Monthly Archives: July 2015

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.


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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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June Out of the Box

Board of Regents, 6/1/1965Tech Aqua

Cabell Hall

College Heights Herald, 5/24/1940

Dorris Hutchinson Papers

Elevator 6/1915

Film Studies

The Future

Gordon Wilson Hall

Immortal Names in WKU Hall of Fame

Shoptalk, Vol. 18, No. 1

Tech Aqua

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