Finding Aids Moving to Archives West


This spring, Special Collections will transition its findings aids from our locally-hosted XTF site to Archives West, formerly known as Northwest Digital Archives.

Archives West, a program offering of the Orbis Cascade Alliance since 2007, provides access to descriptions of primary sources in the western United States, including correspondence, diaries or photographs. Institutions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, and Utah have loaded descriptions (finding aids) of their collections to Archives West.  In some cases, digital reproductions of the materials are linked directly from the finding aids.

A finding aid is a detailed guide or inventory of the contents of a manuscript or archival collection. The guide provides a gateway to the collection because it allows researchers to identify the boxes or folders they will need for their research. A typical guide also provide biographical or historical information on the person or organization that created the material, an overview of the collection, and how it is arranged plus a detailed container list and any use restrictions.

What will Archives West add to the user experience?

  • It provides access to all of our finding aids.  Our old site is no longer being updated, so use Archives West to find the most current descriptions of our collections.
  • It allows searches across regional repositories. You are likely to find related collections held by other repositories in the Northwest.
  • It creates an updated search environment that will more readily display digitized content and enhance our collection descriptions with more search terms.

What can you expect in the coming months?

  • We invite our researchers to try the new site now.
  • A cut-off date for the current XTF site this summer (date to be announced).

Take the Archives West User Survey to win an Amazon gift card!

Archives West is conducting a two-part assessment of the recent redesign until April 15, 2016. They are looking for people who use Archives West to fill out a survey and to potentially answer some follow-up questions on how successful the redesign of the site is. If you are interested in being part of this effort, please go to A  few individuals will be selected for follow-up questions – those selected will receive $10 gift cards.



First Published Views of the Pacific Northwest

Tlingit women pick berries with a dog, Baranof Island Alaska, in engraving made by F. H. Freiherr von Klittlitz, from F. P. Litke’s Voyage autour du monde.  Atlas, 1835, plate 5b.


Travelers and adventurers today document trips with photographs and videos on social media, in published works, and in produced documentaries. The first travel writers to publish narrative accounts and visual depictions of the Pacific Northwest were eighteenth and nineteenth century maritime voyagers from Russia, Britain, France, Spain, and the eastern United States. Published accounts of their voyages were accompanied by illustrations depicting topography, people, crafts, and tools native to this region.

Illustrations of this time period started as sketches and became primarily copper engravings.  These informative, decorative, and didactic illustrations were commonly printed along with maps and charts as plates in a folio-sized atlas. Atlases and exploration accounts were, in first printing, sold as a set, on a subscription basis.  The publications offered never before seen views of far-away places and peoples.


Nootka carvings including masks and rattle, Nootka Sound, British Columbia, in engraving made 1778. From James Cook’s A voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Atlas, 1773-1784, pl. 40


UW Special Collections has an extraordinary collection of these travel accounts, including rare early editions.  Our online research guide, Images of Exploration, Discovery, and Early Settlement in the Pacific Northwest, introduces you to this collection and the fascinating stories of artists who accompanied explorers on historic voyages.  Like photographers and videographers today, these talented artists often wore more than one hat during the voyages, and some followed the project from start to finish.  Their illustrations became the first published images of the land and people of our region.


Nootka group in interior of house, Nootka Sound, British Columbia, in engraving made 1778 by John Webber. From James Cook’s A voyage to the Pacific Ocean.  Atlas, 1773-1784, pl. 42


John Webber 
Third voyage of James Cook, British (1776-1780)

John Webber, an Englishman of Swiss heritage, was the official expedition artist on Captain Cook’s third voyage from 1776 to 1780.  Upon return, Webber was responsible for reducing his drawings and paintings to scale for engravers. The Admiralty also hired him as “art director” for the 1784 publication, the duties of which included supervising the engravers and the printing of the plates.

Lieutenant Blondela and Gaspard Duché de Vancy 
Voyage of Jean Françoise Galaup de la Pérouse, French (1785-1788)

Gaspard Duchè de Vancy, official artist of the voyage of Jean Françoise Galaup de la Pérouse, from 1785 to 1788, was raised in Vienna and exhibited artworks at the Salon of Young Artists in Paris in 1781 and at the Royal Academy in London in 1784.  He was commissioned to execute several royal portraits including: Stanislaus of Poland, the secretary of the Kingdom of Naples, and Marie Antoinette.

A second artist, Lieutenant Blondela (first name unknown) was in the French military before joining the La Pérouse expedition.  While not officially assigned as artist to the expedition, Blondela’s talents were a great asset to the voyage’s visual record. La Pérouse commented on Blondela in his journal, “he applies himself with a degree of assiduity, and executes with an intelligence, order and neatness, that are deserving of the highest encomiums

Chinook women rocking baby suspended in cradleboard in Oregon.  Engraving made 1841 by A. T. Agate.  From Charles Wilkes’s Narrative of the U. S. Exploring Expedition,  1845, vol. 4, p. 338.


John Sykes, Harry Humphrys, Thomas Heddington, and Zachary Mudge
Voyage of George Vancouver, British (1791-1795)

A gross oversight in Voyage of British explorer George Vancouver was the lack of an officially commissioned artist. Fortunately, there were four crewmen aboard skilled enough to provide sketches and drawings that could be transformed into illustrations for the publication.   These men were John Sykes, Harry Humphrys, Thomas Heddington, and Zachary Mudge.  John Sykes, a midshipman, was the most prolific artist. He created over 90 drawings throughout the voyage and his are the first depictions of the Puget Sound area.  Artist, William Alexander, was hired later to redraw the sketches in preparation for the engraving.

Louis Choris
Voyage of Otto von Kotzebue, Russian (1815-1818)

Louis Choris, official expedition artist on the Voyage of Otto von Kotzebue, was only 20 when he when the voyage began. Upon return, Choris solicited subscribers, who included the kings of France and Prussia, to enable publication of his Voyage.


Webber_image- sea horses
“A party from His Majesty’s ship Resolution shooting sea-horses”. This large picture of walruses being shot for food was painted after John Webber’s return to London from Cook’s third voyage (1776–80), where he was the official expedition artist.


Friedrich Heinrich von Kittlitz and Aleksandr Postels
Voyage of Fedor Petrovich Litke, Russian (1826-1829)

Russian explorer Fedor Petrovick Litke hired artists and naturalists Friedrich Heinrich Baron von Kittlitz and Aleksandr Filippovich Postels, who both contributed to the artistic/scientific evidence of the voyage.  Kittlitz’s job in accompanying Litke was to “hunt, collect, describe, and illustrate birds.”  Returning from the voyage, Kittlitz spent time assembling materials for his own personal account of the voyage (published in 1858) as well as giving scientific lectures.

Postels is described in the crew sheet as Mineralogist and sketch-artist. He was key to the expedition, producing sketches of amphibians and fish, as well as recording botanical and ethnographic material.


Haida in canoes watch the Discovery on the rocks in Queen Charlotte Sound, British Columbia.  Engraving made in 1792 by artist Zachary Mudge.  From George Vancouver’s A voyage of discovery to the North Pacific Ocean,  1798, vol. 1, plate 6.


Alfred T. Agate and Joseph Drayton
Voyage of The United States Exploring Expedition/Wilkes Expedition, American (1838-1842)

Alfred T. Agate, born in New York, executed most of the drawings in the Wilkes Expedition expedition report. Soon after the end of the voyage he died, at age 33, in Washington D.C.

Joseph Drayton, another of the expedition artists, saw the drawings through to publication. He made the engravings, oversaw the coloring of the illustrations, as well as the printing and binding.   In addition, he made the paper on which the works, engravings, and charts are printed.


Choris_image2 faces
Portraits of three Aleuts, ca. 1822, by Louis Choris.  From Voyage pittoresque autour du monde, Paris, Impr. de Firmin Didot, 1822.


Read more here.  Visit Special Collections for a hands-on look these at rare materials.   Our collections are open to the public.

Christmas 1881 in Astoria



In Evergreen Boughs and Mince Meat Pie, Polly McKean Bell tells a grand story of her family’s 1881 Christmas celebration in Astoria, Oregon. The port city at the mouth of the Columbia River was newly incorporated (1876) with a population of nearly 2,000.  The memoir details decorating Christmas trees at the church and the family home, baking sweets, hand-crafting gifts for and by all members of the family, and dressing in fancy new dresses and button boots to perform at the main social event, a program led by children at the church on Christmas Eve.

The climax of the holiday was the family visit on Christmas day to Aunt Eliza and Uncle H. (Hustler), a sea captain, whose life you can read about in this 1928 interview with his widow at age 94.  The couple and their Chinese cook, Wat Sen, served a Christmas feast of shoal-water bay oysters with lemon and cayenne pepper, roast duck, apple sauce and cranberry sauce, small oval mince pies, oranges, hot-house grapes, and a gift box of litchi nuts and preserved ginger. The celebration culminated with presents of exotic toys and gadgets from faraway places.  The girls received dolls, a miniature lacquer chest of drawers with metal pulls, a tiny lacquer work box with small compartments for a child size thimble and scissors. Her mother and father received a stereoscope with views from cities around the world and a barometer.  Above is Polly’s older brother on his new velocipede – the very first in town.

title page

photo of children

Polly McKean Bell (center) was born in Astoria 1876, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Terry McKean Jr. Her grandfather, Samuel T. McKean Sr., had come to Oregon across the plains in 1848, when Polly’s father was 8 years old.  She became widely known regionally for her writings and keen interest in historical affairs the area.  Her article entitled “A Pioneer Woman’s Reminiscences of Christmas in the Eighties” was published in the Oregon Historical Society Quarterly in 1948.  A decade later, she republished it as a small monograph shown here.  Our copy came to us by way of the Stewart Holbrook papers.  Polly inscribed the copy to Stewart – the two were likely well acquainted, as both were Pacific Northwest history authors in the Portland area.  She died in 1964 in Astoria and is buried at Clatsop Plains Pioneer Cemetery in Clatsop County.  The family papers are held by the Clatsop County Historical Society.

Introducing “Pacific Northwest Features”

We are pleased to reintroduce the PNW blog with a new name and broader focus. Pacific Northwest Features is a blog about PNW history, culture, and people, featuring collections from all around the University of Washington Libraries.

The Pacific Northwest Collection documents the historic and contemporary life and culture of the region. We actively collect rare books, maps, ephemera and other published materials, as well as personal papers, digital records, and organizational archives, photographs, architectural drawings, recorded sound, and moving images.  Major primary source collections include Labor Archives of Washington and the Washington State Jewish Archives.  The PNW Collection began in 1905 as the Northwest Collection.  Today it is part of Special Collections located on the UW Seattle campus in the lower level of Suzzallo/Allen Library.

There are dozens of other Pacific Northwest resources in the UW Libraries, found in departments in all branches and on all three campuses. We now invite librarians from all areas to share and promote Pacific Northwest titles and collections by becoming contributing authors to the blog.

Pacific Northwest Features shares stories about collections, events, exhibits, and our connections with other regional history collections and programs. Follow the blog by subscribing to email list to the left.  Browse through earlier posts in the Collections Featured category, and visit Special Collections to explore our fascinating collections.

Anne Jenner
Pacifc Northwest Curator, blog editor

Blowing the top off a hidden Mount St. Helens Collection

How to Paint Pictures with Volcanic Ash

Featured Collection:  University of Washington Mount St. Helens Collection

When our region was thrown into the global spotlight following the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, the UW Libraries staff sprang into action collecting a wide variety of documents and ephemera. An all-call for materials was put out to the UW community and items poured in.  Government reports, photographs, newspaper clippings, cartoons, tee-shirts, creative tributes in the form of poetry, jewelry made of pumice from the Mountain, and much more.

Materials were collected and organized by the University of Washington Mount St. Helens Action Group, who created a series list and painstakingly indexed the collection at item level!  Collecting went on for years, long enough for the the group to document the UW Libraries Mount St. Helens 10th Anniversary Party.

The ash has settled and decades have passed.  The document and ephemera collection was boxed, along with its meticulously typed index, and tucked away. The collection was unfortunately overlooked when we moved to an online finding aids database in the early 2000s.  It remained hidden until this year during the Mount St. Helens 35th anniversary commemoration, when we stumbled upon the 22 boxes in our closed stacks.  In the first box we discovered the type-written (pre-desktop computer) item level index!  It has taken a while to key it in and do a physical check on each and every item, but with determination we have been able to reveal this hidden treasure before the end of the year!

Wash the Ash
We recently published the finding  aid for the University of Washington Mount St. Helens Collection.  Browsing through the inventory is like stepping back in time, but go the extra mile and come to the Special Collections reading room to request a box or two and relive the emotion (and hype) of the era.

The UW Mount St. Helens collection is one of many that hold materials on the history of the eruption.  Search for published works in Library Search.  Find more primary sources in our finding aids database.  And check out the research guide on Mount St. Helens.

PNW Historians Guild Event – New Research Lectures – Jan. 15

New research on the history and landscape of the Pacific Northwest will be presented by three graduate students from UW’s History Department and College of the Built Environment.

Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014 6:00-8:00 pm at the University of Washington – Suzzallo Library Maps/Special Collections Classroom, B89.  Call 206-543-1929 for information.

The event is free and open to the public.

Gig Harbor Grange #445 in Pierce County. Photo: Holly Taylor

Holly Taylor, a graduate student in the University of Washington College of the Built Environment’s Interdisciplinary PhD program and principal of Past Forward, a consulting company specializing in historic preservation projects in the Pacific Northwest, will be sharing findings from her recently completed Master’s Thesis, “Grange Halls in Washington State: A Critical Investigation of a Vernacular Building Type.”

Her presentation will examine Progressive-era history of the Grange, consider why Washington State has more Grange members at present than any other state, and explore preservation issues related to the Order’s rural and small-town community halls.

Ross Coen, a graduate student in the History Department at the University of Washington and the author of Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil The Epic Voyage of the SS Manhattan Through the Northwest Passage (University of Alaska Press, 2012) will present a paper entitled “Owning the Ocean: Environment and Identity in the Bristol Bay (Alaska) Salmon Fishery, 1930 to 1938.”

Patricia Gauthier, also a graduate student in History at the University of Washington, will share her work “Far From the Center of Charities: Chemawa Indian School and the Gendered Display of the ‘New Indian’, 1880 to 1905.”

Richard Wagener Lecture and Related Exhibits in Special Collections

The Book Arts Guild and University of Washington Libraries present


An Afternoon at Mithras Bookstore and a Sierra Journey, a lecture by Richard Wagener.  This talk will trace his development as a wood engraver and his involvement in the world of fine press books.

Thursday April 11, 2013, 7-9pm (doors open at 6:45)
Maps/Special Collections Classroom
Suzzallo Library Basement Room B69

Richard Wagener grew up in southern California spending a lot of time with his grandfather in remote parts of the desert and up in the Sierra. Early art classes introduced him to Maynard Dixon and Edgar Payne. After school activities included selling the evening newspapers at the Disney studios where he met many of the illustrators and animators. Richard has an undergraduate degree from the University of San Diego and a graduate degree from Art Center College of Design. He has been engraving wood for over thirty years and his work has been in a number of fine press editions. He currently lives and works in northern California.

There are two related exhibitions that feature relief printing which are on display in Special Collections.  This will be an opportunity to view them.  Both Conor Casey, curator of Images of Labor and Social Justice: The Art of Richard V. Correll and Sandra Kroupa curator of Lasting Impressions: Relief Prints Over 500 Years, will speak briefly and will provide access to the exhibitions.