UW News

January 28, 2020

Campus colleagues: Special Collections librarian Allee Monheim finds gems for social media, has new exhibit on ‘lowbrow’ art

UW News

Poster for "Low Brow / High Culture," an exhibit at UW Libraries Special Collections. Story is a visit with curator Allee MonheimSo, you’re scrolling through Twitter and it’s: dog video … political rant … cat video … vaudeville handbill from 1893 … 1949 photo of actor in lion suit — wait, what?

That’s the sort of historical oddity you’ll see if you follow the UW Libraries Special Collections Department on social media, all chosen by Allee Monheim, UW Libraries public service librarian, from the libraries’ vast archive of historical images and items.

And in the weird, amped-up online world, it can be refreshing to run across, for instance, the UW’s 1960 mascot “Mush.” Or an image of the first transcontinental train arriving in Seattle in 1895. Or Northwest band Jr. Cadillac rocking out in 1978, or color illustrations from a turn-of-the-last-century book for children.

UW Notebook caught up with Monheim for a quick visit about her distinctive social media work — and her new exhibit for UW Libraries, “Low Brow / High Culture: DIY and Underground Art,” running through April 24 in the Special Collections area of Allen Library South Basement.

Allee Monheim

The UW Libraries Special Collections social media accounts have such interesting content. How do you decide what to use? Are you free to choose anything from any collection?

Allee Monheim: It’s mostly a part of the division’s social media plan. I researched pretty heavily what other institutions were posting and used that to develop the plan.

I try to choose material that’s from all over our collecting areas so I can showcase the depth and breadth of our collections, and to make sure the content is different week to week so it doesn’t get repetitive. I also have a calendar that I populated with different holidays, historically significant dates, United Nations dates of remembrances and more so I can relate our collections and posts to what’s happening in the broader world. And then sometimes, I just find something really cool and snap a picture of it.

I would say I’m mostly free to choose anything from the collection. There are a few things I have to take into account before I photograph and post anything: Is an item in the condition to be photographed? Will posting it violate any copyright restrictions? Will posting it violate anyone’s privacy? Do I need to do additional research or add some language to make sure there’s proper cultural context, notes, or attribution? These are all issues that, as a librarian, I take very seriously.

Exhibit: “Low Brow / High Culture: DIY and Underground Art”

  • Curated by Allee Monheim, running through April 24 in the Allen Library South Basement. Learn more.
  • Create a zine: Related to the exhibit, there will be zine-creating workshops on Feb. 19, March 4 and March 18, in the Special Collections Reading Room in the basement of Allen Library. Learn more.
  • An exhibit with a playlist: Listen to songs inspired by or influenced by the lowbrow art movement on a Spotify playlist.

Special Collections has a lot of images of old vaudeville performers and actors. How extensive is this part of the collection? 

A.M.: Most of those come from the J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs. J. Willis Sayre collected most of those photographs himself during his work as a drama critic, journalist and promoter. That collection is over 24,000 items and the entire collection is available online in our digital collection.

Can you tell a bit about the your “Low Brow / High Culture” exhibit, and what visitors will see?

A.M.: I’m really excited about this exhibit! I’ve had it rolling around in my head since I first started working here, and I have three really wonderful student curatorial assistants who have been working with me on it for the last few months.

The exhibit is about the influence of the lowbrow art movement on comics, zines, and other visual culture — particularly underground/counterculture visual culture. Lowbrow is a populist art movement with its cultural roots in underground “comix,” punk music, graffiti and hot-rod culture.

The exhibit talks a little bit about the origins of the lowbrow art (it started with hot rods!) but most of the material we’ve included is material in our collections that, knowingly or unknowingly, is visually influenced by the art movement. We’re also including some multimedia elements (the exhibit has its own playlist!). There will also be some zine-making workshops sponsored by the exhibit, and participants in the workshops will have the opportunity to have their zine(s) featured in the exhibit.

I really love doing exhibits because they give us an incredible chance to showcase the different types of material we have and how these materials relate to each other.

Actors Ole Ericsen and John Mulvey are shown in "Agnes the Lion," a skit in the Ice Follies of 1949. It's part of the J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, and was recent item in the UW Libraries social media accounts, curated by librarian Allee Monheim.

Actors Ole Ericsen and John Mulvey are shown in “Agnes the
Lion,” a skit in the Ice Follies of 1949. It’s part of the J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, and was recent item in the UW Libraries social media accounts, curated by librarian Allee Monheim.

This one in particular has been a lot of fun because of all the elements that allow people to engage with the exhibit – you can come and look at all the cool things and you can be featured in the exhibit and you can access the playlist from home and keep listening to it.

Of all the items you’ve seen in Special Collections, what are your favorites — say, a collection you could visit again and again?  

A.M.: That changes almost daily. Right now though, my answer is the Vietnam War Ephemera Collection. That collection has a lot of incredible protest materials — a lot of flyers, posters, and zines/pamphlets.

I think it provides an incredible amount of information about what people cared about and what they did about it — they made rallies or informational posters or educational zines/pamphlets. I also have a background in theater, so the J. Willis Sayre collection is a lot of fun for me!

For more information, contact Monheim at amonheim@uw.edu.

Campus Colleagues is an occasional series for the UW Notebook — a section of the UW News site dedicated to telling stories of the good work done by faculty and staff at the University of Washington. Read all posts here.