Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Shirley Tholen, Jubilee Queen

June 27th, 2017

One of the most interesting items in our collection, from my point of view, is the full-length portrait of Shirley Tholen, KU’s Jubilee Queen. Spencer Research Library doesn’t actively collect oil paintings, so the fact that we have this painting is unusual in itself. Its size and its history make it even more so. We’ve been spending a lot of time with this portrait lately, and it’s a great example of how collections, experts, and supporters come together in the work of Spencer Library.

The portrait depicts Shirley Tholen, whose naming as Queen was part of the celebration of KU’s 75th anniversary, in 1940-1941. Painted by Raymond Eastwood, a KU professor of drawing and painting from 1922 to 1968, the portrait depicts Ms. Tholen in a dress inspired from the mid-1800s. The jubilee celebrations referenced the early history of the university, with touches like the installation of hitching posts on campus, a song contest, and many reunions.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office, 1945

The Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office,
as shown in the June 1945 Jayhawker. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1945. Click image to enlarge.

For years, the portrait appears to have hung in the office of the KU Alumni Association, as shown in the above photograph from the 1945 Jayhawker yearbook. It eventually made its way to University Archives, where it was stored in the fourth floor stacks of Spencer, surrounded by boxes of university records. Its size made it difficult to find appropriate storage, and it was obvious, even to those of us more accustomed to working with paper and photographs than canvas, that the painting and its supporting structure were in need of repair.

In 2015, Ms. Tholen’s son Tom Jasper and his wife Alexis planned to visit Kansas and inquired about the painting. To make it possible to view it, our Conservation Services staff hung the portrait in our North Gallery and created a temporary label. During their visit, the Jaspers gave us a copy of Ms. Tholen’s memoirs, which we added to our collections. The Jaspers also offered to help financially support the work needed to restore the painting. Conservation Services staff attempted to locate a professional paintings conservator who could work onsite, since the painting is too large to easily ship or move. In late 2016, we welcomed Kenneth Bé of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to Lawrence.

Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait

Kenneth Bé working on the portrait. Click images to enlarge.

Mr. Bé began with a thorough examination of the painting, photographing it in its existing frame and the wooden stretcher to which the canvas was attached. He then removed the painting from the frame, and carefully repaired dented areas, removed the painting from the stretcher, and vacuumed and brushed away decades of residue. Mindful of the need to get just the right amount of tautness, he attached the canvas to the new stretcher. He used cotton batting and an enzymatic cleaning solution to clean the surface, and the background and especially the bottom of the dress appeared noticeably brighter after the cleaning. He performed a second cleaning of the background using a soft brush and a scooping motion to lift away any remaining dust and residue. He then treated areas of color loss on the surface, using just a minimal amount of paint that somehow managed to make the scuffs seem to vanish. The process was documented throughout with notes and photographs, in accordance with best practices for conservation treatment. After his departure, we moved the painting to a secure area where it was stored under a Tyvek sheet awaiting framing.

Then came the task of choosing a frame for the painting. On the recommendation of colleagues, we chose a local framer, again hoping to minimize the need for the portrait to travel any more than necessary. The choices at the frame shop were overwhelming, but the experts advised us to balance the width of the frame with the size of the painting and the height at which we intended to hang it. A decision was made, the portrait was packaged carefully, and loaded into a rented truck for the short trip across town. When the framing was complete, the results were impressive.

Photograph of Roberta Woodrick with the Shirley Tholen portrait

Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick
with the portrait. Click image to enlarge.

The portrait of Shirley Tholen is now hanging again in the North Gallery, awaiting new signage that explains who she was and why we have this painting. She will no doubt draw attention as visitors begin to appear in our recently renovated Gallery, and her story helps to tell the history of the University in a different way than the rest of our new permanent exhibits.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the North Gallery

The portrait of Shirley Tholen in the recently-renovated North Gallery.
Click image to enlarge.

This was truly a team effort. Whitney Baker and Roberta Woodrick of Conservation Services, Becky Schulte and Letha Johnson from University Archives, and staff from across KU Libraries researched, planned, and made the work happen. But it would not have happened without the support of the Jaspers as well. Not everyone can be responsible for helping conserve a historic portrait of their mother, but they can assist us to do extraordinary things that would not otherwise be possible with our limited resources.

Please come visit the North Gallery and see Shirley soon.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Throwback Thursday: Marilyn Stokstad Edition

March 24th, 2016

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 25,400 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We were saddened to learn of the passing of Marilyn Stokstad, KU distinguished professor emerita of art history, who died on March 4th at age eighty-seven. The KU community is remembering Dr. Stokstad for her remarkable career as well as the significant contributions she made to the university.


Photograph of a Museum of Art exhibition opening, 1962

Marilyn Stokstad (center) at an exhibition opening at the
Spencer Museum of Art, 1962. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 34 1962 Prints: Museum of Art (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of Marilyn Stokstad, 1979

Marilyn Stokstad, 1979. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty and Staff: Stokstad, Marilyn (Photos).
Click image to enlarge.

I do not remember when I first met Marilyn Stokstad, but she remembered meeting me. When I interviewed for the position of head of Spencer Research Library, Marilyn recalled a conversation with me years before, where I apparently shared my frustrations with the challenges of graduate school and my fears for what the future held.

Since I returned to Kansas and met Marilyn for the second time, she has been such a presence, such a FORCE, that if I were honest with myself, I would have admitted I thought she might outlive me. I would come to realize that her memory was outstanding, but so was her passion, her scholarship, her enthusiasm, and her generosity.

The Stokstad Reading Room at Spencer Research Library represents not just her generosity, but her understanding that sometimes you have to change amazing things to keep them amazing. She understood the role of librarians and archivists in re-envisioning many of the third floor public spaces, and it’s comforting to know that her support was a vote of confidence in the work we do every day.

The University of Kansas has shared many tributes to the impact Marilyn had as a scholar, a colleague, and a benefactor; she was all those things. But along with that, Marilyn was also an inspiration, a hero, and a friend. We miss her already.

Photograph of Marilyn Stokstad at the Stokstad Reading Room grand opening, 2011

Marilyn Stokstad at the grand opening of the Stokstad Reading Room
at Spencer Research Library, November 2011. She is standing with
lorraine haricombe, former Dean of KU Libraries, and
Kent Miller, Interim C0-Dean of KU Libraries.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Collection Snapshot: Campront Family Cartulary

July 27th, 2015

When I am asked about my favorite item in the Spencer collection, in addition to praising the glorious Vosper Book of Hours, I always mention a much more humble item, the Campront family cartulary, known by its call number, MS D47. A cartulary is a collection of charters, especially a book holding copies of the charters and title deeds of an estate.

Image of the first page of the Campront (de) family papers, La Manche, 1268-1438

First page of the Campront family papers,
La Manche, 1268-1438. Transcript of legal instruments. France,
copied after 1438. Call Number: MS D47. Click image to enlarge.

This small (23 x 16 cm), rather worn, manuscript contains copies of thirty-nine legal documents related to the Campront family of Normandy, France. Most date from the tumultuous years of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), a series of conflicts between the rulers of England and France – with their allies – for control of the latter kingdom, the largest in Western Europe at the time. Land transactions, marriage settlements, and documents detailing contested claims were copied in a clear, functional hand. This was a volume designed not for show, but for its content, or, as we would say now, its “informational value.”

Image of a selected page from the Campront (de) family papers, La Manche, 1268-1438

Selected page from the Campront family cartulary. Call Number: MS D47. Click image to enlarge.

I encountered this document as a student at KU. I was thrilled to be able to work with an original manuscript and, although deciphering the old French was a challenge, I excitedly pored over each page, transcribing nearly the entire volume by hand in the days before laptop computers were widespread. I relied heavily on the preliminary work done by the late Ann Hyde, whose exhaustive description was just one example of the legacy she left behind to the Spencer Library. I learned quickly that while I could discover much about the family from this source, it was never intended to be a comprehensive document about the family’s affairs, and I was left wanting to know more about the generations of people mentioned in its pages.

Flash forward many years: I had deposited an electronic copy of my master’s thesis in the open access repository at The Ohio State University, where I then worked. (It’s also available at KU’s ScholarWorks, as is the preliminary research that formed my senior thesis.) Through the magic of Google, the current owner of the property in Normandy where the Campront family lived for hundreds of years came across my research while searching for information about his home. The historical documentation I had uncovered was personally exciting to him and, like many people, he wondered how the document ended up in Lawrence, Kansas. This gave me a chance to explain Kenneth Spencer Library and its amazing collections of early manuscripts, preserved here and made available to both amateur and professional scholars.

Image of a selected page from the Campront (de) family papers, La Manche, 1268-1438

Selected page from the Campront family cartulary.
Call Number: MS D47. Click image to enlarge.

The estate owner placed a copy of a translation of my work into the official archives of La Manche in Lower Normandy, thereby physically and linguistically extending the reach of my work even further. Finally, he offered to host me at this amazing property, parts of which appear not to have changed much from the sixteenth century, should I ever have the chance to visit.

For me, this one humble, centuries-old document, is not only a major signpost along my journey to becoming a librarian. It also captures so richly the power of the written word and the connections we make as human beings.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Meet the KSRL Staff: Beth Whittaker

June 8th, 2015

This is the third installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In this post we posit questions to Beth Whittaker, Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections and Director of Spencer Research Library.

Beth Whittaker portrait

Beth M. Whittaker

Where are you from?

I grew up in Overland Park, KS, attended KU, and have lived several different places before returning to Lawrence.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My position description says I “provide leadership, vision, and direction for the distinctive collections programs, services, and resources of the Libraries, enhancing and promoting the unique research, teaching, and learning opportunities these collections offer.”

Essentially I am here to help my colleagues get what they need to make our collections available for students, scholars, and the public. I set priorities and help get exciting initiatives off the ground.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?

I actually began working in special collections as a student assistant here at the Spencer over twenty years ago. I came in one day to examine a manuscript for my master’s thesis, and I saw a job announcement. Within a year, I decided that special collections libraries were where I wanted to be. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in several different libraries before returning to where it all began, the Kenneth Spencer Research Library!

What part of your job do you like best?

I get to tell the story of the Spencer Library every day, in some way or another. I love talking to people; no one who knows me would argue with that!

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love being outdoors, and am an enthusiastic do-it-yourselfer around the house. I spend most of my time outside of work with my family. I’m also very excited when I can get somewhere on my new scooter.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Probably what I’m sure most of my colleagues have said in previous posts: we are here to help. I remember what it’s like the first time you walk into a research library like this. These are YOUR collections as much as they are ours.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library


Spencer Library Guest Book

May 1st, 2014

Many visitors to Spencer Research Library walk straight into the Marilyn Stokstad Reading room, a classroom, or the exhibit space, bypassing the elegant furnishings of the Spencer Lounge and missing completely the large and imposing ledger nestled in an 18th century secretary desk on the north wall. This book has served as the library’s guest book since the opening of the building in 1968.

Guest book at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Spencer Library guest book, located in the Spencer Lounge. Click image to enlarge.

Researchers who come to use the collections at the Spencer Library now use our Aeon system to register and make requests, and before that, a number of different paper forms recorded names, addresses, and call numbers. So the guest book was never an official document required for using the collection, but instead a ceremonial record of visitors.

The first page, with beautiful calligraphy attributed  to librarian Jim Helyar, marked the building’s opening on November 15th, 1968. Entries continue through 1974, when it was set aside from daily use. After a few blank pages, names, messages, and the occasional doodle resume, coinciding with its “rediscovery” and reinstatement in 2002.

Detail of guest book at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Guest book calligraphy on the first page. Click image to enlarge.

The first entries were clearly in pen, probably the same pen used throughout the opening celebration.  At least since 2009, and probably earlier, an iconic green “Spencer pencil” has sat aside it, although many guests do sign in (presumably their own) pen. We are in the process of ordering some pigment based pens to place conveniently at hand so that the inscriptions will endure as part of the history of the building.

Detail of guest book at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.     Detail of guest book at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Examples of guest signatures, including “Jesus Christ” (L) and an enthusiastic video gamer (R).
Click images to enlarge.

Like so many things in this inspiring building, the guest book is humbling. Distinguished visitors, scholars, and schoolchildren have walked through this place and left their mark. The pages are filling up again, and I hope to be able to place another, equally impressive volume, in its place. I began this project thinking I would highlight some of the most interesting entries. I was charmed by the young child from “SUMSET HILL” [sic] and intrigued by non-Roman scripts I could not even identify. I wondered what would motivate a person to draw a big heart around their name in such a formal setting, and I spent a lot of time looking for the name “Don Johnson,” who allegedly signed the book during his days as a student here at KU. In the end, although I could not pick a favorite, I spent much time leafing through the pages and I encourage you to do the same the next time you visit the library.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean of Distinctive Collections
Director, Kenneth Spencer Research Library