The Newberry Library is a Chicago gem, a unique repository, preserving books, manuscripts, maps, and a vast variety of materials “relating to the civilizations of Europe and the Americas.”
Free and open to all
Amazingly, anyone can visit at no charge to explore thousands of topics of your choosing. Its glorious finds focus on primary sources, from medieval manuscripts to the papers of icons like famed columnist Mike Royko and nearly 1500 collections related to Native Americans, to call out a tiny portion of its holdings.
My gift that keeps on giving
I was understandably excited when the Newberry wanted me to contribute all my Gartz Family Archives (and some Lasko archives too) of letters, diaries, photos, and much more (now totaling fifty bankers’ boxes).
On Monday, May 24th, Bill and I rented a van, loaded it up with the help of our twelve-year-old neighbor, Maggie, and drove it to the Newberry.
On December 1st, we returned to the Newberry to sign the final donation papers. We had the great pleasure to meet with Alison Hinderliter, Curator of Modern Manuscripts and Archives and Selector for Modern Music, as well as Alice Schreyer, Vice President for Collections and Library Services. The background and education of each makes them wonderful guardians of the Newberry’s treasures.
Ann Barzel: expansive dance collection
After some fun and informative conversation about the Newberry’s history, mission, and more about my contribution, Alison gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of a tiny fraction of the Newberry’s collection. I was especially interested in the incredible Ann Barzel dance collection.
Barzel was a dancer and avid collector of all things dance; she had written about dance for Dance Magazine and as a columnist for many Chicago papers.
I met Ann back in 1984, when I produced documentaries for CBS/WBBM TV. Essie Kupcinet, wife of Irv Kupcinet, famed Chicago columnist and host of the TV talk show, At Random, created “The Academy Honors,” to honor Chicagoans in the arts. Essie asked me to produce multiple short videos honoring each of the nominees.For the event, we honored David Mamet (drama), Robert Joffrey (dance), Sir Georg Solti (music), Richard Hunt (sculpture), and Ruth Page (also dance). Page was the great 20th century dancer who performed all over the world and brought a new modern sensibility to dance.
Ruth Page video
Without Ann Barzel’s help, lending me film, stills, and more, I couldn’t have brought Page to life on the screen. After the “Academy Honors,” Barzel procured for me this wonderful montage of photos highlighting some of Page’s most famous roles, signed from Ruth Page to me with a thank you!
I was the one grateful to have had the privilege to meet Ann (Page was too frail at the time to meet), have access to such glorious dance history, and receive this lovely “thank you.”
Ann Barzel collection—a deeper dive
All of Ann’s donations are now part of the Newberry collection, scores of boxes containing anything and everything related to dance.
Alison took Bill and me behind the scenes, into the protected collection area at the Newberry to see the rows and rows of donations from Ann. The collection includes 30,000 feet of film and 200 shelves of documents, books, periodicals, scrapbooks, programs and photographs, and much more!
Signed letter to Ann Barzel from Gene Kelly!
In this letter, he’s asking Ann for a favor, to lend him some film. That’s how important Barzel was (and still is, years after her death) to dance.
The Barzel collection also includes this pair of Anna Pavlova’s dance pointe shoes and her “death mask.”
This massive collection still represents only a tiny portion of what the Newberry has in its collection, and with important donations still coming in, they’re actively looking for more space. The requirements are stringent: climate controlled, fire-proof doors, and no sprinkler system because, obviously, water would destroy the paper.
The Gartz Family Papers
Yet they keep acquiring what they think is important to our history, and in May, I contributed another fifty linear feet to their holdings. Alison said it may take years for them to process it all (I hope I’m still around to answer any questions!), but she took me to the area where contributions are held until they can be examined, sorted, catalogued, and made ready for the public to view.
Here we are with the Gartz Family papers. It’s an odd feeling to see my treasures in their new home. My brothers and I first put the boxes together in 1994, as we sorted through what we found in my parents’ attic after my mom died (Dad had died in 1989).
The Gartz Family Papers
We revisited the boxes in 2000 to create two detailed spreadsheets, one by date and one arranged by the contents in each numbered box. Over the years, as I curated and added my own collections of scrapbooks, writing, TV documentaries, photos, family movies, etc. to the collection, the boxes grew to fifty in number. I had lived with these boxes for so many years it was hard to imagine them anywhere else.
How strange to see all the familiar dents and bends in boxes I’ve opened and closed countless times; I can picture them so vividly on the shelves of an adjoining bedroom, or in the gloom of our fluorescent-lit second story of our garage. Now here they were, on the shelves of one of the nation’s premier research institutions, eventually open to all the public.
Hinderliter told me it will probably take several years before the entire collection is processed and available to the public for research, so don’t hold your breath to look for all our family secrets!
But the future is bright for all the researchers who will be able turn to our family’s own words, records, and ephemera to make sense out of a portion of Chicago history, as told by regular folks who just refused to relegate their lives to the dustbin of history.
Chicago Avant-Garde: amazing exhibit closing 12/30
P.S. Be sure to stop by the Newberry before Dec. 30th to see its amazing exhibit, “Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of their Time.”
“Chicago Avant-Garde tells the story of five women who took radical risks in their lives and in their art. Artist Gertrude Abercrombie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, choreographers Katherine Dunham and Ruth Page, and dealer-curator Katharine Kuh. Inspired and challenged by Chicago, they helped transform the city into a hub of avant-garde experimentation.”
Thank you for reading.
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