The Curious Case of the Artist in the Archives
What did you do during the pandemic? That seems to be the question now. For Jessica Esch, her insatiable curiosity combined with her serendipitous discovery of oral histories in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art led to the creation of a new form of art she calls typelooping.
Jess dove into oral histories at the Archives, devouring the transcripts of female artists 60 and older. The first transcript she read remains her favorite – that of the mixed media and textile artist, Barbara Lee Smith. So, what did Jess do? Typed Barbara a 10-page letter and mailed it with no expectations of a reply. But Barbara Lee Smith did - “You’ve given me a present, by the way, in telling me that those two days of (relaxed, but difficult) talking about myself had meaning for someone else.” And a friendship was born – Zoom calls, Instagram messages, emails – between two very different artists of different generations from different parts of the country.
Inspired by the Archives, Jess created typelooping to entertain herself during the banality of pandemic life. She used it to learn about otherpeople’s lives, make use of the ‘stuff at hand’ as ‘paper’ for her typewriters and type words as she saw fit, often starting with the women she’d ‘met’ in the Archives. The Archives shared Jess’s story last week! She’s featured in a two-partseries as part of the Archives of American Art and Smithsonian Voices blog.
You know, I’m not surprised Jess found her way to something new, to the Archives, to a friendship with Barbara Lee Smith or even the featured blog posts. Why? Curiosity, serendipity and a diverse network are a perfect habitat for blue lobsters.
And Jess should know, because she created my blue lobster logo.
You can hear more of the story on April 6th from 7-8pm (Space is limited!) when Jess talks typelooping with Sarah Baker. Then please, set aside time to meditatively peruse her Fill in the Blanks typelooping series at shinebolt.com. It will add joy, light, and hope to your day, your week, or if you’re like me, your life.