her audience through such cathartic and important stories.
The fairy tale Beauty and the Beast has received attention recently with Disney’s release of a live action version of the film. Like any adaptation, the film is not exactly the same as its predecessors. However, the differences between Disney’s animated and live action films are not as noticeable when compared to older versions of the story like the circa 1875 version pictured below. As further indication of Beauty and the Beast’s long history, even this version describes itself as “An Old Tale New-Told.”
Eleanor Vere Boyle’s illustrated book Beauty and the Beast not only recounts the well-known plot, but also includes elements that are reminiscent of other fairy tales. One of the most obvious is that in this version, Beauty has two sisters, and her attractiveness and sweet disposition are catalysts for their envy. The girls’ mother died, and though Beauty’s father loves her very much, for most of the story he is oblivious to the sisters’ animosity toward Beauty. Although there are an additional two brothers added to the mix, the general family dynamic resembles Cinderella’s experience.
Check out the illustrations below for more comparisons to other fairy tales and a unique depiction of the Beast!
This image shows Beauty as a young girl with “her new scarlet cloak, to wrap her friend the old watch dog in!” This action is included to demonstrate her good character. Her cloak reminded me of Little Red Riding Hood.
In this scene, Beauty’s father enters the Beast’s garden intending to take a white rose back for Beauty. Stealing a plant for a loved one (and facing consequences for doing so) calls to mind the story of Rapunzel. This image is the first glimpse the reader gets of the Beast.
When Beauty returns home to visit her family, we encounter this scene in which Beauty’s sisters weep because even in her exile, their sister has returned dressed more finely then they, courtesy of the Beast. The ravens later overhear the sisters plotting Beauty’s death. Although the birds are portrayed neither as good nor evil, I thought of a few Snow White movies that feature ravens alongside the villain like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and the more recent “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
After Beauty professes her love for him, the Beast is transformed back into his princely self. Like Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet, the rest of the castle “wakes up” as well, including the Beast’s mother, the Queen.
Isabel Gellert, Class of 2019
By Cassidy Gruber Baruth
This summer, my coworkers and I unpacked over 630 boxes of primarily children’s books that were donated to Bryn Mawr by alum Ellery Yale Wood. I knew a few of the older authors–Lewis Carroll, Enid Blyton, and Louisa May Alcott–but the vast majority were unfamiliar. Dozens of authors, although prolific and beloved during their era, didn’t stand the test of time. Mrs. Molesworth was one such writer, a woman who wrote so extensively that we joked half of our ‘M’ section was comprised of her books. I became curious about her, an author who produced dozens of books over her lifetime and whom Edward Salmon, a critic for the periodical The Nineteenth Century, deemed “the best story-teller for children England has yet known,” but who is unknown today.
Mary Louisa Molesworth (nee Stewart) was born in Rotterdam in 1839. She moved from the Netherlands to England when she was still a child and lived in Manchester for the duration of her childhood. As a child, there were signs of the writer she would become. She devoured books and loved listening to the fairy stories of her grandmother. She began to repeat these fairy stories to other children, gradually inventing new tales. She enjoyed playing make-believe, but preferred shells over dolls, as they provided a blank, faceless canvas onto which she could project her stories.
She married Major R. Molesworth in 1861 and had four daughters. By 1869 she had begun writing a book when scarlet fever struck her family, killing her eldest daughter. The tragedy spurred her to finish and publish the book Lover and Husband, written under the pseudonym Ennis Graham. Her adult novels were given firmly lukewarm praise, acknowledging the grace and quality of her writing, but finding the final product lackluster. One critic called Lover and Husband, “written with good taste, naturally and simply; the conversations are easy, the characters, if not profoundly studied, are life-like…” Sir Noel Paton, a friend of Molesworth’s, thought her adult novels were written “indifferently,” but encouraged her to try writing children’s literature. Molesworth already had a supply of children’s stories at hand: she had continued the storytelling tradition of her grandmother, inventing new bedtime stories for her own children.
Her first children’s book, a collection of short stories entitled Tell Me a Story, was a resounding success, and a second book quickly followed, and then a third, and a fourth. The qualities which dragged her down as an adult novelist – her simple, easy-going manner of writing – proved valuable to her as a children’s author. Her characters and stories were simple enough for children to follow, but still fresh and engaging. Molesworth wrote with a joy that sprang through the page, using italics, exclamations, and colloquial speech to emote childish joy and delight. She often invented words or wrote in a slangy manner in order to imitate a child’s speech. As Jane Darcy expresses in ‘Works not Realized: The Work of Louisa Molesworth,’ Molesworth wasn’t interested in moralizing or lecturing, as previous authors of children’s fiction had been; rather, she wrote in a child-like voice about topics that children cared about. Her interest and compassion for children comes across, even to a 21st century reader. As I skimmed her novels, I was struck by the energy of her characters and the vibrancy of her prose. Some of what she wrote is indubitably quaint and outdated, but I was unexpectedly impressed by how approachable her stories remain.
Molesworth was part of a new generation of children’s writers who wrote during the age of literary realism, a movement that moved away from romantic and idealized forms of literature and instead promoted more life-like characters and settings. She constantly drew on her own life experiences for inspiration, writing her children into stories such as ‘Goodnight, Winny’; featuring Holland in one of her most famous books, The Cuckoo Clock; and depicting aspects of her own childhood in the story ‘My Pink Pet.’
Molesworth’s stories dealt with children and growing up: their interests, trip-ups, relationships, and triumphs. Carrots, one of her most popular books, is the growing-up story of a little boy nicknamed Carrots and his older sister, Floss. The novel is a sweet vignette of growing up, making mistakes, and moving forward as Carrots accidentally steals a coin from his nurse and must learn to make amends. Another book, The Cuckoo Clock, similarly deals with themes of mistakes, forgiveness, and friendship after a young girl ruins her aunt’s cuckoo clock in a fit of anger, later discovering that the cuckoo inside is actually a magical creature who wants to be her friend. Although the children in Molesworth’s stories are far from perfect, the tone she takes is patient and understanding, not moralizing or condescending. It is understood that making mistakes is a natural part of growing up, and she gives them the freedom to explore and reflect.
Although Molesworth wrote for children, the quality of her writing and characters were recognized by some of the finest writers of the day. The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne commended Molesworth’s abilities, stating:
“It seems to me not at all easier to draw a life-like child than to draw a life-like man or woman. Shakespeare and Webster were the only two men of their age who could do it with perfect delicacy and success . . . . Our own age is more fortunate, on this single score at least, having a larger and far nobler proportion of women writers: among whom, since the death of George Eliot, there is none left whose touch is so exquisite and masterly, whose love is so thoroughly according to knowledge, whose bright and sweet invention is so fruitful, so truthful, or so delightful as Mrs. Molesworth’s.”
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from this job, and from Mrs. Molesworth especially, is that there is a story behind everything. It is a joy to unearth the person behind the title page, and discover their contributions, however big or small they may be. Mary Louisa Molesworth left behind over 100 novels and stories for both adults and children after her death in 1921. She has been largely forgotten, but her influence lives on. Her style inspired writers such as E. Nesbit, author of Five Children and It, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Due in no small part to Molesworth’s many stories, realistic fiction proved a wildly popular children’s genre and remains so to this day.
Cassidy Gruber Baruth (BMC 2019) has been working this summer in Special Collections. Among many other tasks, she has unpacked, cleaned, sorted and inventoried books from the Ellery Yale Wood Collection.
By Isabella Nugent
Over the course of the summer, the most treasured literary characters from my childhood swam out of the 634 boxes we unpacked, cleaned, and shelved. But between the hobbits and the Beatrix Potter bunnies, appeared a kind of character I’ve never seen before in my own books: the golliwog. Golliwogs are dolls with large, white-rimmed eyes, cartoonishly big lips, frizzy hair, and jet black skin. The golliwog is an example of a “darky”, a racist representation of Blackness intended for white audiences. Golliwogs are caricatures based on blackface portrayals in American minstrel shows. In these minstrel shows, white men would don blackface and perform a wide array of racial stereotypes through stock characters, presenting black Americans as lazy, uneducated, happy-go-lucky, etc. I was shocked by how prevalent these ugly caricatures were. Golliwogs were spilling off the pages of the Wood Collection, starring in many twentieth-century books involving toys and games. I decided to investigate the origin of the golliwog and explore the kinds of stories white authors are telling with this blackface iconography.
Golliwogs (originally a single character called “Golliwogg”) were created by the artist, Florence Kate Upton. After the death of her father, Upton pursued a career in children’s book illustration as a way to fund her art training. Inspired by a minstrel show doll her aunt pulled from the attic, Upton created her own blackface character called, “Golliwogg.” In the first book in the series The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a “Golliwogg” the Golliwogg is introduced, “Then all look round, as well they may—-To see a horrid sight! The blackest gnome—Stands there alone,—They scatter in their fright.” As this “gnome” is revealed to be brave and kind-hearted despite his “horrid” appearance, he continues on thirteen more adventures illustrated by Florence Kate Upton and penned by her mother, Bertha Upton. The Wood collection contains ten out of these thirteen books (many of them first editions). The series features Golliwogg and his two Dutch peg doll friends traveling to “exotic” lands and getting into trouble. Upton completed the series in 1909, but did not trademark her character, permitting golliwogs to be picked up by countless other authors, such as Enid Blyton (another prolific author within the collection). Following the popularity of the series, golliwogs were adapted into dolls. Although minstrel dolls existed beforehand, Golliwog dolls became massively popular in Great Britain, explaining their appearance in multiple books set in “Toyland.”
Golliwogg in Upton’s series is depicted as friendly, lovable, and adventurous. Based on the ugliness of her illustration and its roots in minstrel caricature, I was surprised to see how Golliwogg was written as the resourceful, courageous leader of the group of dolls (especially as the other dolls looked white). Despite the wide array of characters in blackface minstrel shows, Golliwogg’s personality doesn’t seem to match those defamatory stereotypes. In other writers’ depictions, golliwogs are less positively drawn, often becoming more mischievous and even monstrous as they were adapted into twentieth-century literature. However, I found that many people who grew up reading the original Golliwogg series greatly admired the character. For instance, Sir Kenneth Clarke defended him, saying that golliwogs were, “examples of chivalry, far more persuasive than the unconvincing knights of Arthurian legend.” Many children were touched by the virtues of Golliwogg’s character, but what did the Golliwogg truly represent?
Reading through the Golliwogg series, I was left with the feeling that these books were enormously harmful, even as Golliwogg diverged from the American minstrel tradition. In Upton’s series, Black characters appear only as Golliwogg or as “primitive” African/Pacific Islander natives, who are often villainous and cannibalistic.
Through Golliwog’s worldly travels, Upton is able to create mocking caricatures of multiple ethnic groups, reducing them to their barest stereotypes. Unlike the white dolls, the features of Black characters are grotesquely exaggerated. Golliwogs are sometimes even drawn with paws, blatantly depicting them as nonhuman. Florence and Bertha Upton contort Blackness through their stories, limiting Black representation to villains and dolls. I feel that Upton’s cultural appropriation through the golliwogs dangerously warps her audience’s understanding of the Black community and Black experience. If generations of British children (both Black and white) were exposed to images of beautiful, angelic-looking white children holding up ugly black dolls, how does this shape their ideas of race, identity, and hierarchy? I was also struck by how Golliwogg’s adventures mimic imperialist exploits. His stories glorify war and exoticize other countries; at one point, Golliwogg even steals animals from the “African safari” for his personal zoo. Many children viewed Golliwogg as a hero, but perhaps he’s a hero within a skewed worldview.
My exploration into the Golliwogg series has made me realize how important children’s literature is to determining our values and perceptions of the world. If Golliwogg fans were exposed to children’s literature written by Black writers instead, would they have grown up into different people, perhaps people with a more understanding, open-minded perspective? One very immediate consequence of golliwogs is the emergence of the racial slur, “wog,” which many people believe stemmed from the series. The ramifications of Golliwogg and characters like him are real and this experience has made me wonder what kinds of prejudice exist within me because of what I was read to as a child.