John Rhoden papers: Weekly Roundup

Contributed by Kelin Baldridge and Jahna Auerbach, the John Rhoden papers processing team

Kelin and Jahna sorting photographs of John Rhoden’s art.

What we accomplished:

  1. Sorted the archive’s manuscripts at item-level
  2. Created an inventory to help fine-tune the intellectual arrangement
  3. Ordered materials in order to complete the physical arrangement
  4. Published our first blog posts
  5. Started brainstorming for our digitization plan

Next up:

  1. Complete sorting the archive’s photographs and artworks
  2. Re-write the intellectual arrangement according to what we have learned while sorting
  3. Finalize digitization plan
  4. Start digitizing


One thing I learned this week is how helpful an item-level organization can be to understanding the story of the archive as a whole. We decided to physically organize the individual items in each folder by date. In doing so, we were able to make connections between the items and, in turn, better understand the stories present in the papers. The size of this archive is manageable enough to arrange the individual items by date, but it is large enough that having the items organized to such a degree is crucial to making them accessible and comprehensible.


The most interesting discovery this week is not an item or theme in the archives, but rather how the archive’s team has become attached to the people represented. Kelin is absolutely enamored with John and Jahna has fully fallen for Richenda.

John’s photos, correspondence, and documents paint a picture of an ambitious, professional, kind, and joyous man. Lacking the aloofness characteristic of sculptors, John was a sharp businessman. From what I have been exposed to, it seems his professionalism served as the perfect compliment to his talent in cultivating a successful career as an artist.

Furthermore, everyone who met John adored him. Reference letters for his various grants and fellowships share absolutely glowing reviews of a man who is equal parts passionate, professional, talented, and enjoyable. He received heartfelt thank you notes from children he taught and was always greeted with great warmth in both personal and professional correspondence.

Richenda’s primary presence in the collection comes in the form of photographs with her cats and Christmas trees. These photographs initially bonded me to Richenda and served as inspiration to explore her story further. As I dove deeper into her papers I learned that she is much more than just John’s partner. The content of her correspondence and photographs are full of personal information that illustrate a radical woman. 

Aside from her letters, Richenda’s records consist of undergraduate papers, photographs, and some newspaper clippings. She did not keep many of her own things but what little we have is powerful.  They tell a story of a woman who was creative, playful, intelligent and loved by all. Richenda was a self-proclaimed dreamer. She was an artist like John and her paintings were inspired by her Native American heritage, her travels with John, and her studies in anthropology and Asian art history. What we have in the collection only allows us to see small parts of who Richenda was, but I am now completely enthralled with her life and want to learn more about who she was as a person and as an artist.

This project, Rediscovering John W. Rhoden: Processing, Cataloging, Rehousing, and Digitizing the John W. Rhoden papers, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency.


Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

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