Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:
In an age of hastily sent texts and emails, letter writing is a lost art. Gone are the days of beautifully handwritten letters and the equally beautiful stationery on which they were composed. But the latter caught the eye of University Archives Director Dina Kellams during her time working for IU Libraries.
Currently on display at the archives is a labor of love titled “Sincerely Yours: Stationery Voices From the Archives,” curated by Kellams herself. The exhibit features unique stationery that Kellams discovered over the years. She often pondered an exhibit of notable stationery when searching the archives, and she made that thought a reality when “Sincerely Yours” opened in November.
Having grown up as a child of the 1980s, Kellams has fond memories of exciting stationery — “The more colorful and interesting the stationery, the better,” she said in her exhibit notes.
“This was the kind of stuff I did as a kid, so I hope it brings a kind of nostalgia,” Kellams said. “It’s a dying art.”
Included in the exhibit are letters to vendors, requests for records from concerned students, and even a letter from a detective agency. What sets these letters apart from others in the archives is the design of the stationery on which they were composed.
One letter features colorful artwork of a beach scene that stretches down the length of the paper. Another shows an illustration of Seminary Square campus that is hardly historically accurate: The illustration depicts a concrete sidewalk that was never there.
“It was an opportunity to sell their institution,” Kellams said of the decorative stationery that took an artistic license depicting IU, which at the time was not the broad-reaching university it is today.
In addition to the letters themselves, Kellams curated background information to provide context about who the author and recipients of the letter were.
“I wanted to focus on the stationery itself, but in many instances we needed to know more about the people themselves,” she said.
One of the stories included for context is that of IU alumnus Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, who was an IU faculty member from 1908 to 1913 and again from 1930 to 1953. In 1913, she married bee farmer John Hendricks and moved to Honeyhill Farm in Wyoming. University Archives has a collection of letters from Hendricks’ family available for research, one of which is on display in “Sincerely Yours.” This collection sparked its own correspondence between Kellams and the current tenants of Honeyhill Farm.
A young beekeeper at Honeyhill, which is no longer owned by the Hendricks family, contacted Kellams with the help of her grandfather, hoping to find out more about the previous owners of the farm. The elementary school student was doing a report on the book “Letters From Honeyhill,” a compilation of letters written by Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, and was interested in what resources IU had to offer about Hendricks and her life.
Kellams was happy to use the archive resources to help the current tenants connect to the farm’s past, including using her research know-how to connect them to Hendricks’ descendants. Though the focus of this particular project was the content of the letters, the “story in the letterhead” is what makes the sources Kellams has on display unique.
“Sincerely Yours” will be on display until March 10. It will be followed by an exhibit on the Electoral College from the library’s modern political papers archivist, Kate Cruikshank. Cruikshank’s exhibit will feature papers from Indiana native and former senator Birch Bayh.
The exhibit can be viewed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In addition to pointing out the rarity of some sources, such as those on display in “Sincerely Yours,” University Archives strives to support research by encouraging use of its collections. This year, the first primary sources immersion program for IU instructors of all disciplines will be hosted by University Archives, the IU Libraries Department of Teaching and Learning and the Lilly Library. Those accepted to the program will receive a $2,000 instructional development grant and participate in a three-day program to engage with the resources available in the the campus special collection repositories. Interested instructors can find more information online.