Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 40
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

Advertise in Town Topics

Weather Forecast

All in a Day’s Work

Valerie Addonizio

Princeton University Special Collections assistant Valerie Addonizio received her M.L.I.S. in archival science from the Rutgers School of Communication, Information, and Library Science. She also has an M.A. in art history from Rutgers. She came to Princeton just this year; her first project was processing the papers, artwork, and other documentation by and related to the artist George Segal, donated to the library by Segal’s wife and the George and Helen Segal Foundation.

Ellen Gilbert

I consider art history my single greatest point of interest both academically and personally; it is my raison d’être. I minored in Art History as an undergraduate at Rutgers University, and studied it abroad in Paris in 2004. I even went so far as to take an Art Librarianship course as part of my graduate education. When and if I continue my education, it will most likely be in that subject.

Before beginning this project, I knew about Segal’s work only in the broadest sense, as in, ‘There once was a sculptor who made white figures.’ If shown a Segal I would have nodded my head in recognition, but wouldn’t have been able to name the artist beyond ‘20th-century, American.’ My focus in art history before this point was both a different medium (architecture) and time period (11th and 12th centuries) so my knowledge of the modern period was very thin.

Now that I’ve finished the project, I feel very close to Segal, and I relate to many things about him, his life, and his family. He was a very honest human being, a man steeped in family (a word I feel he extended to close friends), and a quiet home life. He had a sly sense of humor, a deep curiosity, and a passion for, as he put it, ‘an active mental life.’ I relate to all these things and feel that he was a truly good and honest man, down to even the most candid of letters with his closest of friends. There wasn’t a single shadow in his life that he hid, or that he did not bother to explore. I respect this immensely, as he was not one for false fronts, even though he was a private man. He also maintained warm and expressive friendships with certain colleagues over many decades and across great distances, and I felt that was indicative of a great sincerity. I respect his tolerance, his warmth, and his humor, and wish very much that I could have shared a cup of coffee with him in his kitchen, or have wandered through his gallery spaces, listening to him speak about his art and watching him watch me as I took it in.

There were other things about his life that I found myself relating to as well: as a girl my father and I used to explore the same environments that he explored in his photography, including scenes of the Jersey Shore and the then-grittier neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan. I felt that Segal and I shared a lifelong love affair with New Jersey, and very often I would catch myself smiling at photographs taken from spots that I myself had stood upon. My single favorite photograph from the Donald Lokuta series was taken at a diner one town over from where I grew up, and that kind of connection rings very true with me.

As an insight into the kind of connection this work can foster, I can relate the following: since I processed the papers in roughly chronological order I remember a particularly poignant week when I got to the 1990s. I was steeped in sadness as Segal’s friends began to pass away one by one and he kept getting word of it in the mail. I knew his own health was failing, and of course I knew the day that he died, so as I approached that time in his life I felt a great dread, a dramatic irony at the knowledge I had in advance. As happy as I had been reading of his accomplishments and milestones up until that point, I was equally unhappy to watch it all fade away. I felt very mortal in those moments, and inexplicably close to a man I had never met.

From start (literally gathering the materials from the Segal home) to finish (posting the electronic finding aid) the project took me seven months, mid-January to mid-July, 2009. It will take me a week more at some time in the future, as part of the collection is still away for preservation work and I will get to revisit it when it returns.

I worked primarily alone under the supervision of the Manuscripts Division team leader John Delaney and the Curator of Manuscripts, Don Skemer. As a team we would make the larger decisions and discuss the physical and intellectual arrangement of material, but that all happened within the Rare Books and Special Collections department. Two student assistants, most notably Ayse Gursoy (’11), and the department’s Conservator Ted Stanley, also contributed great efforts. But on the whole I worked on the materials myself and did all my own research, fact-finding, arrangement, and description. A few “e-mail interviews” with Rena Segal and some further discussion with Donald Lokuta did inform certain aspects of my arrangement, as they provided context for some materials, mainly the photographs.

I feel I am at a unique point in the divide between the analog and digital ages: I am just old enough to remember a paper world, but young enough to have been fostered on computers. Straddling this physical and intellectual divide is quite challenging, and I am grateful that my work involves me so deeply in it, for it is a new frontier. Personally, I am very worried for our future. As easy as it is to tear or crinkle or burn or fade, a single piece of paper is more likely to “survive” than any piece of electronic information if the means to make it understandable is lost. I could hold up a piece of carbon paper to the light and see the message George Segal left on it 40 years ago, but without a Betamax player (or even a cassette player, something very recent!) on hand I had no way to really know what was on some of his tapes. To be honest, I was grateful that most of Segal’s papers were readable, because so much has yet to be determined for how we will process electronic data for the future. Ours might be a future in a crisis that hasn’t even happened yet.

Return to Top | Go to It’s New to Us

Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton — McCaffrey’s, Cox’s, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszer’s (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell — Village Express; Rocky Hill — Wawa (Route 518); Pennington — Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.