Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Illuminating the Whitefriars collection: Connecting cartoons with communities

The Corning Museum Of Glass is a special place where librarians, curators, artists, and educators all work together to share the history and craft of glass making. Rebecca Hopman’s series on her work at the CMOG’s Rakow Research Library is an excellent template for creating and sustaining the library-as-incubator. Enjoy! ~Erinn

Illuminating the Whitefriars collection: Connecting cartoons with communities

by Rebecca Hopman

How do you raise awareness about a hidden collection? It’s a question many of us have to face, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. At the Rakow Library, one of our largest hidden collections is the Whitefriars stained glass cartoon collection. Even with 1,800 rolls of an estimated 10,000 design drawings and cartoons (working drawings), the Whitefriars collection is not visible to our users.

We’re seeking to change that, as part of the Discovering the Whitefriars Collection project. I wrote about the project and the access and conservation challenges this collection presents in a previous Incubator blog post. In short, our goal is to develop a cost-effective method to conserve, digitize, and offer public access to oversized artwork and documents, using the Whitefriars collection as a pilot. Beyond providing access, the team also wants to bring this collection into the public eye, and engage artists, students, researchers, stained glass enthusiasts, and others in a conversation about Whitefriars and the stained glass design process. No big deal, right?


Nicole works on a damaged cartoon for a window in St. Stephen’s Church.

During the past year, we have used many standard outreach/PR techniques: a press release, coverage in local and national news outlets, social media posts, tours, talks, etc. We reached out to the glass community, the library/archives/museum community, and the conservation community. But we have also done some very targeted outreach. We’ve developed relationships with several churches who have Whitefriars installations, in particular those whose cartoons our interns conserved this summer. Park Church (Elmira), St. Stephen’s Church (Olean), and Saint Thomas Church (New York City) are all churches in New York State with Whitefriars stained glass windows. Members of the project team visited each site to examine the windows and gather information, and each of those trips resulted in further communication. While not sustainable on a large scale, these interactions will serve as building blocks in our long-term outreach plan for the Discovering the Whitefriars Collection project.

At Park Church in Elmira, NY, library staff members and a curator gave a presentation to the congregation about Whitefriars and their stained glass windows. We have since visited to film a short video about the collection featuring some of their windows, and plan to present them with digitized images of the conserved cartoons.

Our interns had a chance to see Whitefriars stained glass for the first time at St. Stephen’s Church in Olean, NY. In the weeks leading up to the visit they had worked on some of the St. Stephens cartoons, and after seeing the windows in person, designs that previously seemed unrelated suddenly formed whole windows. In their blog about the trip, the interns wrote about how Whitefriars designers strategically used watercolors and other mediums to “mimic the transparency and effects of light seen through the ornate pieces of glass” they were creating.

The interns admire the outside of St. Stephen’s Church during their site visit. One of the many Whitefriars stained glass windows in St. Stephen’s Church, Olean, NY.

We invited members of St. Stephen’s Church to visit the Rakow Library for a tour of the collections and conservation lab. An enthusiastic group made their way to Corning to examine some of the St. Stephen’s cartoons, talk with our interns about the conservation process, and see the rest of the Library’s collections.


Members of St. Stephen’s Church visit the Rakow Library to see the conservation work in progress.

Around the same time as our visit to St. Stephen’s Church, we were contacted by Julie Sloan, one of the conservators who is working to restore the stained glass windows in Saint Thomas Church in New York City. Members from our team visited the church and climbed up to a 60-foot-high catwalk to see the glass up close, and we hope to visit again once all of the windows are reinstalled.


Natasa photographs a window in the clerestory of Saint Thomas Church in New York City.

We plan to continue this targeted outreach when possible, including upcoming visits to a New York City synagogue and another Elmira church, as well as reaching out on a broader scale to other places with Whitefriars installations. Our ultimate goal for access is to create an interactive website featuring Whitefriars cartoons and drawings alongside crowdsourced images of the executed windows, using our network of connections to effectively build a community around the collection.

The Albert Schweitzer window at Saint Thomas Church in New York City. Silver gelatin photograph of the Albert Schweitzer stained glass cartoon, [1918-1942]. Collection of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (CMGL 144584).

See photos and posts from the project, and follow our #WhitefriarsWednesday updates (also on Twitter and tumblr).

The project is currently in hibernation, although our call for new interns will go out soon. Watch the listservs and our internship page for the application.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (#LG-55-14-0110-14).



profilepic_hopmanRebecca Hopman is the Outreach Librarian at The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass. She has worked in a number of libraries and archives since 2005 and received her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. When she’s not at the library, you might find her embroidering, writing snail mail, or cheering on the Chicago Cubs. Follow her on tumblrextabulis.tumblr.com.

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