Sharp-eyed readers spotted a distinctive black-and-white photograph with links to Utah State University that was appearing in a range of national publications. Literary types saw it in The New Yorker, and home design aficionados noted the photo in the pages of Architectural Digest.
The photo has historical importance, but it was the caption that drew most of the attention – “Hanging Rock, Foot of Echo Canyon, Utah.” Photo by A.J. Russell, 1867/1868. Special Collections and Archives, Merrill-Cazier Library, Utah State University.
The photograph, featuring a lone figure sitting under a rock overhang with a solitary farmstead in the valley below, was part of a multiple-page advertising campaign that combined the star power of Diane Keaton, corporate giant Toyota, the environmental sensitivity of the PBS series Nature and a campaign titled In My Nature.
Pretty good company. After all, it’s not often that a university’s special collections and archives receives a shout-out across the country.
Thanks to the photograph, Utah State’s Special Collections and Archives and the Merrill-Cazier Library are in the spotlight, drawing attention to the resources that are not only available to Diane Keaton, but to everyone, according to Daniel Davis, photograph curator for Special Collections and Archives. Davis was contacted by an advertising executive at Conde Nast with a request to use the “Hanging Rock” photo.
“Someone from the organization saw the photo —probably online — and made the request. We scanned the image and sent it. Anyone can make a request like this.”
And while Conde Nast is a giant in the publishing world, Davis makes an important point — anyone can take advantage of the rich resources offered by Special Collections and Archives.
“I get 20-25 requests a month,” Davis said. “They come in the form of a simple question — ‘do you have a photo of such and such.’”
The photograph requested by Conde Nast comes from a work originally published in 1870 by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden — Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery, with a Description of the Geographical and Geological Features, and some Account of the Resources of the Great West; Containing Thirty Photographic Views Along the Line of the Pacific Rail Road, from Omaha to Sacramento. Whew! The title’s almost as long as the book. Its 30 albumen photographs are by Andrew Joseph Russell illustrating geological and man-made structures in Wyoming, Utah and California.
“The original glass-plate negative of that image is held at the Oakland Museum of California,” Davis said. “The negative is 10 x 13 inches in size, and the detail with a negative that size is truly stunning. This is a very interesting photograph that includes a view of Pulpit Rock. It is said that Brigham Young gave a sermon from the rock.”
The photograph also provides important documentation of a landmark that no longer exists, Davis points out. Pulpit Rock is gone. It was removed during road construction in the canyon.
Davis knows his stuff and can talk about any number of photographs in Special Collections and Archives. He and other staff in the division provide valuable advice and direction to patrons.
Brad Cole, associate director for Special Collections and Archives, speaks highly of the staff, noting that all have advanced degrees — primarily in the humanities — and years of experience in their areas of curatorial expertise.
“We are lucky to have a dedicated, talented staff that loves what it does and enjoys passing its enthusiasm along to our patrons,” Cole said. “Our primary goal is to link users with one-of-a-kind primary source material.”
USU’s Special Collections and Archives collects and preserves the university’s special collections materials while making them available to everyone.
“Researchers often need unique primary source materials,” Cole said. “Freshmen English students might need a source document for a composition assignment. Grad students working on a thesis or dissertation need source materials. Family historians take advantage of our resources as well.”
What items are housed in Special Collections and Archives? Unique items. Fragile items. Old items and rare items. All are housed in a secure, monitored, closed-stack environment and include manuscripts, photographs, rare books and serials, book arts and art works on paper. The site also houses the permanent, historical records of the university.
The photo area hosts a number of fully digitized collections, including the one selected for the promotion of the Nature series. There are 11 fully-digitized collections, with 25 partially-digitized. Some include only a handful of images, while others have hundreds, including that of legendary USU Art Department faculty member H. Reuben Reynolds that holds upwards of 236 images, many of the USU campus and Cache Valley. The Compton Studio Collection includes 554 images of regional historical importance.
“Today’s patrons are more tech savvy than only five or six years ago,” Davis said. “Their expectations have gone up considerably. To meet those expectations, we’re working hard to provide more digital copies of photographs.”
Davis has fielded requests from around the world and from all 50 states. There are more than 90,000 images individually described in registers available on the Web and searchable through a Google-based search engine on the Special Collections site. It is no wonder people around the world find the USU-based photos.
“Recently, a Polish scholar who publishes a journal about American Indians contacted me,” Davis said. “He works in a factory by day and publishes the journal out of his home at night. We photocopied everything we had of Shoshone Indians in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. He was ecstatic to receive the photocopies and it only cost about $30.”
As Davis said, anyone can access the resources at Special Collections and Archives — Diane Keaton, Polish scholars, anyone.
Special Collections and Archives is a department in the Merrill-Cazier Library and is located on the ground floor of the facility. More information can be found at its Web site.
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