The Cathedral Archives: Preserving the Cathedral’s Story for Future Generations

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A NEW INITIATIVE TO ORGANIZE AND PROTECT THE CATHEDRAL'S HISTORY

As anyone who has ever ventured into the crypt of Saint Mark’s will tell you, the cathedral is in possession of an enormous quantity of documents and artifacts, from all periods of the parish’s existence. In fact, such historical material has not even been confined to the crypt—it could be found in filing cabinets, closets, and storage areas located throughout the building. Some of this is valuable historical material, constituting an authentic physical link to our forebears in this place. Other material contains information the cathedral is legally obligated to preserve. And some of it belongs in the recycling bin.

The task of collecting, identifying, cataloguing, organizing, preserving, scanning, and (when necessary) discarding this mountain of documents has been an important agenda item for Dean Thomason and the cathedral leadership for many years, but it is a task that requires dedicated time, space, funds, expertise, and a great deal of labor. Now, thanks to a generous gift from The Rev. Canon Pat Taylor in memory of her late husband Jim, the collaboration of The University of Washington Information School, and Diocesan Archivist Diane Wells, this long-deferred need is at last being addressed.

Canon Taylor’s gift has made it possible to engage Alexa Minasian, a UW graduate student in Information and Library Science, to take on this task as an intern. This relationship is mutually beneficial—she receives course credit for her work in the cathedral, and certainly not every librarian has had the opportunity to create an institutional archive from scratch while still in graduate school! In the last few weeks Alexa has already proven to be a great gift to the cathedral, and she has a fascinating life story. (See her interview, below.)

Diane Wells, Archivist and Records Manager for the Diocese of Olympia, is serving as mentor to Alexa and is overseeing the project generally. In addition, the project is guided and advised by many members of the community of Saint Mark’s, including longtime member Walter Stuteville, Director of Operations Jim Pannell, Lawyer Judy Andrews, MOHAI Curator of Collections Clara Berg, and others.

The new Cathedral Archives is located in a part of the cathedral crypt (basement), that has served many purposes through the years, including Sunday School room, Child Care Center, Youth Room, Art Storage, and general storage room. (The Youth Room has been moved back to its previous location, a newly-refurbished Cathedral House Room 209.) The space will include secure filing cabinets for documents, museum-quality storage for more fragile artifacts as appropriate, a terminal to access scanned documents and archived digital files, as well as a generous workspace for those doing research with the material.

When the cathedral building has fully reopened, the archives will be opened by request to those who need it. But even if you never have a reason to enter the room itself, the entire community benefits from the creation of an organized and accessible archive. Everyone who feels a connection to Saint Mark’s is also personally connected to an institution with roots in the nineteenth century, and to an epic story of the survival and transformation of that community over the course of 130 years. There is much to be proud of in that history, as well as much to learn from, and The Cathedral Archives will house the material evidence of the truth of that story. By the grace of God, it will preserve and protect that story for the generations to come.


MEET OUR ARCHIVES INTERN ALEXA

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Alexa Minasian and I am from Los Angeles, California.

 

What got you interested in library/information sciences? 

I became interested in Library/Information Science through my love of books and reading.  Pursuing this degree will allow me to be around books all the time.  My love of reading helped me overcome learning disabilities when I was in grade school.  I was diagnosed with Childhood Aphasia. I was a late talker (age 5), and my parents began to search for a reason.  Aphasia is a language processing issue. Most of my grade school and junior high school years I received after-school tutoring to overcome the disability.  I was told to read, read, read.  And, I learned to love reading.

 

What are your primary areas of interest/specialization in your UW degree program?

I do not have a primary interest in my pursuit of the degree at UW.  There are so many interesting areas:  public library, special library, archiving, collection development and information architecture to name a few.  I find all of them to be fascinating and want to continue to learn more about these specialties.

 

What are your plans after you have finished at UW? 

Initially, my plans were to become a librarian in a public library.  However, I now feel there are many areas I would be happy to work in, including archiving.

 

Can you describe the work you’ve been given to at Saint Mark’s?

I was brought on to Saint Marks to assist in archiving cathedral documents, materials, and other records. This has involved surveying hundreds, if not thousands of files within boxes that have not been reviewed in decades.  To date I have organized the files by topic, started a discard log, and begun to plan how the archive will be organized and arranged.  A discard log is for items that may not be archived and discarded.

 

What interests you the most about the Saint Mark’s project in general? What worries you?

What I find particularly interesting is organizing the diverse amounts of records I am reviewing into a workable, functioning archive. The subjects I have come across are varied and range from investments to detailed event planning records. I am excited at the challenge of organizing such a divergent and important collection. What worries me is there is so much information to get through and somewhat limited time.

 

What’s surprised you since you started working on the project?

I am surprised at the depth and scope of the records and materials in archival consideration. There are numerous different types of records and many of them are highly detailed and specific. I was also surprised that there are so many copies of the same document.

 

Can you talk about one particularly interesting document or artifact that you have come across so far?

An unexpected artifact that I found was a signed letter from Desmond Tutu to Saint Mark’s Cathedral. I have found records of the affiliation between the Desmond Tutu Foundation and Saint Mark’s working on this archive, but seeing the letter put into perspective the partnership.

 

Your perspective on Saint Mark’s Cathedral is unique, since you’ve never known the building or the community pre-pandemic. What has your overall impression of the place been?

My overall impression is that Saint Mark’s is an institution that genuinely cares about engaging and supporting the Capitol Hill and surrounding Seattle neighborhood. I was heartened to see many instances and occasions of events and other types of gatherings organized to help address a need and/or concern of wider community members.

 

Anything else you’d like the Saint Mark’s community to know? 

I am honored and excited to be in charge of facilitating the beginnings of Saint Mark’s archive.

8 Responses

  1. Carolyn
    | Reply

    Good luck Alexa! What a wonderful name for such a project! Welcome.

  2. Heather Hodsdon
    | Reply

    All the Cathedral Associates archival materials are in the Diocesan archive

  3. Karen Knudson
    | Reply

    Thank you. Our present and future generations will be excited and grateful. Hope to hear more as the project progresses.

  4. David Leisy
    | Reply

    Alexa,
    Welcome to St. Mark’s. And many thanks to you for using your skills to get this project off to a good start. I’m certain the archive will be much more valuable and usable with your contribution.
    David

  5. Kylee Krida
    | Reply

    Great job to Alexa and all who are coordinating this vast project. Way to go!!

  6. Carol Green
    | Reply

    Congratulations on your new position. I am retired from the UW Libraries, so if you can use some help I’ll be glad to volunteer.

    Carol Green ccgreen@uw.edu

  7. Mary Bayne
    | Reply

    So happy this is being done. An amazing project. Good luck Alexa.
    Mary Bayne

  8. Stanley W. Hess
    | Reply

    As a former parishioner and Cathedral choir member in the 1960-early 70’s I am delighted to see such a project being undertaken. That decade of the 60’s-70’s was especially noteworthy for its music and performance, including the Flentrop organ addition. The Hallock-Valentinetti-White collaborations were major contributions to the parish life and the Seattle community. Best of luck Alexa.

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