Exclusive: Touring the Detroit Institute of Art’s Research Library & Archives with Director MARIA KETCHAM!

Exclusive: Touring the Detroit Institute of Art’s Research Library & Archives with Director MARIA KETCHAM!

Detroit Institute of Arts (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is a 134-year old Detroit institution.

Founded in 1885, the DIA relocated to its present location in 1927.

Over 65,000 works of art, subdivided into 100 galleries, are spread throughout the 3-story, 658,000-square foot building, which, being made of white Montclair Danby marble streaked with gray veins from Vermont, exudes a very regal vibe.

Attached to the rear of the DIA is a beautiful 1,100-seat theater called the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT).

I’ve watched dozens of great films here over the years: Breathless, The Killing, Sweet Sweetback, Dolemite, Gimme Danger, etc.

Also behind the DIA, is the best place to park your car, the John R parking lot (5290 John R Street) where you can park all day for only $7.00 per car.

DIA Rodin (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Walking around to the front, you’re greeted by a version of Rodin’s The Thinker, a 12,000-lb. bronze sculpture of a contemplating man lost in rapturous thought, which beautifully sets the tone for your DIA visit.

Once inside, you check in and pay the fee or, thanks to the tri-county millage (property tax), if you live in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb Counties, you can enter for free any time you want.

As you pour yourself into the uniquely shaped cup of the DIA with its vaulted ceilings and mesmerizing sweeps of grandeur, you are immediately absorbed into a quasi-alternate dimension of one of the greatest art museums in the United States.

DIA Detroit (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Being at the DIA is very inspiring. You’re surrounded by gorgeous art and this immersion does something positive to your mood, attitude and thoughts.

Waltzing through grand hallways and great rooms, you encounter Egyptian mummies, Hindu sculptures, ancient Sumerian statues made of diorite, William Randolph Hearst’s collection of suits of armor, Diego Rivera’s entire room of Detroit Industry murals, and thousands upon thousands of paintings.

The paintings include Van Gogh’s 1887 Self-Portrait, the first Van Gogh painting ever purchased by an American museum, which the DIA smartly acquired at auction in 1922.

Van Gogh-Self Portrait (1887) DIA

 

DIA Research Library & Archives: 191,000 Volumes on Tap

Maria Ketcham @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

In the North Wing, on the 3rd floor, the Kirby Street side, lays one of the hidden gems of the museum, the DIA Research Library & Archives.

I myself was unaware of the existence of this incredible resource until a recent BCD tour, thanks to Frank Castronova, DIA functionary and president of The Book Club of Detroit.

The library is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment-only.

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

It consists of the lovely Reading Room (open to the public) with its row of skylights and book elevator (aka: 1970’s-era dumbwaiter) & the Mezzanine Stacks (closed to the public), a secret sub-level between floors 2 and 3 where thousands of books are held. People can discover and request materials from the stacks via the online catalog.

I’m here meeting with Maria Ketcham.

She is the Research Library, Archives & Collection Information Director and has graciously agreed to subject herself to a kaleidoscope of questions and give yet another tour.

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Maria explains:

“Here at the DIA Research Library & Archives, we have 191,000 volumes, 100 journal subscriptions, thousands of bound periodicals and auction catalogs, and 7,000 cubic feet of archival materials.”

“In comparison to other libraries worldwide, about 30% of our collection is considered rare or unique to our institution.”

“Some of our archival holdings include thousands of photographs, blueprints, slides, color transparencies, oral histories, recorded lectures dating back to the 1970s, the business papers of former directors & curators, and an amazing collection of reel to reel recordings of our LINES poetry series (1980-1991) and our Jazz at the Institute series (1977-1987).”

“Our most popular requests are for information on the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry murals, the For Modern Living (1949) Exhibition, and Dragged Mass (1971) Michael Heizer.”

“We also have thousands of Artist Files, which are manila file folders containing news articles, ephemera, small exhibition catalogs, anything less than 30 pages long, about a particular artist and are especially useful for research on local artists. These are in our online catalogue as well as in WorldCat, the world’s largest online network of libraries.”

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

The Archives serves the museum as a repository for anything DIA-related that has enduring historic value. We’ve begun digitizing some of our archival materials and early DIA Bulletins, exhibition catalogues and finding aids, which can also be found in the DIA Research Library online catalog.”

Some university professors bring their classes here on tours and we also represent at conferences and events.”

“On average, we get about 1,200-1,500 requests per year, mostly via phone or email from all over the world. Many researchers find us via WorldCat. And since this is a noncirculating reference collection, depending on the size of their request, we can often help researchers remotely, such as emailing them scans of relevant materials for their reference.”

“We get visitors from all over the world. We even hosted Japanese royalty when Princess Akiko from Japan visited last summer.  We were very honored that she chose to spend some of her time at the DIA with us in the library.”

Our library is in the top 10 largest museum libraries in the USA. The largest is the Getty Research Institute, which is the Getty Museum library. They have over 1 million books and 100 librarians. Some other large ones are The Met, Philadelphia, and Nelson Atkins.”

 

Quick Biography

Maria Ketcham @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I’m a native Detroiter. I grew up on the Northwest side near Joy and Southfield. A product of the Detroit Public School system, I attended Renaissance High School, then graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and later a Masters in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives.”

“Before coming to the DIA, I was an Archivist for Ford Motor Company. I used to live in the Alden Park Towers on the riverfront for several years. The “new Detroit” has changed drastically since I’ve lived here. It’s exhilarating.”

DIA Detroit

I have a library family. My husband is a librarian at a local public library. My two sisters are also librarians. One is a children’s librarian in California. The other is a senior medical informationist at a university medical school.”

I started working at the DIA in 2001 as the reference librarian. In 2003, I was laid off. Came back in 2005 and I’ve been here ever since.”

“I’m the only full-time employee overseeing the Research Library & Archives. James Hanks is our part-time archivist. We have 2-3 interns at a time, usually grad students in the process of earning their Masters of Information Science.”

The DIA Library is a True Community Resource

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Being a Librarian and Archivist is all about connecting people with information and being able to manage that information in a way to make it as accessible as possible. We acquire materials, provide access to the public, create indexes and inventories and more. Our mission is preservation for future exploration.”

The DIA has 7 curatorial departments. We support museum staff including curators, conservators, and educators, helping them obtain the research materials they need for their respective research projects.”

“We interface with a lot of people. We get information requests from institutions, artists foundations, big auction houses (Christies and Sotheby’s) about things like exhibition installation photos, fact-checking, etc. We assist where we can with research on artists, exhibition history, and provenance, which is tracing the ownership history of artwork.”

“We frequently get questions from people who have a piece of art they’ve inherited. We might be able to help them with biographical information on the artist and sometimes exhibition history, but we are unable to do valuations. The Appraisers Association of America can direct you to a qualified appraiser near you. There’s also DuMouchelles auction house in Downtown Detroit. These are just a couple of suggestions from the list on our FAQ page

Maria Ketcham @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Not many people know this but the DIA has about 700 puppets, it’s one of the largest puppet collections in the United States and one of our special collections here at the library is the papers and books of legendary local puppeteer, Paul McPharlin.”

“We also have a collection of Albert Kahn’s personal books. Lawrence Tech has the larger part, which is housed in its own dedicated room at their library.”

“In terms of new acquisitions, we acquire roughly 700-1,000 books per year.”

“We purchase books from a restricted fund. On average, I purchase 10-15% of the books, which are usually recommendations from the curators. The others are donated to us by institutions, private owners, galleries, and other museums.”

“Our older books are still catalogued in Dewey. Everything else is Library of Congress style classification. Our interns help update access to these older books in our collection by conversion cataloging to LoC.”

Maria Ketcham @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“As an example of our books, we have Verdute di Roma (Views of Rome) from the Venetian engraver, Piranesi.”

“Published in 1835, this is a beautiful 29-volume set of over-sized folios, featuring etchings produced from his original plates, including his Imaginary Prisons series (La Carceri d’Invenzione). This was gifted to the DIA by the estate of former Michigan senator James McMillan in 1905.”

“And yes, in addition to digital offerings, we also still have the old index card catalogs.”

Piranesi’s Views of Rome @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Piranesi’s Views of Rome @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Maria’s Final Thoughts for Now

Maria Ketcham @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I really enjoy working with all the different people, the curators, researchers, general public, giving tours, etc. As much as I think I know as a librarian & archivist, I find there’s always more to learn.”

“The challenges are coming up with creative ways to use what resources we have. There’s also so many hidden parts of the collection. I’d like to make them more well-known and help people discover something new, something they didn’t even know they might be interested in.”

“For about 90 years, the DIA used to have an annual Michigan Artists Exhibition. It stopped in the early 90’s due to financial difficulties. I wish the DIA would bring it back.”

“At some point, we might start a Friends Group for the DIA Research Library & Archives. I would like that very much.”

“This work keeps me busy. I still have about 200 boxes of books to sort through and catalog. This work is thoroughly enjoyable, I love it. Come visit us sometime and explore the collection.”

Detroit Museum of Art, aka: the original DIA Building (image courtesy of DIA Research Library and Archives)

Donate your books

 

The DIA selectively accepts donations of art and art history books & associated materials.

Contact

[email protected]

 

DIA Research Library & Archives

3rd floor

Monday-Friday (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)

Open by appointment-only

(313) 833-3460

[email protected]

 

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals @ DIA (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Homepage

https://www.dia.org/art/research-library

 

WorldCat

https://www.worldcat.org/libraries/46836

 

ArchiveGrid

https://researchworks.oclc.org/archivegrid/?q=contributor:7141&sort=title_sort+asc&limit=100

 

Map of the DIA

https://www.dia.org/sites/default/files/map-dia.pdf

 

Become a member of DIA

https://www.dia.org/membership

 

When visiting the DIA, what eateries are within walking distance?

 

Kresge Court (inside the DIA)

Located on Level 1, this beautiful eatery is designed like an open-air Italian medieval palace courtyard. They have coffee, wine, beer, liquor, sandwiches, salads, etc.

Try the Woodward Avenue Sandwich.

Hours: Tues-Thurs 9am-3:30pm, Fri 9am-9:30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4:30pm

 

Kresge Court inside the DIA (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Kresge Court inside the DIA (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Kresge Court inside the DIA (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Outside of the DIA are:

 

Wasabi (15 E. Kirby, ste E) This Japanese-Korean spot is one of Maria’s personal favorites. Try the sushi and bibimbab.

Chartreuse (15 E. Kirby, ste D) Try the Cap steak and Madagascar vanilla pudding. Make sure you check the hours before coming.

Shields Pizza (5057 Woodward Ave) Try any of the pizzas and the dry rub wings.

Tony V’s Tavern (5756 Cass Ave) Try the pesto artichoke pizza and Tony V’s club sandwich.

Socratea (71 Garfield St, ste 50) Try the Moroccan mint tea.

Common Pub (5440 Cass Ave) Try the duck fat fries and the fried chicken.

Seva (66 E. Forest Ave) try the yam fries and the sweet potato quesadilla.

 

Bruegel the Elder-The Wedding Dance (1566) DIA Detroit

Copley-Watson and the Shark (1782) DIA Detroit

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Piranesi’s Views of Rome @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Piranesi’s Views of Rome @ DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

view from 3rd floor, DIA Research Library & Archives (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Exclusive: Two Military Research Libraries are Hidden Gems at Detroit’s Fort Wayne, a circa 1840’s military fort!

Exclusive: Two Military Research Libraries are Hidden Gems at Detroit’s Fort Wayne, a circa 1840’s military fort!

Fort Wayne

Detroit is a mysterious city.

Filled with hidden gems galore and deeply laced with history, Detroit is like some kind of unexplored video game realm awaiting a protagonist whom, swept up in the spirit of adventure, eagerly unearths its treasures to win the game.

One such beautiful example of Detroit’s fascinating history lies in the oft overlooked neighborhood of Delray in the Southwest part of the city, near the cavernous underground salt mines.

Between spooky Zug Island and the old Boblo Docks, stretched out along the Detroit River in an area soon to be populated by the nearly 2-mile long Gordie Howe International Bridge, is historic Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne aerial photo c. 1980 (photo courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)

This beautiful national treasure is also located down the street from Flor-Dri (5450 W. Jefferson), which was once the original site of Michigan’s first printing press in 1809, thanks to Gabriel Richard.

Fort Wayne is an old military fort comprised of around 40 buildings and sits on 96 acres.

87 acres are owned by the City of Detroit Recreation Department & run by the all-volunteer Historic Fort Wayne Coalition (HFWC).

9 acres are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is referred to as the Detroit Boatyard.

 

Exploring the HFWC’s Two Military Research Libraries

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

I’m exploring the libraries at Fort Wayne with Will Eichler and Tom Berlucchi.

Will and Tom are the two fearless leaders of the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, a non-profit group of around 20 volunteers who run weekend operations at the fort and whom have been fixing up the fort and fighting to save it from neglect and decay, since Tom founded the coalition in 2001.

Will and Tom are historians and historical preservationists. They are Civil War reenactors and passionate about Living History and honoring the richness of Detroit’s military history, which is why they’re created and curated two outstanding (and growing) military-themed libraries here at the fort.

Will

The two military reference libraries here are not lending libraries, they’re private appointment-only and designed for research. We’re currently accepting donations of military books and we’re hoping to open the libraries up to the general public sometime in the next five years.”

“I would say our largest concentration of books is Civil War material. Our next largest segment is World War II. Beyond that, we have military-related books, maps and ephemera from all over the world and all different time periods.”

Tom

“These libraries help deepen and expand our appreciation of the tremendous amount of history here at Fort Wayne.”

In 1812, the British landed at Fort Wayne on the spot where kids play soccer nowadays.”

“1838 was the Patriot War. Some Detroiters sailed from here into Amherstburg, Ontario on a schooner and shelled Fort Malden and they also took the barracks in Windsor. At the time, there was a revolution going on within Canada. Officially, the USA stayed neutral, except for some private individuals who got involved. Some were executed, some were sent to the Hudson Bay Barges.”

“Then in 1840, there was an initiative by the government to build a series of Northern Frontier forts and the property of Fort Wayne was acquired at that time.”

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Will

“Fort Wayne was designed by Lt. Meigs and construction began in 1843. It was finally completed in 1852. The fort was actually dormant until the Civil War erupted, then it reopened. In the interim, an old Irish couple were the caretakers.”

“We’ve been trying to fix up the fort and bring it alive with military reenactments in ways that are as historically accurate as possible. It’s difficult to generate revenue for preservation. The Fort Adams Trust in Rhode Island might be a good model to follow in terms of making Fort Wayne sustainable long-term.”

What I love is that everybody has a different reason for wanting to visit Fort Wayne. Part of the joy of interpreting this place is finding out for yourself the best way you personally connect with history.”

Tom

“In terms of maintenance, we’re looking to establish a professional service agreement with the City of Detroit. This would provide much needed funds for our ongoing restoration efforts.”

“And for the record, Fort Wayne is not a star-shaped fort.”

“It’s a four-bastioned square fort with an external fortification, which is the 5th part, thus, it’s technically not a true star-shaped fort.”

 

Who are Will and Tom?

Will Eichler & Tom Berlucchi @ Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Will

“Being apart of the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition is my passion.”

“My interest in Living History started when I was 15. I read a book called ‘Rifles for Watie’, a fantastic kid’s book about the Civil War. I read it and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

“I attended the James Madison College of International Affairs at Michigan State University, where I studied political theory. I have a 1,000-volume personal library at home, mainly Civil War and political books.”

“Currently I work in television as camera and Steadicam operator on NBC’s Chicago Fire.”

“I also shoot a bi-weekly video series called Civil War Digital Digest where we cover all aspects of Civil War History.”

Tom Berlucchi @ Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Tom

“My first exposure to Fort Wayne was back in 1974 when I started doing Civil War reenactments here with the Loomis Battery.”

“In 2001, I founded the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, a non-profit of which I’m chairman. In 2003, we were granted our 501(c)(3) status on Christmas Eve.”

“Prior to that I served in the U.S. Navy from 1979-83.”

“I’m most interested in documenting the history of the Red Scare in Detroit during the 1920’s-30’s. We held 300 Communist prisoners right here at Fort Wayne from 1920-21. It’s a largely unknown history lesson.”

 

Why is Fort Wayne Historically Important?

Fort Wayne historic aerial (photo courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)

The land that Fort Wayne sits on used to be known as the Springwells Mounds, a series of old Native American burial mounds dating to at least 1,000 AD. Only one mound still exists at Fort Wayne.

During the 1700’s, the area was a Potawatomi Indian village until around 1780, when they moved away. At the time, the area was prized for being a large sand hill and thus, a good vantage point.

In 1781, Irish fur trader, John Askin, moved to what is now Fort Wayne. He traded furs here until he became Justice of the Peace in Detroit from 1789-1802. Then he moved to Canada.

Shortly after the War of 1812 started, the British entered the US via Sandwich, Canada and landed where Fort Wayne is now and stayed here for over one year.

In 1815, the Treaty of Spring Wells, a 6-foot long parchment roll, was signed here by eight Indian tribes and future president Gen. William Henry Harrison, formally establishing peace between the native tribes and the new occupiers of the Michigan Territory.

old Fort Wayne (courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)

Then in 1841, Congress wanted to build fourteen Northern Frontier Forts as a barrier against potential British attacks. Based on the survey of Lt. Macomb, they selected this spot for Fort Wayne, because it was the closest point on the Detroit River to Canada.

Fort Wayne was constructed over an eight-year period from 1843-51. It was named in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne.

During this time, future president Ulysses S. Grant lived nearby at 253 East Fort Street, Detroit from 1849-51. It is not officially known if Grant spent any time at Fort Wayne but the general consensus is that he most likely did due to his military involvement and close proximity to the fort.

On April 12, 1861, the Civil War exploded when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter, South Carolina. Two days later, President Lincoln began mobilizing the Union into action.

Fort Wayne immediately became a training center and infantry garrison for Michigan’s 1st Infantry Regiment, including the Coldwater Cadets, some 780 men, who fought in the First Battle of Bull Run.

Several other regiments, totaling an estimated 14,000 troops, passed through Fort Wayne during the Civil War.

old Fort Wayne schematic (courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)

In 1885, Springwells Township, where Fort Wayne was located, was annexed to the city of Detroit.

During World War I, over 500 African American troops were stationed at Fort Wayne.

In the 1930’s, the Great Depression hit the country hard and hundreds of homeless families lived in the old Civil War-era limestone barracks.

During World War II, the city of Detroit was the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Some 2,000 people moved to Fort Wayne and helped coordinate the supply of military vehicles and tanks to the U.S. military overseas via the Fort Wayne Ordinance Depot.

Fort Wayne was also used as a training and induction center. POW’s from Italy were housed here. Several of them, including Eduardo Barbieri, became permanent residents of Detroit after the war ended.

Fort Wayne (courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)

In 1949, the U.S. Federal Government officially transferred ownership of Fort Wayne to the City of Detroit and the property was run by the City of Detroit Historical Commission.

During the Cold War, Nike Ajax missiles were installed here in 1957 and replaced by Nike Hercules missiles in 1959.

The Fort served as an induction center during the Vietnam War.

In 1967, Fort Wayne was officially deactivated.

From 1967-71, families whose homes were burned down in the Detroit Riots, lived in the old limestone barracks.

Over 200 years after its construction, the fort was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

The empty fort fell into decline and decayed for almost four decades before the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition stepped in in 2001. Then in 2006, the City of Detroit Recreation Department assumed ownership.

 

Unknown Facts about Fort Wayne

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Will

“Fort Wayne still has the original limestone barracks from 1845 and also the original 1880’s houses on Officer Row.”

“There used to be a cemetery here. Over 150 graves were moved to nearby Woodmere Cemetery (9400 W. Fort St, Detroit) around 1896.”

“Also, not many people know this, but there were three jails, called Guard Houses, on-site here at Fort Wayne. They weren’t here all at once, so it depends on the decade.”

Tom

“In 1887, a man named Arthur Stone tried escaping Fort Wayne and Sgt. Clark shot him dead here.”

“A woman named Elsie Woline committed suicide in Building 108, the Commandant’s Building. She was African American in the employ of Captain French and was jilted by a lover. She took her own life by drinking carbolic acid.”

“One of the most incredible things about Fort Wayne is that we’ve had somewhere between 23-27 Medal of Honor recipients tour the fort, including Surgeon Irwin, a U.S. Army surgeon during the Apache Wars, whom had one of the first ever-issued.”

My personal goal is to obtain copies of all of these medals and display them here with stories.”

Tom Custer, George’s little brother, was in the 6th Michigan Cavalry and was the only person in the entire Civil War to win two Medals of Honor.”

 

Annual Civil War Reenactments @ Fort Wayne

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)

Will

“Tom and I are both huge Civil War fanatics. I follow Michigan’s 5th Infantry and the 3rd Regiment the most.”

“In the library here, we have a framed photo of Texans retreating from Maryland to Virginia after the Battle of Antietam, which was the single bloodiest day in American history.”

“We also have a ton of great Civil War books in the reference library, including a series of pamphlet-size blue books, which talk about small arms used by Michigan troops in the Civil War.”

Tom

“Our reenactments are extremely specific recreations. The soldiers even stay in the original barracks and pay in period script, not modern money.”

What does it for me, what brings history alive, is getting to walk on the same floors, the same stairways that those soldiers did. Thinking of how many thousands of people have passed through here over the years, it’s incredible.”

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Will

“During our reenactment, Maj. Gen. Israel Richardson, killed during the Battle of Antietam and whose grave is under a big oak tree at Oak Hill Cemetery in Pontiac, Michigan, his original jacket was here in the museum inside our Visitors Center.”

“The 2nd Michigan Regiment is here and we garrison the fort the way it was in the 1860’s.”

“I’m also hoping to have my documentary about Fort Wayne completed at some point this year. The documentary is produced by my own company, Ravelin Films.”

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Tom

“I cried back when we opened the barracks for the very first time and the Union reenactors marched through. It was a touching moment.”

“I also cried when we fired a salute with real canons here in honor of a man named Luiz who drowned in Lake Erie back in 2008. Luiz went to Southwest High School and played soccer here and a ton of his friends and family came out for the memorial.”

“As for the fort, I’m a preservationist but I’m also realistic. It’s not all going to be saved. We still have WWII-era electrical here, no insulation on the power lines. The plumbing needs updating. There’s probably $250 million dollars’ worth of restoration needed. But we’ll continue doing what we can.”

Will

“If you haven’t been to Fort Wayne yet, make plans right now to come visit us. It’s a must-see destination!”

 

To donate your military books to Fort Wayne, please contact:

[email protected]

 

Fort Wayne

6325 West Jefferson Ave.

Detroit, MI 48209

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

 

Historic Fort Wayne Coalition

https://www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com/

 

HFWC Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/HistoricFortWayneEvents

 

Annual Civil War Reenactment (2nd weekend in June)

https://www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com/cwdays.html

 

Civil War Digital Digest (bi-weekly; run by Will Eichler)

https://www.youtube.com/civilwardigitaldigest

 

Hold My Horse: A Short Film about Israel Richardson by Will Eichler

https://www.facebook.com/groups/HoldMyHorseMovie/?ref=group_header

Hold My Horse: A Short Film about Israel Richardson by Will Eichler

 

Detroit Parks & Rec

https://detroitmi.gov/departments/parks-recreation/fort-wayne

 

National Register of Historic Places (Fort Wayne tracking # 71000425)

https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=7edfca5e-4fb0-4644-95fd-912173c5d0f4

 

Civil War Medal of Honor database (1,522 recipients)

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/medal-of-honor

Historic Fort Wayne Tours

Flor-Dri (5450 W. Jefferson, Detroit), which was once the original site of Michigan’s first printing press in 1809, thanks to Gabriel Richard (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

 

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Aerial photo of MSU (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Michigan State University is a sprawling and beautiful campus of leafy trees, ubiquitous green & white team colors, and intriguing experiences, such as visiting the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection.

Located in East Lansing, about 1hr 30mins west of Detroit, the school was founded in 1855 as a prototype land-grant university and renamed MSU in 1964.

MSU currently sits on 5,200-acres dotted with 566 buildings. Over 50,000 students attend here. There are 27 resident halls and over 900 registered student groups on campus. Yes, this place is massive. It’s one of the largest universities by population in the USA.

MSU’s Nuclear Physics graduate program ranks # 1 in the nation. Magic Johnson & Sam Raimi attended MSU simultaneously in the late 1970’s. Fun factoids abound.

I’m here visiting the MSU Library, the building which contains the main portion of the comic collection.

Red Cedar River (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

You park on the north side of Spartan Stadium in Lot # 62 W (99 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing). You ‘pay by plate’ by the hour. Then, use the footbridge to cross the beautiful Red Cedar River and enter the library doors straight ahead.

Once inside, the Special Collections Reading Room is on your left. This is where you’ll read the comics.

As the world’s largest library/academic comic book collection, the MSU Comic Collection is a true world resource.

Sure, Mile High Comics in Denver has a self-estimated eight million comic books in three warehouses and a single individual, Bob Bretall, in Mission Viejo, California has over 105,000 comics.

But the MSU Collection is catalogued, indexed, available to the general public free of charge and managed by comic book expert, Randall W. Scott.

Randall W. Scott, or “Randy” as he prefers to be called, is an MSU Special Collections Librarian, Comic Art Bibliographer, and head curator of the MSU Comic Art Collection. Working here almost 50-years, Randy has one of the greatest jobs on the planet: reading and archiving comic books.

Yes, a state university had the foresight to bankroll Randy’s unique expertise and thus, help fund a world-class collection of pop culture artifacts in the form of comics books. We’re so jelly. Randy, I want your job.

MSU’s Comic Book Curator and Head Honcho: Randy Scott

Randall W. Scott, aka: Randy, head of the MSU Comics Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’ve always enjoyed comic books. I like the format of blending words and pictures. I also read a lot of books without pictures. Mainly, I like thinking about how the literary form of comic books works and is evolving. Comic books are different from every other kind of storytelling. And I like the theoretical questions associated with comics and collecting comics.”

“I grew up on a farm in Alpena County in a little town called Hubbard Lake. I like to practice reading in other languages like French, German, Spanish. My foreign language level is fair. But my level of reading comics is pretty good.”

“In the late Sixties, I migrated to Lansing and attended MSU while working at Curious Book Shop, a used & rare bookstore run by Ray Walsh. I was Ray’s first employee and the comics buyer there back when Curious had an upstairs that was all comics. Stan Lee did a signing there once! I met Ray while we were both students at MSU. He was famous for riding his bike around campus in a trench coat.”

The Paper (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

“As a student here at MSU, I worked as a writer and editor on an underground paper aptly called ‘The Paper’ and toward the end of its lifespan, it became absorbed into SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. There was a national movement for underground papers at that time. Detroit had The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor had The Sun and so on. In June 1969, we had a convention in Chicago where SDS split and The Weathermen became one of the splits, so I briefly became an original Weatherman before it became the Weather Underground.”

“I have a B.A. from MSU and an M.S. in Library Science from Columbia with a concentration in cataloging and indexing.”

I started working in the MSU Library back in 1971. I had various jobs, including being a preorder typist, whereby I would send out orders to jobbers to order books. I started cataloging the Comic Art Collection in 1974 when I developed a system for indexing and cataloging them and I’ve been here ever since.”

“In 1975, a high-school student stole our Amazing Spider-Man # 1 comic book. We knew who it was but couldn’t prove it. Today, in good condition, that comic is worth around $100,000.”

“After that happened, I decided to take on the job of looking after the Comic Collection, during my lunch hours, as a volunteer.”

 

MSU Comic Collection: At 350,000 items, it’s the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection

MSU Comic Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Randy and I head downstairs, one floor below the Reading Room.

The Comic Collection is housed in long rows of electronic Spacesaver mobile storage units. The lights are on 120-second timers, thus, if there’s no movement for 120 seconds, the lights go off.

We have the main core of the collection here. Then we have about 700 shelves of international comics at an offsite, remote storage warehouse.”

 

Russell Nye: Creator of the MSU Comic Collection

Russell B. Nye circa 1978 (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

The MSU Comic Collection started in 1969-70 when MSU professor Russell Nye donated 6,000 comic books, mostly 60’s-era Marvel superhero comics, to the university.”

“Around 100 of the comics were his, the rest were from some of his senior students who donated their collections to him for his new Pop Culture course.”

“Nye taught in the English department from 1941-79. He was an early proponent of Pop Culture Theory and I had him as a teacher. Nye was a gentleman, always wore a suit, taught 19th century American Literature and had an inquiring mind.”

“At the time, comics were deemed ‘inappropriate material’ by academia. However, Nye was respectable, he had also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so they couldn’t deny this pop culture scholar’s donation of comics.”

Comic Buyer’s Guide issue # 1 (1971) image courtesy of: Michigan State University

“Comic books had already been around for over 100 years and it took them that long to get academic recognition. I did Independent Study with Nye and wrote a paper called ‘Comics in Libraries’ where I argued for their inclusion.”

“Prior to this, academic libraries had been reluctant to collect and study comics, which they foffed off as ‘subliterature’. It was revolutionary times. The spirit of the time was to open things up and do what hadn’t been done before.”

“Nye wasn’t thought of as a radical but being a proponent of putting comic books in libraries was definitely a radical idea at the time. It’s hard to fathom now because it’s more commonplace. Now over 50 libraries have permanent comic book collections.”

 

It’s a Midwest thing: Michigan and Ohio Lead the Charge

Bowling Green University’s Popular Culture dept. (image courtesy of Bowling Green University)

“Ohio’s Bowling Green University started a Pop Culture department around the same time. The Journal of Popular Culture started in 1967 at Bowling Green and was edited by Ray Browne. They now have the Browne Popular Culture Library, which is the world’s largest collection of pulps, dime novels and ephemera.”

“In 1977, Lucy Caswell started the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, which is now the world’s largest repository of original cartoon art.”

It was a Midwest thing. We started putting comic books in libraries, then NYPL followed suit after a few years and now it’s a global thing.”

“In 1978, the Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection was officially titled as a branch of the Special Collections. This collection includes the Comic Art Collection, 10,000 volumes of sci-fi (mostly monographs), probably 5,000 books, magazines & fanzines, and loads of Popular Fiction (ie: dime novels, pulps, detective, westerns, etc).”

MSU Library’s Carolyn Blunt (c. 1973)

 

A Taste of the Goodies

Young Allies # 1 (1941) photo by: Ryan M. Place

The hardest part of being a Comics Librarian is cataloguing. Cataloguing is a daily, ongoing process. On January 1st, 1981, we stopped using the filing index card system.”

“Every year we get deliveries of 12 to 20 boxes of comics sent via UPS. Gerber invented mylar comic sleeves. I order these babies 5,000 at a time. Cataloguing all this stuff takes time.”

“We have 7 copies of the original Obadiah Oldebuck here, the first comic ever created.”

Obadiah Oldebuck, the first comic book ever printed (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have the personal microfilm collection of Detroit comics guru Jerry Bails and the #1 CAPA-Alpha (1964).”

“We have all sorts of comics: Young Allies # 1 (1941), Walt Disney Comics and Stories No. 1 (1940), Wonder Woman # 1 (1942), R. Crumb’s Zap # 1 (1967), etc.”

“We have about 600 Underground comics, 10,000 volumes of Manga, 1 million comic strips donated by Dick Webster, and large holdings of Eclipse, Marvel, DC, Fantagraphics.”

“We have the King Features proof sheet collection from NYC (1930’s-1990’s).”

Rodney Ford scrapbooks (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have 530 scrapbooks of daily newspaper strips. They came all at once from Rodney Ford in Sacramento, California. Over 100 titles from the 1920’s-1970’s. He made the scrapbooks meticulously by hand.”

“We have 17,000 Golden Era comics (1938-52), the first 1,000 of which came from Jim Haynes, a Connecticut racetrack owner who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.”

“We have the Lexikon der Comics, the only copy in North America. It’s a German language encyclopedia of comics.”

“The list goes on and on. MSU has a tradition of keeping the best two copies of each item. Our triplicates we give to the MSU Surplus Store to be sold, and proceeds of these sales come directly back to the library to continue supporting the collection.”

Lexikon der Comics: German language encyclopedia of comic books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU’s International Comics @ the Remote Storage Warehouse

MSU International Comics inside Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

After touring the main collection, Randy drives us to an offsite warehouse in Lansing, about 15 minutes away from the main library. The facilities coordinator, Josh Maki, lets us in.

The warehouse is divided into two massive rooms.

One room contains international comic books on 10 and 12-foot-high steel shelving. The other room is a high-density storage bay of 800,000 books and bound journals. Big blue-box air scrubbers clean the air.

This is but one warehouse in a complex of warehouses. The others are: Folio, Special Collections and RSA. The comics warehouse is RS-F and called ‘remote storage’. Spread across the complex, there are around 1.7 million items.

MSU Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Here we have about 700 shelves of international non-American comics from all over the world. For instance, we have 1,800 comics catalogued from India alone.”

“We have shoe boxes full of two million daily comic strips, plus big boxes of proof sheets, Sunday sections, etc.”

“The most we ever paid was $130,000 for 13,000 European comics in the 1990’s.”

“We get about one international visitor per month, mostly from Europe and Asia.”

“When visiting, please remember that international comics must be requested at least three full days in advance.”

Funding: Where does the money come from?

“I get a little slice of the annual MSU Library book budget. I also have a couple of endowments which provide funding. Our total annual budget is around $40,000.”

“In regard to acquisitions, I have a Collection Development statement that I follow when we want to acquire new material for the collection.”

In addition to the budget Randy receives from MSU, generous supporters also lend a hand by giving funds in support of this collection.

For more information on ways you can support the collection, contact:

MSU Libraries’ Development Office

517-432-0708

[email protected]

 

MSU Special Collections

MSU Special Collections Rare Book Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Established in 1962, the MSU Special Collections department contains 450,000+ printed works, several manuscript and archival collections, a huge stash of ephemera, and more.

MSU has a massive collection of Sixties Radicalism pamphlets and papers. You can find these in the American Radicalism Vertical File (ARVF).

The Special Collections Rare Book Collection is at the end of the comics collection, behind a vault door, inside a temperature-controlled room.

It contains the Charles Schmitter Fencing archives. And the oldest printed book at MSU: Scriptores Rei Rusticae (1472, Venice). They even have a Book of Hours here.

 

Randy’s Final Thoughts

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Well, I’ll need to retire one day, I suppose.”

“My replacement will need to be enthusiastic about comic scholarship, knowledgeable in the field of comics books and care deeply about growing the collection and understanding how important it is.”

The MSU Comic Collection is always open to donations of comic books. If you or someone you know wants to donate their collection, they can email or call the MSU Libraries’ Development Office.”

“Personally, I think it would be cool if the library put a little more recognition into the comics, such as the graphic novels. We have a ton of graphic novels, including the first-ever, Will Eisner’s ‘A Contract with God’ from 1978.”

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“There’s a future in academic comic study. It just depends on administrative attitudes. Currently, MSU offers two minor degrees in Comics.”

“Every February, we host a two-day long MSU Comics Forum here on campus.”

“Visiting scholars with an MSU netID can apply to stay overnight at the Owen Hall Grad Dorm here on campus.”

Plan a trip. Let us know you’re coming. We look forward to seeing you.”

MSU Comics Forum (courtesy of MSU)

 

Donate your comic collection to MSU by emailing Randy Scott and the library development office:

[email protected]

[email protected]

 

Search the MSU Comic Collection here

https://lib.msu.edu/findbooks/

 

Randy’s Comic Index

http://comics.lib.msu.edu/index.htm

 

Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection

https://lib.msu.edu/spc/collections/nye/

 

MSU Comics Forum

http://www.comicsforum.msu.edu/

 

Map of MSU Campus

https://maps.msu.edu/

 

Library of Congress has 150,000 comic books

https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/comics.html

MSU logo (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Ryan’s Final Thoughts

Having toured the collection multiple times, I feel it necessitates its own building.

Due to the size, importance and future growth potential of the collection, MSU should consider centralizing the entire collection under one roof exclusively.

You could also add a museum component to this, complete with display cases, regular events and periodic in-person signings.

 

Ryan’s Recommendations on Visiting the MSU Comic Collection

While visiting MSU, you might want to make time to check out the following:

 

1.) Brody Square (241 Brody West) campus food hall

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park in the Kellogg Conference Center parking garage (219 S. Harrison Rd.) for $1.50/hr. Walk directly across the street to Brody. Up on the 2nd floor is one of the most ingenious campus food hall concepts ever created.

Brody features 9 to 12 food stations. For $10.00 per person it’s all you can eat, all day long. And yes, this is open to the general public.

They have a wondrous array of food featuring things like:

Burritos, sushi, spicy crab soup, Cajun fish with mashed potatoes and gravy, Hudsonville ice cream (get the Cake Batter with chocolate syrup), 15 breakfast cereals, pepperoni pizza, vegetable spring roll, miso soup, mango slush drink, pasta with spinach and alfredo, breadsticks, and more.

Also impressive is their automated tray system. You walk over to a moving wall of empty metal racks and slide your tray in and it disappears into the back for the cleaners. Every university in the country should replicate this food hall model.

 

2.) MSU Dairy Store @ Anthony Hall (474 South Shaw Lane) 9am-8pm

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store grilled cheese (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park out front at the meters. 8 minutes per quarter or use your credit card.

This is an ice cream parlor open to the general public and run by the MSU Department of Food Science. All the ice cream is made right here at MSU. You can even buy half-gallon tubs!

I recommend trying a double scoop of the Sesquicentennial Swirl and Dantonio’s Double Fudge.

Also try the Grilled cheese on sourdough with a cup of soup.

 

3.) Curious Book Shop (307 East Grand River Ave)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park directly behind the store. $2.25 for 90 minutes maximum.

Opened in 1969, this is a used & rare bookstore with a large sci-fi section.

The store is owned by Randy’s friend Ray Walsh. Ray has done a tremendous number of good things for the book community over the past several decades.

Ray puts on the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show.  You can usually find Ray himself a half mile down the road, running his other bookstore, Archives Book Shop (519 W. Grand River).

 

Some Other Cool stuff in Lansing:

Potter Park Zoo (1301 South Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing)

Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern (1200 North Larch Street, Lansing)

Lansing Brewing Company (518 East Shiawassee St, Lansing)

Meat BBQ (1224 Turner Rd, Lansing)

Randy Scott (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Special Collections gift of Jim Haynes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Comic Collection cataloguing (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Exclusive Interview:The Pie-Tastically Fantastic World of Self-Made Businesswoman, creator & author of Detroit’s Sister Pie Powerhouse, LISA LUDWINSKI!

Exclusive Interview:The Pie-Tastically Fantastic World of Self-Made Businesswoman, creator & author of Detroit’s Sister Pie Powerhouse, LISA LUDWINSKI!

Sister Pie cookbook cover (photo courtesy of EE Berger)

I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I don’t like pie’. I know some crazy people who aren’t huge fans of cake. But pie is one of those rare, universally loved foods.

Most people have a favorite pie and if you visit Sister Pie in Detroit, you’ll discover new flavors of pie, cookies and pastries you never knew existed.

You can also discover how creative, finely tuned, and in-sync local communities can become when they’re assembled and provided an outlet, such as the daily magic of Sister Pie.

This story is beyond pies. It delves into the heart of Detroitness, the importance of farms, the power of ideas and the oft unacknowledged tapestry of communities which make the USA a great chunk of the Global Village.

How did Sister Pie start?

Well, Lisa Ludwinski had an idea. She grew that idea with raw drive, talent, a flair for self-marketing and perseverance. The idea eventually sprouted into a business. The business attracted tens of thousands of customers whom became devoted fans and now the business is thriving and has become an undeniable force in the community. This led to Lisa writing one of the coolest cookbooks of all time and achieving international worldwide recognition in the process.

The business and the cookbook are called Sister Pie. The creator & author is Lisa Ludwinski and this is her story.

A TEMPLE OF PIE AND BAKED GOODS

Sister Pie (photo courtesy of Michelle & Chris Gerard)

Sister Pie is located on Kercheval Ave @ Parker St in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood, about three miles east of Downtown Detroit.

There is gloriously free street parking and the 950-square foot bakery is housed inside a circa 1925 corner wedge of building shaped like an inverted isosceles trapezoid. It gives Sister Pie a sort of ‘temple of pie and baked goods’ feeling.

Inside are beautifully presented pies with lattice weaves and decorative steam vents and an olfactory bouquet of brain-meltingly good smells.

They offer a range of edible works of art, including pies, cookies, pastries, breakfast and lunch. All those goodies can be enjoyed on-site at the single large family-style farmhouse table in the front of the shop, which is where Lisa and I are sitting right now.

The ambiance is cozy, quirky and inspiring. They also have double-stacked convection ovens here. These bad girls can fit 25 pies at a time, so you can bake up to 50 pies simultaneously!

I’m here visiting with Lisa because Sister Pie is all-around great and as a result, she has become one of Detroit’s de facto ambassadors. Plus, their cookie game is on point too, these are some good cookies!

Her cookbook, ‘Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit’, clocks in at 256 pages and features over 75 recipes.

It was published in October 2018 by Lorena Jones Books, an imprint of Ten Speed Press, which is a division of Penguin Random House.

The book is an incredibly fun and interactive read, featuring recipes, ingredients, tips, easy to follow instructions, and Lisa’s own unique brand of quirky humor.

What is readily apparent from reading the book is that the Sister Pie powerhouse are fearless experimenters. They are unafraid to experiment with combinations of from-scratch ingredients and modify or replace the recipes as needed.

Lisa herself is a fun blend of silly and business, hilarious and serious, extrovert and introvert, intermingled together like her nontraditional pie ingredients.

“I have a pit bull named Ruby Thursday. She got her name because I liked the name Ruby and I met her on a Thursday. Ruby is my girl!”

One of my biggest inspirations over the years have been my parents. They’ve given me probably too much support (laughs) I’m incredibly fortunate. Knowing they had my back allowed me to focus 100% of my time on business development and turn Sister Pie into a successful business.”

“They were so excited when I moved back home from Brooklyn. They gave me a place to stay, helped fund my existence, provided groceries, roof over my head. And growing up, they took their parental duty to the max and made it their mission give my sister Sarah and I good opportunities.”

“My Father Kurt runs the All America Plywood Company at John R & 7 Mile in Detroit. My grandfather started the business in 1967 and my dad took over in the late 1970’s. Growing up, it was a cool experience for me to visit him at the office, see him as a business owner and boss. He’s able to transform stress into creativity, which is very inspirational for me. I always know I can go to him for advice.”

My mom is amazing. She carted me from dance lessons to play rehearsals and everywhere in between as a kid. We grew up on her cooking, and my Aunt Mimi’s pumpkin pie.”

BIOGRAPHY: LISA LOUISE LUDWINSKI

Lisa & Sarah (photo courtesy of Lisa Ludwinski)

Born 1984, Lisa Louise Ludwinski, grew up in Milford, Michigan with her sister Sarah. She attended Mercy High School and graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts from Kalamazoo College.

Upon graduation, she moved to Brooklyn, NYC and lived there from 2006-2012. When not filming her hilarious Funny Side Up cooking show and landing acting gigs, she worked as a pastry cook at Momofuku Milk Bar and very briefly at Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

Lisa decided to move back home and grow her new idea for a business. She started Sister Pie in November 2012 at her parent’s house. The orders rolled in fast and in 2013 she enrolled in D:hive Build (now Build Institute) business class, joined FoodLab Detroit and by 2014 transitioned to the Hannan House commercial kitchen space in Midtown Detroit.

Lisa added her first employee, Toledo native Anji Barto and things were cooking as they moved to Detroit’s West Village, snapped up several wholesale accounts and won $50,000 from the Hatch Detroit small business contest.

To raise money for a brick-and-mortar shop, Lisa launched an Indiegogo campaign in February 2015. The goal was to raise $25,000. Lisa did a 24 hours dance marathon where she personally danced for 24 hours straight inside Paramita Sound record store. She started 9pm Friday and stopped 9pm Saturday night! The fundraiser was a huge success and they exceeded their goal by $1,000.

Finally, after a few years of grinding hard every single day, Lisa officially opened Sister Pie on April 24th, 2015.

MORE ABOUT LISA

Lisa & Ruby Thursday (photo courtesy of Lisa Ludwinski)

“I’m of Polish and German descent, with some English and Russian thrown in there.”

“I was part of a mime troop in high school (laughs)…it was a weird thing, but fun. I did it for two years and learned skits, choreography, and the challenge of entertaining while being constrained. Without the ability to talk, you learn to be expressive in other ways.”

“Going to Mercy High School was a big experience in my life. I was introduced to a culturally and racially diverse student body, which is something I hadn’t really experienced in Milford. There was an emphasis on exploring and opening up your mind to other people and everyone’s different experiences, which created a strong foundation for my ongoing interest in social justice and human rights.”

“I like dogs, I like to doodle-draw, and going to see interesting films. The Detroit Film Theatre inside the DIA is one of my favorite places in the city. My favorite movie is Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, ‘Rear Window’. I also like being outside and exploring different outdoor challenges and trying new things.

“As the business has grown, I’ve become more introverted. For the past couple decades, I’ve spent a lot of time as a performance-crazed extrovert. I have a wacky sense of humor. In general though, I try to be an empathetic person, try to give with kindness, and definitely have a tendency to over-analyze.”

“One of my favorite authors is Zadie Smith. Her book ‘On Beauty’ is my favorite of hers. Also really enjoy essays by Rebecca Solnit. I listen to a wide variety of music and have always been very into classic soul. My go-to music in general is 80’s New Wave (New Order, Talking Heads, etc).”

SISTER PIE: DRAMATIC CRIMPS & LATTICE WEAVES

Sister Pie’s Apple Sage Gouda Pie (photo courtesy of EE Berger)

The reason Sister Pie sells out early every day is because each person is buying an average of 5 to 10 items. Yes, it’s that good. I ordered $60.00 worth of pie and pastries while here and the only regret I have is that I didn’t bring another $40.00 with me to buy more.

Sister Pie is run by 15 women, including myself. Everyone here has a lot of freedom, ownership, responsibilities and the business is now at a place where it can run without me needing to be here constantly.”

“The kitchen here is running 5am-6pm daily. We close for the holidays and take a two week break at the beginning of the year. We bake pies once daily, around 11 am or Noon. They sit overnight and are served the next day because pies need to rest for at least 4 hours.”

“My first employee, Anji Barto has been with us since May 2014. At the time she was doing some graphic design work for Germack. In April 2015, she became a full-timer and she’s been very involved in the growth of Sister Pie. We’ve been through a lot together.”

“Sister Pie is known for our nontraditional flavor combinations. We make these seasonally and there’s definitely something enticing about the unusual flavors. Again, I like a challenge and it’s challenging to pick a single base ingredient and see how you can layer it with other ingredients to make something different and unique.”

“We make our pie dough, the All-Butter Pie Dough, by hand every day communally. We use Plugra butter (high fat French butter) and unbleached all-purpose flour.”

“80% of Sister Pie pies begin with a blind-baked crust (ie: baked without filling). Pie crust is not hard to make, there’s just a lot of steps. You have to be thoughtful and work fast, especially so the butter doesn’t become completely homogeneous with the other ingredients. You want it to burst open when it hits the hot oven. It’s also possible to over-work the pie dough. It’s a hard balance because it takes a lot of muscle to sculpt the dough, roll it to a properly-sized circle and crimp it. I call our crimps ‘dramatic.’

“I love our Sister Pie-It Forward Program. We have these slips of paper and for $4.24 you can purchase one and put it on our refrigerator. Anyone who comes in can grab it and use it for a free slice of pie.”

Sister Pie (photo courtesy of EE Berger)

“Every now and then we like to dance in the kitchen. It’s a fun way to release energy!”

“One Monday night per month we have Sister Pie Townhall Meetings. These are private, employee-only get-together’s where we sit at the store table and talk, eat and drink. It’s an open forum, a chance to empty the suggestions box and give everyone a chance to speak honestly about whatever’s on their mind.”

“We also offer classes here. They’re put up for sale quarterly. We host classes all year long, conducting maybe 3-4 per month. There are about 8 students per class and we do them here at the bakery. Lindsey teaches the pie dough classes and I teach the hand pie classes.”

Wedding orders are hugely popular at Sister Pie. Especially during the warmer weather, we’re doing several wedding orders every weekend. If you or someone you know are interested in this, shoot us an email at [email protected]

“As a business, Sister Pie has a Triple Bottom Line. This is a focus on being mindful of people, planet, and profit in every decision we make.”

WHAT TO TRY AT SISTER PIE?

Ruby loves Sister Pie! (photo courtesy of Lisa Ludwinski)

Sister Pie offers an array of deliciousness. Most of their pies have a 9-inch diameter, except for the mini pies, hand pies and they make special 6-inch pies for the holidays.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Salted Maple Pie (“Considered to be our signature flavor, it has classic chess filling with Grade B maple syrup from Imlay City, Michigan”)
  • Chocolate Coconut Pie
  • Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Apple Sage Gouda Pie
  • Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Feta Hand Pie (“If there were a hand pie fan club, this is the hand pie they’d serve at their meetings.”)
  • Egg-on-Top Galettes
  • Honey Lemon Meringue Pie (“Cloud-like meringue, we use a kitchen torch to toast the meringue.”)
  • Rhubarb Rosemary Streusel Pie
  • Sister Salads
  • From Another Galaxy Brownies
  • Sour Cherry Bourbon Pie
  • Fennel Snickerdoodle Cookies
  • Savory Hand Pies
  • Peanut Butter Paprika Cookies
  • Toasted Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie
  • Sweet Beet Pie
  • Spranola (granola, honey, yogurt)
  • Blueberry Lemon Thyme Pie
  • Brandy Pecan Pie
  • They even do Paczki’s for Fat Tuesday! Maple coffee cream paczki, Grapefruit Hibiscus paczki, and the Pieraczki (pierogi-paczki hybrid)

THE IMPORTANCE OF FARMS

Michigan farmland (photo courtesy of Pure Michigan)

The State of Michigan has 10 million acres of farmland and over 50,000 farms.

Farms (and long-haul truckers) are the backbone of America, yet they are continually underrated and under-credited.  Businesses like Sister Pie help farms and farmers achieve more recognition of their importance.

Sister Pie works with dozens of farms and farmers! We try working with farms in Michigan, especially within the city of Detroit.

“Our offerings are based on seasonality. April to November are the main months for Michigan farmers.”

Guernsey Dairy

“We get fresh whipped cream delivered weekly from Guernsey Dairy. We use heavy cream in many of our recipes. It provides a richness and flavor. The fat affects the texture of filling. We whip it up daily for pie, it’s especially good with more tart pies, helps balance the tartness.”

“We get sweet potatoes from Farmer Norm, buckwheat flour from Hampshire Farms, Northern Spy apples from Erwin Orchards and Farmer Joe Jessup in South Haven, etc, the list goes on and on.”

“As a team, Sister Pie even does an apple-picking trip once per year.”

“In the beginning, we started going to Eastern Market in Detroit to see what was available. That in-person interaction deepened many of our relationships with farmers. Now, they will typically deliver directly to us or we will still meet them at Eastern Market and pick it up there.”

LISA ON WRITING HER COOKBOOK

Lisa @ Sister Pie (photo courtesy of EE Berger)

One thing I appreciate is that Lisa made her cookbook fun. Most cookbooks are not fun. They’re usually instructional textbooks devoid of personality.

Lisa’s cookbook is the opposite, laced with idiosyncratic texture and overflowing with humorous asides, which makes it a unique experience, much like visiting Sister Pie. My two favorite lines are: “When you’re not in a pie mood (as if!)” and also “Over the years, the cookie has evolved much like a story in a game of telephone”.

Lisa explains:

“How the cookbook happened is basically I wrote a book proposal, got some recipe taste-testers together and it took some time, but we eventually compiled over 75 recipes.”

“It was listed by the New York Times as the Best Cookbook of 2018. Since it was published a few months ago in October, we’ve sold around 30,000 cookbooks. Here at the Sister Pie store in Detroit, we’ve sold over 1,000 copies.”

“It’s been a huge hit with home bakers. The Pie Dough recipe, for example, is very accessible. It’s a good opportunity for home bakers to use it and exercise patience. When a recipe tells you to wait, just wait, it will pay off. Please take the proper time to follow the baking rules for best results. I know it’s tough! The part of patiently waiting is an area I still struggle the most with. But it’s worth it.”

My advice to fellow writers is to keep writing every single day. The whole process of getting the book published took me a full two years.”

“I even took a month off from the bakery to be a full-time writer. That may not seem like a lot, but believe me, taking an entire month off from your business is a huge deal. It’s a big gamble and one I was willing to take because I trusted my employees. During that time, I would write 6-8 hours per day. I worked on it at home, in various Detroit coffee shops and also Up North in the Torch Lake area.”

EE Berger took the photos and she did an incredible job bringing a fresh, unique perspective to our bakery and baked goods.”

RYAN’S ADVICE

  • When visiting Sister Pie, get there when they open.
  • Try everything.
  • Participate in the Sister Pie-It Forward Program.
  • Buy the cookbook. Read it and use it.
  • Be sure to check out Sister Pie’s Instagram. You’ll be Insta-hungry.

 

GET A JOB AT SISTER PIE

We typically hire about every six months or so. Overall, we have good employee retention. We hire via a sign posted on the door. More than half of our employees live within walking distance and we do tend to hire only Detroit residents.”

FUN FACT

Lisa is also a talented artist!

She drew the designs of Crimp Drama and What’s Shaking Sister Pie and also the cookie box labels.

FINAL THOUGHTS (FOR NOW) & UPCOMING DEVELOPMENTS

Lisa Ludwinski (photo courtesy of Sister Pie and Frame Hazel Park)

I give Lisa and her team a lot of credit for everything they’ve been able to do. It’s been a remarkable journey thusfar with many adventures yet to come. It will be interesting to continue following their development as visions of Sister Pie pies and cookies dance in our heads.

And remember that you can pre-order pies 48 hours in advance. They must be placed by 2pm two days in advance of pick-up. This is great for people who live far from the bakery.

One recent develop is that Esto’s Garage (1811 Parker Street, Detroit) will be opening next to Sister Pie. This Mexican-American casual eatery is run by Esteban Castro. I’ve known Esteban since he had a pop-up residency at Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy. His guacamole is off the chain!

Maybe we will get to see a Sister Pie & Esto’s Garage collab at some point? A taco and pie night, perhaps? Maybe with some margaritas, too?

“Currently, we are entering our next phase as a business, and looking at a space we would rent in addition to this place, somewhere in the same general area.”

We’re looking to grow, get more kitchen space, add more classes, increase our Savory Food Program of sandwiches, soups, salads. Possibly even have some gluten-free pie crust.”

“One recommendation I have to everyone, especially you home bakers, is to start a Baking Club in your neighborhood. Get some friends together, pick a different cook book monthly, each of you make something out of it, then meet at each other’s houses to sample the creations. There are so many great cookbooks out there, but they’re rarely fully explored. This would be a good way to change that.”

CONTACT SISTER PIE

Sister Pie

8066 Kercheval Ave

Detroit, MI 48214

(313) 447-5550

Email:

[email protected]

M-F 8am-4pm

Sat-Sun 9am-4pm

Homepage

http://sisterpie.com/

 

Buy the Sister Pie Cookbook here

https://www.amazon.com/Sister-Pie-Recipes-Stories-Big-Hearted/dp/0399579761

 

Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/sisterpiedetroit/?hl=en

 

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/SisterPie/

 

Yelp

https://www.yelp.com/biz/sister-pie-detroit-2

 

Lisa’s Youtube channel

https://www.youtube.com/user/lisaludwinski/videos