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Poetry in Motion

Jane Reece and Paul Shivell exhibit

Capturing the Moment: The Intersection of Poetry and Photography in the Work of Paul Shivell and Jane Reece


Photography’s own etymology connects it to writing: photography literally means writing with light. A great many poems focus on light and time, photography’s two essential ingredients. Illumination is at the heart of both, the illumination of something evanescent, intense, fleeting. The singular eye of the photographer is akin to the singular voice of the poet. How alike poems and photographs can feel, both concise slivers of the whole, blinks of time and sensation.

~ Scripps College, 2006

Part of my work as an archivist is creating exhibits which highlight our collection materials. Exhibits give us the chance to show off some of our materials, sometimes the familiar, sometimes the unknown, and to take our materials –usually copies, not originals, by the way– to different areas. Special Collections and Archives is located on the top floor of our library, a place few people head unless they know they want to see us or to find a quiet spot to study. Many of our exhibit cases, including our largest ones, are located just inside the main entrances to our library.

My colleague, officemate, and BFF Toni and I have just finished creating and installing two cases of exhibits that we both simply fell in love with while doing the project. We hatched the idea for these cases back in early winter and have been putting them together ever since. The focus –Capturing the Moment– centers on the work of Jane Reece, a local Dayton photographer from the early part of the 20th century, and her fabulous photography.

Jane Reece self-portrait

"The Poinsettia Girl," Jane Reece self-portrait, 1907.

Coupled with Reece’s phenomenal photographs are other local Dayton artists, notably the Schwarz Sisters, who founded the Dayton Ballet, and poet Paul Shivell.

Toni created the magnificent and hauntingly beautiful exhibit on the Schwarz Sisters and Reece.

Schwarz Sisters and Jane Reece exhibit

Capturing the Moment: The Intersection of Dance and Photography in the Careers of the Schwarz Sisters and Jane Reece

Reece’s photographs of the two sisters capture their beauty and elegance, their graceful movements.

My contribution was the side of the exhibit pictured at the top of the post – the Jane Reece and Paul Shivell connection. Shivell’s poetry is a mix of religious works, folksy dialect poems, and –what I think are his best works– his pastorals, many of which were written about the Stillwater River near Dayton. His first book was published in 1898, but it was his second one, Stillwater Pastorals, which attracted the most attention. Indeed, it caught the eye of one famous American poet, Robert Frost. As I noted in a post last fall about Frost, Frost sent a letter to Shivell, complimenting him on the book, mentioning two poems by name. When I saw that letter, I knew I wanted to create an exhibit about this little-known Dayton poet. When Toni raised the idea of doing an exhibit using Reece’s photographs, I knew it was a winner. Part of the new Shivell collection we have are portraits of Shivell and his family taken by Reece. Between the Shivell collection (which is still being processed) and the Reece collection, there were many portraits available to work with. Reece took portraits of Shivell, including a stunning study of just his hands. She also took family portraits, photographs of his children, and there are Reece photographs of Shivell’s daughter from about the age of 4 or 5 all the way up into adulthood. In return, Shivell had written several sonnets to Jane Reece, including works about her cottage, the art of her photography, and several on specific images, including his own portrait by her. And in a strange, final connection, I discovered that Reece had taken a series of portraits of Robert Frost as well. I love it when things come together.

So, especially since April is National Poetry Month, what better way to celebrate Poetry in Motion than by looking at the unique blending of dance, poetry, and photography, each an art of capturing the moment.

[Note: This post is #16 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button on the right of the page for more information.
Last year’s “P” post: Peacock in the Park.]

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Filed under April A-to-Z Challenge, Archives, History

Monday Moments: Love Letters

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I love reading love letters. Ones I have written, ones that have been sent to me.

Other people’s.

Yep, especially other people’s.  One of the most fascinating aspects of my work as an archivist is getting to pore over other people’s letters to each other. I like browsing their scrapbooks and photographs, too, but for me, there is nothing quite as moving than delving into a file full of old correspondence, and especially letters of love. Nothing can bring a personality to light more than something so private, so personal, as what one writes to one’s love.

(Come on, ‘fess up…. haven’t you always wondered? Or is it just me?)

One of my favorite series of books is centered on just that idea — the Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock, published beginning in 1991. Set around the correspondence between the two main characters, the books –six in all, set in two trilogies– tell a love story through their postcards, letters, and art. Part of the fun of the story is that the reader gets to open the envelopes and unfold the letters, as if they were coming directly to you. You become an activate participant in the literal unfolding of the story. If you haven’t read them, I recommend them highly, at least if you are a sappy romantic like me! I had the chance to meet the author at, of course, my favorite bookstore, so I’m proud to have a signed set to return to when the mood strikes.

If you’re so inclined, I recently ran across another book along the same lines, only using real love letters, with the author’s permission of course. Bill Shapiro put together a remarkably engaging book and website called Other People’s Love Letters, which contain images of love letters, whether card, crayon, email, or on the back of a scrap of paper. Love of all sorts –new, hopeful, soul mates, long-term, and endings– springs from the various formats. (And if you’re voyeuristic tendencies run to less happier things, Shapiro has another book called Other People’s Rejection Letters available, too!)

I have a whole scrapbook of love notes and cards between me and my beloved, much to his chagrin. (I blame the day-job, but I try not to haul them out too often.) In lieu of posting one of our love letters, however, I have another one to share. This note I found is from my mother to my father, and, knowing her, I’m sure it was tucked into one of his lunches or set on the counter for him to find at the end of long day of farming. As much as her sentiments demonstrate the love between them, the love I was fortunate to learn from about what went into a strong and committed relationship, I simply adore the paper on which it was written. That paper speaks to me about the realities of their love and how love should be shared, every day, no matter what or even how, with the ones you love. Even if it’s on bug-paper:

So on this February Monday, it’s confession time — any love letters squirreled away?  Would you have shared them if Bill Shapiro had asked?


Filed under Archives, Life, Monday Moments

Monday Moments: Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar Celebration Schedule

If Death should claim me for her own to-day,
And softly I should falter from your side,
Oh, tell me, loved one, would my memory stay,
And would my image in your heart abide?
~ “Love-Song” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Over the past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry. The university library where I work is officially named after him, and Dunbar was a significant figure in Dayton’s history. So since last fall, I’ve been working with a committee here on campus to plan out an entire month of events to encourage the study of Dunbar’s life and works, and offering new ways to “Experience: Paul Laurence Dunbar.”

The kick-off was last Tuesday night, and it combined several pieces of the events which are available throughout the month. The complete series is listed on the poster above. Since I realize most of you aren’t anywhere nearby, I thought I’d share some of what we’re doing in a few posts this February. So, like the folks on Tuesday night, here’s a little intro to what all we’ve been up to with Paul Laurence Dunbar.

So, who was Dunbar? Excellent question! Dunbar was a Dayton native who was considered one of the first nationally known African American writers. Despite living only 33 years, Dunbar produced 12 books of poetry as well as a number of novels and books of short stories. The son of former slaves, Dunbar attended school and was a high-school classmate of Orville Wright. Dunbar was best known for his poems in dialect, but he wrote beautiful poems in standard English as well. One of his best known poems, “Sympathy,” from 1899, which includes a line made famous by Maya Angelou, “I know why the caged bird sings.”

Since 1992, the Wright State University Libraries has maintained a Digital Text collection of Dunbar’s published poetry on our website. It consistently gets the largest number of hits out of any other portion of our site, in fact. So one of our contributions to the month-long Dunbar celebration was to completely revise, update, and relaunch the Paul Laurence Dunbar portion of our website. We added images to our photo gallery, wrote a new biography, and now provide information on visiting Dunbar sites in Dayton as well as a whole long list of resources about Dunbar for anyone interested in learning more about him. While our fabulous web designer developed the look and motion of the site, one of my jobs was to create and update content. That included proofreading and editing the code behind all 430+ Dunbar poems, which means I read each of them at least three times. There were some nights I swear I ended up dreaming in dialect! But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to surround myself with one person’s poetry so thoroughly and completely.

Anyway, on this February Monday, I hope you’ll take a moment and come check out our Dunbar site! Dunbar’s poetry influenced later writers during the Harlem Renaissance and throughout the 20th century and made an amazing contribution to American poetry and literature.


Filed under Archives, History, Monday Moments, Reading

The Blizzard of 1978

Blizzard of 1978 - Dayton, OH (Photo courtesy of Dayton Daily News Archive, Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University)

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches. ~ e.e. cummings

If you were anywhere in the Miami Valley in 1978, you most likely remember very well what you were (or were not) doing 34 years ago today! On January 26-27, 1978, the region was hit with a major blizzard, one of three that struck the region in January and February that year. Over twelve inches of snow fell in 24-hours on January 26th alone!

Take a look at some of the terrific pictures captured by photographers from the Dayton Daily News, showing the effects of the blizzard, at our Dayton Daily News blog!

I, for one, am very grateful that all the rain of the past few days has not been snow instead — or we could have looked a lot like those blizzard photographs!


Filed under Archives, History

Veterans Day

American soldiers in France during World War I, from MS-53 Fred F. Marshall Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University, Dayton, OH

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Today, November 11, 2011 – 11/11/11 – marks the commemoration of Veterans Day. As someone who enjoys studying the history of World War I and the time period around it, Armistice Day has always held a special interest for me. In today’s world, it’s a moment to commemorate and to celebrate the work of those who serve our country, risking and even giving their lives to protect the freedoms we hold dear. But I’ve always been fascinated with the moment in time that was the original Armistice Day. And I try to imagine how it must have felt to have been trapped in that horror of a war, with its trenches and tanks, its poison gas and new hardware, and then for it all to simply come to a silent end at one moment in time.

So I thought for today, I’d share a brief look at Armistice Day and how Veterans Day come about.

After nearly five years, the conflict known as “The Great War” ended officially when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles However, the actual fighting in this conflict had stopped more than seven months earlier when an armistice, or a temporary cessation of hostilities, between the two opposing sides –the Allied nations and Germany– went into effect. That armistice occurred on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” Armistice Day – the day peace returned to the world.

The following year, President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919, as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

Further legislation in 1926 created the day as a legal holiday. In 1954, in part to commemorate the service of all the brave veterans who had served in World War II, the name was officially changed to Veterans Day. For a brief period of time in the 1970s, Veterans Day was observed as a moveable holiday, celebrated on the closest Monday, but in 1978, Veterans Day celebrations were returned to November 11, in order to preserve the legacy and historical importance of that date. Since then, as the Veterans Administration indicates, “November 11 serves to help focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

On Veterans Day, especially, Special Collections and Archives (where I work) is proud to be the home of many archival collections pertaining to the significant work and legacy of veterans of many conflicts. The picture above is taken from one of my favorite collections, that of Fred F. Marshall. After World War I was declared, Mr. Marshall was inducted into the Armed Services and was placed into the photo section of the Signal Corps. For three months, he attended the Columbia University of Cinematography, where he engaged in an intensive study of photography for military usages. First, he was stationed at the Pathe Brothers factory in Paris, France. Next, he was sent to Hague, Holland, in October of 1918 for the purpose of setting up photographic, cartographic, and photostatic laboratory equipment. In 1919 he was discharged from the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. After his return home, he was best known as a journalist and writer. More information about Marshall and his collection is available here.

If you have the chance, take the opportunity to learn about veterans past and present where you live. The links below tell a bit about the veterans/military collections available for research at the place I work:

Civil War Collections
World War I Collections
World War II Collections

Digital Collections available in CORE, our campus online repository:
Miami Military Institute
National Military Home of Dayton

Today of all days, thank a veteran. Remember that there are men and women protecting the United States every day of the year, around the globe. And most of all, remember that veterans of any time deserve to be remembered.

My father-in-law, on the job as a mechanic in the Army behind the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II


Filed under Archives, History, Life