Museums & Historic Sites

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.

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.

Every painter has their palette; every sculptor has their clay.  Eudora Welty had a typewriter, and a number of other tools to help her stories take shape.  How did Welty remember her ideas, create a space to develop them, and edit them down to the most effective expressions of her soul?  To find the answer, we must enter her bedroom at the Welty House.

Just off the second floor landing, the bedroom features a small wooden desk, set in a corner by white cotton curtains.  Welty wrote nearly all of her major works in this room, including the Pulitzer Prize winner The Optimist’s Daughter in the 1970s.  Working as history detectives, we can use the objects on this desk to piece together her writing process.

Welty understood that ideas strike us at inconvenient times: in the supermarket, on the freeway, or in countless other places where fleshing out an idea proves impossible.  She often scribbled down character, plot or setting notes on whatever she had handy—receipts, checkbooks, or small notebooks that fit in a purse.  Welty used the back of this checkbook to remember plot ideas, while she used this black datebook to record a series of names, some real (“Sondra and Wondra—twins”) and some fictional (“Booster” “Celida”, “Willette”).

Welty used checkbooks like this one to jot down story ideas when they came to her in public (reproduction).

Welty used checkbooks like this one to jot down story ideas when they came to her in public (reproduction).

With these ideas in mind, Welty needed the proper writing space to develop them.  Her desk sits before three large windows, where she could view the buildings of Belhaven University, framed between a pair of towering oak trees.  While Welty did not face the windows, she liked to sit sideways where she could see outside, “because I like to be aware of life going on…I couldn’t write with a blank wall in front of me.”  Pinehurst Street provided its fair share of sights, from cars to joggers to neighbors walking their dogs.  The quiet of suburban Belhaven allowed Welty to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life, and focus on her craft.  In our next entry, we’ll explore how Welty turned words into prose.

View of Welty’s office.  The Belhaven neighborhood is visible behind the desk.

View of Welty’s office. The Belhaven neighborhood is visible behind the desk.

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.
W2010.1.298

When visitors enter the sitting room of the Eudora Welty House, an unusual sight greets them— a single white feather, encased in a wooden frame, sitting on a small wooden table.  Set against a blue vinyl background, the feather appears to float, a curious sight and natural conversation starter.  Why would anyone have a framed white feather?

A devoted fan acquired this wild swan feather for Welty in Coole, Ireland, a small village in County Westmeath, in recognition of William Butler Yeats.  Yeats, one of Welty’s favorite poets, wrote a piece entitled “The Wild Swans at Coole” in 1917, where he described the sight of swans taking wing:

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   

Trod with a lighter tread.

Welty discovered Yeats’s poetry while studying literature at the University of Wisconsin.  In One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty describes taking refuge in the library from Wisconsin’s seemingly endless snow, when she stumbled upon Yeats and soon devoured his work:

It seemed to me if I could stir, if I could move to take the next step, I could go out into the poem the way I could go out into that snow.  That it would be falling on my shoulders.  That it would pelt me on its way down — that I could move in it, live in it — that I could die in it, maybe.  So after that I had to learn it…and I told myself that I would.  At Wisconsin, I learned the word for the nature of what I had come upon in reading Yeats…that word is passion.

The swan feather is one of many objects that showcase Welty’s favorite writers.  Instead of displaying her own accolades or accomplishments, she chose to celebrate the authors who inspired her.

MDAH received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in the fall of 2014 to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for more than 11,000 artifacts, including books and other artifacts at the Eudora Welty House and Garden. Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on this project.

Jarrett Zeman catalogs at the Eudora Welty House and Garden.

Jarrett Zeman catalogs at the Eudora Welty House and Garden.

My name is Jarrett Zeman, and I am the cataloger for the Museum Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). Thanks to a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I will be embarking on a three-year project to catalog the contents of the Eudora Welty House and Garden, one of the nation’s most intact literary house museums and a National Historic Landmark.  For over 75 years, it was the home of Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Optimist’s Daughter and one of the South’s most prolific short story writers.

What exactly is cataloging?  Why are we taking on such an ambitious project?  Cataloging involves several steps,  categorizing artifacts, checking measurements, taking photographs, and writing detailed descriptions of an artifact’s appearance and function.  These steps are not performed simply for the sake of recordkeeping; rather, they allow us to become history detectives.  The detailed descriptions are a stepping stone to further research, as we investigate each artifact’s history and significance during Welty’s era.  New discoveries help us better interpret artifacts and their owners.

We can learn much about a person by walking in their footsteps and by holding the same objects they’ve held.  At the Welty House objects  pull back the curtain on a life and tell volumes about Welty’s tastes, passions, and dreams, including her preference for Maker’s Mark whiskey, her love of European travel, and her undying passion for books.

Indeed, each room of her home is filled with books in every available cranny and nook: piled onto the couch cushions, spilling over tables, and arranged in uneven piles along the carpet.  Welty’s guests had to move stacks of books off the couch cushions just to sit down.  In total, the home contained 5,000 volumes at the time of her death.

A glance at her bookshelves illuminates Welty’s diverse literary tastes. She seemed to own books on every topic imaginable, from Victorian fairy tales to American poetry to a six-volume set on Thomas Jefferson.  When I work in her sitting room, I like to imagine Welty reclining comfortably on the blue chaise-longue in the corner, set appropriately next to the bookshelf, where she entertained many visitors with the wry wit and astute observation for which she was known.

A short glass barrier sits between the public and me as I catalog objects in Welty’s guest bedroom.  Visitors will frequently peer in, rather like a human observing a zoo animal.

“Are you a part of the tour?” a visitor will sometimes ask, tongue-in-cheek.

“Yes, but I’m not original to the house,” I’ll joke, referencing a phrase visitors often hear on historic house tours.  This invites several questions:  What exactly am I doing?  What steps are involved?  And why am I wearing thick cotton gloves in the middle of summer? (Our gloves protect objects from the harmful oils secreted by human hands).

Although my interactions with visitors are often casual, their opportunity to observe MDAH employees in action serves an important purpose, showing that the Eudora Welty House and Garden is a working museum, where new discoveries are made every day.  It is not a shrine full of dusty glass cases in cobwebbed corners, or a home frozen in time with no new knowledge to impart.

As Eudora Welty wrote, “One place understood helps us understand all places better.”  As we gain a greater appreciation of Welty through her artifacts, we not only learn about an intriguing literary legend; we also understand her era, the city of Jackson, and the spirit of the South, encapsulated in a humble home on Pinehurst Street.

Tagged with:
 

March is Women’s History Month so we will be showcasing exceptional Mississippi women and related collections on the blog. This post was written by Marilynn Jones, director of the Manship House Museum.

Marble boot, given to Mrs. Luther Manship for her efforts toward construction of the Confederate Monument.  Accession Number: 2009.6.29 (Museum Division Collection)

Marble boot, given to Mrs. Luther Manship for her efforts toward construction of the Confederate Monument.  Accession Number: 2009.6.29 (Museum Division Collection)

Marble boot, given to Mrs. Luther Manship for her efforts toward construction of the Confederate Monument. Accession Number: 2009.6.29 (Museum Division Collection)

Mary Belmont Phelps Manship (1862-1898) was an instrumental force in the construction of the Confederate Monument in Jackson, Mississippi. Born in Huntsville, Alabama and educated at Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi, Mary Belmont Phelps and Luther Manship were married in 1881, in Magnolia, Mississippi. Luther Manship, the ninth of fifteen children of Charles Henry and Adaline Manship, was a prominent lecturer who served as Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi from 1908 to 1912. Both Luther and Belmont Manship were concerned for the welfare of Confederate veterans.

On June 16, 1886, Mrs. Luther Manship and several other concerned women met in the Senate Chamber at the Old Capitol and organized the Confederate Monument Association of Mississippi.1 Their mission was to raise funds for a monument honoring the Confederate dead of Mississippi, to be located on the south Capitol Green, an area that is now the front lawn of the Charlotte Capers Archives and History Building. The first funds for the monument resulted from a concert organized by Mr. and Mrs. Luther Manship that featured a variety of songs and recitations performed by local talent. For several more years, the ladies of the Confederate Monument Association continued their struggle to raise funds, and in 1888 the legislature passed a bill appropriating $10,000 to complete the monument.

Confederate Monument today.

Confederate Monument today.

The birthday of Jefferson Davis, June 3, 1891, was chosen as the date for the official dedication the Monument. A parade of Confederate veterans, the Mississippi National Guard, officers of the Ladies’ Monument Association, members of the family of the late Jefferson Davis, and other dignitaries, processed from the City Hall to witness the unveiling by Jefferson Davis Hayes, grandson of Jefferson Davis. It was estimated that twenty thousand people from fourteen states witnessed the unveiling of the Confederate Monument.2

For over one hundred years, the Monument has honored the Confederate dead of Mississippi and the efforts of the Ladies’ Monument Association.

Artifacts from the Museum Division collection that are not on exhibit are available for viewing by appointment. Please contact Nan Prince, Assistant Director of Collections, by email to schedule an appointment.


1 John Ray Skates, Mississippi’s Old Capitol: Biography of a Building (Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1990).

2 The Daily Clarion-Ledger, June 3, 1891, Jackson, Mississippi.

Tagged with: