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A Sweet Mystery

On January 5, 2017, in Archives, Museums & Historic Sites, by Timothy
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Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.

Artifact research is sometimes similar to detective work, especially when researching artifacts at the Eudora Welty House.When museum staff want to learn more about how Welty acquired an artifact, or why she chose to display it, a better answer can be found by carefully piecing together the artifact’s history.

 

Recently, MDAH staff investigated this sugar bowl, which sits inside a cabinet in her breakfast nook. The bowl features a pink transferware pattern of a Victorian couple looking through a telescope, with a castle in the background. At first glance, the bowl looks like a nineteenth century object, seemingly out of place among Welty’s modern plates and glasses.

The first step to understanding the bowl’s history required a highly technical maneuver, we turned it over. The bottoms of many housewares contain a maker’s mark indicating the manufacturer and location of production. The maker is Royal Staffordshire Pottery of London, England, founded in 1795. Upon further research, we discovered that the bowl is a 1940s reproduction of a nineteenth century piece.

 

Who is Jenny Lind referenced in the maker’s mark? Known as “The Swedish Nightingale,” Lind was an opera singer and one of P. T. Barnum’s early success stories. Lind toured the United States from 1850 to 1852, including a trip to Natchez where she performed her soaring soprano to sold out audiences. Lind proved so popular, audiences in many cities could only acquire tickets by auction.

She quickly became one of America’s earliest celebrities, sparking off what the press called “Lind Mania.” Her image adorned several consumer products, including candy wrappers, handkerchiefs, and snuffboxes, while her name graced decorative arts from mirrors and chairs to plates and sugar bowls.

Either Welty or her mother, Chestina, purchased an entire place setting in the Jenny Lind style. Welty may not have known the story of Lind or the bowl’s nineteenth century connection, but this artifact reflects her taste in European housewares and decorative arts, on display throughout her home.

A Raven for Eudora

On January 3, 2017, in Archives, Museums & Historic Sites, by Timothy
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Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.

What do Eudora Welty, Alfred Hitchcock, and the Muppets all have in common?  They all received the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Resembling the titular bird from Edgar Allen Poe’s famous work, the prize honors “outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of [literature]” and recognizes everything from TV shows and Broadway musicals, to museums and mystery bookstores. In 1985, Welty won the Raven Award for Reader of the Year.

 

 

In 1985, Welty won the Raven Award for Reader of the Year. Welty’s desk in the boy’s bedroom displays a small sample of her mystery collection, by authors as diverse as Agatha Christie, Margaret Thurman, and Ross Macdonald. Welty spoke frequently of her passion for whodunits, and this caught the attention of the MWA.

 

Of the numerous honors Welty won in the course of her career, the Raven Award was one of the few she displayed inside her home. Indeed, Welty kept her most prestigious award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, inside a cardboard box in the closet. Other major honors such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and the American Book Award also remained unseen by Welty’s many house guests. Welty chose to symbolize her career not with fancy diplomas or shiny medallions, but with a six-inch porcelain bird.

Ice in Mississippi

On September 21, 2016, in Archives, Digital Archives, by Timothy
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Chloe Edwards, MDAH Electronic Records archivist, brings us this post in an ongoing series 

Before there were refrigerators there were icemen delivering blocks of ice on mule-drawn wagons or trucks to homes and businesses across the United States. It wasn’t until 1851 that John Gorrie of Florida patented the mechanical refrigeration device and 1868 that the world’s first commercial ice plant opened in New Orleans, Louisiana.

From Street scene, delivery man. Sysid 100880. Scanned as tiff in 2009/12/10 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Ice delivery man, photo by Luther M. Hamilton, Sr., from the Hamilton Photograph Collection, Call Number: PI/1994.0004

The story of man-made ice in Mississippi begins in the 1870s in Natchez, where the state’s first ice plant opened. To learn more about the fascinating history of ice-making in Mississippi, visit the Mississippi History Now webpage.

 

Ms. Welty Goes to Washington

On September 9, 2016, in Artifacts, Museums & Historic Sites, by Timothy
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Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.

Eudora Welty had the pleasure of socializing with many of the 20th century’s most prominent writers and public figures.  In 1980, she added U.S. President Jimmy Carter to that prestigious list.  Carter awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.  The ceremony featured cultural icons such as Ansel Adams, John Wayne, Tennessee Williams, and Welty’s editor, Robert Penn Warren.

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Welty’s Medal of Freedom, seen here, comes in the form of a two-inch white star set against a red pentagon, with a central blue disc featuring 13 gold stars. The medal is supported by a field of five gold eagles.

In his speech honoring Welty, President Carter lauded her contributions to writing and art:

“Eudora Welty’s fiction, with its strong sense of place and triumphant comic spirit, illuminates the human condition. Her photographs of the South during the Depression reveal a rare artistic sensibility. Her critical essays explore mind and heart…with unsurpassed beauty.” 

                Welty never displayed this medal inside her home, a testament to her lifelong humility.

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The Pulitzer Prize Process – Part 2

On November 5, 2015, in Uncategorized, by Timothy
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Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.

When Welty was ready to turn ideas to prose, she sat herself before the typewriter.  Welty preferred using a manual typewriter, like the ones she played with as a child in her father’s office.  However, as she aged, arthritis forced her to go electric.  Welty used this Smith-Corona Coronomatic 8000 to write The Optimist’s Daughter, though often begrudgingly. Its constant humming made her feel it was “waiting on you to do something.”  Welty never used a computer to compose her stories.

Welty used this electric typewriter to compose The Optimist’s Daughter, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Welty used this electric typewriter to compose The Optimist’s Daughter, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

To edit a day’s work, Welty retreated downstairs and marked pages in blue pen, as seen here. She often used this gray metal copyholder, a common companion to typewriters, when she needed to retype her edited pages.  By lifting the top latch, Welty placed a page into the holder and replaced the latch, which held the paper in place and freed up her hands.

Welty used this metal copyholder to more easily edit drafts.

Welty used this metal copyholder to more easily edit drafts.

When it came time to edit whole chapters, Welty had a unique technique: she physically cut the pages of her manuscripts apart by paragraphs or sentences, rearranged them in a desired order, and pinned the pieces back together.  By using pins instead of staples, she could move the pieces around as much as she liked.  In the dining room, visitors can touch reproductions of these unusual pages.

Example of Welty’s unique editing technique, the “cut-and-pin.”

Example of Welty’s unique editing technique, the “cut-and-pin.”

These artifacts provide a glimpse into Welty’s writing process.  The craft of writing is a much larger and nuanced process, but without these tools of the trade, Leota would never sit in her beauty parlor; Daniel Ponder would never give away his fortune; Tom Harris would never buy dinner for hobos; nor would we know the other rich characters created by Eudora Welty.