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Upon starting my research, my knowledge of Wilber Stilwell was very base level; I knew that he was Chair of the Department of Art for over 30 years, I had heard that he had won a Medal of Honor, awarded by First Lady Johnson, for his dedication to art education, and there’s a student exhibition every year in his honor. As my research went on, and I got a greater sense of Wilber, I realized that there’s much more to the story than the headlines. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten many of his efforts. The first of these I’d like to share is Wilber Stilwell as an inventor.

            From the beginning of the collection until the end, Wilber was overflowing with innovation. Scrawled in the margins of every page are notes that imagine the possibilities to surpass the limitations of our everyday lifestyle. He wasn’t alone, either; his wife, Gladys, had an innovative side as well, pioneering different gadgets to make life easier. She was particularly interested in fashion design and pursued a patent for a hem measuring tool. It’s obvious, and heartwarming, that the pair were inspired by one another, and supported each other’s creative endeavors. 

            During his time as a student at the Kansas City Art Institute, Wilber experimented with inventive techniques to inform his artwork – this includes trial and error with his Transfer Wax process, and the Blottergraph. The Blottergraph would later become a staple in many classrooms as an introduction to relief printing. Wilber even developed his own color wheel after much experimentation. 

            Gladys and Wilber becoming parents seemed to have spurred more inspiration for their inventions. They clearly had a passion for making art safe and accessible for children and young adults. Many of these techniques found their home in classrooms, especially after they were published in art process magazines. It was around this time that Wilber developed the idea of the “Safe-T-Scissors.” Wilber was in contact with attorneys and material companies throughout this time, to see if this was even possible. He created hundreds of sketches, and after much trial and error, was granted a patent for the invention. The safety scissors, something we’ve all probably used at some point or another, were a revolutionary possibility, and eventual reality. Below is the official patent found in Box 9, Folder 41.

            Behind the success of their inventions was a fair amount of failure and rejection. There is a significant amount of correspondence in which their lawyers told them their inventions were unpatentable, or that the idea didn’t hold enough merit for a company to invest money into. Throughout all of this, Wilber and Gladys persevered for their passions. 

            During a tumultuous economy, and a lack of state funding for education, Wilber and Gladys utilized accessible materials, like tin foil, basic crayons, freezer paper, even face powder, to help students make “fine art” without access to the prestigious materials usually utilized. In all of this lies a profound lesson: There can and often will be adversity and rejection in our lives, but it can lead to greater inspiration and success.

#ASummerOfStilwell

Here’s a link to the finding aid for the collection I’m researching.    https://archives.usd.edu/repositories/2/resources/99

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Veronica Knippling

            What happens to a collection after it is donated to the Archives? Thousands of papers, receipts, envelopes, tickets, and magazines came to me in folders, stacked in boxes, and initially overwhelmed me. I had never received an assignment such as this prior to being honored as a U.Discover Scholar. As a student, I encounter secondary sources in the form of journal articles all the time, but it’s rare to come across a primary source, even in digital format. To have 13 boxes full of primary source material to sort through has been a challenge, but a fruitful one. The more I’ve learned about Wilber Stilwell, the morepassionate I’ve become about my job as a researcher. 

            I started sorting through the boxes, folder by folder, page by page. I was quickly familiarized to a name that I’ve heard often during my time here at the University of South Dakota: Wilber Stilwell. Wilber was a professor and Department Chair at USD for over 30 years, but that’s only the beginning of his story and legacy. 

            To start establishing points of interest, I bookmarked information that piqued my curiosity, all the while trying to develop a greater understanding of Wilber. He won a Medal of Honor, hand gifted to him from Lady Bird Johnson, for his dedication to art education. Where did this passion for art education begin? Wilber was an enthusiastic inventor. What planted the seed of innovation? I wished to see the bigger picture. 

            After this part of the project, comes the digitization process. Each folder will be described to ensure efficient search and retrieval efforts for scholars and researchers who wish to consult the “Stilwell Papers” as a resource. Whether they are interested in Wilber as a Regionalist artist, or an educator, or the inventor of the “Safe-T-Scissors,” they will be able to find it with the click of some buttons. Prior to this project, the “Stilwell Papers” were thousands of pages without descriptors, difficult to navigate with any certainty. With the description and digitization process, those who wish to utilize the resource will be able to do so much more efficiently.

            All the while, I have kept a meticulous research journal, developing my premature ideas as more concrete themes. The four to arise are Wilber as an Educator, Advocate, Inventor, and Artist. In future blog posts, I will describe each of these themes with more detail, telling the story of Wilber Stilwell. Keep an eye out!

            An opportunity that has truly helped my research blossom is the U.Discover Summer Scholar Program, which is open for application to all undergraduate students. The grant provides a generous stipend and freedom to conduct your research as necessary. Research was very intimidating to me before this process, until I was encouraged by my faculty mentor, Dr. Lauren Freese, to step out of the box. I had preconceptions about what research needed to look like. I was pleasantly surprised to unveil the possibilities that this grant can cover.

            This isn’t to say that this summer hasn’t proven to be a challenge; it certainly has. Time management, critical thinking, and creativity have been skills that I have had to develop more thoroughly. Connecting the dots between the different milestones of Wilber’s life has been difficult, but so worthwhile. I feel like I’ve jumped into a time machine and been dropped into a tumultuous period of uncertainty; filled with war, societal disparities, a lack of appreciation for educators, and a difficult state economy. I’ve been able to develop a greater appreciation not only for Wilber, but for all educators, past and present, who have made my time at USD possible and enjoyable. 

#ASummerOfStilwell

Here’s a link to the finding aid for the collection I’m researching.

https://archives.usd.edu/repositories/2/resources/99

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Kent Scribner Collection (MS 270) is now open to researchers.

This newly processed collection consists of the campus events from Scribner’s time as a University of South Dakota undergraduate student from 1956-1960. The other part of the collection consists of Scribner’s work at the USD Foundation mostly with the capital campaign named Campaign South Dakota.

This collection is organized into seven series: Diaries, Fraternity Materials, USD Event Programs, USD Foundation, USD Publications, Photographs, and Video Tapes.

Scribner’s collection includes his correspondence with Mary Jean (Hynes) Fine, and his role in the translation and obtainment for the Archives and Special Collections of her Native American family diaries. These are in the Mary Jean Fine Collection of Thomas Hunter Diaries, likewise in the Richardson Collection.

Scribner also kept copies of Blast, a student magazine that includes what campus life was like in 1959 and in 1967.

This collection also includes information for the USD building dedications programs, history and videos that relate to the Buildings, Other Structures, and Utilities Collection in the University Archives.

Contact the Archives and Special Collections for a copy of the guide to the collection.

Blast Magazine

Blast, 1967 in Kent Scribner Papers (MS 270), Richardson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, The University of South Dakota

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April is National Poetry Month, and the Archives and Special Collections is celebrating with two exhibits on the 3rd floor of ID Weeks.

At the top of the main staircase sits a small exhibit containing samples from Linda Hasselstrom, James Foley, and Kathleen Norris; with art by Ed Colker accompanying Norris’s work.

Linda Hasselstrom’s works are particularly interesting here- the book displayed was made from her late husband’s clothing, and the pages colored with his favorite tobacco. All poems in the book relate to him in one way or another. Linda is a poet from Western South Dakota, famous for her writings (poems and otherwise) about her life on a ranch in Hermosa, south of Rapid City. Linda’s papers are held in the Archives, and are being processed this semester.

In the Archives Reading Room, Room 305, find many more examples of poetry from both the Archives and the main collection. Included in this exhibit are examples of ancient Greek poetry by Sappho, a sonnet by Petrarch, Old English poetry, samples of Beowulf, and some more modern poetry. The more modern examples include USD Law professor Frank Pommersheim, Linda Hasselstrom, Linda Whirlwind Soldier, and explanations of Old English from past USD professor Thomas J Gasque.

All of these materials and more can be found anytime in the Chilson collection of the Archives, or in the case of the Beowulf books, the main collection. If you are interested in more poetry from ID Weeks, and especially the Archives, check the library catalog and use the location search filter “Chilson Collection/3rd Floor” to find more.

A full list of the books and papers on display follows.

3rd Floor Case:

-Hasselstrom, Linda, Dakota Bones, 1993

-Hasselstrom, Linda, Telegram Announcing the Death of my Father, Dakota Bones Draft

-Foley, James W., A Toast to Merriment, 1913

-Hasselstrom, Linda, George R. Snell, Poems, 1994

-Kathleen Norris, All Souls: Poems from the Dakotas 1993, Art by Ed Colker

Room 305 Case:

-Petrarch, Sonnet 137, ca. 1346-1353

-Sappho, Ode to Aphrodite, ca. 600 BC; in Donaldson’s Lyra Graca and H. T. Wharton’s Sappho

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Laus de Virgine Maria, ca. 1091-1153

-Pope Innocent III, Ave Modi Spes Maria, ca. 1161-1216

-Cædmon, Cædmon’s Hymn, ca. 658-680

-Unknown Author, Beowulf, ca. 975-1010, translated by Stephen Mitchell, 2017

-Unknown Author, Beowulf, ca. 975-1010, illustrated by Marijane Osborn, 1983

-Shakespeare, William, Ariel’s Song from The Tempest, ca. 1610-1611

-Milton, John, L’Allegro, ca. 1645, accompanied by paintings by William Blake

-Pommersheim, Frank, At the Catholic Worker, Dreaming of my Children and Good Friday (Yankton Surgery Center) from Mindfulness and Home: Poetry and Prose from a Prairie Landscape, 1997

-Rincon, Enrique Ollivier, La Noche from Poemas del Corazon, 1975

-Buechel, Eugene SJ, Lakota Tales and Texts, Inyan Hoksila or Rock Boy, dictated by Walker from Rosebud, SD, 1904, compilation published in 1978

-Hasselstrom, Linda, Extended Forecast from Bitter Creek Junction, 2000

-Whirlwind Soldier, Linda, Journey Foreseen from Memory Songs, 1994

 

Pope Innocent III, Ave Modi Spes Maria, ca. 1161-1216

Cædmon, Cædmon’s Hymn, ca. 658-680

Shakespeare, William, Ariel’s Song from The Tempest, ca. 1610-1611

Milton, John, L’Allegro, ca. 1645, accompanied by paintings by William Blake

Buechel, Eugene SJ, Lakota Tales and Texts, Inyan Hoksila or Rock Boy, dictated by Walker from Rosebud, SD, 1904, compilation published in 1978

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Blachnik’s watercolor designs – Top left: Mt. Rushmore Visitor’s Center; Top right: USD Fine Arts building; Bottom left: ID Weeks Library; Bottom right: mid-century modernist house design. 

When you’re walking through USD’s buildings, whether you’re trying to get to class on time or deciding if getting that bagel is worth being late – and let’s face it, sometimes it is – do you ever think about how this campus used to exist only in the minds of skilled artists? Although American culture places high value on STEM fields over the arts, the world of architecture offers a unique look into a field that needs both mathematics and art in order to be successful.

One thing I learned about architecture is that the field needs more than calculated blueprint squares to convince a building investor. A good interior plan will demonstrate a strong sense of size, space, and functionality, but it falls short in one area: what is this building actually going to look like?

Enter architectural illustrator and artist Robert Blachnik. Although many today use technology to help bring their visions to life, many buildings that we still use frequently (hello ID Weeks Library!) first became actualized through hands-on art techniques that Blachnik and many other designers used: hand-drawn illustration and watercolor painting.

Blachnik’s story begins like many other American stories. Born in 1922, he was raised in a small town called Tyndall, South Dakota. Even though he was a second-generation American, Blachnik did not speak English until he was old enough to attend school because his family wanted to keep their Bohemian language and culture alive. Blachnik was smart, too. Eventually, he received a scholarship to attend Harvard’s architectural design program and studied under world-famous German architect Walter Gropius. If you don’t know who he is, he’s the trailblazer for the mid-century modernist style of architecture prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. After studying under the architectural genius and obtaining his master’s degree, Blachnik was ready create his own space in the world by creating spaces for everyday people.

Blachnik illustrated buildings that we are familiar with on campus, including the ID Weeks Library and the Fine Arts building. Blachnik also designed other buildings around Southeastern South Dakota: apartments, other college campus buildings, public schools, hospitals, religious buildings, office buildings, and shopping centers – even the visitor’s center at Mt. Rushmore – all these first came to life through his hand-drawn illustrations and watercolors.

The Archives and Special Collections at USD is thrilled to have nearly all of Blachnik’s photographic renderings. His collection is almost 3.5 feet long and is filled with photographs of his beautiful watercolors. If you attend USD, you will likely find an artistic vision that materialized into a structure you now see every day. If you’re a local South Dakotan, you’re bound to see several buildings you will recognize. We may not always think of something like our own campus or town as art when we’re going through our daily routines, but looking at Blachnik’s photographs reminds us of the simple beauty that surrounds us every day, in the buildings that are markers of who we are.

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This collection of letters between Gordon Aadland and Al Neuharth is now open for research. Aadland and Neuharth met at the University of South Dakota, where they both worked on the student newspaper the Volante. Aadland graduated in 1949 and Neuharth in 1950. After college, both worked on SoDak Sports, a statewide weekly newspaper on South Dakota sports co-founded by Neuharth. Afterwards, both left the state to lead successful lives on their chosen paths.

These letters span from the early 1970s through 2013, their pages consisting of joy, jokes, and pranks, the words revealing a friendship that spanned decades. Although most of the letters were received from Neuharth, Aadland’s side of the correspondence also appears occasionally, allowing for the reader to witness both Neuharth and Aadland’s sense of humor, wit and repartee.

Contact the Archives and Special Collections for a copy of the guide to the collection.

Aadland Senior PicNeuharth Senior Pic

Pictured above are Gordon Aadland and Al Neuharth respectively. The photos are taken from their senior pictures in the Coyote yearbook (Aadland: 1949 and Neuharth 1950).

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