Introducing the Marcia Muth Archives

"Still Life" sketch by Marcia Muth [Marcia Muth Collection, Museum of International Folk Art Archives AR.00061] (photos by Caroline Dechert)

From Caroline Dechert, Librarian & Archivist

Wednesday, April 21 [1975]

Now we must concentrate on being artists. Somehow we must find the way and the means to have the time to develop our artistic life and talents.

There is no point in having gone away if you do not come back with new ideas and purposes – new concepts.

Did some sketching early in the morning and during the day…

Friday April 19 [1985]

…As art seems to take over more and more of my life – I find that I am less concerned about other things, less impatient with other people. I have faith in my future – I know now (after several years of uncertainty) that I am good at what I do. I also know that not many are doing what I do…

[excerpts from the Painting Journals of Marcia Muth, Marcia Muth Collection, Museum of International Folk Art Archives AR.00061]

The Bartlett Library and Archives at the Museum of International Folk Art, perhaps the Museum’s best-kept secret, documents the history of the Museum and provides books, journals, archival material, and other resources to support research and study related to Museum’s collection and mission. Earlier this year we were delighted to accept the artist’s archives of the late memory painter, poet, librarian, and publisher Marcia Muth (1919-2014). We are very grateful to Jody Ellis and Betty-Carol Sellen for this generous donation to our archives.

As the Museum’s Librarian and Archivist, I was delighted to receive such an extraordinary collection. Muth documented every part of her life, keeping both daily personal journals and art journals, and maintaining photographs as well as indexed and cross-indexed records of her artwork. The collection also includes sketchbooks, awards, memorabilia from shows, family photographs, and the records of the Prairie Dogettes (about which, more in a later article). It is extraordinary to have such a complete view of an artist’s career and interests. It will take us a long while to process the collection and produce a finding aid to assist scholars and researchers.

Marcia Muth Painting Journals, plain notebooks embellished with stickers

We’ll be blogging about the process of processing as we go. The story so far is simple enough. The potential donation, as well as a related donation of artwork, were discussed by the Museum's Collections Committee, and acceptance of the material was approved. About 27 boxes of archival material were carefully collected and brought to the Museum. Donation paperwork was completed. Materials were cleaned of dust and debris and re-housed in acid-free containers in a controlled storage area; an archival accession number was assigned to the collection; and a rough inventory was completed. Now the fun begins.

The purpose of archival processing is two-fold: to preserve the resources, and to make them accessible for those who wish to study them. Sometimes those two goals come near to conflict, requiring delicate decisions balancing access and preservation.

Marcia Muth Sketchbook

This blog entry is an introduction to the process ahead. It’s also, in a small way, a chance to share my joy in this collection. You might think I searched the journals for hours to find meaningful quotations to introduce this article. I did not. I pulled two journals randomly from a box, and looked for the entries closest to today’s date. The quotes above are what I found. No tricks, no kidding. There’s a gem on almost every page.