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November 21, 2014

JoAnn Elam Collection Update (part 2)

I thought it was about time to share an update on one of our most complicated and cherished collections – the JoAnn Elam Collection. Over the past few months, we’ve made a lot of progress and discoveries. And just this past week, we received a valuable package from JoAnn’s widower and former USPS colleague, Joe Hendrix. In the package was an unassuming blue-marbled Mead notebook, and inside this notebook were more detailed thoughts and notes by JoAnn about her unfinished film, EVERYDAY PEOPLE.


Shot & edited between the years 1979-1990, this work-in-progress  (which you can stream herehere) chronicles the work life of Chicago postal workers. It’s primarily based on Elam’s own experiences as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service as well as the political struggles JoAnn and her colleagues faced with the administration and the union.

This Mead notebook isn’t the first behind-the-scenes look into the project we’ve come across. Other notebooks, papers and approximately 250 film, video and audio elements associated with the film already reside here at CFA. Combined with this new acquisition, these materials provide an unparalleled level of access to her creative process, political and artistic ideas, and the practical, economic, and ethical issues that impacted her work as an independent artist and filmmaker (to learn more about JoAnn and to see more samples of her writings, we recommend checking our Jessica Bardsley’s amazing CFA Media Mixer film here).

So what’s so special about this particular notebook? In it, JoAnn more directly discusses the whys and hows of the project, or rather, offers detailed artist statements & musings and even notes on filming techniques and video equipment.

The first page of the notebook (pictured below. click for a larger view!) is my favorite. I know I’m kind of “in the zone” here, but it’s the type of reading that makes me wish I could time travel to meet and chat with JoAnn. It’s so personal. Raw but with a playful tone.


Also in the notebook are notes on how to use various film and video editing equipment, including this great rendering (click for a larger view) by JoAnn:


There’s so much more to explore with JoAnn’s papers and ephemera…but to not bore you with my own musings & romantic sentiments, I’ll move on to JoAnn’s collection as a whole. In the past few months, we decided to organize the collection finding aid into series. We did this to help researchers and viewers gain an efficient grasp of her collection. The series include:

SERIES I: Finished Films, Home Movies and Sketches by JoAnn Elam
SERIES II: EVERYDAY PEOPLE Work Prints, Elements and Outtakes by JoAnn Elam
SERIES III: Medical Films by James O. Elam, M.D.
SERIES IV: Collected Films, Videos and Audio

The prints and elements in these series have all been inspected and re-housed, but not all have been digitized and published to the finding aid (so please stay tuned as we add more to these series in the upcoming months!). In general, we hope this organization helps people access (both virtually & intellectually) JoAnn’s collection more easily.

I’d also like to point out that we originally were going to separate JoAnn’s personal films (Series I) into sub-series (home movies, finished films, etc), but this just felt weird to us. Who are we to judge or determine what’s a home movie or sketch and what’s a finished film?…especially since JoAnn left us with such insight (& even a “manifestette“) regarding her filmmaking process. This kind of ambiguity is what makes JoAnn’s collection complicated, but also what makes her collection so unique and special. In the end, we kept her films together and invite you to dig through her varied filmography here. And also don’t forget to check out her father’s fascinating medical films here. As as I hinted at above, we will be adding more films and media to these series in the upcoming months. And who knows…perhaps another update post is in store.

Endless thanks again to Susan Elam, Chuck Kleinhaus, Joe Hendrix, Michelle Puetz, Kenneth Belcher and Sandy Ihm for their continued help and support with JoAnn’s Collection. Plus special shout outs to Lauren Alberque and Travis Werlen for their help in processing the collection.


Pic of JoAnn