The Ferrell Collection: Cataloging and Photography


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[ Matt Anderson ] In 2007 the Minnesota Historical Society
acquired the Richard Ferrell Flour Milling Industry History Collection.
Assembled over 40 years, the collection consists of more than
3,200 manuscript items 260 books, 1,200 photographs and 3,000
three dimensional objects. While it took us two and a half
days to pack the collection for the trip north from Kansas City,
The real work didn’t start until the material arrived here in St. Paul.
Before it can be made accessible to the public, every item in the Ferrell
Collection had to be unpacked, tagged with a unique accession number,
catalogued in our database and photographed. Jane Wong handled
the first part of the work. [ Jane Wong ] When I was cataloging
I would first unwrap all the items in a box, check to make sure they
were all there, arrange them by type. So if there were primarily flour sacks
in the box, I’d make sure that I separated any items that weren’t
flour sacks from the flour sacks. And then I would catalogue the flour
sacks by entering information on any dates I found on them, location,
location of the product, the manufacturer of the product as well
as the manufacturer of the bag. The collection was very interesting.
Working on the flour sacks was almost like walking through time, seeing the
mills built and being consolidated. A flour brand may start out in a very
small local mill and then later be consolidated into a Minneapolis mill.
Most of the mills that I worked on eventually became associated
with a Minneapolis mill. [ Matt Anderson ] John Fulton then
photographed every item inside. [ John Fulton ] So my typical work
flow would be: Get the box from our studio, unpack the box, keep a list
of what I was about to photograph, set up the lights, set up the camera,
take the photograph, check the photograph to make sure it looked OK
and then move on to the next item. So photographing the flour sacks
was one of the biggest challenges. I had to get the camera up as high as
I possibly could on the light stand and then I would lay out the flour sack.
And then I’d have to stand up on a ladder and even as tall as I am,
it was hard to see through the viewfinder what I was seeing,
like if the flour sack was set up. There were a number of things that
were challenging to photograph. There was a doll whose bathing suit
had shifted so that it wouldn’t cover its breasts and it was just
an odd thing to take a photograph of and you know, you wonder how
people are going to look at it later. So we had to re-shoot that one.
You know, I found this collection really interesting you know, visually.
There’s so much advertising, there’s so many objects used to
promote the different brands. They were so, you know, visually
engaging and there were so many different ideas about what was
going to be interesting through the different time periods
that made the collection very interesting to work with.
[ Matt Anderson ] The Ferrell Flour Milling Collection
documents one of Minnesota’s most important industries
from the late 1800’s right into the 1990’s.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Jane Wong and John Fulton,
the Ferrell Collection will survive as a resource accessible
to scholars the world over. I’m Matt Anderson for the
Minnesota Historical Society.

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