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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No Time Like the Present: Dorn C. McGrath Jr. Slide Collection

Dorn C. McGrath Jr., image taken by Rob Crandall, 2013
In the archival world it is a rare that you get to interview the creator of a collection. Either archival collections are deposited after an individual has passed, or interviews are not possible because of the time it takes to process the volume of materials an archive is tasked with preserving. There have been many times in my work as a documentation archivist at The New Zealand FilmArchive (NZFA) that I have lamented the opportunity to speak to those individuals whose legacy I seek to preserve. If only there were more hours in a day, or I could recruit more interns to assist with the ever waging war against time, we could set a richer context for collections.

It was the opportunity to work with the Dorn C. McGrath Jr. Slide Collection and its creator, Professor McGrath, which inspired me to take a three-month sabbatical from my job at the NZFA and join the Archives team at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. I have spent my time here re-housing and cataloguing the collection as well as corresponding and interviewing Professor McGrath about his extensive slide collection. Professor McGrath took the 1,889 slides that comprise the collection between 1969 and 2006. They document both the built and natural environment of the Washington, DC, Anacostia neighborhood. According to Professor McGrath, “The city had done zero planning for Anacostia…and was not likely to do it”. In an effort to redress this gap, Professor McGrath and his George Washington University students surveyed the Anacostia area. The Dorn C. McGrath Jr. Slide Collection is a result of this survey.

Dorn C. McGrath Jr., Slide Collection, original housing, 2013
In my interview with Professor McGrath, I was lucky enough to learn more about this collection, Anacostia, and the connection between Professor McGrath and the Anacostia Community Museum. He told me that the Anacostia Community Museum “used to be down on Martin Luther King Avenue” and that on “the second floor of the theatre looking out on the marquee was Kinard’s office” where he and Mr. Kinard (the founding director of the Anacostia Community Museum) spent much time discussing Anacostia and its needs. One perceived need was a survey of the Anacostia area.

View of Navy Yard from Anacostia, Southeast Washington, DC, 1981 (acma_mcgrath_137)
The slides were originally presented to the Anacostia Coordinating Council and Anacostia residents at community meetings. McGrath recalls “Kinard…assembled a group of people, maybe fifty or sixty, they all…sat there and we presented our findings…we went through our song and dance and told them what they should do and they did it.” Several decades on from these presentations, a number of the slides are now digitized. These images along with those not yet digitized, papers and an audio interviews with Professor McGrath are available for consultation by appointment at Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum.

This experience has encouraged me to incorporate depositor interviews into my archival practice where possible. It has also taught me that, although there is not enough time for me to process every archival collection, spending time assisting colleagues with their processing work is certainly worthwhile. There is no time like the present to do so!

Kiri Griffin, Summer Intern 2013
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

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