The Lynn Igoe Memorial African American Artist Files Collection at the Sloane Art Library, UNC Chapel Hill

The Lynn Igoe Memorial African American Artist Files Collection at the Sloane Art Library, UNC Chapel Hill

Written by Taylor Barrett, Kristina Bush, and Veronica McGurrin [1]; edited by Samuel Duncan.

Over the 2017-2018 academic year, a group of graduate students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, including Taylor Barrett, Kristina Bush, and Veronica McGurrin [1],  worked to digitize a collection of research files donated by Lynn Igoe, a noted local scholar of African American art history. Her files form the core of the Sloane Art Library’s Lynn Igoe Memorial African American Artist Files Collection. [2][3]  Alice Whiteside, Director of the Sloane Art Library, and JJ Bauer, Visual Resources Curator and Teaching Assistant Professor of Art History, served as mentors to the three graduate students on the project.   

Betye Saar: Migrations/Transformations. Published by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, September 8, 2006. Sloane Art Library Artist Files.

Lynn Igoe began working at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in 1960 where she taught art history and successfully advocated for a campus art museum, becoming its first director in 1971. After many years at NCCU, she left the university to focus on creating 250 Years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Bowker, 1981), which remains a standard reference work. She donated the artist files used for her bibliography to the Sloane Art Library, and the library has continued to build upon this core group of materials by collecting ephemera related to African American artists.  Lynn Igoe’s papers were recently published by the Archives of American Art.

Over the course of two semesters, the team of graduate students created a comprehensive workflow to facilitate digitizing and cataloging the 206 files. During the first semester, Taylor worked to both scan and catalog the files, but in the second semester Veronica focused on scanning while Kristina catalogued them in JSTOR Forum. This division of labor effected much more productivity: students were able to publish 167 of the files in the second semester, as compared with the 39 published in the first. A workflow spreadsheet facilitated communication through the midyear staff transition while also clearly delegating work.  

Due to the unique nature of the artist files, it was essential that the team spend a significant amount of time with each object prior to scanning in order to ensure that the scanned image was accurate. Students studied the materials before deciding the best way to approach scanning. Sometimes, an object would be scanned multiple times in order to demonstrate the physicality of the work that might not otherwise be visible in a digital file. As this was Veronica’s first digitization project, she found the intricate, elaborately designed materials especially difficult to capture. Therefore she had to take time with the object to ensure that the digital file accurately represented the artistic intent of the creator, which sometimes required tweaking in Photoshop.

Of the many difficult objects encountered in the digitization process, one of the most memorable (and challenging) pieces of ephemera was an exhibition pamphlet for the 2010 Betye Saar exhibition Cage at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. The pamphlet includes an image of Saar’s Valley of Bones—a popup cage with bones and a globe pictured inside the bars. The piece honors the dead and links past and present through the legacy of slavery. The exhibition catalog and interpretation of the pictured work is available online.

Betye Saar: Cage (cover). Published by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery November 6, 2010. Sloane Art Library Artist Files.
Betye Saar: Cage (open). Published by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery November 6, 2010. Sloane Art Library Artist Files.

The pamphlet was particularly unique because of its three-dimensional nature, the only one of its kind in the collection. Although captivating and artistically intricate, this unique feature made the object difficult to digitize. As the Visual Resource Library only has flatbed scanners, which could not accommodate the popup cage, the team had to devise a better way to capture and accurately represent the object. Because the Sloane Art Library has a camera, lights, and a photo tent that are used for photographing artists’ books, Kristina photographed the object using the equipment in the art library. The most difficult part of photographing the exhibition pamphlet was keeping it propped up so that the cage was fully popped out. Taking the photograph at the best angle to highlight all parts of the image while also accurately representing the three dimensionality of the object proved challenging. Kristina tried using book weights and different types of book stands to keep the pamphlet open, but in the end, she had to hold the pamphlet while photographing it. After photographing the object, the images were edited in Photoshop.

Nick Cave: Sojourn. Published by Denver Art Museum June 8, 2013. Sloane Art Library Artist Files.

Other difficulties with cataloging included the limited information about many of the Igoe artists available online.  The publishing institutions, whether they were museums, galleries, or foundations, were usually the first to be consulted when searching for information to populate the catalog entries. It quickly became apparent that while some organizations kept detailed records online about past exhibitions, others had limited or no information. This required the team to vary its search strategies from Google to museum publications to library resources. For many of the artists, the information present in the artist files were all we could find about their work. The elusiveness of the information speaks to the importance of preserving these artist files and making them digitally available. The final batch of digitized files, including Saar’s Cage, were published to Artstor on May 7, 2018. [2]

References

[1] Kristina Bush is a masters candidate in library science; Taylor Barrett and Veronica McGurrin are both dual masters candidates in library science and art history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
[2] The digitized and catalogued files can be accessed on ArtStor only on the UNC campus due to copyright limitation.
[3] A list of artist files included in the Sloane Art Library (Igoe artists denoted with an asterisk) can be found at http://library.unc.edu/art/artistsfile/.

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