Charles G. Clarke was a pioneering Hollywood cinematographer, one of the first to film “talkies.” His real love, though, was history, especially that of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and his home state of California. A self-taught scholar, Clarke wrote what is still considered to be one of the seminal books on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He also amassed a research library of rarities related to the California gold rush, overland journeys, and government surveys in the American West.
Clarke’s daughter, Mary Hiestand, inherited his collection and built a library in her Northridge, California, home to house the exceptional volumes. Then, in 1994, came the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake. The precious books her father had spent so many years collecting tumbled from their shelves, many of them badly damaged. It became clear that her home was not an ideal, long-term storage solution, and Hiestand considered options to make the collection accessible to scholars and others who shared her father’s passion for history.
Hiestand’s good friend Hal Ramser, a longtime member of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Board of Trustees, suggested donating the books to the Center’s McCracken Research Library. The McCracken hosts many scholars researching the West who would use the collection. And, with the Center’s full-time conservator and a summer conservation internship program, museum staff could repair books that had been damaged in the earthquake.
Hiestand was sold. In addition to donating the collection, she also became a contributor to the internship program. She recently received a copy of one of the treatment reports submitted by an intern who worked on her father’s collection in the summer of 2018.
“I was thrilled to see the before and after photos and read Conservation Intern Brianna Cunningham’s report,” Hiestand said. “I had no idea how thoroughly the department would document the condition and the repairs they made. I feel like I chose the right home for my father’s beloved collection, and I am happy to support training new conservation professionals who will preserve these and other important links to our past.”
The Center of the West hosts interns every summer in the McCracken Research Library and in many other departments. Contact Carolyn Williams at 307-578-4013 in the Development Department if you would like to sponsor an internship.
Image: Comparison from treatment report prepared by Conservation Intern Brianna Cunningham
First published in Points West magazine in the Spring 2019 issue.