I became a big fan of the late Christina Ramberg’s work last year while creating a body of work involving hair. To me, her work is the dark side of the Chicago Imagist. She rarely, if ever, worked with bright colors, and in her better-known pieces, her figures were bound, gagged or blindfolded by their hair. Ramberg also had a series of works inspired by quilting, which she exhibited with Rebecca Shore in the early 90s. Her file mostly consists of show postcards/reviews and obituaries. Ramberg died of Pick’s Disease in December 1995, and her file includes several obituaries and announcements for memorials around the city. One memorial announcement was from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where she headed the painting and drawing department and another from the Renaissance Society, which frequently exhibited her work. Besides the postcards and rembrances, there was very little information about her practice.
One of the heaviest and thickest files in the archive is Tony Fitzpatrick’s. Fitzpatrick was one of the first Chicago artists I heard about when I moved here three years ago, and I instantly fell in love with his work. One of the first items I saw when I opened his file was an article from CS Magazine with him and his wife talking about their relationship, making funny monkey-like faces, and kissing in a makeshift photo booth. This wouldn’t be that strange to see for an artist, but Fitzpatrick has a reputation for being a badass tough-guy.
The amazing thing about Fitzpatrick’s file is that since it is so vast, one can really get a great feel for the man behind the work. There is a Reader article that refers to him as a type of folk/outsider artist wonder. Another article discusses his practice as a young gallerist, another about him as a seasoned gallerist. There are loads of show cards and reviews. Even the smallest show announcement is clipped from the paper and placed in his file. Leslie Patterson, who manages the archive, told me that Fitzpatrick’s file is made completely from the findings of the library staff and he may not know he has a file. If you’re interested in checking out Fitzpatrick’s file, I would recommend taking a few days to do so—there’s that much material.
The final personal favorite I looked through was Roger Brown. I have admired Brown’s work for a number of years and I love visiting his house-turned-resource whenever I can. Brown’s file was incredibly thick as well, and contained all sorts of material including his very long CV, a multitude of articles, and plenty of show cards and images. Brown’s file has been by far the most fun to look at. The range of images in his file is incredible: him in studio, posing for pictures with Mayor Daley, pictures of installations and paintings, as well as a good selection of show cards. A 1990 article discusses Brown being commissioned to create works for (at the time) the soon to be built Harold Washington Library. There were images in Brown’s file that I had never seen before, like the building with a fox head and tail. Brown’s file also contains a handwritten note from Brown to the library that contained a contribution to help fund a Ray Yoshida catalogue.
Like Fitzpatrick, even the smallest announcement or newspaper blurb has been clipped and placed in the file. Also, like Ramberg’s file, there was a large selection of obituaries and memoriam from Brown’s death in 1997. There is even an email to the woman who managed the archive before Leslie that is an updated version of Brown’s obituary from one of the Chicago papers. Also, there are two announcements from SAIC: one for Brown’s death, the other about his donation of his house and belongings to the school. Brown’s file is a great celebration of his life and his work.