I am somewhat in shock and denial that this project is coming to an end. I am slowly taking my time and looking at each sheet of paper a little differently as we head quickly towards the collection being complete. I must admit, I don’t want it to end. It’s like the reading of a great novel. As you near the last chapters, you slow down a little, put it back on the nightstand and ignore for a few days to prolong the reading of that final page. I don’t want the goodness to end. What a blessing archiving has been to my life. What a joy this particular project has been for me as a black women artist and academic. All these women have brought so much inspiration to my journey as a student and artist. These women became my paper mentors in many ways. I honor the work they have done to create a space for me to explore my own creativity.
What jumps out to me is the first collection that I worked on the first day on the job. Samella Lewis’ boxes were put in my working space and Amber said, “Do a first sort. I want you to get a feel for the things she collected. During this part you don’t want to go to deep into reading every single piece, instead get an overall flavor of her life.” I dug in and immediately saw hundreds of photos of visual art from all over the world, family photos and many letters to supporters of the art museum she wanted to open. Her collection was my favorite because it was so focused on visual art and travel. I was taken away to Cuba, Jamaica and Africa. As founder of the International Review of African American Art journal and the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles, Lewis worked tirelessly to give exposure and support to new and seasoned artists. From the collection, it is evident that her work was truly a labor of love. She was fulfilling her life’s purpose while influencing so many others to do the same.
Pearl Cleage’s collection has been very dear to my heart because I have had personal connections to it. I have found student paper’s from my close friends that were her students at Spelman College, an email written to her from my friend Ebony, a photo of my classmate Whitney and a note from a bouquet of flowers that my good friend sent to her in 2007. As a writer, I am inspired to see the multiple boxes of drafts from her writings and royalty checks from her books. The business of writing is real and Cleage is a perfect model for anyone with hopes of making a living from words. She was also a lover of letter writing. I enjoyed piecing together the long term friendships she had with writers that I admire like E. Lynn Harris and Bebe Moore Campbell.
I am struck with the persistence and determination of each of these women in their particular craft. Each collection shed light onto the importance of following your hearts desires and doing it without ceasing. The way in which they all carefully collected letters, photos, drafts, student papers, travel documents, awards and even grocery lists influenced me to think about the importance of documentation and ultimately of telling your own story. I feel so close to all the women. I am honored to have had the opportunity to touch and take care of these documents that have been so important to them. They seem like old friends to me now. May this collection bring joy, insight and knowledge to researcher for years to come.
-Tricia Hersey, Manuscript Processing Assistant