Picturing the Eastern Front: Postcards and Watercolors from the Gustav Klemp World War I German Graphic Materials Collection

One hundred years ago, Gustav Klemp, a trained artist from Podgorz-Thorn in what was then West Prussia, served as a medic in the German Army on the Eastern Front in World War I. Today, selections from the postcards and artwork he sent home to his wife and family during the war are on display outside of Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) in Fenwick Library.

The journey that the collection took to get to Mason reflects the complex 20th century history of the former German Empire and Eastern Europe. After Germany and Austria-Hungary’s defeat in the First World War, Poland became an independent nation for the first time since the 18th century. The victorious Allied Powers gave most of West Prussia to the new country, and the Klemps and other ethnic Germans in the province were given the choice to become Polish citizens or emigrate elsewhere. Klemp and his family chose to leave for the United States, and they initially went to Iowa before settling in Wisconsin. Their hometown of Podgorz-Thorn is now Torun, Poland. Gustav Klemp’s grandson, Richard Passig, resides in the DC area, and he donated his grandfather’s extensive collection of postcards and original watercolors and sketches to SC&A in autumn 2014, one hundred years after the outbreak and early months of the war in which his grandfather served.

Watercolor by Gustav Klemp of a grenade exploding, March 1916

Watercolor by Gustav Klemp of a grenade exploding (March 1916). Gustav Klemp World War I German graphic materials collection, Box 1, Page 22. George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives. Copyright not held by George Mason University Libraries. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives.

Klemp’s postcards and artwork provide an intimate portrait of what life was like for ordinary men on the front lines of World War I. Klemp himself was not a soldier (he was in his early 30s during the war, and was older than the ideal age to fight), but he lived alongside and experienced many of the same hardships as the men he tended to as a medic. Several of the postcards that Klemp sent home show soldiers and medical staff in the downtime between the German Army’s offensives against the Russian Empire in modern-day Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. Klemp himself is featured in many of the photos, playing cards, celebrating Christmas in bunkers, and sitting and smoking with his comrades.

Gustav Klemp (bottom left) celebrating Christmas 1915 with his comrades.

Gustav Klemp (bottom left) celebrating Christmas 1915 with fellow staff and soldiers (December 1915). Gustav Klemp World War I German graphic materials collection, Box 1, Page 6. George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives. Copyright not held by George Mason University Libraries. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives.

The collection is remarkable for the human face that it provides for an army that was the enemy of the Allied Powers, including the United States beginning in April 1917. In the spirit of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and the French film Joyeux Noel, both of which illustrate the common experiences of soldiers and staff on both sides of the First World War, SC&A is proud to present Picturing the Eastern Front: Postcards and Watercolors from the Gustav Klemp World War I German Graphic Materials Collection, on exhibit until April 2015.

Reston@50 A new digital exhibition on the history of Reston!

Reston, Virginia celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in April 2014, and SC&A has created a new digital exhibition on Reston’s history. Named Reston@50, the Omeka-based exhibition contains eight themed exhibits and more than one hundred exhibit items from the University Libraries’ collections pertaining to Reston.  The exhibition is part of a grant project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

The University Libraries’ relationship with the founders of Reston began nearly thirty years ago with the deposit of the Planned Community Archives collection (PCA) at SC&A in 1987. The collection contains archival materials gathered and preserved by people and organizations associated with the history and development of Reston.  Other planned communities, such as Columbia and Greenbelt, Maryland, and those that were part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s New Communities Program, are also represented in PCA.  PCA is just one of several collections pertaining to Reston that are featured in Reston@50. The University Libraries have maintained a close working relationship with founding members of Reston, the Reston Museum and Historic Trust, and other supporters of Reston over the past three decades during which the collections were acquired.


Plot plan, Lake Anne Village Reston, Fairfax County Virginia. Plat showing layout of housing clusters, single family homes, model homes, schools, churches, and roads in Lake Anne Village. Robert E. Simon, Jr. Papers #C0162 Box 3, Folder 8. Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

Items shown in Reston@50, along with exhibit text,  help illustrate certain themes in the history and development of the new town, namely: Reston’s beginnings; planning, designing, and marketing; villages, village centers, green spaces, and schools; business and government; recreation, arts, and culture; Gulf and Mobil; transportation; and community-mindedness. These items were selected and digitized by SC&A staff.

Along with Reston@50, and as part of the VFH grant project, the University Libraries, in conjunction with the Reston Museum and Historic Trust, sponsored a symposium on April 26, 2014 at the Reston Community Center in Reston.  The event, Reston at 50: Looking Back at Forward Thinking, featured lectures pertaining to aspects of Reston architecture, diversity in Reston, the Planned Community Archives collection, and other scholarship on Reston by George Mason University faculty and students.

Reston@50 can be accessed at: reston50.gmu.edu.

Preservation Week!

Every year during Preservation Week, Lene Palmer our retiring preservation librarian has installed an exhibition in Fenwick Library highlighting preservation tips and techniques. This year is no different. Join us tomorrow for an exhibition reception complete with food and drink in Fenwick Library’s A and C wings.

In addition to preservation awareness the exhibition also features materials relating to the planned community of Reston, Virgina. This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of Reston, and there will be a symposium tonight at the Reston Community Center for all who are interested.



Student newspaper exhibit now on view!

advertSpecial Collections & Archives is happy to announce a new exhibit is on display in Fenwick Library featuring materials from the University Archives. The exhibit is divided into two parts: What’s in a Name? and Broadside Images in Context. This exhibit draws on materials from the George Mason University Broadside photograph collection and issues of The Gunston Ledger, Broadside, and Fourth Estate student newspapers.

What’s in a Name? explores the history of the student newspaper at Mason from 1963 to the present by focusing on the name changes of the paper. The newspaper that represents the student voice at Mason has always picked its name carefully. It has changed names three times: The Gunston Ledger (1963-1969), Broadside (1969-2013), and Fourth Estate (2013-present). The second part of the exhibit investigates the Broadside student newspaper in detail, looking at photographs taken by Broadside staff. Thanks to a donation from the Office of Student Media of thousands of negatives taken by Broadside photographers, Special Collections & Archives now has a vast pool of images that accompany our collection of student newspapers. Displaying both the newspapers and the photographs provides a deeper look into how the Mason student body has changed over time.

This exhibit was inspired by the recent donation of negatives by Broadside photographers from the Office of Student Media and looks in equal measure to the future as to the past. The changes undergone in the format and scope of the student newspaper since 1963 are only glimpsed at in this exhibit, but hopefully it demonstrates how important the student newspaper is as an historical source. Today there are many changes happening in publishing as society transitions to digital media from the printed word. With the recent name change from Broadside to Fourth Estate I was curious what previous Fourth Estate editor Colleen Wilson had to say about the future of the student newspaper. She provided this quote for the exhibit:

“A college newspaper has a unique monopoly on their market, and in turn, a unique challenge. Especially in the internet age, content must be highly engaging and modern while still addressing critical issues. By drawing inspiration from publications like Buzzfeed to use gifs and videos along with traditional text to tell important stories about the Board of Visitors or Mason parking, Fourth Estate can stay relevant and interesting to a very distracted community of readers. Innovation, both in content, platform and execution is key to a successful model for Fourth Estate.”

What’s in a Name? and Broadside Photographs in Context will be on view in Fenwick Library (Wing A and C on the second floor) until April.


Multidisciplinary Exhibition


“Multidisciplinary,” the new exhibition in Fenwick’s A and C wings, highlights the variety of collections we have here in Special Collections & Archives. The idea for a multidisciplinary exhibition came from our desire to encourage scholars from throughout the University to examine our collections to find sources that are relevant to their fields. Archives are not just for historians—our collections touch on a variety of disciplines, and we are expanding our holdings constantly.  We want the rest of George Mason University’s community to know that SC&A’s holding are here for them, too.


Thesaurus temporum, Eusebii Pamphili Caesareae Palaestinae episcopi, Chronicorum canonum omnimodae historiae libri duo Call Number: D17 .E912 1658. Special Collections & Archives Rare and Antiquarian Books


To assemble this exhibition, the staff of SC&A looked through the lenses of disparate disciplines to find examples that speak to scholars in the natural and physical sciences, conflict resolution, and transportation, to name a few examples. Spreading our net wide also meant we could highlight works that we found particularly appealing or quirky or mysterious.  For example: processing specialist Greta Kuriger Suiter suggested looking at theatrical playbills in terms of graphic arts, or Japanese phonograph record covers as sources of language study; research services coordinator Christine Cheng plowed through the Poole cookbook collection to find choice items; long-time Northern Virginia resident and digital collections archivist Bob Vay selected a 1953 aerial photograph of Fairfax Circle and discerned its orientation; and SC&A head Yvonne Carignan found some beautiful examples from our large collection of performing arts sources.  SC&A is full of fascinating textual, photographic, audiovisual, and material items available to scholars who are looking for unique sources of inquiry.


Aerial Photograph of Fairfax Circle, 1953

Aerial photograph of Fairfax Circle looking southwest, 1953. Fairfax Circle is the confluence of Lee Highway (VA Rt. 29 which continues west through the circle) Old Lee Highway (which begins at the circle and continues south-west), and Arlington Blvd (which begins at the circle and continues east). This photograph was taken by Charles Baptie from a low-flying airplane. Baptie photographed locations of Texaco stations for the Texas-based oil company during the 1950s and 1960s. Charles Baptie photograph collection, Collection #C0032, box 4, folder 8. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.