Reflection by Kate Mueller
I'd like to say that I chose the manuscript materials of Edna Ingels Fritz based on some well-reasoned academic thought processes. But that would be a total lie.
After spending five hours taking notes from Kimberly Johnson while cloistered in her office with Bethany, Alexis, and Em, I was ready to pull on some white cotton gloves and touch history. Instead, my peers and I wound up in the front section of the Women's Collection suite reading through page after blobby-black-ink page of archival holding descriptions. We each had general areas of interest in mind right from the outset, but no clear idea of how closely these interests might align with the collections available for use in a project that would eventually go public. I was looking for anything related to art, animals, or Germany. Fritz hit two out of three with her German last name (also the name of the sheepdog my grandparents' kept on their Nebraska farmstead) and the mention of watercolors in her collection. I mostly committed myself to Fritz, sight unseen.
I made the right choice.
When MSS 31c Eana [sic] Ingels Fritz was moved to the reading room for my perusal (side-note: no white cotton gloves necessary), I immediately fell in love with Fritz's small spiky cursive handwriting which looks an awful lot like my own printing were it to suddenly mutate into cursive. I happily paged through each letter and bit of ephemera, taking copious notes and being overly careful with every scrap of paper I touched.
And then, four folders in, I saw them ... the watercolors. Holy crow! THIS was the unexpected pile of jewels, the Fabergé egg, the map to El Dorado that I never dreamed of finding. If I sound as though I'm speaking in hyperbole, well that's understandable. But please know that I am decidedly not. The lines are measured and elegant with no reticence in their execution. The colors thrum and pulse as they bleed into one another; they are awake. The texture is layered as clearly as actual fabric and embellishments. Hands gesture and heads beguiled with averted glances. And each watercolor is contained within its own perfectly imperfect swiftly sketched box.
I should back up. Based on the other documents in the folder, Fritz had been placed in charge of making the costumes for a faculty "stunt" (which I gather was something of a novelty show full of puns and inside jokes) called "The League of Notions" for the entertainment of her fellow staff members at the College of Industrial Arts in the spring of 1921. The watercolors were just mockups of these costumes, and not even meant to be seen by anyone besides Fritz.
How could a talent so big fit into an archive box that was so small? I mean, Fritz's archive record doesn't even include her birth and death dates (I had to hunt those down using the 1940 census and a grave registry site; for the record, Fritz is buried in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows cemetery in the middle of Denton). This is part of the story where I had one of those moments of either deep cognition or overwrought melodrama. Fritz's talent was hidden away in a slim folder, nestled in a small box, within the archives of TWU in the same way that talent is hidden away inside of each of us. We are everyday people just like Fritz. We lead work-a-day lives, we struggle, we succeed, and we die. And like Fritz, we matter. The loose leaves and paper fragments of our lives deserve to be archived.
I want the world to know Edna Ingels Fritz. But if the world isn't interested, it doesn't matter because this woman will always be special to me.