Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases/Charles F/News


Willard Suitcases Project


Happy New Year everyone.  And as usual, thanks so much for following along.  I wish you all a happy and productive 2019.  For many of us 2018 turned out to be a difficult year, but let’s all be positive and look forward.

I first met Ilan Stavans in the late 90’s when the New York Times hired me to photograph him for this article.  He and I have kept in touch over the years.  I found myself thinking of him while I was photographing Charles F.’s possessions for the Willard Suitcase Project.  There seemed to be a connection and so I was able to help Ilan get access to the New York State Museum storage facility to have a look at what Charles brought with him to Willard.  Ilan was very moved by what he saw and felt, and on the drive home we spoke about a collaboration, although at the time we had no clear idea as to what would develop.


Willard Suitcases Project


Several months ago we started talking in earnest about what we could each bring to a project about Charles, and it is exciting to be able to say that we have signed a contract with SUNY Press to produce a book.  I’ll have more details soon, but we are both really excited about this.  We are looking at an early 2020 publication date, which will coincide with an exhibit that will travel.


Willard Suitcases Project


This is just one of many collaborative efforts that has come out of my work with the suitcases, and it is one aspect of the project that makes me especially happy.  It is so nice to have been an inspiration to creative and interesting people and to be a part of their art.

For those of you who are on instagram, I am starting to post suitcase photos @willardsuitcases on what I hope will be a regular basis.  You can also still see my goofy side @jonkcrispin.

Willard Suitcases / Charles F. / Update

Willard Suitcases Project

I’ve been busy with the Hope and Feathers exhibit and quite busy with my freelance work, but the suitcases project is never far from my mind.

Willard Suitcases Project

I am working on an interesting collaboration on Charles’ cases and hope to have some exciting news soon.

Willard Suitcases Project

He had an interesting collection of ties.

Willard Suitcases Project

There are quite a few Penny postcards in the collection as well as some interesting hand- written notes.  You can see the New York State Museum’s catalogue number (in pencil) on the upper right side of the white paper.

Thank you all for following this project.  I will be devoting a ton of time to the suitcases later this month as I continue to develop ideas for getting the photos out to a wide audience.  And Peter Carroll, Deb Hoard, and I are beginning to work hard on a preliminary short film which we can send to funders for the larger documentary that we plan to produce.


Willard Suitcase / Benjamin M.

Posted in History by joncrispin on 28/01/2014

I often talk about the unique nature of the suitcase collection, and at times refer to the truly incredible job the New York State Museum did in preserving the cases and their contents.

The above photo is a great example of the museum’s work.  The only items in Benjamin’s case were the original label, a toothpick, and a tiny scrap of paper.  When we opened this case, the label was in one archival bag, and the toothpick and paper scrap were in another.  This may be something only museum curators and conservators can truly appreciate, but we are all beneficiaries of the care and concern shown to these materials.

I also often mention the major contribution Peggy Ross makes to this project, but today she really did something huge.  Over the last few months she has been working on a database of everything we have shot and what is left to do.  She made this list while I was shooting today, and just seeing it made me feel that not only have we made real progress, but now being able to complete a documentation of the entire collection seems within reach.  We now know exactly what remains to be shot and, that makes me feel really good.

It was great to see my friend Connie Houde who was working at the storage facility today.  She is on staff at the museum and is also a really interesting photographer.  She’s been working on updating her website and you should check it out here.

Thanks for following.  Cheers, Jon

Willard Suitcase #14

Posted in Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 31/03/2012

This case was very interesting to me on a lot of levels.  It belonged to Peter L.

It was almost completely flattened and I decided to shoot it from above until Peg figured out how to have it stand up on its own.

This type of bag has always been one of my favorites.  I have one very similar to it that was given to me a long time ago by a friend.

It looks like there is a burn from a cigarette on the wooden shaving soap box.

You see this color green often in the UK.

I found my self hoping that Peterson’s Ointment was indeed soothing to Peter L.

The small labels that the Willard staff affixed to the cases tells quite a bit about the patients.

I have again obscured the last part of Peter’s name here.  What is interesting about this tag is the date of his admission.

You can see by the date on this Syracuse Herald-Journal that he bought the paper just days before he arrived at Willard.

My mom’s name was Vera and my son’s name is Peter and when I see connections in these items I can’t help but to personalize this whole process.  It is one of the reasons that I feel able to convey some sense of intimacy through the photographs.

It also helps to remember that while the individuals who owned the cases were experiencing monumental changes in their lives, the larger world around them was also in turmoil.

I will be in Albany Monday, Tuesday, and probably Friday.  Early in the week I’ll be meeting with  Dr. Karen Miller and a wonderful person from the West Coast museum that (fingers crossed) will be using some of this work in a major exhibit a year from now.  As soon as details are finalized, I let everyone know what’s going on.  And on Friday I’ll hope to shoot a bunch more cases.

Willard Suitcase #10

Posted in Uncategorized, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 27/12/2011

This is another of Eleanor G.’s cases.

The way in which the museum wraped these suitcases really resonates with me on this one, and you will see just why as you scroll down to the last picture.

I like the style of this one; nothing special but extremely functional.

The remnants of the tags are always interesting to me.

Eleanor made some of her own clothes, as you might have inferred from the contents of the previous post.

The clothing in this case really got to me.

The fabric had a feel to it that was so much of another time.

And the embroidery work on the collar of this sun dress was so delicate.

I couldn’t figure out why she or someone else wrote her initials on this dress, especially in such a prominent place.

Here is more of her embroidery work.

I love the color of the hat, and would guess that she added the adornment to it herself.

It might be a bit difficult to make out, but the bow on this dress so resembles the way the string is tied on the outside of the wrapped cases that I immediately made a connection between the two.

Willard Suitcase #7

Posted in History, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 31/10/2011

Not all of the suitcases have much in them.  Craig suggested that I make selections from the master list, but somehow I like the surprise of not knowing what they contain.  I did make some suggestions this time, but was still surprised by what I found.

I am still drawn to the archival paper and string that is used to preserve the cases.  There is something so beautiful about how the bows are tied.

This case belonged to Raymond H.  You can see the bird droppings from when it was stored in the attic before they were saved by the museum.

I don’t always find items that tell much of a story, but something about this one caught my fancy.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what these papers were.

Rolling papers!  I hadn’t noticed the orange wrapper when I took them out of the envelope.

May 4, 1923, such a long time ago. /  Many thanks to Peggy Ross who helped me rewrap the cases and pointed out a few things that  I had missed.  And as usual to Craig for all his help.

Willard Suitcase #6

Posted in History, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 23/10/2011

This suitcase belonged to Maude K.  There seems to be some question as to her surname; on some of the tags it is spelled differently.

Three of her cases are in the collection and I shot all three but for brevity I am only posting this one.

I am starting to edit a bit more tightly for these posts since some of the cases contain a considerable amount of interesting objects.

Maude was clearly involved in crafts of some sort.

Her tools and materials are beautiful.  I would love to know if there is any record of what she produced with them.  And the question again arises as to whether or not she was able to access her case during her time at Willard.

There is definitely more information about her available through the archives, and once I have finished photographing the cases I’ll make every effort to find out more about her.

This score pad indicates that at one time she probably played bridge.  The design of these objects knocks me out.

There was still glycerine in this bottle.

The inks were mostly dried out as the corks in the tops had deteriorated almost completely.

I would be glad to know if anyone recognizes what these items could have been used for.

I liked these tweezers, and believe that the white bit at the top is ivory.

I think this glass paper-weight came from the “World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893” in Chicago.  /  Maude’s cases were really interesting.  I hope to be back in Albany sometime this week to do some more work.  For those of you seeing this for the first time, here is a link to my Kickstarter project.  Thanks, Jon

Willard Suitcase #5

Posted in History, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 16/10/2011

This suitcase belonged to Mary W.

Hers was the second wicker case I photographed last Thursday.

As I have mentioned before, I haven’t any idea what I will find when I unwrap the cases.  This one felt a bit heavier than others and when I opened it, it was mostly filled with fabric and lace that I am assuming Mary had made.

There was a lovely feel about the material as I unwrapped each piece.

A mark similar to the one above was on several of the towels.  At first I thought it was a date, but I am not so sure.

I believe these tags are from Willard and not the museum.  It looks like her case was entered into the system in the 1960s.

The detail on the lace pieces is beautiful.

Lots of interesting shapes and sizes.

Thursday was very productive.  Mary had only the one case with the lace and towels, but I also shot 3 cases that belonged to another person.  I’ll edit those photos and get them up soon.  Many thanks to Peggy Ross who helped me rewrap the cases, and as usual to Craig Williams for all his support.  If you are seeing these for the first time, please check out my project on Kickstarter.


Posted in Food by joncrispin on 14/10/2011

I had a great day shooting Willard suitcases in Albany yesterday.   I usually stop at the Donut Dip in West Springfield on my way out.  The shop has been there since the ’50s and hasn’t changed much since then.  I buy a dozen, eat one and let Craig distribute the rest to various people he works with at the museum.  The volunteers at the front desk were the beneficiaries this time.  Incredible donuts.


Posted in History by joncrispin on 22/07/2010

One of the greatest aspects of being a photographer is the ability to go places and see things that are not accessible to most people.  I have been so lucky to work with Craig Williams at the New York State Museum who has given me access to all sorts of amazing places.  Sometimes we get funding to work together, and sometimes when there is no money available, he is kind enough to let me tag along and document his work.  This past Tuesday was a volunteer day for me.  The State Police in Batavia have been storing items from the 1971 Attica Prison riot and Craig went out to do a quick survey and pick up a few artifacts.  Amazing.

%d bloggers like this: