Ephemera

27 04 2012

One of the great things about this past semester is that I had to take a “senior colloquium” to complete my history concentration. I chose “Michigan in the Era of Industrialization,” which focused on – that’s right – Michigan in the Era of Industrialization (basically 1880-1920).

The purpose of the class was to devise a topic for a term paper and then spend time doing research on that topic. I chose the development of the Detroit Museum of Art, which later became the Detroit Institute of Arts (a timely topic, given the DIA’s current funding situation).

Anyway, everyone taking the class was forced to do research at the Bentley Historical Library. And by forced, I mean required to use an awesome on-campus resource that most students probably don’t even know exists.

I looked into the William C. Weber and D.M. Ferry Papers for primary source material. “Looking” really means “browsing,” as one has to search through reams of interesting if largely irrelevant material to find suitable content.

Often that browsing turns up bits of ephemera that is pretty interesting in its own right.

Like this:

I snapped a photo of this letter, dated March 31, 1914, just because I liked the “Hotel Pasaje” letterhead. It was in the D.M. Ferry Papers along with a bunch of other material on the Detroit Museum of Art from the mid-1910s.

Reading the first few lines after the fact, however, I wish I had copied the entire letter. It says:

My Dear Mr Ferry-

A large collection of old masters is for sale here in Havana.

Whoa. Cuba was a very different place pre-Fidel, but I hardly took it to be a repository of priceless art. What happened to those old masters? Were they sold? Are some of them in the DIA? In Fidel’s place? Again, little bits and pieces of correspondence or old memos raise questions that are fascinating, but one must set them aside to focus on the topic at hand.

Still, some day, it would be interesting to follow up on Havana’s old masters. It might make a great story.

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