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Archive for the ‘20th Century’ Category

The creative process for large fashion corporations, from design houses to fast-fashion behemoths, is breakneck, furious and often wasteful. Fashion companies on average deliver up to eight collections a year and mass companies can churn out up to 52 “micro-seasons” a year, with new trends hitting stores weekly.[1] Season after season, week after week, ideas are generated, textiles are developed, prints and patterns are drawn, stitches, patterns and techniques are developed and samples are created. All parts of the product development life cycle are carefully detailed and documented to share with manufacturing facilities around the world. This process utilizes thousands of people and continues non-stop, every day, all year long. In order to keep deliveries on time, and ultimately, customers coming back for more, this process requires working twelve months or more in advance. And once the process of garment creation is underway there is an immediate need to market these collections.

Industry giants dedicate tens of millions of dollars a year to launch massive advertising and public relation campaigns in order to keep fashion feeling new and exciting. Like the creation of apparel, marketing also follows a relentless life cycle creating new visuals and ideas of engagement season after season. Ideas are generated, photo shoots are executed, media is bought, pictures are printed, websites designed, stores are updated, packaging created, direct mailers are delivered and the excitement continues.

How many of these ideas are actually new? How many times are garments recreated? Is fashion ever original? How many unique and innovative images and campaigns can be created year after year? Or is repetition reinvention? Are familiar designs and a recognizable aesthetic the keys to a successful brand identity and, ultimately, longevity? Does recognizing a brand’s past help build a solid future? Or does it matter at all?

My thesis is rapidly approaching and the process of research has begun. These are the questions my I will attempt to answer by exploring the value and meaning of corporate archives in today’s fashion industry. It will also take a look at principles and practices—how to build them, what the benefits are and the cultural effects they may or may not.

Creating archives for non-fashion related corporations has been well documented, dissected and debated. There are countless journals and associations related to the research and development of business archives. Many of these journals, paper and articles are going to help serve as research for my thesis. Yet despite the growing interest in creating fashion-related archives, evidenced by the number of diverse brands that have existing archives, there remains a dearth of information on the development, utilization, management of these private libraries. In addition, business and historical archiving, as well as library science are void of fashion specific information technology.

Creating Digital History has served as a wellspring of information, rich in resources and platforms that will benefit my thesis and possibly the end use of creating a real archive for my current employer. The use of Omeka as an archival tool, while not the most fluid or advanced interface, is basic and solid in its straightforward and uncomplicated user experience. I can clearly see how this could translate into a similar system for a fashion company and the development of a corporate repository. All of the information combined in this course has given me hope and confidence that a universal, yet customizable, archiving system for fashion companies can easily be developed. Now bring on my thesis!

Sources:

[1] Whitehead, Shannon. “5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know.” Huffington Post. October 19, 2014. 

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An exhibition about the Subject of the Artist School seems like it would be a rather straightforward task: display some advertisements or invitations that were used to promote the evening lectures, include some edited lecture notes compiled by the founding members and guest speakers, and choose some photographs that show the attendees. However, after combing through the archives of New York City’s art museums that own works by the schools founders — David Hare, William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman — and after looking through the papers compiled by these artist’s estates, there is a possibility no physical materials were ever produced during the year of 1948-1949 when the school was in operation. Or, if physical materials were produced, they no longer exist. Very few materials documenting Studio 35 (what the Subject of the Artist School was renamed when New York University acquired the 35 West 8th Street space in 1949) remain. An invitation to one of Studio 35’s lectures is housed in the Louise Bourgeois Archive, while the Dedalus Foundation has a few photographs taken by Aaron Siskind and Max Yavno, photographers who happened to capture the discussions of the school while trying to document the downtown arts scene more generally. A discussion between Julia Link Haifley and artist Grace Hartigan  in 2008, which was later transcribed for the Archives of American Art, at least reveals a few details about the otherwise mysterious Studio 35, including the fact members had to be voted in to the school in order to enjoy the conversations and cheap steak dinners hosted on Friday nights. This likely means no advertisements were ever produced for Studio 35 since members and attendees likely heard about the lectures through word of mouth, when they attended a gallery show or frequented a local hangout like Cedar Bar Tavern. Furthermore, the school was discussion-based. They were not a studio school that produced work nor an exhibition space that would have had a greater chance of being documented.

The transition of the Subject of the Artist School to Studio 35 is one worthy of scholarly research not only due to the well-known names attached to the venture, but also because the school was founded at a pivotal moment in history when the art capital shifted from Paris to New York after World War II.  The founders were among a collective of artists who learned from the stylistic traditions of the expatriates who relocated to New York after the war but were determined to push the medium of painting forward into new territory. The art produced by these artists transitioned from work rooted in Surrealism to new work that would later become recognized as Abstract expressionism. Although the doors of the Subject of the Artist School and Studio 35 did not remain open for long, the conversations that occurred likely influenced the signature styles of the founders and the rise of one of the most important American art movements.

Barnett Newman_Metropolitan Museum of Art

Barnett Newman’s Concord, 1948, which displays the artist’s signature vertical “zips.” Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The challenge becomes how to document the school’s part in this crucial moment in American history when there are few resources to work with. Even when art historians organize exhibitions about performance art, conceptual art, land art or art work that has deteriorated due to the unconventional materials from which it was originally constructed, these professionals often have documentation to display. In the case of my project, I have a few poor photographs and some oral histories, footnotes, invitations and wrinkled letters that mention the mere existence of the school. In order to produce an online exhibition that is both visually interesting and engaging for a general audience, I have had to rely on short gallery advertisements, excepts from experimental magazines like The Tiger’s Eye and VVV magazine, as well as images of artwork produced by the founders during this time period. For my exhibition I will also build my own visual tools, both maps and timelines, to make the context more manageable, especially since there are multiple founders showing at different galleries, producing different works and contributing to different publications simultaneously. As I continue my research in hope of filling a whole in the Greenwich Village Blog still lacking in entries from the 1940s and hope to fill a hole within the art historical literature, I am very much open to suggestions on how to find additional resources and how to go about the final display of my materials.

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Washington Place has a distinctly nostalgic feel.  The block between Washington Square East and Greene Street is probably the closest New York University comes to resembling a suburban college campus, with violet and white flags flying on both sides of the street, and the greenery of Washington Square Park as a backdrop.  Many passersby are doubtless reminded of their own college days.  But the block also hints at something older.  The cobblestones that still pave Greene Street, and the architectural details of buildings saved by the Greenwich Village historic preservation movement, transport visitors back to the nineteenth century.  Conveniently, this is when the story of 27 Washington Place begins.

In 1842, Henry James, Sr. purchased a townhouse at 27 Washington Place.*  The birth of his first child, William, on January 11th of that year may have inspired him to find a more permanent home for his family.  However, James had rented in the neighborhood for several years.  He occupied a bachelor’s apartment in the University Building on Washington Square East in 1838, and then—with his new wife, Mary Robertson Walsh—moved to 2 Washington Place.  He knew firsthand that it was a good place for a well-to-do family to settle in New York City.  The former potter’s field at Washington Square had been transformed into Washington Parade Ground, a military parade ground that also served as a public park, in 1828.  Local residents strolled and children played there.  “The Row” of Greek Revival-style homes recently built along Washington Square North was one of the most fashionable addresses in the city.  Its wealthy residents included Mary’s family, in whose home Henry and Mary were wed in 1840. The closeness of 27 Washington Place to the studious atmosphere of the University Building may have also attracted Henry.  (The two buildings were only separated by one house, 29 Washington Place.)  He was a theologian who took his work quite seriously.  Perhaps he had enjoyed the university’s community of scholars and intellectuals as a resident, and hoped to continue to participate in it as a neighbor.

Detail from an engraving of the University Building by Robert Hishelwood, with 27 Washington Place visible behind it.

Detail from an engraving of the University Building by Robert Hinshelwood, with 27 Washington Place visible behind it.

Henry’s second child, Henry James, Jr., was born at 27 Washington Place on April 15, 1843.  Like many of his siblings, he followed his father’s intellectual bent.  Henry James, Jr. would become one of the most important Realist writers of the nineteenth century.  He spent most of his adult life in Europe, but looked fondly upon his childhood home from a distance.  His memories of his grandmother’s house on the Row inspired his short novel Washington Square, published in 1880.  Finally, in 1904, Henry James, Jr. returned to Washington Square.  He was not pleased with the changes that he found.  He shared his resentment in The American Scene

“The gray and more or less hallowed University Building—wasn’t it somehow with a desperate bravery, both castellated and gabled—has vanished from the earth and vanished with it the two or three adjacent houses, of which the birthplace was one. This was the snub for the complacency of the retrospect, that, whereas the inner sense had positively erected there for its private contemplation a commemorative mural tablet, the very wall that should have borne this inscription had been smashed as for demonstration that tablets, in New York, are unthinkable…but that we have only to reflect an instant to see any such form of civic piety inevitably and for ever absent.”

During Henry James’ decades in Europe, New York City expanded northward, and the neighborhood around Washington Square lost its suburban character.  The wealthy and fashionable residents of the Row began to move away.  Meanwhile, many of the immigrants who had fled famine, political and economic strife, and religious persecution in Europe constructed their own communities in neighboring areas of Greenwich Village.  Residential buildings around Washington Square were demolished or transformed into commercial buildings in which workers toiled for long hours at low wages.  Other buildings were subdivided into cramped tenement housing.  Even the houses on the Row became multi-family dwellings in the 1880s.

27 Washington Place was not immune from this change.  By 1894 Joseph J. Asch had acquired it, along with 23, 25, and 29 Washington Place.  Asch demolished the houses in 1900, four years before Henry James’ return from Europe, to make way for a ten-story commercial building.  When the Asch Building was complete, a pair of business partners named Max Blanck and Isaac Harris moved their factory to its eighth floor.  As Henry James glared up at the building that had usurped his birthplace, hundreds of immigrant laborers sweated at the sewing machines of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

The story of the fire at the Triangle factory has been told elsewhere.  It deserves more attention than I can give it here, but in short, these are the facts.  146 people died in half an hour.  They were mostly women, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants, some as young as fourteen.  146 people who were trapped in a burning building by locked doors, a small elevator, a broken fire escape, and fire department ladders too short to reach the eighth floor.  Some victims fell from the windows.  Some jumped, rather than burn alive.

It is incredible, almost insulting, that the Asch Building survived the fire when so many people did not.  Yet it did.  The upper floors were rebuilt, and the building was renamed the Greenwich Building.  Frederick Brown acquired it shortly afterward.  New York University began to rent classroom space in the building in 1916, and in 1929, the Brown family gave the building to the university as a gift.  It is now called the Brown Building.  New York University students attend classes there daily, in a world that shares little with those of either Henry James or the Triangle Shirtwaist Company employees, except its location.

In The American Scene, Henry James bemoaned the lack of a physical historical marker at his birthplace to match the one imprinted in his memory.  There is still no historical marker for Henry James on the Brown Building today.  He is commemorated elsewhere.  However, there are three historical markers on the Brown Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, remembering the victims of the Triangle factory fire.  It is a small oversight, perhaps, but Henry James was one man who lived a full life of privilege and fame.  They were 146, poor and otherwise unknown.  How many times in history has the reverse occurred?

The historical markers on the Brown Building. Photo by Harmony Barker.

The historical markers on the Brown Building. Photo by Harmony Barker.

The history of 27 Washington Place serves as a case study in the changing character of Washington Square throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  More than that, it serves as a reminder that, especially in places where space is limited and populations are dense, history marches on.  Henry James might have wished for the Washington Square in his memory to remain unchanged forever, a monument to the great writer and his great works.  Likewise, a witness to the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company might have wondered how the site of such horror could ever become anything else.  But the story of Washington Square, both joyful and tragic, continues to grow and change.

*The house was actually numbered 21 Washington Place when Henry James, Sr. purchased it in 1842, but the street was renumbered two years later.  For the sake of clarity, I have referred to the James house as 27 Washington Place throughout this post.

Sources:

Thomas J. Frusciano and Marilyn Pettit, New York University and the City:  An Illustrated History, 1831-1996.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Luther S. Harris, Around Washington Square:  An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village.  Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Habegger, Alfred.  “James, Henry.” American National Biography Online.  February 2000.  Accessed September 22, 2015.  Available online at http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-00842.html.

Henry James, The American Scene.  London:  Chapman and Hall, Ltd, 1907.  Accessed November 9,  2015.  Available online at https://archive.org/details/americanscene00jameuoft.

“Henry James, Birthplace, Location of.”  Biographical Files; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Administrative Papers of the Chancellor Henry Mitchell MacCracken 1884-1910; RG 3.0.3; Box 16; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Records of the Office of the Treasurer, 1910-1963; RG 10.9, Box 47; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Cornell University ILR School, “Remembering the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire.”  2011.  Accessed November 9, 2015.  Available online at http://trianglefire.ilr.cornell.edu/index.html.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  Revised August 1986.  Accessed November 9, 2015.  Available online at http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/91002050.pdf.

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This semester, for the larger Greenwich Village History Digital Archive, I would like to contribute an online exhibition that examines the Subject of the Artist School founded by artists Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, William Baziotes, David Hare and Mark Rothko at 35 East Eighth Street in Greenwich Village in 1949. These artists, who were all either associated with Abstract Expressionism or Surrealism, organized a series of lectures in order to convey the idea there was meaning in abstract art. It was this lecture series that endured after the school failed financially just a year after it opened its doors. Organized by professors from New York University, the series continued once the space became Studio 35.

My research is in its beginning stages, but it seems this project will be a bit of a challenge since the school is often unfamiliar even to art historians. In fact, the school has usually only been mentioned briefly in footnotes. However, I have been able to find a few scholarly articles using Worldcat and at least book, Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), all of which contain rich bibliographies that will lead to me to other sources. Additionally, I will look through the 1949-1950 issues of the Education Sun, the student newspaper for New York University’s School of Education at New York University’s University Archives, as well as contune searching through the artist collections of the Archives of American Art. While visiting the Archives of American Art’s website, I discovered a few transcribed interviews with artists who speak about the school’s mission. At least one of these interviews is in the public domain and readily available to use in my archive. These interviews are incredibly valuable resources for my project because they describe who attended the series and what events actually occurred during the meetings. Similarly, these artists’ estates may have primary sources that can reveal further details about this short-lived, experimental venture.


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New York University’s Bobcat database has been an essential tool during the beginning stages of my research.


By completing this project I hope I can not only contribute an online entry that fills a hole in the course’s Greenwich History Blog and Archive, which is currently lacking in entries and exhibitions from the 1940s, but I also hope to fill a hole in the art historical literature, which, at this time, contains more information about Studio 35 than the Subject of the Artist School. Sources are limited, but I hope to be able to determine why these founders initially came together, what ideas they hoped to convey, what methods they used to convey their ideas, how their philosophies compared or related to other artist-run schools the time, who attended the school and lectures, and ultimately what was the lasting legacy of the short-lived venture.

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