Preserving & Creating Access to Vladimir Ossipoff’s Architectural Collections

Submitted by Malia Van Heukelem, Art Archivist Librarian for the Jean Charlot Collection and Archive of Hawaii Artists & Architects Collections at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

The University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library has a well-established artist archive in the Jean Charlot Collection, which opened in 1983. What most people don’t know is that the library has selectively added collections of Hawaii artist and architects since that time. One such archive is the Ossipoff & Snyder Architects Collection, acquired in 2010. Vladimir Ossipoff (1907-1998) is Hawaii’s most prominent modernist architect. Hired as Art Archivist Librarian just two years ago, my first year necessarily focused on the public facing Jean Charlot Collection. The past year there has been a shift to physical processing and making hidden collections accessible online. Each artist and architect collection under my care has been added to our library’s instance of ArchivesSpace, at least at a very basic level.

Conceptual rendering for the University of Hawaii’s Administration Building, 1948

Architects

Ossipoff came to Honolulu in 1933 and launched his architectural career which spanned over 60 years. He was born in Vladivostok, Russia, and moved with his family to Japan when he was just a toddler; his father was a military attaché to the czar. They remained in Japan following the Russian revolution, until after the 1923 Japan earthquake, when his mother fled with her children to California. He completed high school in Berkeley before pursuing architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Following college, he worked on a few projects before moving to Hawaii, and by 1936 he had established his own firm and practiced in Honolulu for the rest of his life. Heavily influenced by Japanese and Polynesian design, the use of local materials and positioning of architecture to the landscape and climate, his style is often referred to as “tropical modernism.” During the 1940s, the firm was called the Associated Architects and included other emerging talent: Alfred Preis from Austria, Philip Fisk, and Allen Johnson. Both Fisk and Johnson were classmates of Ossipoff from Berkeley. In the 1950s, Sidney Snyder, Alan Rowland and Gregory Goetz joined the firm and became Ossipoff’s partners for many years.

Sid Snyder joined the firm in 1956 and worked with Ossipoff for over three decades. He supported the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Hawaiian Modern exhibition and catalogue organized in collaboration with Yale University in honor of Ossipoff’s 100th birthday. In 2010, Snyder donated the firm’s project files along with several award display panels, which are highlighted in an online gallery created in Omeka (our library’s latest image platform).

Contents

There are three major categories of materials in the Ossipoff & Snyder Architects Collection: the project files (drawings and specifications), award display panels, and architectural models. The largest group is the drawings which were all folded and are being moved to flat storage in map folders and drawers for long-term preservation and access. The specification files are housed by file number in archival folders and document boxes. The firm was involved with projects of all type and scale from the Honolulu International Airport, to private clubs like the Pacific Club and Outrigger Canoe Club, to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, University of Hawaii, residences such as the Liljestrand House and Goodsill House, to banks and libraries. Over 500 projects are represented in the collection, of an estimated 800 projects undertaken by the firm. Working from a preliminary inventory, researchers using the collections are asked to specify projects by name, date or type. For residential projects, they are easiest to locate by the original owner’s name.

In November 2019, the Library received an important gift of personal papers relating to Vladimir Ossipoff. These materials greatly complement the collection of project files by adding: Ossipoff’s scrapbooks with clippings and original photographs; magazines featuring his most prominent buildings; and personal items such as his school yearbooks and awards.

Ossipoff’s custom bound scrapbooks
Funding

Generous support from an anonymous donor enabled me to hire a highly experienced part-time processing archivist in 2018. She has worked with both artist and architect collections, most recently completing an inventory of preservation architect A. Spencer Leineweber’s papers. A Preservation and Access grant in the amount of $7,000 was just awarded by the Hawaii Council for the Humanities. This year additional archival supplies will be purchased with grant funds to continue re-housing Ossipoff materials and to scan selected conceptual drawings for an online gallery. Additional attention will focus on expanding an online guide to the Ossipoff collections and the information for the finding aid in ArchivesSpace.

Internship

An Archival Processing Internship has been arranged this semester with a student enrolled in our University’s Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. The student is interested in archives as well as architecture, so we have opted to work with two large architectural archives which need much attention to increase their preservation, access and use.

Students & Volunteers

I have one student assistant who is a graduate student in American Studies and pursuing a Museum Studies graduate certificate. She has helped with spreadsheets for the drawing inventory and capturing additional metadata, especially for project collaborators. My two volunteers are exceptionally well qualified to help on preservation projects such as unfolding and numbering the fragile drawings. They are both noted local artists and have extensive experience in museum collections management and conservation.

Volunteers Sanit Khewhok and Hiroko Sakurai unfolding delicate drawings for flat storage
Outreach

Until recently, there was very little online presence for the Ossipoff materials here at Hamilton Library. That didn’t stop our small community from spreading the word. Requests to study drawings have come from preservation architects, homeowners, students and faculty. September provided the incredible opportunity to partner with Docomomo on tours for the 2019 National Symposium in Honolulu. There were tours focused on Ossipoff buildings, which kept selling out, and more were added until I had committed to nine tours over three days. I wasn’t sure tour participants would appreciate the stop at the archives to view original documents related to the buildings they were visiting, but it turned out to be a big success. Each tour had a leader who rotated the visitors between the archival document stop here in the library and two Ossipoff buildings.

Docomomo Hawaii Chapter President Graham Hart bringing one of the tours through to view original drawings by Vladimir Ossipoff
Other Hawaii Architect Collections

Besides the Ossipoff Collections, the University of Hawaii also holds collections by the following architects: Hart Wood, Hego Fuchino, John Mason Young (engineer/planner), James Hubbard (landscape architect), Nancy Peacock (residential) and Spencer Leineweber (preservation architect). Managing architectural collections presents unique challenges. They require lots of space, special equipment to provide safe storage, large tables for viewing, and may consume vast amounts of archival supplies and staff time to process. There are no other local repositories known to collect architectural materials. Given these constraints, most archives are not equipped to handle the task. And this does not even take into consideration the astounding obstacles to preservation and ongoing access to digital design records created with a proliferation of unsupported and obsolete software.

Contact

The Vladimir Ossipoff architectural collections at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hamilton Library are available by appointment Monday through Friday in the Jean Charlot Collection reading room. Please call 808-956-2849 or email charcoll@hawaii.edu, with any questions or stop in for a visit!

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