The following post was written by Special Collections and Archives intern Judy Chou, a library student at San Jose State University (SJSU)’s Master of Library and Information Science graduate program. She is graduating this month with her MLIS! Best of luck in your future endeavors, Judy!
Through SJSU’s internship program, I have had the opportunity to intern at UCI Special Collections and Archives. For the past five months, I became intimately acquainted with the life of Bernard Johnson, a director, choreographer, performer, costume designer, and teacher. My project was to survey, appraise, arrange, and describe the Bernard Johnson papers (1957-1997), tasks required to “process” an archival collection. This resulted in the production of an online finding aid for the collection.
In 1991, Bernard Johnson was recruited and employed to become the first professor of costume design at UC Irvine. At UCI, he taught students how to draw designs, create patterns, sew, and choose and work with different patterns. Prior to his arrival, Johnson was involved with a number of theatrical productions, films, and television shows including Eubie, New Jack City, Daddy Goodman, Raisins, To All My Friends, and much more. By the time of his death in 1997, Johnson accumulated 7.3 linear feet worth of drawings, correspondence, clippings, photographs, and other materials documenting his professional and personal life. The bulk of the collection consists of Johnson’s drawings—both original and reproductions—created during the course of his career.
Initially when I was given the Bernard Johnson papers, I was expecting to arrange, describe, and process a collection filled with old researcher papers, books, curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation for students, lecture notes, and so forth. I was not, however, expecting to find a collection depicting the life of a costume designer. The drawings that I encountered represented the types of costumes that he designed for theatrical productions, films, and television shows. There were also a number of drawings inspired by celebrities, including Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Nat Cole, Stevie Wonder, The Pirs, The Supremes, and The Temptations.
A few examples of Johnson’s work can be seen below. These illustrate his ability to use different artistic media to express his extraordinary talent in costume design. Johnson worked with pencil, marker, pastel, pen and ink, and paint to render his imaginary designs.
Being able to touch, describe, and arrange a collection with the researcher’s interest in mind was the most rewarding experience as the Special Collections and Archives intern. Since the bulk of the collection is comprised of Johnson’s drawings, I was given the opportunity to spend a great deal of time looking at and appreciating the works of art that he created during the course of his career. I was also able to make critical decisions alongside my site supervisor, which has given me confidence in my ability to successfully process a collection and apply archival standards and methodologies.
The Special Collections and Archives Department will be putting together a small exhibit on the Bernard Johnson papers that will showcase a number of his original drawings. Stay tuned for news about it!