WKU Libraries Blog

News and events from WKU Libraries

WKU Libraries Blog - News and events from WKU Libraries

WKU Acquires Rare Robert Penn Warren Item

A young Robert Penn Warren.  Courtesy of Dept. of Library Special Collections, WKU.

A young Robert Penn Warren. Courtesy of Dept. of Library Special Collections, WKU.

The Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies and the Department of Library Special Collections at Western Kentucky University (WKU) are pleased to announce the acquisition of Driftwood Flames, the first poetry anthology containing Robert Penn Warren’s poems.  The Poetry Guild of Nashville published the limited edition compilation in 1923.  The anthology, dedicated to influential Vanderbilt English professor John Crowe Ransom, includes five poems by Warren:  “The Fierce Horsemen,” “Wild Oats,” “Iron Beach,” “To Certain Old Masters,” and “The Golden Hills of Hell.”  Later in life, RPW had  no kind words to proffer about his early efforts.  In a poem, “Red Tail Hawk and Pyre of Youth,” Warren described himself as burning “a book/Of poems friends and I had printed in college.”

Published when Warren was a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, Driftwood also includes poems by fellow poet Andrew Lytle, who along with Warren was a member of the Fugitives, a literary group composed of Nashville residents who shared an interest in poetry.  Although some of the other poets included in Driftwood do not have easily recognized names, many of them enjoyed distinguished academic careers:  John Paul Abbott taught English at Texas A&M University, Warren Taylor was a professor at Oberlin College and published several books including an important textbook Poetry in English, and Richard S. West, Jr. taught humanities at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Driftwood Flames is important because of its association with the Fugitives and because it is Warren’s first published verse in an anthology.  The volume is rare, because it was produced in a limited edition of only 325 copies and because it is soft bound.  Soft bound books cannot generally endure the same wear and tear that a hardback volume receives.  These factors, combined with the age of the piece, make it difficult to find.  “We consider WKU’s Warren collection to be one of the finest in the country, and anyone conducting serious Warren research should include WKU in their itinerary,” said Center co-director and Robert Penn Warren Library curator Jonathan Jeffrey.  “We are thrilled to add Driftwood Flames to the collection. It was one of only a handful of Warren items the collection lacked.”

Founded in 1987, the Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies at Western Kentucky University honors the legacy and achievements of native Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, the first poet laureate of the United States and the only person who has received Pulitzer Prizes for both poetry and fiction. The Center is proud to celebrate Warren’s life and work by increasing awareness of Warren’s achievements, curating an extensive collection of Warren-related memorabilia, artifacts, and documents, and, in collaboration with the Robert Penn Warren Circle, supporting an annual symposium on Warren every April.


A Global Village

The Pike, a mile-long stretch of carnival-style attractions at the St. Louis World's Fair.

The Pike, a mile-long stretch of carnival-style attractions at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

With its 1,200 acres of technology, art, shops, concessions, carnival amusements and exhibits from more than 60 countries, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, dazzled some 19 million visitors from April to December 1904.  Included in the crowds were members of the Obenchain family of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Sixteen-year-old Margery Obenchain attended the Fair in August while visiting friends in St. Louis.  Then it was the turn of her mother, Lida Calvert Obenchain, and younger sister Cecilia.  On September 23, while 9-year-old “Cecil” and a cousin toured the massive Palace of Manufactures Building, a weary Lida sat on the steps and composed a letter to her sister Josephine.

Lida found two aspects of the extravaganza the most interesting: the flowers, which she termed “the glory of the fair,” and its international flavor.  The French pavilion was “so gorgeous and magnificent that we held our breath and talked in whispers.”  The Austrian and Italian pavilions were also full of “beautiful things.”  The Brazilian pavilion, by contrast, was just “coffee, nothing but coffee, with a few photographs thrown in.”  She also alluded to the Fair’s “living exhibits,” where exotic peoples from the Americas, the Far East, the Philippines and Africa demonstrated their native customs in a manner that tended to reinforce the onlooker’s prejudice about the superiority of Western, industrialized ways.  What were mere curiosities for Lida, however, were objects of scholarly interest for another visitor, her niece Jeannette Brown Obenchain, then studying anthropology at the University of Chicago.  Jeannette was “listening to lectures and hobnobbing with the savage races,” Lida reported.  “They treat her like a man and a brother and she thinks they are ‘perfectly lovely.’  Indians, Filipinos, Cliff Dwellers and all seem to recognize her as a kindred spirit.”

And Cecil?  True, she “went into raptures” over the lace displays at the Belgian pavilion, but was also busily accumulating a good deal of souvenir “plunder” and demanding popcorn, candy and “other trash” whenever they passed a concession booth.  No mention, however, of whether she sampled that confection now most famously associated with the Fair, the ice cream cone.

Lida’s letter from the St. Louis World’s Fair is part of the Calvert-Obenchain-Younglove Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections relating to fairs and exhibitions, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

The Stamp of Creativity

One of Loraine Neff's stamp collages

One of Loraine Neff’s stamp collages

While designing for a maker of hand quilts in the 1930s, Jefferson County native Loraine Neff (1899-1994) saw two Chinese postcards depicting a man and woman dressed in clothing made of cancelled postage stamps.  Fascinated by this unique art, she put the cards in her “Retirement – To do” file, then returned to them 25 years later to take up the craft herself.

Stamp collage detail

Stamp collage detail

Five of Loraine Neff’s stamp collages are now part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Delicate and colorful, they feature a bonneted country woman churning butter, hanging laundry, airing a patchwork quilt, rocking a cradle, and taking a winter stroll.  The elements of each, of course, are carefully cut from uncancelled postage stamps, which Neff would purchase from a dealer after sketching her idea and deciding on the colors to use.  “It has given me contentment because I lose myself in the art,” Neff wrote in a magazine article about her pastime.

Click here to download a finding aid for the Loraine S. Neff Collection.  And click here to see our recent blog about another stamp artist.  For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Loraine Neff stamp collage

International Kissing Day


Today is international kissing day something WKU is totally behind.  Early in the history of WKU students met at the spoonholder to “study.”

Unidentified Students

Everyone has heard of the Kissing Bridge.  It is said that a couple on a first date who kiss on the bridge will marry.  Kissing Bridge

Enjoy International Kissing Day with someone you love!

Smiths Grove Grrls

Two young Smiths Grove womenI have got a secret to tell you — now listen — don’t let Janie take Jim Otter for I love him myself — get her to keep putting him off till I get home — then I will marry him.

Sallie is coming to Bollinggreen to go to school . . . I will be very glad for then I will have somebody to pester.

There has been a big meeting going on in town . . . I like to got God but I was afraid that I would have to quit dancing.

Jennie I am so fat that [I] hardley can see out of my eyes.

Jennie if you tell any one or let any one see this I will never tell you any thing.

If these letters are any indication, Eliza Jane “Jennie” Smith (1845-1876) of Smiths Grove, Kentucky was the kind of girl in which her friends at Smiths Grove Academy and at Science Hill School in Shelbyville liked to confide.  The Civil War was simmering around them — one of them was planning to visit Shelbyville unless there is danger of the Rebels tearing up the Railroad — but they preferred to fill their letters with news and gossip that kept Jennie apprised of their own doings and those of others in their circle, whether liked or not.  Wish you would kill that Ellen Shobe, wrote the girl with her sights on Jim Otter.  I don’t love her one speck.

Jennie herself was more circumspect when communicating with her parents.  She had finished sewing a new dress, she wrote from Science Hill, and was anxious for them to visit during her exams.  But she warned that they could expect no more letters before she returned home:  I will give you my reasons some other time.  Just to think in 4 weeks I will be free to write and say what I please.  Too many prying eyes in the halls of academe, perhaps?  In any event, her grrl-friends were probably salivating at the prospect of that summer’s exchange of letters.

Jennie Smith’s correspondence is in the Rasdall Family Papers, available in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For other family collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Ladies Literary Soiree of 1914

One of the programs handed to guests attending the meeting.

One of the programs handed to guests attending the meeting.

Manuscripts & Folklife Archives staff recently processed the records of the Current Events Club, a ladies literary club in Bowling Green founded in 1902. For their motto they chose lines from English poet Edward Young (1683-1765):  “Thoughts shut up want air, and spoil like bales unopened to the sun.” Tucked within the club’s records, processors found several beautiful programs printed on textured rice paper documenting an evening of Japanese music and dance. Each program featured its own unique cover illustration; the interiors announced the program and listed the members of the Currents Events Club. Fortunately an old newspaper clipping was included that explains the significance of these unique paper items. The newspaper title and date are not recorded on the clipping.

Under the title “The Current Events Club’s Entertainment,” the article reads: What was said to be the prettiest and most unique social event of the season was the Japanese entertainment given on Friday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock in Neale’s Hall (also known as the Davenport Building, which was at the corner of State Street and 10th Avenue. It was razed in the mid-1990s.) by the members of the Current Events Club for the six literary clubs of the city. This was in keeping with the annual custom for one club to entertain the other clubs every year. Each guest was presented at the door with a Japanese program with “Current Events Club, 1914” on the face of the program. The interior contained the list of the members, the second page contained the program which consisted of selections from the Japanese musical sketch given at New Vanmeter Hall (the current Van Meter Hall which was completed and opened in 1911; the old Vanmeter was located in the old Southern Normal School Building which located where Bowling Green Towers is today.) on Friday evening by Mr. and Mrs. Michitaro Ongawa.”

“The hall was artistically decorated in the club colors, green and yellow. The chandeliers were wrapped with yellow crepe papers with festoon of twisted yellow crepe paper draped from the large chandeliers to the small ones. In the hall were tables decorated with jonquils, each table having a large bouquet of jonquils.”

Promotional brochure about the artists performing at the meeting.

Promotional brochure about the artists performing at the meeting.

“One end of the hall where Mrs. Ongawa, of Japan, rendered her program, was in Japanese decorations, consisting of cherry blossoms, fans, parasols and screens. She was attired in a handsome Japanese costume, and the program was rendered very entertainingly.”

“The ices which were served were beautiful, consisting of individual ices shaped with Japanese figures holding fans and parasols. At each plate was a Japanese souvenir. In the receiving line were the officers of the club and Mrs. R.H. Lacey of Franklin, president of the Kentucky Federation of Woman’s Clubs.”

“The members of the Current Events Club were highly praised by the various clubs, on the preparation of the delightful entertainment.”

To see the finding aid for the club’s records click here.  To view finding aids for other literary clubs in Bowling Green, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat, the catalog for the Department of Library Special Collections.

WKU Archives Video Digitization Project Update

filmYesterday we received 9 more videos from our digitization vendor. Some of these are finished products of earlier digitized b-roll. The new titles are:

Student Recruit Master, ca. 1980, a small clip of an interview with WKU president Donald Zacharias is available on YouTube.

There are several segments from the WKU Magazine show:

Fashion Merchandising, nd includes interviews with Vickie Driver, Sallye Clark, Julia Kirk, Donna Lanehart, Virginia Atkins, Diana Youngblood and Karen Massel regarding their experiences at the Atlanta Fashion Market. Continue reading

Cherry Statue Time Capsule

Cherry Statue Unveiling

Cherry Statue Unveiling, 11/16/1937

As archivists we evaluate our collections and process them in order of importance.  That importance can be calculated in terms of rarity, pressing preservation issues or research value.  We also process collections as researchers use them.  This past week we spent time processing the Cherry Statue Committee records for a student working on a capstone project.  This is a small collection just 31 folders of documents and one oversize drawing of the statue base. In archives speak a mere .25 cu. ft. or a single box measuring 15 1/2″ x 7″ x 10″.

In using the collection the researcher found information regarding the time capsule placed beneath the statue on November 10, 1937.  There were two lists of items that had been placed in a bronze box and sealed inside the base.  There was also documentation that indicated a second box had been purchased for duplicates to be placed in the Kentucky Museum. The museum curator brought the box out for the student to see. Cherry Statue Time Capsule

Before the box went back to the Kentucky Museum, we digitized everything in it.  We also were able to identify a few items that had not been duplicated and created the Cherry Statue Time Capsule online exhibit.

Here you will see most of the items that the Cherry Statue Committee felt important enough to store for posterity.  Most of the items reflect Henry Cherry himself and include his two books, several speeches showing his interest in education, agriculture and politics; photographs and program of his memorial service.  The Glasgow Normal and Southern Normal Schools are represented in commencement programs and publications.  Also included are representations of what Cherry meant to the faculty, staff, students, alumni and community in the lists of donors to the statue fundWKU Postcards, resolutions of respect and other tributes.  Lastly there are many representations of how WKU had grown and flourished in the 31 years since its founding in 1906 until November 16, 1937 when the statue was unveiled.

Two Picnics

Picnic at the old fairgrounds in Bowling Green, 1886 (Library Special Collections)

Picnic at the old fairgrounds in Bowling Green, 1886 (Library Special Collections)

Seeking always to present himself as a proper and gentlemanly correspondent, Luther Carpenter of Smiths Grove, Kentucky weighed his words carefully when he wrote in July, 1861 to his future wife Sallie Duncan about attending a picnic in Chalybeate Springs.

“We had a very genteel company,” he assured her, before which young ladies “with their delicate hands spread the snow white cloths under the tall and spreading oaks, and poured thereon basketfuls of dainty luxuries.”  When someone brought out a fiddle, he declined to dance, preferring instead “a nice promenade with the ladies.  I enjoyed myself hugely,” he confessed, even though he had thought of Sallie often and wished she was there.

Fast forward to July, 1890, when Luther and Sallie’s 20-year-old daughter Annie May received a free-wheeling account from her friend Jennie Amos of a “selfish picnic” on a creek near Erin, Tennessee.  Why selfish?  Because, Jennie slyly noted, it was “just the women folks, understand.”  Although her group dressed primly in shirtwaists, upon arriving at the picnic site “we took off our corsets.  We had everything to make us comfortable,” Jennie sighed, “and old dresses to go in bathing.”

Unfortunately, their paradise was soon invaded by “two town dudes just to play a joke on us.”  The girls were angry at first, but well enough acquainted with them not to care “if we did look like the devil,” and at the end of the day even rode with them back to town sans corsets.  Nevertheless, Jennie observed, “we would have had a better time without them.”

These letters describing two generations of picnicking are part of the Carpenter Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other collections about Kentucky families, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.