“Our Comics, Ourselves”: New Exhibition in SCRC and Fenwick Gallary

Fenwick Gallery and Special Collections Research Center at Fenwick Library on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus are pleased to host “Our Comics, Ourselves,” an exhibition highlighting themes of identity, expression, and representation in comic books and graphic novels. The exhibition will run from August 21, 2017 through October 6, 2017, with an opening reception and curator’s talk on Friday, September 15th.


Organizing materials by the cases.




“Our Comics, Ourselves” features comic books, graphic novels, DIY comics, and various comics paraphernalia primarily from the United States, from 1945 to present. The works range from autobiographical to sheer fantasy, and explore feminism, abortion, racism, cultural identity, social activism, labor unions, veterans of war, sexual abuse, student debt, immigration, public health, civil rights, gender and sexual identity, and more. “Our Comics, Ourselves” presents the graphic stories that describe the complexity and diversity of our collective experience, and examines the social and historical contexts within which they emerged.


Placing materials in the Special Collections Research Center cases.

This exhibition is organized and made possible by Jan Descartes and Monica McKelvey Johnson of Interference Archive in NYC, and supported by many Mason faculty partners and departments, including the University Libraries, the School of Art, Women and Gender Studies, and African and African American Studies.

More information will be available on the Fenwick Gallery website, http://fenwickgallery.gmu.edu, or you may contact Stephanie Grimm, Art and Art History Librarian at George Mason University, at sgrimm4@gmu.edu.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION: This exhibition is organized by Stephanie Grimm, Art and Art History Librarian at Mason; Christopher Kardambikis, Assistant Professor of Printmaking, School of Art at Mason; Angela Hattery, Professor and Director, Women & Gender Studies at Mason; Mika’il Petin, Professor, African and African American Studies at Mason; Jan Descartes, Interference Archive (NYC); and Monica Johnson, Interference Archive (NYC).

Reflections from Our Interns: William Keeler

This post was written by William (Bill) Keeler, history undergrad and SCRC research services intern since May 2017.

I am a history undergrad here at Mason with a focus in American History. I worked for many years in customer service before going to college and hope to be able to obtain my degree and work with the public in an instructional capacity. I reached out to Special Collections after my second visit here inquiring as to whether or not they had any internship opportunities. After meeting with Rebecca Bramlett, the Research Services Coordinator and Liz Beckman, the Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, and learning what SCRC had to offer, I was excited at the prospect of interning this summer semester after hearing the vast scope of projects that would be available to me.

Interning at Special Collections Research Center has been incredibly rewarding. My projects ranged from surveying parts of the collections for an upcoming exhibit to identifying compelling source materials for workshops that will be held this fall semester, calling it work is difficult. I was approached by Dr. George Oberle about working with him on the primary workshop aspect of his Hist-300 course and learned more about emerging pedagogical methods in the realm of teaching with primary sources. Being able to collaborate from an undergraduate point-of-view was definitely helpful in adding to his coursework. Understanding the work that goes into designing and conducting a workshop geared towards helping undergraduates not only think about primary sources from a multitude of angles but also effectively incorporating said sources into their projects and essays was definitely an eye-opening experience.

A class instruction using Artists’ Books.

One surprising facet that I was not privy to beforehand was the sheer amount of work one has to put into designing workshops and whether or not said work will come to fruition. From surveying holdings in SCRC to studying exactly what instructors want their students to take away from their time here, proved to be difficult but extremely enjoyable. Constantly working with Rebecca on how best to organize the information we would be presenting, helped me gain a better understanding of the instructional aspect of primary source workshops. While at first I assumed that it would be possible to make one outline for all topics, I quickly learned that each topic and source required a specific approach in order to properly understand each source in the period in which they were published. Furthermore, being able to switch gears between the mindset of educator and student proved difficult at times throughout the process, but being able to peer through both lenses when looking at workshop outlines proved invaluable as well as thoroughly enjoyable.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts. To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Reflections from Our Interns: Zachary Greenfield

This post was written by Zachary Greenfield, undergrad in history at George Mason University. He has been a summer processing intern at our Special Collections Research Center since May 2017.

My internship with Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) has been incredibly enjoyable! I have gotten to handle a broad range of materials and collections. I mostly worked on processing various collections. While I only finished three complete collections, I was able to see the various states that they arrive in (for better or worse) and see just how much work goes into each collection. Everything from sorting to labelling and creating inventories as well as creating the finding aid I handled. Of course not every part of processing is enjoyable, newspaper clippings are not fun to work with as I learned and everyone agreed. The first collection I worked on was the Vincent F. Callahan collection, who I learned was a local politician. This was a collection of newspaper clippings about Callahan and his work that came to SCRC mostly unsorted. I spent much of my time organizing the collection into groups based on the publications before foldering them by date and newspaper. This took a surprising amount of time given the apparent size of the collection. After I finished the Callahan collection I also worked on the Hugh Sockett Institution for Educational Transformation (IET) Records. This was primarily composed of the papers and records for IET during Sockett’s tenure at the Institution. This was considerably better organized than the Callahan collection and was able to be completed much faster. My final collection during my internship was the Paul Ceruzzi Papers, which was primarily research for his book, “Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005” and is full of interesting research into the history of the local Fairfax area and the development of technology and the Internet in the Cold War period and beyond.  Previously, I did not distinguish much between archives and museums, but after doing this internship I can better appreciate both the similarities and the differences between the two institutions. In addition to my processing duties I also helped with rewriting the finding aids for previously processed collections. Overall I enjoyed my time at the George Mason University SCRC, and if given the opportunity I would continue working here more regularly.

Documents arranged into acid-free folders.

This internship complements my academic interests because I have always been interested in the writings and documents of people in our past. Both the everyday commoners and the people who are talked about in major history books. Seeing these collections is both like getting to see the creation of history and getting to see the process behind how history is researched and talked about. My academic interests are mostly historical but also range into the sciences, particularly space, biology, and early technology. As a side effect of my internship, particularly when working with the collection donated by Ceruzzi, I have been able to learn more about the Space Race and the feats associated with that. My historical interests are centered around the Viking Age and pre-Columbian Native Americans and Mesoamericans, but I am interested in all things history related. I have always loved visiting museums and recently become interested in working in either a museum or an archive. While I do not yet have a solid goal in mind, my next step after George Mason will be a Master’s degree and a journey into either the world of archives or the world of museums. Prior to doing this internship, I had some exposure to the SCRC from some of my classes that have held workshops there and through my own visits as a researcher. Of course, the convenient location at my university made SCRC seem like an excellent place to intern and I was interested in pursuing the internship because of the experience and guidance it could provide for my future.

Travel Series: The British Isles

The British Isles – made up of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (including England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland – are some of the most traveled and beautiful countries in the world. Though not officially considered a part of the British Isles by their own government, Ireland is often associated with this group of nations, and is equally stunning and rich in culture in its own right. For our summer exhibit “Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days,” we here at Special Collections Research Center wanted to ensure that one exhibit case was dedicated to those lovely islands across the pond, with as much representation from its various countries as possible.

Our exhibit case dedicated to materials about or from the British Isles.

Perhaps the most fascinating object in our British Isles case is the rubbing of a 13th century brass engraving. Seemingly made with butcher paper and a waxy crayon, this rubbing from the Bernard Brenner brass rubbings collection depicts a knight dressed completely in armor, a sword at his hip, with his loyal companion – a dog – sitting at his feet. 

Close-up of Brass Rubbing of a Knight in the British Isles exhibit case.

Rubbings of brass, stone, or other materials have been practiced for centuries, beginning in China in the 7th century when this method was used to make copies of inscribed stone records.* Perhaps the most well-known usage of rubbings today is gravestone rubbing (though somewhat controversial.) No matter the object, time period, or individual, the idea is essentially the same – to transfer information that the object provides into a more portable format, whether to collect, use later for study, or simply to admire. When it comes to British brass rubbings specifically, our finding aid on the Brenner collection offers some crucial information on this practice:

“Brass rubbing is a technique to reproduce exactly the engraving on a monumental brass. Rubbings are made by carefully pressing paper onto a carved or incised surface so that the paper conforms to features to be copied. The paper is then blacked and the projecting areas of the surface become dark, while indented areas remain white. In Europe the technique of rubbing is almost exclusively applied to monumental brasses. Monumental brasses are usually figures, inscriptions, shields or other devices, engraved in plate brass and laid as memorials. Brasses originated in Europe where they first appeared in the thirteenth century. Brasses in churches are an important source of heraldic information. It was formerly a custom to put a brass over the grave slab, and on this would be shown a figure of the deceased with his armorial bearings.” 

Detail of Brass Rubbing of a Knight.

Besides the image of a knight, the Brenner collection also contains some other fascinating figures. One such image is that of a clergyman, cut from its original paper and set against cloth. Gowned in flowing liturgical robes, this priest is clearly of a high rank. With his scepter, beautifully woven chasuble and stole**, prominent hat, and his fingers in the sign of benediction, he cuts an imposing figure.

Brass Rubbing of a Catholic Priest.

Brass Rubbing of a 13th Century British Man.

Another notable rubbing within this collection is petite in stature, but by no means in interest. This rubbing depicts a gentleman in regal attire, with a significant amount of fur draped around his shoulders. The man also boasts a high, lavish collar, a full beard, and holds a book in his hand, likely bound in wood and leather, with leather thong clasps and metal bosses on the cover.***

Detail of Book.

These rubbings as a whole provide snapshots of what life was like in the late Middle Ages, and as evidenced provide invaluable insight into British life during the 13th century.

* http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/EAL/stone/rubbings.html

**The outermost liturgical vestment for a Catholic priest, usually decorated/embroidered. A liturgical vestment made of cloth, worn around the neck.

***Thanks to our Research Services Coordinator Rebecca Bramlett for helping identify the book’s composition.

Our summer exhibition “Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days” runs through August 2017.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts in our Travel Series on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts.  To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

What a Difference Fifty Years Makes: The Original Fenwick Library Building Today

George Mason College Library, Fairfax, Virginia, 1967. George Mason University Libraries records, R0095, Box 194, Folder 5, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

What was once considered old has become new again!

1966 architect’s rendering of George Mason College Library, Fairfax, Virginia. George Mason University Libraries records, R0095, Box 139, Folder 6, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

During the fall of 1967, George Mason College of the University of Virginia opened its fifth building on the Fairfax Campus. The original four – North (now Finley), South (now Krug), East and West – went into service in August of 1964. A significant part of West Building served as the college library until the completion of the 14,000 square-foot two-story library in 1967.  During the building’s dedication in December, it was named for a local member of the state legislature, Senator Charles Rogers Fenwick.  Fenwick, a speaker at the event, was unaware of the naming plan until it was announced at the ceremony itself.  He was admittedly surprised and humbled by the gesture.

George Mason College Library Dedication ceremony, December 15, 1967. This space served as the Periodicals/Microforms and Reading Room from 1967 until December 2015. George Mason University photograph collection, R0120, Box 1, Folder 29, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

As Mason became an independent university, and enrollment tripled over the next sixteen years, Fenwick would undergo two major additions.  A tower was added to the southwest part of the building in 1974, and an identical one on the southeast side in 1983. By the end of the 1980s, administrators agreed that the university’s needs were growing faster than the library.  Plans for more additions to the library were drawn up but shelved to make budget room for the upcoming University Learning Center (known today as the Johnson Center).

By the early 2000s library administration and staff were planning again for a new addition to Fenwick that would add more space for study, programming, and housing of staff and library resources.  By 2013 ground was broken, and construction was underway.  The new Fenwick Library would take over two years to construct and add over 2,000 seats for study, a 24-hour café and study space, a state-of-the-art Special Collections Research Center with dedicated space for exhibitions, and dedicated areas that can be used for special library events.  The 150,000-square foot addition was completed in January 2016 and complies with LEED silver standards.

So, what happened to the original library space?

Interior of The MIX@Fenwick, July 2017. This is the same location as the 1967 photograph above. Photo by Emily Curley.

It has been transformed into the MIX@Fenwick.  The MIX network (Mason Innovation Exchange) consists of two on-campus entrepreneurship- focused collaboration and maker spaces. The MIX@Fenwick is a student-centered collaboration and event space that will promote and encourage entrepreneurship at Mason.  It opened its doors to the Mason community in June 2017.

MIX@Fenwick provides students, faculty, and staff with spaces and tools for co-working, collaboration, and experiential learning. Multi-disciplinary groups can come together to meet, develop ideas, research problems, craft solutions, and start companies. The MIX@Fenwick is intended to be a place to promote interactions among students, faculty, staff, alumni, investors, and business advisors.

The Mason Innovation Exchange network seeks to empower students with the tools to solve problems and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities; provide a place to meet, socialize, and collaborate; create a network of entrepreneurial-minded individuals; and create a start-up culture at Mason.

For fifty years Fenwick Library has been an anchor building on the Fairfax Campus, bringing together students, faculty, and staff. Now that the original has been replaced, it is gratifying to see the former space repurposed and used once again as place for collaboration.

Exterior of the north side of the former Fenwick Library with MIX graphic on the window. Photo by the author.