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329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

August 19, 2013

Digitizing the Ruth Page Collection (an experiment in accelerated access)

a sampling of the many film prints & elements in CFA’s Ruth Page Collection

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), we have begun digitizing the dance films of the Ruth Page Collection. With over 400 16mm films & elements (!) of performances, rehearsals and television appearances, these films document the dance legacy and artistic circle of choreographer, Ruth Page. As a rare archival treat, we are publishing the collection’s digitized films as soon as they become digitized.

“Why wouldn’t you post them immediately after digitization?..what’s so crazy about that?” you may ask. Well, normally we digitize the films (thankfully, we have the equipment to do this in-house) and then hand each digitized film over to a cataloger who adds descriptive information (i.e. where and when it was filmed, the people or credits involved in production, etc) to the film’s individual catalog record. After this valuable information is added to our database, we upload a video file and publish the film’s item-level record & streaming media to our site’s Collection Portal. These item records are accessible under its associated collection finding aid or searchable on their own through various “Browse Items” search terms. In other words, published items or films are available through traditional provenance-based access, or the top-down model, as well as searchable at the item level.

Ruth Page in BOLERO, which was filmed at Ravinia in 1928

The time and resources to produce in-depth item-level cataloging records is immense, especially for collections (like the Ruth Page Collection) that are filled with unique, one-of-a-kind materials that have not been previously cataloged elsewhere. Due to its specialized subject matter, the Ruth Page Collection also requires detailed research from CFA staff & dance scholars in order to be thoroughly understood and therefore successfully presented.*

In order to get these films out there and accessible N-O-W, we’ve decided to bypass this cataloging step and post the streaming videos online with very little cataloging information. To answer some questions upfront: Yes, this may be a bit messy at first (as titles often evolve, and mislabeled duplicates frequently reveal themselves once an entire collection is digitized) and yes we plan to research and more-fully catalog all of the films from the Ruth Page Collection once the digitization phase is complete….we just wanted to accelerate our work flows and get these films out there to you, the public, as soon as we could. Since these item records have very little cataloging data and are therefore not very searchable at the item-level, the best method to view them is from the Ruth Page Collection Finding Aid, which includes a linkable table list of all the digitized films at the bottom of the page.

two frames from “Alice (Act 2)” circa 1951

We invite you to not only view & share these films, but also to become a part of our experimental work flow to get these videos to you.** Check back from week to week as we continue to digitize and publish films from the collection. Thus far we’ve published 63 films & videos, including two recently restored 1928 Ravinia performances (here and here), a handful of television appearances by Ruth Page & Co (view one here), home movies filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour (view one here) as well as a sprinkling of rare 1″ and 1/2″ video tapes digitized by Bay Area Video Coalition (more on this collaboration and the Page Collection’s video formats soon!). None of these films or videos have been accessible online until now, and we are beyond delighted to share them with you! And as the transfer technician (with admittedly little to no dance background) on this project, I’m starting to accumulate some personal favorites… including Alice (Act 2), which has some pretty amazing costumes.


*Let’s also not forget the steps that come before digitization! – inventory & hand inspections also take up a tremendous amount of time and resources. Thanks to the NEA and the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, CFA was able to successfully complete these tasks for the Page Collection. To review, CFA’s processing work flows include: acquisition, inventory, arrangement, hand inspection (describing the physical condition of each film and placing it into new, archival containers), digitization, cataloging and last but not least, collection and item level web publishing.

**this method isn’t that crazy or experimental in the archival field. Notions of productivity-driven processing have emerged in the past decade, including Mark A. Greene & Dennis Meissner’s frequently cited “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” (The American Archivist, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Fall – Winter, 2005).

August 6, 2013

Do you know these Garfield Ridge residents?

On September 12th, we will premiere the 16mm restoration print of 8 FLAGS FOR 99 CENTS in the south-west Chicago neighborhood it was shot in. The film (made in 1970 by Mike Gray Associates, Chuck Olin & Joel Katz) asks Garfield Ridge residents of their opinions on the Vietnam War. The filmmakers went to this particular neighborhood expecting pro-war & government slogans, but what they found was quite the opposite – thoughtful, nuanced, and distressed analyses of the war. We’re currently trying to identify the many residents interviewed in the film and *hoping* that some may be able to join us at next month’s screening at The Garfield Ridge Library.

Father Leonard Dubi

We already have Father Leonard Dubi on board! He appears in 8 FLAGS and will be on hand at the screening to discuss the film.

Below you will find frame grabs of the numerous Garfield Ridge residents interviewed in 8 FLAGS FOR 99 CENTS. If you (your friends, family or neighbors) recognize any of these faces, feel free to let us know via email ( or telephone (312-243-1808) – please be sure to list the number of the photo along with a name. And if your time & energy allows, you can also help us out by spreading the word of our 8 FLAGS identification quest… we’d really appreciate it! And now to the many faces of 8 FLAGS FOR 99 CENTS (tip: click on the images for a larger view):

UPDATE – August 13, 2013: a few faces have been identified thanks to the Clear-Ridge Historical Society! We’ve added the names or notes near the appropriate photos. We’re still looking for names and (if possible) any contact information for the following Garfield Ridge residents…









5. identified as Mike Lucas – still looking for contact info and/or relatives




7. identified as Larry Daniels, Jack Lake and Dennis Kowalick - still looking for contact info and/or relatives


8. identified as Jack Lake – still looking for contact info and/or relatives




















18. daughter of Mr. Maciusz, owner of Southwest Hardware – name is unknown








22. identified as Tom Gibbons - still looking for contact info and/or relatives








26. custodian at JF Kennedy High School – name is unknown


27. (left to right) identified as John Kurtovich and Paul Aubin


August 2, 2013

Chicago Academy of Sciences: Dr. William J. Beecher

Dr. William J. Beecher

Since November I have been hand inspecting the Chicago Academy of Sciences collection, consisting of over 1300 film materials, and this past month have officially made it halfway though this interesting collection. Dr. William J. Beecher was the director for the Chicago Academy of Sciences from 1958 to 1983. Between those years, Beecher acted as the educational collaborator for commercial education films, including ones for Coronet Films, WMAQ-TV (NBC Chicago), as well as producing a series for the Academy entitled “This Is Your World,” which covered topics such as the Indiana Dunes, snake hunting, birds, and pond ecology. His films are now part of the moving picture collection of the Chicago Academy of Sciences (the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum).

Outside of these larger films for the Academy, it was clear that Dr. Beecher and his camera were inseparable– he left behind over one thousand 100′ reels of 16mm film, creating a collection that give an intimate look into Beecher’s life and passions.

Birdwatching was Dr. Beecher’s first love. Many of the films feature the birds of Chicagoland, whether it was in whitethroats in Lincoln Park, tanagers in Riis Park, or phalaropes in Calumet. The sheer amount of birdwatching footage shows the patience and dedication Beecher had for what was more than a hobby, but a lifestyle.


Białowieża Forest in Belarus and Poland

Castle in Japan

Dr. Beecher and his companions took trips all over the world, documenting their travels constantly with his camera. He shot sunsets in Kenya, parrots in Guadalcanal, Kauri trees in New Zealand, storks in India and Sherpas in Nepal. He captured the natural diversity of the United States, filming blooming cactus flowers in Arizona, hiking in the Smoky Mountains, vultures in Big Bend, and sequoia in California.

one of Dr. Beecher’s many photographic tests

In addition to being a filmmaker, director, and ornithologist, Dr. Beecher was also an inventor. He shot many tests on a variety of zoom lenses, and created the Beecher Mirage binoculars, which are still in production today.

The most diverse filmmaker of the Chicago Academy of Sciences collection, Dr. William J. Beecher produced an immense catalog of films that not only give an intimate insight to nature, but encapsulate Dr. Beecher’s lasting legacy.


bonus read: a pupil of Beecher’s recalls the impact the doctor made on his life.

Missed last time’s post about Sidney Downey? Read it here.


-Lauren Alberque