Melissa Shook: Inside and Out – Photographs on display in the University Hall and Grossmann galleries

Melissa Shook: Inside and Out, a two-part exhibition in the University Hall Gallery and in the Grossmann Gallery on the fifth floor of the Healey Library, brings together photographs, video works, objects, and ephemera spanning six decades to honor the life’s work of artist, educator, and activist Melissa Shook (1939-2020). The exhibition is co-curated by Senior Lecturer II in Art History Carol G.J. Scollans and University Hall Gallery Director Samuel Toabe and will be on view from September 6 through October 29, 2022.

Woman stands in front of a mirror holding a camera, taking a picture of herself
Self-portrait, Melissa Shook, circa 1970s

Best known for her self-portraits and documentary-style photography representing and humanizing members of marginalized communities – including immigrants, queer people, elderly people, and people experiencing houselessness – Shook’s practice expanded throughout her career to include writing, book making, drawing, sculpture, video art, and social practice art through direct action and mutual aid projects. Shook joined UMass Boston in 1979, where she taught photography in the Art and Art History Department for thirty-one years, leaving an indelible mark on the department’s pedagogy as well as generations of students. A catalog with images of Melissa’s photographs will accompany the exhibition, including an introduction by Samuel Toabe, a contextual essay by Carol G.J. Scollans, and texts by Professor of Art Margaret Hart and Melissa’s daughter Krissy Shook. The University Hall Gallery presents the personal side of Shook’s practice, photographing and writing about her own life, as well as sculptural works and video experiments. Healey Library’s Grossmann Gallery features a large selection of her series -Streets are for Nobody, along with archival materials reproduced from the library’s collection of Melissa’s papers, as well as handmade books, sculptural objects, and a collection of her film and pinhole cameras. 

A public reception will be held on Saturday, September 17, 2022, from 2:00-4:00 p.m., starting in the University Hall Gallery.

The establishment of the Melissa Shook Documentary Photography Award in honor of the artist coincides with the exhibition. This fund will provide an annual prize to one or more UMass Boston students or graduating seniors who demonstrate exceptional skill or promise in photography, with a preference for documentary photography skills. The award will be presented this year for the first time to Chloe Tomasetta whose photographic work in 2021 documented busy street scenes in Boston’s historic Haymarket district during the height of the pandemic. 

The exhibition and catalog are supported by the Paul Hayes Tucker Fund as well as a generous gift by Caleb Stewart and Richard Snow. The Melissa Shook Documentary Photography Award is made possible with a generous gift by Nancy and Wendell Lutz. To contribute to the Melissa Shook Documentary Photography Award, please donate via this link.

For more information, please email UHGallery@umb.edu.


Melissa Shook donated her papers to University Archives and Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston. The collection contains files kept by Shook and includes correspondence, manuscripts, notes, interviews, research materials, workshop catalogs, show announcements, archival photographic prints, slides, hard drives, MiniDV tapes, DVDs, CDs, a VHS tape, and a selection of framed photographs and text from Shook’s 1994 publication Streets are for Nobody. Additional archival collections related to Shook include University of Massachusetts Boston, Art Department student photographs of the Healey Library, 1982-1984 and a collection of photographs taken by Shook for the Writers’ Workshop hosted by the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences.

For more information about these collections, please email library.archives@umb.edu.

Elena del Rivero’s Letter from Home (Suffrage) Asks Us What It Means to Fly a Dishtowel Like a Flag

Beginning on August 22, 2022, one of Elena del Rivero’s monstrous dishtowels, titled Letter from Home (Suffrage), will be on display in the Grossmann Gallery of the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston. Visible from the fourth floor of the library, the flag-artwork will be presented on campus as part of the Arts on the Point public art program, directed by University Hall Gallery Director Sam Toabe.

Three flags fly on a flagpole with trees and blue sky in the background
Elena del Rivero, Letter from Home (Suffrage), 2019. View of installation at Rocky Mountain College (Photo: Todd Forsgren).

Del Rivero’s flag at UMass Boston is part of a broader multi-site project celebrating women in politics. Elena del Rivero: Home Address has been convened by Professor John A. Tyson of the Art and Art History Department. The project began as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. Home Address is ongoing and will place nineteen identical flags (in a range of different sizes) in various locations across the country, including: the Consulate General of Spain, Henrique Faria Fine Art, and the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in New York City, Tulane University and Xavier University in Louisiana, Rocky Mountain College in Montana, Sun Valley Museum of Art in Idaho, Tampa Museum of Art in Florida, and the University of Wyoming.

Elena del Rivero is a Valencian-born, Spanish-American artist. With studios in New York and Madrid, she regularly exhibits her projects on both sides of the Atlantic. Her artworks are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Colby College Museum of Art in the United States as well as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. Additionally, del Rivero has been the recipient of many of fellowships and awards, most recently a Joan Mitchell Award and residency at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, Louisiana (2017), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2019), and the Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2020).

Elena del Rivero, Letter from Home (Suffrage), 2019, Nylon, 3.8 x 5.2 ft (117 x 150 cm) 

Photograph showing flag on a railing in a gallery
View of installation of Elena del Rivero’s Letter from Home (Suffrage) in the Grossmann Gallery

“Del Rivero takes a familiar form—a ‘feminine-coded’ interior textile—and shifts it from the domestic realm into the public sphere,” explains Tyson. “Her banner is intended to be an allegory for women’s changing role in society. Like many of del Rivero’s artworks, it is characterized by openness and generatively dialogues with its surrounds.” The stains on Del Rivero’s flag evoke a range of concepts. “One of the artist’s key concerns is emphasizing the imperfections in the history of American democracy,” Tyson continues. “For example, despite technically winning the right to vote in 1920, many women of color were in practice disenfranchised until the creation of subsequent legislation, perhaps most importantly the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent expansion of restrictions on access to ballots in states such as Texas, Florida, and Georgia means that suffrage continues to be a relevant issue.”

Please look out for information about related programming and a blog post by Professor Tyson in the fall semester.

More information about Elena del Rivero and Home Address can be found at this web feature created by the Rivers Institute for Contemporary Art & Thought and a video recording of a conversation between the artist and Professor Tyson presented by the Tampa Museum of Art in April 2021.

For questions about the Home Address project, please email JohnA.Tyson@umb.edu.


University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

The Archives welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to the Archives, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

In the Archives: Preserving Memory through Oral Histories

Author: Jack Ott, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the American Studies MA Program at UMass Boston

Oral histories and recollections can provide priceless and often otherwise transitory narratives about the politics and emotional labor invested in belonging to a community. Organizations such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston (The Irish Language Society of Boston), and The South End Seniors recognize and celebrate the importance of personal interaction while conducting historical research, and UMass Boston is proud to include oral history projects sponsored by these groups, as well as many others, in its digital archives.

UMass Boston’s University Archives and Special Collection is fortunate to hold a range of oral history projects and collections, and a full list and brief descriptions of each collection can be found here. Through video and audio interviews, as well as written transcripts, researchers can explore personal histories shared by members of the UMass Boston community, the greater Boston community, and beyond. In these personal histories, we can learn not only about the Cape Verdean community in Roxbury and North Dorchester in the post WWII years from the Neighbor Voices project, for example, but also about how that past has been internalized, remembered, and shared with future generations.

Adalberto Teixeira wearing a cap and jacket with buildings in the background
Adalberto Teixeira, November 21, 2016. Teixeira was born in Fogo, Cape Verde and moved to Roxbury in 1976 where he got a job as a welder at the Quincy shipyard and as a teaching aide at the Madison Park Public School before becoming a community organizer and constituent services worker for the city.

From humorous anecdotes such as Inishbarra, Ireland native Johnny Chóilín Choilmín’s first taste of a hot dog on his 1955 transatlantic voyage to America (he was expecting a breakfast sausage…and was unimpressed), to the resilience and ingenuity of Alice Inamoto Takemoto crafting homemade buttons from peach pits as a 15-year-old interned in the Santa Anita assembly center in 1942, the oral histories in this collection transform historical records into vivid and deeply personal narratives. In so doing, oral histories testify to the epistemological value of reflection and challenge dominant standards of who controls how history is recorded and preserved. State records may tell us how many Japanese Americans were relocated to assembly centers and then moved on to internment camps, but oral histories such as Alice Inamoto Takemoto’s ensure that memories like lying in an army cot as it sinks into freshly poured tar melting in the California summer heat are not lost to posterity.

Alice Setsuko Inamoto Takemoto sitting at a piano, smiling with her hands folded in her lap
Alice Setsuko Inamoto Takemoto, June 24, 2011. Takemoto was born in Garden Grove, California. A lifelong musician, she attended Oberlin College on a full scholarship after being released from the Jerome interment camp.

In the Archives: Education on Thompson Island

Author: Jack Ott, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the American Studies MA Program at UMass Boston

A large group of young male students playing band instruments, including a bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, a trombone, a trumpet, French horns, tubas, and others. A conductor raising his arm stands in front of the group on the right.
Farm School Band by John Wipple, 1862. Thompson Island hosted the first student band in the country.

UMass Boston’s Columbia Point campus may only extend as far into the Boston Harbor as our lovely Harborwalk, but less than a mile out to sea, across the Squantum Channel, lies Thompson Island, the insular home of a fascinating chapter in Boston’s agricultural and educational history. Continuously housing charitable, vocational, or educational institutions, Thompson Island has been an offshore repository for both Boston’s disadvantaged youth and its aspiring social elite. Since 1814, the island has been home to the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys (1814-1832), the Boston Farm School (1832-1835), the Boston Asylum and Farm School (1835-1907), the Farm and Trades School (1907-1955), Thompson’s Academy (1955-1975), Thompson Island Education Center (1975-1986), and Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center (1986 to the present). The University Archives and Special Collections department holds the records of these institutions and our Thompson Island collection chronicles this history, with the bulk of our archival materials focusing on the years 1814 through 1977.

A group of male students stands together. Some are holding gardening hoes with long wooden handles.
Students of the Boston Asylum and Farm School ready for farm chores. Date unknown, circa 1900.

The digital collection contains nearly 150 photographs of students and faculty members of the various school as well as student scrapbooks, student records, school newspapers, and correspondences between legal guardians and administrators. For further research, please take advantage of the collection’s finding aid. Anyone interested in accessing the physical collection should email library.archives@umb.edu.

In the early years of the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys (BAIB), most of the boys who arrived on Thompson Island were between the ages of 3 and 12. As the years progressed, subsequent institutions placed a greater emphasis on education and kept boys into their teenage years, yet as in the days of the BAIB, many were still the sons of widows who were unable to financially support their children. Separated from their families and physically isolated on the small island, these boys were seen as in need of social reform and were the subject of what historian Trisha Posey describes as a rigorous “moral cultivation.”[1] Speaking specifically about the Boston Asylum and Farm School (BAFS), Posey explains that ideologically, the school idolized an agrarian past. Yet, as Posey notes, the BAFS was largely unsuccessful in shaping most of its students in their image; of the 500 boys who entered the school between 1833 and 1849, only 136 graduated to become farmers or apprentice tradespeople, the majority had run away (277), died (29), or gone to sea (9).[2]

Two photographs on the page of a scrapbook. The top photograph shows a person standing in front of a small airplane. The lower photograph is a portrait of a young man in front of a brick wall with "Bob [illegible]" written in pencil underneath.
A page from a student scrapbook displaying a shock of uncontrolled hair mirroring the potential freedom and defiance symbolized by the advent of air travel. Date unknown, circa 1921-1928. 

The adolescence chafing against the yoke of discipline and previous generations’ sensibilities can be traced directly in the collection. Photographs of early airplanes or mothers back home preserved in scrapbooks and student newspaper articles about baseball or Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Edmundson’s race to the South Pole offer glimpses into the youthful masculinity performed by these students physically removed from their hometowns. Thus, this collection contains both the evidence of a ruling class’s evolving pedagogical platforms of reform, as well as the excitement and bravado felt by young men in a contained homosocial space coming of age in a new, industrial world.

A young man stands on a dirt road facing a field with wire fencing at its fore edge. He is wearing a suit and dress shoes.
A student of the Farm and Trades School stands next to a wire fence on Thompson Island in formal attire while facing the camera, 1936.

References

Posey, Trisha. “‘Little Tanned Agriculturalists’: The Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys.” Massachusetts Historical Review 16 (2014): 49–72.


[1] Trisha Posey, “‘Little Tanned Agriculturalists’: The Boston Asylum and Farm School for Indigent Boys,” Massachusetts Historical Review 16 (2014): 64.

[2] Ibid, 60.

Launching the Boston Teachers Union Collection

Author: Maci Mark, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program at UMass Boston

The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) has an essential place in Boston’s history. It was formed in 1945 and today has over 10,000 members. With this long history comes a lot to explore, especially when considering that the BTU had an important role in school desegregation and fought against affirmative action after the firing of 710 teachers. The BTU does not shy away from its history, both positive and negative. UMass Boston graduate students getting their Masters in Public History explored this legacy with Professor Nick Juravich in his spring 2022 course HIST 682: Digital Public History.

Screenshot showing 12 separate BTU contract booklets
Screenshot of HIST 682’s digital exhibit on the Boston Teachers Union contract timeline

Over the course of the semester this class (this author being a member of it) met with numerous digital public historians from across the country, studied the ethics and best practices of digital public history projects, and met with BTU members to gain insight about what these members wanted to learn more about. Students then jumped into creating digital exhibits using the recently donated materials in the Boston Teachers Union collection to look at various aspects of the BTU’s history. Digital exhibits range from looking at the year 1981, Kathy Kelley vs. Kevin White, the changes in the BTU contract, and more. My own exhibit looking at solidarity within the BTU also draws from other archival collections from UMass Boston like the Tess Ewing collection and its run of Hazard Lights, the school bus drivers union (USWA Local 8744) newsletter. 

The Boston Teachers Union collection is made up of three parts: digitized copies of The Boston Union Teacher from its 1963 through 2010 run, an oral history project run by Professor Juravich and retired BTU Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Drinan, and items collected from the Boston Teachers Union Digitizing Day in 2018 which kicked off the beginning of this relationship and hinted at what was to come. This collection also contains a complete run of the BTU contracts which have not yet been digitized.

Image of 1970 Issue of the Boston Union Teacher that includes a headline reading "School Committee Tactics Leading to Crisis"
The Boston Union Teacher, March 1970

This collection was launched on May 3, 2022. Students from HIST 682, leadership from the BTU, many active and retired BTU members, and families gathered to have a celebration of this monumental collection. This celebration included speeches from the BTU leadership, Professor Juravich, and Betsy Drinan commemorating the work that went into this project and the significance of interrogating one’s own legacy, including the good and the bad. Students presented their exhibits, discussing their inspiration and personal connections. This also allowed students a chance to meet the people we had been writing about, as many people who had been interviewed in the oral histories attended the launch event, and former president of the BTU Richard Stutman paid a virtual visit as well. 

The author Maci Mark stands at a podium in front of a screen projecting an exhibit about the BTU
HIST 682 student Maci Mark presenting at the BTU collection launch event, May 3, 2022

Overall as a student it was an incredible experience to get to be one of the first people to have hands-on experience working with these materials and to do so alongside the BTU. The type of partnership that is created here is a unique one that will hopefully benefit many students and the BTU down the line.


Explore the Boston Teachers Union digital collection. Contact library.archives@umb.edu for research assistance.