Archiving design practice
I really enjoyed your paper – thank you for sharing the designer’s perspective! I was especially interested in the emotional and physical labour of the design process - of you forming attachments and even friendships with historic figures, worrying about mannequin skin tone, running up and down to the balcony to set your letters, and taking the physically demanding role of the model during the mannequin making process. It was fascinating (and I felt tired for you!)
My question links to Martha Fleming’s paper (Panel 2), which I think you will enjoy, if you haven’t seen it already. I was wondering about your archiving process, now that you and Bob have closed the practice. Your presentation images are absolutely amazing, and I remember seeing some real gems when I visited your studio - can you tell us a little about how you have archived your design process and the material generated during your practice? Thanks again, Claire
Thank you Claire for asking. Basically we felt that as long as an exhibition was on display, we needed to keep the records in case questions came up. When the shows would ultimately close (and some still haven't after 25 years!), we were on to the next projects and didn't go back to throw things away. Everything was just put on shelves, still in their notebooks or drawings were wrapped in paper. In the last 20 years or so (after we were on computers for drawings), we started making closeout notebooks that included all the final drawings as 11 x 17" sheets, as well as all the graphic fiiles, texts, colors and materials, etc., as well as all the digital files. The client received one set and we kept the other. Keeping eeveryythiing was fine as long as we had space. But when we moved from our larger office in 2012 decisions had to be made. American University Library Special Collections has asked for about 60% of our projects. I have slowly been getting them transferred. For each client, I put together cover information about the project, including all the key people, dates, why I think the project is important (to us and/or others) and an inventory of what is being transferred. Typically, this includes all the final files, as well as process materials and photographs. Some of the projects not going to American University have found refuge in the dumpster, while for others that I am fond of, I am looking for better long-term retirement homes. For example, the files from "Puppets: Art & Entertainment" are now at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA, and have joined related files from others.
One point I have been meaning to make to the conference participants is that for anyone doing research in museum designer files, please try to understand how the office was set up--who were the players, what were their roles. A lot of what you may research and study is likely by others than the name on the letterhead. The Office of Charles & Ray Eames, for example, varied in size during the 16 years Bob worked there from 7 (including C&R) to 10 times that during the NY World's Fair. While I was at the office, it ranged from 17 to double that. Besides graphic designers and industrial designers of the early years, once the Eameses started doing exhibitions, the office also included architects, writers, researchers, filmmakers, scientists, etc., some on staff, some consultants. These professionals were not "assistants" in the traditional sense, but creative people and the output of the office reflected their styles and changed over time.
And thank you for remarking on the physicality of exhibitions. Its all fun and a lot better than sitting at a computer.
Thank you so much for such a fascinating presentation I thoroughly enjoyed it! I also found your comments here on researching museum design files incredibly useful, as my research focuses on designers and their practice at the British Museum.
In your presentation, I was particularly struck by the quote from your Washington Post article- "having been primary players just the night before we would now recede into the background..." (apologies if I missed quoted, my notes are a little illegible) this is a sentiment I hear echoed time and time again by both present and former designers of the British Museum, but none has ever articulated it quite so eloquently. I would be very interested and grateful to read the entire article if you have a copy?
Many thanks again!
Hi Kate, I am delighted that you enjoyed my presentation. My most relevant writings are online at: www.staplesandcharles.com/writings. Scroll down, and the one for the Washington Post is the last one "Display's the Thing." At the time, the Post had a regular column "First Hand" where artists, etc. wrote a short piece about their work. When I contacted the editor, she didn't know that museum designers existed! I have also attached the article with this response. The other issue that you will probably hear a lot
is credits. Barbara
Thank you so much for this Barbara, and thanks again for your wonderful presentation!