In this highlights gallery we'll show a sampling from the Richard Bowen Stark collection and also provide a behind the scenes look at what it takes to maintain multimedia archives.
Richard Bowen Stark, Curator of Collections at the Museum of International Folk Art from 1962 to 1967, compiled a significant collection of folk music and folk drama for the Museum. Most of the work is Spanish folk music and drama of New Mexico, but it also includes things like an oral history of an old mill at Abiquiu, flamenco songs, and other world music. Stark's association with the Museum as a researcher continued into the 1970's.
He compiled material from other sources, and corresponded with major researchers in this field, bringing together information and resources previously dispersed. Stark performed his own fieldwork too, making recordings in New Mexico in the 1960's. He copied every handwritten notebook of songs and play texts he could find, especially focusing on the play Los Pastores.
Stark published three books: Music of the Spanish Folk Plays in New Mexico (co-authors Ruben Cobos and TM Pearce) in 1969; Juegos Infantiles Cantados en Nuevo Mexico in 1973; and Music of the Bailes in New Mexico (co-authors Reed Cooper, Aurora Lucero-White Lea, and Anita Gonzales Thomas) in 1978.
In 1973, Stark won a Fulbright grant which he combined with a grant from the International Folk Art Foundation to finance more than a year of research in Spain into the Spanish origins of New Mexico's alabados (religious songs associated with the Penitente Brotherhood). Stark's alabado research is covered in his unpublished report, as well as in essays and notes, but his planned book was never completed, as he never quite found the answers he sought.
By 1968 Stark counted his collection for the Museum at 70 play texts, 148 tape recordings, 7 notebooks, 3 groupings of photos, and 2 microfilms. To understand the full extent of the final collection, see the finding aid at the end of this exhibit. It took almost 30 pages to list the contents.
"International folk art" is a giant subject, and shortly after Stark left the Museum there was a decision to pare down the areas in which the Museum would actively work. Music and musical instruments were out. The music recordings, texts of folk dramas, taped interviews, photographs of plays, and all that Stark had collected were shifted from the Collections Department to the Museum Library. There was no archives program at the time.
Archives and libraries both preserve and present books and other information sources for research and pleasure, but they do it in different ways. In a library setting each item is catalogued on its own and placed with other items like it. In archives, collections are kept together to show context and the ideas of the person who gathered them. In the Museum Library, Stark's collection was scattered into many different areas, and sometimes context was lost, as tapes were separated from the documents describing them. Still, the recordings were used by researchers and locals who wanted to learn the music and plays of their heritage.
By the 1990's, the Museum was ready to begin an archives program, and a part-time archivist was hired...but she had 40 years of history to catch up on and organize. The importance of the Stark material was recognized, but the collection couldn't all be brought back together. The first priority was to try to save the already-fragile 1960's reel to reel tapes. As many tapes as possible were remastered, but remained on magnetic tape media. Some of tapes missed remastering, since they could not be found. For example, a performance of Los Pastores had been recorded onto two tapes. Only one could be found for the remastering project, so half the play was remastered. And then funding ran out, and the archivist's position vanished, and the material Stark gathered lingered and gradually became more obscure, harder to find, and harder to use. Tapes, even the remasters, grew more fragile; old acidic paper discolored and crumbled at the edges. Collections need care, both to preserve them and to make them useful.
In 2014 it was finally time for the Stark material to begin to shine again. From 2014-2016 significant work was done to bring the material back together as a complete archival collection. Fortunately Stark, the librarians, and the first archivist had left excellent notes that made it possible to identify the things that belonged in the group, eliminate things that did not, and do the massive job of putting everything back in order. In 2017-2018 the full set of tapes - including the missing Los Pastores tape, found in 2016 - were sent for digitization. In 2018 texts were scanned, both to preserve the originals and to make them more accessible. As of 2019, the whole collection can be used and enjoyed, and it is safe... for now. Even digital materials need care, though, so the archivists' work is never really done.
In that we are like Richard Bowen Stark, who began the work of comparing versions of the traditional Nativity play Los Pastores thinking it would take a number of weeks, and then spent seven years on it.
Funding for major parts of the original collection, for the tape remastering project, for preservation and digitization, and for this online mini-exhibit was provided by the International Folk Art Foundation. The preservation project was led by Caroline Dechert, first as Librarian and Archivist, then as Contract Archivist. Online exhibition work was supervised by Nicolasa Chavez, Curator of Latino, Hispano, Spanish Colonial Collections. Tape digitization was performed by George Blood, L.P. Final stages of digitization project completed by Brian Graney, Librarian and Archivist. Significant assistance in reconstituting the collection was volunteered by RoseMarie Cutropia. Doreen Bailey volunteered additional research and condition photography for the tapes. DeLisa Brown-Guc volunteered assistance with the organization and packing of tapes for digitization. 1990's archival work was done by Eleanor Vatsoulas. The 1990's remastering project was championed by Librarian Judith Sellars, and work was performed by Jack Loeffler and by Tape and Archival Restoration Services.