Harry M’s case wasn’t technically a suitcase, but it contained some interesting things.
I’m not sure what the wooden object on the left is, but the Latimer White Petroleum Jelly label is quite nice. And the Prell shampoo bottle is classic. The label had fallen off, but it has the “Rinse, Lather, Repeat” admonition that got consumers to use twice as much as they probably needed.
I have been editing and uploading more of the suitcases, and you can see the latest here. Just click on “The Cases” at the top of the page. Thanks for following.
L. W.’s case was largely empty save for this purple piece of rope and a half-smoked cigar. It stikes me as a pretty good metaphor for a life interrupted. You can check out the other photographs on the suitcases site. Thanks for following, and I wish you all a lovely weekend.
I mentioned earlier this week that I was hoping to get Charles F’s photographs uploaded by the end of the week, and here is a sample. To see the rest of the collection, please go to the Willard Suitcases site.
From the little I know about Charles, he came to Willard somewhat later in his life. I have no way of knowing if the portrait in the above photograph is he, or someone near to him, but whenever I think about his life, this image comes to mind.
The tassels on his tallit are especially evocative to me.
I believe that this is the publisher of some of his books. I did a search for it but came up empty. Any help would be welcome.
His starched collars were still in quite good condition.
I have no way of knowing if he was in the military, but I would guess that this canteen was army surplus.
Here is a close up of his naturalization papers, which date to October of 1896.
Many of the suitcases in the collection contain scraps of paper with hand-written notes on them. I find that these can be especially interesting.
One of Charles’ cases had this selection tools (and a razor).
Please check out the rest of my photographs of Charles’ possessions on the suitcases site, and thanks for following.
I am attempting to make a push to upload as many new cases as I can over the next few months.
George C’s case is really blue! It was empty save for a label. You can see the other photos at the willardsuitcases.com site. I am uploading the cases chronologically, and this is the beginning of a run of empty cases. I ran the second kickstarted appeal specifically to document the entire collection, and even the empty ones are important to me. (By the way, thanks to Peggy Ross for convincing me how important it was to photograph every case. I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without her help and support.)
One case stands out in this sequence though, especially as it was anything but empty. Charles F’s possessions were amazing. It will take me days to go through it all, but I hope to have it up by the end of next week. Above is his certificate of naturalization. On the left you can see the list of clothing that came with him to Willard. More soon.
Thanks for following.
Very shortly after the first Willard Suitcases kickstarter went up I received an email from Jessica Helfand expressing her interest in the project. She soon invited me down to New Haven to speak to her Yale freshman seminar class, “Studies in Visual Biography”. Here is a post I did just after that first visit. I have subsequently been to her class on several other occasions and it is always very stimulating and fun.
As well as teaching at Yale, Jessica and her late husband Bill Drenttel created Design Observer, which is a fantastic website devoted to creativity and design. That description doesn’t do it justice though, as it is so much more than that. It is really worth checking out on a regular basis. In addition to the site, Design Observer recently started publishing a quarterly magazine. The second issue is just out, and they included a huge spread on the suitcases. I am just so honored to be a part of the issue, and it looks great. Here is a link to purchase it, and I would really recommend all of you interested in the project to do so. It includes many suitcase photographs that haven’t been published before. Special thanks go to Eugenia Bell, who did a great job selecting the images, and making sure it all came together. She was a joy to work with.
As we were saying goodbye after that first class at Yale, Jessica reached out, hugged me and said “We’re friends now!” It was a most touching gesture and I have rarely felt so quickly welcomed into someone’s life. She has been a massive supporter of the project who has helped me in so many ways, and I am very fortunate to be her friend.
Virginia’s case is pretty great. I can’t quite make out the date of her admittance, but it is sometime in the early 1950’s. It is interesting that these were the only two books she brought with her to Willard.
Good news about the willardsuitcases.com site. Steve Fox was able to troubleshoot the problem, and it is back up and looking good. I just added Virginia’s case, so you might want to check it out.
I am looking forward to seeing some of you in New York next week.
On Tuesday the 9th of February I will be giving a presentation about the suitcases sponsored by the Roosevelt Island Historical Society. It will take place at the New York Public Library branch, 524 Main Street on the island. The start time is 6.30 pm and I would encourage anyone coming to get there a bit early, as the branch closes at 7.45 and we will need to start on time.
There is very little on-street parking, I would encourage everyone to come by public transport. (Hey, it’s New York City!) Here is a link for travel directions. If you are coming by tram, the station is at Second Avenue and 60th Street. You will need to pay with a Metrocard ($2.75). When you arrive on the island, take red bus (free) to the second stop and walk forward about 50 yards to the library. If coming by subway, take the F train from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Then the red bus to the first stop and walk 50 yards to the library. If you follow the project online or have been in touch directly, please come up and introduce yourself. I will be in the building by 5.00, I hope, and will have time to chat once everything is set up. Hope to see you there.
I noticed today that the willardsuitcases.com site is acting up a bit. All of the information below the photograph on the splash page seems to have disappeared. Fortunately everything else seems to be working, including access to the cases page. I have a call in to Steve Fox who did a beautiful job designing the site, and I hope we can get it cleared up soon.
Even though I am in South Carolina taking a short break, I’m still trying to get quite a bit of editing done on the suitcases project. Nora M’s cases are pretty amazing.
The above shot is a great example of how the museum conserved and catalogued each item in the collection. In the photo below you can see how Peg and I unwrapped and set up Nora’s cutlery.
In the past few days I have been able to upload several more cases to willardsuitcases.com, so please go check them out. On the main page, click on “The Cases” at the top of the page. There are quite a few shots on Nora’s page, so be sure to click “view: all” underneath the “Add To Cart” button.
Have a great week everyone and thanks for following.
Well, this seems to be it. This past Monday when we started our last day of shooting we expected to have just one remaining case with which to work. There were a few names on our master list that we didn’t photograph, but with a collection of over 400 suitcases, we figured that one or two were bound to be unaccounted for.
John M’s suitcase had just come back from the Exploratorium and we were eager to finish with his things. This woolen suit with two pair of trousers was unlike any other we had seen.
It was in pretty good shape, with the exception of this little hole. I don’t think it was a moth problem, but maybe he just caught it on a nail. Love the blue thread that runs through the weave.
We had shut off the strobes and were ready to pack up when we decided to look through the “institutional” items in the collection. (We are trying to decide whether or not to photograph these objects as well.) Peg spotted a box mixed in with the others that contained Lawrence R’s suitcase, so we fired everything up and got back to work.
Lawrence’s case was a really nice one. It contained quite a few letters, and some newspaper clippings. I like the headline here; “Cats Call Truce in War on Rats…” and there is a mention of goats underneath the photo. My friend Tania Werbizky is responsible for introducing me to Willard many years ago, and she loves both cats and goats. So this is a little thank you to her.
I also want to take a moment to give my heartfelt thanks the New York State Museum for allowing me access to the collection. But most of all I want to thank all of you who have been following along with me. I have learned so much from the comments you have posted, and from the very moving emails I have received from people who share with me their own struggles with mental health issues. And as I have said so many times before, I could not, and would not have been able to complete this work without the assistance and encouragement of Peggy Ross. She has added so much to all aspects of the project, and deserves the lion’s share of the credit.
Even though the shooting is finished, the work is far from over, and in some ways it is just the beginning. I will continuously be editing the photos and uploading them to the willardsuitcases.com site. I’ll continue to travel and speak about the suitcases and will be posting here where those talks are happening. There will undoubtedly be exhibits and I will be actively pursuing publishers. There has been so much call for a book, and am hopeful that a publisher will be found.
So, it is onward we go. Thank you all so much.
I have always liked the ephemeral aspects of this project. This would have been a Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit wrapper from the early part of the 20th Century. I am sure someone from Mars (owners of the brand) could date this one, but I couldn’t find a site that details the evolution of gum wrappers, so I would estimate somewhere between 1915 and 1925. Why he saved the chewed piece of gum in the silver paper next to the button is anyone’s guess.
Yesterday, we finished shooting Rodrigo’s things. In looking at our list, only one person remains. John M’s case is being sent back from The Exploratorium, and there is a good chance that it will be in Albany by next week. I went through a very emotional time some months ago while thinking about the shooting phase of the project ending. I think what I will miss most is the impact of opening the cases and feeling a very real connection to these people who were patients at Willard. The job of editing the photographs will be the next big push, and I am really looking forward to it. I am a bit behind on uploading to the willardsuitcases.com site, and am hoping to be able to devote several days a week to working on that.
Thanks for all the support and interest in the project, and especially to folks who are ordering prints from the site. Cheers.