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Historic Architectural Drawings Inspire Contemporary Creative Interpretation

by Michael Taylor on 2017-01-26T15:52:00-07:00 in American Studies, CSWR, Southwest Studies & New Mexico | 0 Comments

The Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections provides fellowships each year to UNM graduate students to process archival collections, assist with digitization projects, and participate in other collection-related activities. One of our current fellows, Erin Fussell, writes below about her project, which she has been very busy working on with Audra Bellmore, Curator of the John Gaw Meem Archives of Southwestern Architecture.  Stay tuned for future posts about our other fellows!

(Text below by Erin Fussell)

As the John Gaw Meem Architecture and Design Fellow, one of my jobs has been to re-organize and digitize the Meem Perspectives in John Gaw Meem’s Drawings and Plans Collection. There are approximately two hundred beautifully rendered drawings by hand, including a couple from Meem’s student days. For the project, I went through the eight drawers of drawings to carefully clean up, digitally scan, label, and folder each one or set of perspectives. These are not the same as architectural details, but are often floor plans or drawings of how the building would look once completed. 

The clean-up process alone took time. Cleaning up meant working with the Conservation Archivist in the Preservation Room to get them in archival condition. Some of the works had old, yellowed masking tape on them or were mounted onto particle board. If I could keep the work intact without damage to the drawing, I removed things like excess tapes, mats, or boards. But, some of them could not be cleaned if removing things would compromise the original. The process also included making clear archival sleeves for some of the very fragile drawings. All of these drawings were then put into archival folders I created to organize each drawer and make it easier for researchers and librarians to access the material. 

After getting the physical perspectives in good order, I updated the record information using Encoded Archival Description (EAD) for our finding aid in the Rocky Mountain Online Archive. Now, I’m about halfway through researching and writing the metadata for each work to upload onto New Mexico Digital Collections, our online visual resource. 

With this project that has lasted over the course of several months, I have become very familiar with all of these fantastic drawings and plans that were mostly made between the 1930s and the 1950s. Being in close contact with the work inspired my own research as graduate student in UNM’s visual art program. The style of the Meem Perspectives inspired me to think about creating performance scores with a scientific diagram style. Having studied the work of New York City’s Fluxus artists working on performances using abstract instructions in the 1970s, I wondered how an architectural plan or diagram for a building might read another way, like a way to move the body, or as a conceptual reaction to a place. 

As a result, for my graduate MFA show in March, I have created visual scores based on engineering diagrams for performers to interpret at a specific site. Although the relationship may not be direct, the work that I’ve been doing with this collection has expanded my thinking in terms of how I look at a two-dimensional plan or diagram as an interpretation of how to use space in the natural and built environment. 

Learn more about these materials by viewing the Inventory of the John Gaw Meem Drawings and Plans, 1925-1961.  Selected plans have been digitized and are available in New Mexico Digital Collections.

And you can learn more about Erin on her website,


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