Autumn Flowers

Combination Halloween and birthday party for sisters, Verla and Lorna Flowers, in 1923 (?).

Seattle dance enthusiasts have had much to get excited about this fall with two visits from local-boy-made-good, Mark Morris. First, in a brief engagement earlier this month by his own company at On the Boards; and this coming Friday will see the much-anticipated premiere of Kammermusik No. 3, his first work done on commission for Pacific Northwest Ballet.

In a recent interview, Morris claimed to be “not very nostalgic” about Seattle. While we do not take an official position on nostalgia, here at Special Collections we are very proud to be able to share at least a small fragment of an important part of Seattle’s dance legacy, and one that is intrinsically connected to Morris, the Verla Flowers scrapbook.

Verla Flowers (1913-2003), of course, was Morris’ first dance teacher. As Joan Acocella describes it in her biography, Mark Morris (1993), his mother chose Verla Flowers Dance Arts for her son from a newspaper advertisement after looking for a school that offered instruction in Spanish dance (p. 20). But enough about him for now. Verla Flowers clearly was an extraordinary woman in her own right.

The scrapbook that we are fortunate enough to have was begun originally by Verla Flowers’ mother, Augusta, who presented it to her daughter shortly before her graduation from Ballard High School, and was continued by Flowers for several more years. The volume documents Flowers’ childhood, her own early dance training and performances, her student years at Cornish, and her first forays into teaching. While it contains few photographs, it does include the above image of what appears to be a children’s Halloween party. This particular event may be the one described in a newspaper clipping (which, in the scrapbook, has had its date and source trimmed) titled, “Hallowe’en Party a Birthday Surprise for Flowers Sisters”:

Verla and Lorna are real Hallowe’en children, as both were born on October 31, though there is a four years’ difference in their ages. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Flowers, are active in the labor movement, Mr. Flowers being a member of Machinists’ Hope Lodge No. 79. The children’s birthdays are always celebrated with Hallowe’en gaiety. Verla is 10 and Lorna 6 this year.

Or maybe not. We certainly would welcome any additional information. While Mark Morris may be too busy to stop by right now, we hope that you will take the opportunity to come to Special Collections and investigate Seattle’s dance history more deeply.

Happy Halloween to all and happy birthday, Verla Flowers!


Vaudeville in Seattle – the Orpheum Theatres

Moore Theatre - Orpheum Circuit, Oct. 1922

Before television and the internet, there was vaudeville.  Seattle, like much of the rest of the country, had several competing vaudeville theaters throughout the early twentieth century, including a string of Orpheum Theatres.  Carl Reiter, manager of Orpheum Theatres in Seattle, as well as in Omaha and Portland, kept scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and ephemera, like the program below,  from and about the theaters he managed. He included reviews, interviews and stories about the Orpheum’s and its competitors’ acts, including such luminaries as Sarah Bernhardt, Harry Houdini, and Marie and Alice Lloyd. There are also advertisements, programs, notes (in both English and Chinese) in the margins, and other ephemera.

Orpheum Circuit News and Program, Sept. 1916

Reiter’s  Orpheum Circuit Scrapbooks, sixteen volumes in all, date from 1904 to 1924.  Clippings about Seattle’s Orpheum, Moore, and Alhambra Theatres, are predominant, but there are a couple of volumes dedicated to the Orpheum Theatres of Omaha and St. Joseph, Nebraska and Portland, Oregon.

Image credits:

  • Moore Theatre, Orpheum Circuit Advertisment, October 4, 1922, Orpheum Circuit Scrapbooks (PN 1968.W2 .R45 1904), vol. 15.
  • Orpheum Circuit News and Program, September 1916, Orpheum Circuit Scrapbooks (PN 1968.W2 .R45 1904), vol. 11.

Seattle Preserved: or, a Plot Discovered

Frank La Roche portrait of C.T. Conover and S.L. Crawford on Fifth Avenue, between Cherry and Columbia Streets (circa 1889)

I couldn’t let Preservation Week go by completely unremarked, so I thought I’d share a snippet of some semi-forgotten history gleaned from the scrapbook cataloging project.

Charles T. Conover and Samuel L. Crawford were journalists, turned Seattle boosters and real estate tycoons at the close of the 19th century and start of the twentieth.  The substance of their biographies (and scrapbooks) could take up several posts (and I may get around to it some day), but the archivist in me found the following incident in the life of Crawford (which is recounted slightly differently in other sources) to be of special appeal.  As Conover (the longer-lived of the pair) recalled in his “Just Cogitating” column in the July 8, 1950 edition of the Seattle Times:

A dominant trait in my old partner, Samuel L. Crawford, was his unswerving loyalty to his friends and the things he believed in.  … He had helped to nurture and sustain The Post-Intelligencer since its birth, had, at one time, been part owner, and in the great fire of 1889 he lugged the files of the paper up the hill to safety through the smoke and blistering heat before showing up at the office of Crawford & Conover to help salvage our effects.

Little did he know how it would turn out some 120 years later.

To be continued…

A Scrapbook By Any Other Name?

"Mixed Pickles," leaf from the Westmoreland Album (1864/70), watercolor and ink photocollage designed by Victoria Alexandrina Anderson-Pelham, Countess of Yarborough and Eva Macdonald.

While back visiting New York recently, I unexpectedly encountered this delightful exhibition during a routine trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage displays the heretofore little known work of nineteenth century women who compiled these meticulously crafted albums, which contain individual leaves that creatively and often humorously juxtapose and incorporate cut up pieces of studio portrait photography within the artist’s own watercolor designs.

Do these sound like scrapbooks to you?

While I don’t think we have any examples in our collection of scrapbooks that are quite as classy, we have uncovered some pretty interesting ones during the course of the ongoing scrapbook cataloging and preservation project.

And who knows what wonders may be found among the Special Collections Division’s collection of photographic albums?  You may get your chance to ask, when Visual Materials Curator, Nicolette Bromberg, gives a presentation on the photographs of Viretta Denny at the next Seattle Area Archivists membership meeting on March 11, 2010.  You can read more about that event on their blog.

In the meantime, I have checked out the Libraries’ only copy of the exhibition catalog of the photocollage show, but promise to return it soon.

Election Day

Robert Bridges scrapbooks volume three

Just a brief reminder to get your ballot in and a preview of sorts of coming attractions.

By coincidence (or is it?) some recently cataloged scrapbooks from the Pacific Northwest Collection have provided a window into the frequently rough and tumble world of early twentieth century Seattle politics.

Stay tuned for some of these stories, the possible appearance of yet another new blogger, as well as the return of a familiar voice.

Archives Month Elsewhere

Poster for Wisconsin Archives Month 2009
Poster for Wisconsin Archives Month 2009

Since it’s almost midway through the month already, we thought it was about time to give a random shout-out to that other state that begins with the letter W.  If you have been following their blog, you are probably well aware that the theme for Archives Month 2009 in Wisconsin is “Scrapbook: Wisconsin” and that repositories from all across the state have been contributing a blog post highlighting a scrapbook or other unique item from their collections.  But if you haven’t, we just thought we would let you know about this great initiative.

Look for some more posts about scrapbooks from the Pacific Northwest collection in the somewhat near future.

Working His Way Through College

In an effort to stay one step ahead of Mahrya (who is already making good progress with cleaning up the minimal level records), I decided to pull an individual scrapbook or small collection to create a record that might serve as an (obviously destined-to-be-shining) example of full level cataloging of scrapbooks.

I settled on the first item from the list (which filed that way because of the quotation marks around the creator’s first name, “Cec” Smith), the Cecil Smith scrapbooks because: a) it was small; b) the subject matter (popular music) interested me; and c) we had found a couple of cool photographs on the UW Digital Collections site while I was trying to explain the “creator” concept in the context of scrapbooks.

Since then I have compiled a few vital statistics on Smith, who seems a most interesting character (he’s the one in the center of the picture above).  The scrapbook mainly chronicles his career as a dance band leader (the band itself seems to have gone by several names) during the late 1920s/early 1930s in Seattle.  Smith supported himself as a law school student at the University of Washington through his work as a musician.  The scrapbook ends around 1937 (though there are a couple of items inserted at the back that date from the following year), following Smith’s passing of the bar exam.  He seems to have continued to play music at social functions even after he began to practice law, but the trail ends there.  I was able to determine from that he died in Bellevue in 1988; presumably he spent his entire career as a lawyer in the Seattle area.  But did he continue on as a musician at all?

More digging awaits as I try to assemble these and other facts into something more lucid.

Image credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division, Seattle Collection, Negative no.14269