Curating a CFPRT Exhibit by Selina Portera

Over the last month, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Special Collections staff to put together an exhibit to showcase the work of several 2019 CFPRT students. The selected collections processed by CFPRT students include, The Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel Records, the Jonathan Fielding Papers, Buddhist Churches of America Records, the Eiko Ishioka Papers, the “Inesita” Papers, the Japanese American Research Project Collection (W. Eugene Dimon Papers), and the Theodore Bikel Papers. These collections were processed by students from a wide range of disciplines including: Information Studies, Public Health, Asian American Studies, and Musicology.

Close up of images from Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel Records and music sheet from the Theodore Bikel Papers, on exhibit in the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library.

Focusing on reference services and public facing information here in the CFPRT, I was excited to learn that I’d be helping to put together this exhibit on the main floor of the Charles E. Young Research Library (located in the case next to the administrative offices). Most of the items for the exhibit had been selected from each collection by the students who had been working on them. As I began to think about how they would be displayed, I had the opportunity to learn about each collection.

Many of the artifacts were too big in size to fit into the exhibit and are featured here instead.

Photograph of an event poster from the recently acquired Inesita papers of a dance performance hosted by UCLA in 1957 (photo taken by Carolina Meneses).
Inesita (b. 1921) is a life-long, dancer still continuing in the style of Spanish dance. Inesita started her training in both Los Angeles and Mexico.
Photograph of Inesita in New York City

Some items may come to Special Collections without information or description, making them a bit mysterious. Within the context of the whole collection, we can find clues about the meaning of each piece. I have learned not to attempt to interpret or attach my own assumptions about artifacts in exhibit descriptions when only minimal information exists.

One such item in the exhibit is a “business diary” from 1955 which is a part of the Buddhist Church of America Records (Collection LSC-2364), and it seems to be a records ledger or a journal that is written in Japanese. The scholar who processed this collection selected this item to be displayed along with the Dhammapada and Last Word Sutra (sayings of the Buddha) in Braille.

Octavio Olvera, Visual Arts Specialist in Library Special Collections, taught me how to create descriptive exhibit labels for the objects we displayed in the case. There are intricate details involved in creating everything from succinct wording on the labels, to the paper choice and mounting of each description to fit with the artifacts. Since it was my first time working on an exhibit of this size and scope, I experimented by pulling more of the collection items from the archives to try and add more visual content.

Costume design drawing from the Eiko Ishioka Papers (Collection 2288, Box 113)

One of the collections I went through and ended up finding myself in awe over was the Eiko Ishioka Papers. Ishioka is an accomplished artist, and I felt fortunate to be able to look through several of the boxes containing her original drawings and artwork for films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Her artistry won the film an Oscar for its costumes. I found several items that clued me in to her process for creating costumes from born-digital files selected by another CFPRT scholar. I worked with Octavio and Caroline Cubé from Library Special Collections to piece these digital files together in order to display Ishioka's visual costume-creation process.

Costume design drawing from the Eiko Ishioka Papers (Collection 2288, Box 114)
Costume design drawing from the Eiko Ishioka Papers (Collection 2288, Box 114)

One of her drawings for Dracula is based on what appears to be a late 1980s or early 1990s newspaper ad for the San Francisco Giants, and it pokes fun at the Los Angeles Dodgers. It is an image of a Giant’s catcher wearing a gas mask, and the caption reads “Fog vs. Smog.” The ad is cut out and clipped to her rendering of Dracula’s armored suit. It was a fun and interesting thing to see, juxtaposed with Ishioka’s original artwork.

The last piece I've chosen from the Ishioka papers is a costume drawing for the character “Lucy Westenra” wearing a kimono. Posted on this colorful drawing are notes from Eiko to Francis Ford Coppola, giving him information about how the Kimono would be an awkward costume for a Western woman, and makes suggestions on how to improve his idea. All the extraordinary pieces I've chosen to include in this post were too big to put in the display case, so I had to leave them out. Luckily, I am able to display them here!

Costume design drawing from the Eiko Ishioka Papers (Collection 2288, Box 183)

I selected other items for the exhibit from the Japanese American Research Project (W. Eugene Dimon Papers, Collection 2010). Looking through this collection was both heartbreaking and shocking. I chose a few random boxes to gain perspective about the historical context of the over-sized wooden key that another CFPRT scholar had been chosen for display. Reading through some of the newsletters that were produced and distributed within the internment camps (they were monitored by the government), I became reoriented to the dehumanization of several racialized groups that took place during that era.

The photographs I've chosen show a political poster and a group of children in a camp. Both photographs give many clues about the political climate of the United States, both past and present.

I included this photo of the children due to its eerie quality and to point out the ghostly image of the woman on the far left.

I also chose to display an invitation for one of the group activities that was allowed to take place in the camp, along with a photographic postcard of the barracks at the “Pomona Assembly Center.” I added these items alongside the key to increase the frame of reference about the situation from which it came.

Collaborating with Special Collections staff to work through the exhibit process from start to finish has enabled me to gain valuable experience about the process of working with and presenting primary sources. It felt remarkable to take part in exhibiting the materials for public viewing in a way that will hopefully garner more curiosity about rare, historical materials that are held in our archives.


All photographs are from collections in UCLA Library Special Collections. Copyright: UC Regents.

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