This summer I worked as a Graduate Student Intern in Primary Sources at Columbia’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. Under the advisorship of Janet Parks, curator of Avery Drawings & Archives, and Shelley Hayreh, the head archivist, I worked with two archival collections. The first collection I processed was the papers, photographs and drawings of Klaus Herdeg. Herdeg, a Swiss-born architect, was a highly regarded faculty member at both Cornell University and Columbia but was best known as the author of two important books. The first book, Formal Structure of Indian Architecture, is a detailed collection of photographs and measured drawings that were undertaken in the mid 1960s of important cultural and architectural sites in northwest India. The second book, Formal Structure in Islamic Architecture of Iran and Turkistan is similar in scope to the first book and represents work conducted by Herdeg in the mid 1970s. The collection contains the original photographs and drawings used in both books as well as other material collected during Herdeg travels The remainder of Herdeg’s collection was devoted to academic papers and copious photographs and large drawings and sketches of concession era architecture that Herdeg surveyed during an expedition to western China undertaken with the Agha Khan. The second archival collection, which I will continue to work with throughout the upcoming semester, is made up of an estimated 700-800 drawings, watercolors, templates, and stencils used for the decorative painting of walls, furniture, and other objects made by the firm of Peter C. Grierson & Company of Hartford CT. Dating from 1880s-1920s, the material is thought to be the only such collection in existence and is thus very rare. Elaborately hand-cut stencils make up the majority of the material and due to their fragility represent unique conservation issues. The stencils were primarily used to decorate furniture in emulation of Hitchcock chairs, which first gained popularity in the United States in the early nineteenth century and became popular again during the height of the colonial revival movement during the early twentieth century. Each design completed for a piece of furniture is made up of numerous stencils and thus part of my work is matching the hundreds of stencil fragments to their design drawings so the drawings and stencils can be housed together.
An example of the type of work Peter C. Grierson & Company did | Courtesy of Avery Archives & Drawings
An example of a stencil fragment | Courtesy of Avery Archives & Drawings
Both collections presented me opportunities to learn about subjects I had previously very little knowledge of while working with fascinating and rare primary source material. I largely worked independently and was granted autonomy over each project.