Sunday, June 23, 2013

Work Update: Exhibit

“Chester’s ‘Tommie’ Barker – a Year in Professional Women’s Baseball, a Lifetime of Memories” exhibit, Rossney E. Smyth Memorial Display Case, Chester Library, Chester, New Jersey. Photograph © Debra Schiff 2013.

I'll admit it. I'm a bit envious of libraries with multiple display cases and areas dedicated to exhibits. While the image above shows a fine, sizable display case, it's the only one we have at Chester Library.  If we had, perhaps a square museum case, I could place it in that corner all the way in the back by the quiet study rooms. I could outfit the case with one of our not-quite-rare, but certainly scarce, old books. For now, I'll be happy with the one above.

The exhibit shown in the image above is focused on the terrific Tommie Barker, our resident sports legend. She played professional women's baseball in 1950, not long before the end of the All-American Girls' Baseball League. Tommie (whose father wanted a boy and whose real name is Lois) played softball on a team she helped create, the Chester Farmerettes and previously on the Roxbury High School team before the League's tryouts in Irvington, New Jersey.

After earning a spot in the "camp" phase of the tryouts she took several trains to finally arrive in Indiana. Tommie earned her spot as the oldest rookie in the League at age 27, although she fibbed about her age and said she was 21. She was signed to the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Chicks for the 1950 season, and quickly made new friends in her teammates. The framed photo in the upper right corner of the image above shows her team photo.

Because Tommie's items are on loan from her personal collection, she agreed that I could make digital facsimiles of all the materials for a future online exhibit. The yearbook in the center bottom of the case is from the Chester Library collection, although it was a donation from a former Chester resident who wanted it to go to a good home. You can see Tommie in the yearbook on the left page, top-most photo.

When I visited Tommie to talk with her about her life and experience as a professional women's baseball player, I learned that she only played for one year because her father had become ill. "Back in those days," she said, "You had to come home and take care of your parents." When the League mailed her a renewal contract for 1951, she returned it unsigned due to her devotion to her father.

She didn't keep her uniform, but she did hold on to the round sweater patch (on the right) and the shield-shaped uniform patch (on the left). They are in excellent condition, and I placed them on top of some black velvet cut in a way that I hoped would make them pop even more against the light blue background. The blue paper is actually archival wrapping paper which is acid-free and buffered. I thought that it would provide a stable background for the items in the case.

The other framed items include a tinted black and white portrait of Tommie and her certificate from the Baseball Hall of Fame, which had inducted the League in 1998. When I unframed the items to make digital facsimiles, I discovered two other photos in the portrait's frame. First, there was black and white signed portrait of Tommie in the same pose, and a baby picture with three children. When I see Tommie next, I'll ask her about that baby photo.

I used small bench weights to keep the framed items in a tilted standing position, hiding them with other items. For future exhibits, I will likely wrap them in black velvet to make them less noticeable. One of the items used to camouflage the weights is a digital facsimile I received from the Grand Rapids Public Library. It is a copy of a 1950 program from a Grand Rapids Chicks game. The Special Collections librarian at GRPL made a digital copy of a few of the inside pages, including one that shows the team photo. I'll hang onto that one for the online exhibit.

The baseball is held in place by a coiled string weight that you cannot see from above. These types of weights are typically used to hold book pages open. They resemble white shoelaces. Finally, I also used the tilted frames to hide some silica gel packets to help prevent humidity from causing damage to the items.

On top of the case, I used an acrylic stand to hold a list of the items within the case. I hope that it helps to discourage patrons from using the case as a stand for their items. Because the case is currently located between a copier/print station and another copier, I've seen my share of people setting items on top of it.

Last, but far from least, I was able to locate an historian who is an expert on women in baseball for a companion program on July 25. Leslie Heaphy is the author of the Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball, and is an associate professor of history at Kent State University. Tommie Barker has the date on her calendar, and although the 90-year old has had some health challenges, she can't wait for an evening of women's baseball history in her hometown of Chester.


Hannah said...

This is great! My mom always puts so much time and effort into assembling new display cases in the town library, so I know how challenging a task it can be.

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Hannah!
I'm sure she does a wonderful job. Would love to see some photos of her cases.