Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia

In its heyday, Milwaukee’s Polish-American community was among the largest in the United States. The first Polish inhabitant of Milwaukee arrived in 1842, and by the turn of the century Polish-Americans were the second largest ethnic group in the city. Most settled in a six-square mile area on the South Side known as Polonia.

Studio photographer Roman Kwasniewski created a rich visual record of his community during the first half of the twentieth century. He took pictures of family milestones, including First Communions, Confirmations, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries. He also took his camera into the community, creating a lovingly detailed portrait of the neighborhood and people around him. The Kwasniewski photograph collection consists of 6,000 prints and 29,000 negatives. It is the most extensive photograph collection of a Polish community in the U.S. and widely used by teachers, students, and individuals researching their family history.

Portrait of Roman Kwasniewski
Portrait of Roman Kwasniewski
The UWM Libraries have embarked on a large-scale project to digitize and provide online access to the entire collection. We will be tracking the progress of this project and highlighting interesting images in the Digital Collections blog. Follow us by clicking on the “Follow” box on the right, and leave your comments!

And since winter is upon us here in Milwaukee, we thought we would feature a few cozy, snowy shots to kick things off: one of the Basilica of St. Josaphat framed by bare winter trees and a fresh carpet of snow (ca. 1916), and another featuring some south side denizens decked out in their finest cold weather gear. Check back for more selections from the Kwasniewski digitization efforts!

St. Josaphat Basilica
 St. Josaphat Basilica

A portrait of siblings, 1917 (possibly commissioned by Mrs. Leon Gurda)
A Portrait of Siblings, 1917 (Possibly commissioned by Mrs. Gurda)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Tse-Tsung Chow Collection of Chinese Scrolls and Fan Paintings at UWM

Wisconsin might not seem like the most obvious place to look for traditional Chinese paintings produced during the last imperial dynasty of China, the late Qing dynasty. And yet, UWM holds an important collection of Chinese scrolls and fan paintings, which are now openly accessible in a new bilingual online collection. The Tse-Tsung Chow Collection of Chinese Scrolls and Fan Paintings provide a glimpse into the context, variety, and technique of Chinese scroll and fan painting in the 18th through 20th centuries.

So how did this collection end up in Milwaukee? Tse-Tsung Chow was a historian, poet and professor in the Department of East Asian Language and Literature at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Chow’s book, The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, is regarded as being one of the first significant works on modern China. He and his wife, Nancy Wu Chow, donated the collection to the UW-Milwaukee Libraries’ Special Collections department in 2005. The collection consists of 129 items ranging from the 18th through the 20th century. To provide access to digital copies of scrolls and fan paintings, 98 items were selected for our online collection.

Digitization Librarian Ling Meng and intern Chia Shih built each record in the collection with both Chinese and English fields, so that both Chinese-speaking and non-Chinese-speaking audiences are able to read and understand the content of the scrolls. For example, a hanging scroll with a rubbing of Xu Zhang’s cursive calligraphy – 張旭草書拓本 – 張旭草書拓本”, features the artist Zhang’s cursive script (a style of Chinese calligraphy which is written quickly and can be quite difficult to read), and demonstrates how this style of calligraphy corresponds to the scroll’s text describing Zhang’s sudden and unbearable stomach ache.

In another work, Yue Ji’s fan painting of Sending-off Poverty – 季粵送窮圖, a description of the ritual of “sending-off poverty” accompanies the painting, allowing the audience to better understand and interpret the painting.

The collection also reflects the political ideology and patriotism of scholar-officials in the late Qing dynasty. Over half of the identified authors are recognized as renowned politicians as well as scholars, writers and/or artists. Through the medium of traditional painting, they embedded their reactions to the political climate by making demands for greater political participation, or signaling their political disappointment and withdrawal from that world. One of artists featured in the collection is Qichao Liang (1873-1929), who was a renowned philosopher and political scholar in the late Qing dynasty. Tse-Tsung Chow noted that Liang’s work, Rengong Liang’s (Qichao Liang) calligraphic couplet – 梁任公書集聯, was an expression of his frustration and pain after he lost his political mentor, Youwe Kang (1858-1927) (Kang and Liang were major leaders in the Hundred Days’ Reform, a national reform movement that failed in 104 days in 1898) and his friend Guowei Wang (1877-1927, a supporter of restoring the last emperor of Qing dynasty).

Other well-known political scholars in this collection include Xiaoxu, Zheng (1860-1938), Youwe Kang (1858-1927), Taiyan Zhang (1868-1936) and Zhenyu Luo (1866-1940). Researchers who are interested in modern China are bound to find interesting materials and connections between Chinese art and politics in this collection.

View the Collection

– Chia Shih

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Introducing the UWM Libraries Digital Collections Blog

Welcome to the UWM Libraries Digital Collections blog. We’ve been growing our digital collections for over ten years, making the unique collections of the Libraries more easily accessible to the world. Our online collections include news footage and oral histories of Milwaukee’s civil rights history, detailed images of handmade artists’ books, early twentieth-century images of Tibetan monasteries, and much, much more. Follow this blog for updates on new additions to our collections, news about existing collections, and features that help put many of our materials in deeper context. You are invited and encouraged to send us questions, comments, kudos, and corrections. And in the meantime, visit our digital collections