Watzek opens exhibit from LC poet’s archive

Photograph by Ella Ferencz

ON MARCH 17, Hannah Crummé, college archivist and head of special collections, addressed a collection of guests in Aubrey R. Watzek Library.

“We’re so excited that we can welcome Portland back to Watzek Library,” Crummé said. “Because we’re so eager to share the work of our students.”

On this afternoon, the library’s lobby and display section, normally filled with studying students, was outfitted with tall black-clothed tables, complete with gourmet appetizers and a bartender. The guests gathered within this arrangement of tables and mingling with students incidentally passing by, had all been invited for a special purpose: to witness the opening of an exhibit celebrating the arrival of poet Kim Stafford’s archive at the library.

The arrival of Stafford’s archival collection at Watzek Library was long anticipated. The library already housed the collection of his father William Stafford, who was also a poet.

“We’ve been interested in having Kim’s archive for a long time, because we hold the archive of his father,” Crummé said. “We were finally able to make the gift happen last year in 2021 thanks to the generosity of Kim and his wife Perrin Kerns.”

Stafford, born to Lewis & Clark professor William Stafford in 1949 and a professor at the college himself since 1979, has a connection to LC almost as old as the school itself. Kim Stafford reflected fondly on his on- campus childhood.

“The campus was really family,” Stafford said. “It was post-war, a lot of the faculty had young children, and it was like we were all cousins. We climbed the trees and picked the grapes and the apples and pears and plums. So it was kind of a paradise … It’s a haunted place in the best way.”

Stafford went on to explain his decision to donate his archive as having grown out of his work preserving his father’s archive in the 1990s.

“I worked for years to develop my father’s collection,” Stafford said. “It was frustrating to guess what he would have wanted, and I thought that I don’t want to do that to my children, so I thought it was my job to find a home for the papers.”

Stafford also explained why he was specifically drawn to Watzek Library.

“I’ve been so happy with the library staff and student workers, so I feel like I’m in pretty good hands,” Stafford said.

The archive’s arrival was also a significant achievement for President Wim Wiewel, who had been working towards acquiring the archive since his inauguration in 2017.

“It’s like a gem” Wiewel said. “I think it is just wonderful for somebody to decide that they’re willing to send this off … I think it speaks to a trust in the institution and a faith in the future.”

The unveiled exhibit was the product of months of work by three LC students taking part in the Watzek Curation Practicum: Ben Warner ’22, Franchesca Schrambling ’22 and Liam Conley ’23, as well as library staff.

Conley described how the student curators had centered the exhibit around Stafford’s creative process.

“It’s not just writing everyday, it’s also connections with people and their influences on his writing,” Conley said, referring to Stafford’s habit of carrying pocket notebooks.

Stafford himself happily provided a brief tour of the exhibit.

“When I was a college student I spent a summer hitchhiking across Europe,” Stafford said, walking towards a display case containing a tattered bag and a vintage 35mm camera. “It was important to me to have this in the exhibit because this is where I started. Just a vagabond with my journal and camera going through the world.”

Stafford continued, moving towards a display of a rough wooden box filled with pens and books.

“This box here was a portable office,” Stafford said. “When I came here in 1979 I didn’t have an office, so I had to carry my things with me … I just walked from classroom to classroom teaching.”

Moving over to display cases filled with his daily notebooks, Stafford approached a case containing a letter written on a piece of birch wood bark.

“There’s a kind of intimacy in physically making a talisman for someone you love and are connected to, and it goes not through a wire, but literally hand to hand,” Stafford said,

expanding on the virtues of letters. Beyond just the exhibit, Stafford had much to say about the creative potential of LC at large.

“I find I can think here,” Stafford said. “In the hurly burly of the city it’s harder, but we’re up on the hill. That has its disadvantages, in a way we’re cut off, our kind of an ivory tower, but we’re close to nature here.”

Stafford also spoke about what he saw as the pacifist ethos of LC.

“This college was saved by a dynamic president, Morgan Odell, who was a pacifist in World War One,” Stafford said. “And he didn’t make much of that, but I think that my dad came here because he was a pacifist, and he felt that this is a place that promotes understanding.”

With the conclusion of remarks by Crummé, Wiewel, the student curators and Stafford, the guests began to gradually disperse, marking the beginning of Stafford’s archive’s time at LC.

“We are already putting together finding aids, which are like catalogs,” Crummé said. “I don’t think the finding aids are public yet, since we’re waiting for the entire collection, but you can request the items that we already have here now.”

Stafford, for one, was quite more than confident in the future of his archive.

“I think the archive is in good care here,” Stafford said. “So I think I’ll be here forever.”

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