Archive for August, 2013

One of the strengths of the Emily Dickinson Collection at Amherst College is the large number of manuscript fragments — scraps of paper, pieces of envelopes, and a range of other ephemera on which Dickinson jotted a few lines, or even entire poems. One such fragment is identified by Thomas Johnson as “Prose Fragment #96” in his edition of Dickinson’s letters. It’s Amherst manuscript #868: “Of our deepest delights”

Emily Dickinson. "Of our deepest delights" Amherst #868

Emily Dickinson. “Of our deepest delights” Amherst #868

This fragment is clearly a piece of a concert program, but no one seems ever to have done the work to find out more about this piece. Fortunately, there is an important clue present on both sides of the paper:

Emily Dickinson. "Of our deepest delights" Verso.

Emily Dickinson. “Of our deepest delights” Verso.

If the program had been torn in half just a little higher up the page, the name Howard Parkhurst might have been lost. As it is, a quick check of the Amherst College Biographical Record (Sesquicentennial Edition, 1973) reveals that he was a member of the Class of 1873. It also tells us that he studied music in Stuttgart, Munich, and Berlin as well as Liverpool between 1873 and 1875. From 1875 – 1882 he taught music and served as organist for various churches around Boston, then it was back to Germany for a couple of years to study with Rheinberger and Kellarmann. Finally, Parkhurst settled in New York city where he taught music and published books about birds from 1884 until his death in 1916.


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The topic of tax-exempt status has been much in the news lately—who gets it, what they do with it, and what IRS hoops they have to jump through in order to secure it. In spring 2013, news outlets revealed that the IRS had singled out some conservative and liberal groups’ applications for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(4) for extra scrutiny, sometimes allowing their applications to languish for years. Political wrangling over tax exemption is nothing new. The case of the Charles E. Merrill Trust provides an interesting mid-20th century example of the way political influence was leveraged to change the tax code.

Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908)

Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908), Founder of Merrill Lynch & Co.

Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908), founder of Merrill Lynch & Company, attended Amherst College for two years. Even though he left before graduating, he remained devoted to Amherst College, attending many reunions and donating large sums of money, including paying the tuition of more than 300 Amherst students during his lifetime, funding the construction of on-campus faculty housing, and hosting the Amherst College Merrill Center for Economics at his estate in Southampton, NY. Merrill was equally generous to Amherst College in his will. In his will, Charles Merrill established the Charles E. Merrill Trust, which would exist for twenty years and distribute his estate (a large portion of which was his personal stake in Merrill Lynch & Co.) to various institutions and charitable organizations.


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Milliken, Don  OR #44

Milliken, Don
OR #44

Correspondence is, at its best, an intimate gesture.

It is a pure idea
often direct and unrefined
It may also become
or indulgent

(Excerpt from an unpublished statement, 1984.  From Commentaries on the New Media Arts by Robert C. Morgan)

Open a box in the Don Milliken Collection of Correspondence Art and Related Materials and you will find zines, and postcards, and artists’ books, and newspapers, and stamp collections, and packets of stickers, photographs, letters, collages, and envelopes of all shapes from people all over the world.  This is one of the great things about correspondence art: the sheer variety of materials and themes that compile this worldwide art movement, emphasizing the inclusive participation of artists and amateurs in a variety of media through the use of the postal system.

The Northampton Herald 1982

The Northampton Herald

Correspondence art, also called mail art or postal art, began in the 1960s.  While difficult to trace the origins of this movement, most sources agree that correspondence art began as a reaction to the commodification and commercialization of art.  In the competitive world of exclusive art museums and juried exhibitions, artists and amateurs sought to re-emphasize the joy of creating and experiencing art, and to create new paradigms for the art world focused on sharing and exchange.


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GravellDetailIn a previous post, I discussed a recent book printed in an ink which could only be seen in ultraviolet light. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that many of the books printed in the hand press period also have “hidden artwork” that we can view in normal spectrum light. I’m referring to watermarks – designs, including words, dates, and images, that are created during the papermaking process.

Handmade paper in Europe was made on rectangular wooden molds (or, British spelling, moulds) covered with fine wire. For all the details, I recommend the excellent site European Papermaking Techniques 1300-1800 by Timothy Barrett at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. Additionally, here is a video, made in 1976 at Hayle Mill in England that shows the steps of making paper by hand. The Green family produced paper this way at Hayle Mill from 1813 until 1987. Pay particular attention to the sheets being formed on the molds by the vatman, and removed from them by the coucher (pronounced “coocher”), beginning at the 3:15 mark. Watermarks are explained at 4:30 and again at the 6 minute mark.


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Earl Ward's camera

In my June 2013 post I mentioned several collections from and about Amherst College alumni who had careers as missionaries. In this post I want to focus on one item from one of those collections, the William Earl Dodge Ward (AC 1906) Family Papers.

Earl Ward and Dora Judd Mattoon in Turkey, ca. 1912

Earl Ward and fiancee Dora Judd Mattoon in Turkey, ca. 1912

While listing the collection (the finding aid is here), I examined a photograph album that Earl Ward, an avid photographer, had put together to document his first trip as a missionary, from 1909-1913. Earl’s album begins with pictures he took on his way from Constantinople to Harpoot, where he was to be stationed as the mission’s accountant, with teaching duties on the side. The album also contains many photographs from the years he was in Harpoot itself, including photographs of Armenians, Turks, and Kurds going about their daily lives. Most of the photographs are small and faded, but they still beautifully illustrate life in the region. Toward the end of the album there are a few large photographs that Earl obtained from an unidentified photographer. One of them caught my eye right away – it’s a group shot, obviously commemorating an event.

Crowd at Mezreh

Crowd at Mezreh. Click on photo to explore in detail.


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