BHS actively collects documents, artworks, and artifacts that support our mission ad collection development goals. In librarian and museum parlance, we call this acquisition and accessioning. Accessioning has its etymological roots in Latin, as a concept in property law (think “accessory”, as in the property added to an estate) but for libraries, archives, and museums, it’s just as useful to think of accessioning as providing access, the act of making something usable by researchers.
In the months ahead, we’ll be featuring a few of our recent acquisitions, and pulling back the curtain to give you a sense of what we do to make it possible for people to discover and use our collections. You can probably guess the basics – give it a name, and a unique identifier; list the contents; classify it by assigning subject headings – but I think you’ll be surprised by some of the details of how it happens.
In the rest of this post, I’ll introduce you to the Matthew Lewandowski collection. Lewandowski (b. 1932 Warsaw, d. 2011 Brooklyn, NY) was a tool and die maker based in Brooklyn who specialized in the production of steel dies, called hubs, used for the stamping of hollow-form earrings. Each hub is a unique, hand-made object; an original work and a tool used for mass production. Several of the hubs and drawings are on display outside the Library door through the middle of June.
Lewandowski was born in Warsaw in 1932 and served as a child soldier in the Polish resistance during WWII. After the war, he studied economics and was employed by the state setting up factories and manufacturing centers before emigrating to the U.S. in 1973. Like many new immigrants he took various jobs when first arriving in New York. One of these was as a diamond setter at a factory in Manhattan, where he learned about jewelry manufacture. In 1980 he opened his own shop, Matthew Tool and Die. Joined by his children, Barbara and George, Lewandowski worked with a close knit group of designers and tool-makers to produce thousands of earring designs for the wholesale market during a career of more than 30 years.
Lewandowski began working in the jewelry industry before the digital revolution in manufacturing, and the production techniques he used developed during the 19th century Industrial Revolution. The machine tools of this period allowed for the precisely repeated forming, cutting, and shaping of various materials that is needed for mass production, and these production methods made jewelry accessible to people that would have been unable to afford expensive hand-wrought pieces. The ease with which designs could be translated into tooling for manufacture also lent itself to the appropriation of images from popular culture, bringing popular images into jewelry, an area of material culture previously associated with luxury goods.
A retrospective of Lewandowski’s work was curated by Marc Ganzglass at Space for Art and Industry (http://www.spaceforartandindustry.com/). Following that exhibit, Brooklyn Historical Society has been working with Ganzglass and the Estate of Matthew Lewandowski to bring these materials into BHS’ permanent collection. The hubs are beautiful and compelling artifacts, but Lewandowski himself is central to BHS’ interest in the materials. His biography touches on important themes in Brooklyn’s history as a manufacturing center, a port of call for immigrants to the US, and the catalogs, shop drawings, and records that accompany the artifacts transformed this into a collection with research value, as well as aesthetic and artifactual value.