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Chicago, Illinois 60616
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Uncovering New Stories Through the NEH CARES Grant

Palazzolo Collection

In June 2020, CFA received generous support from a CARES grant, which was made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and designed to help us delve into our collections and make more stories and films accessible to the public. During this exceptionally difficult time (on so many levels), we were tasked with finding new ways to work with our collections amidst lockdowns, staggered schedules, and Zoom meet-ups due to COVID-19. The grant supported our ability to focus on the labor-intensive work of stabilizing, digitizing, and cataloguing portions of our large audiovisual collections, which contain precious footage documenting Midwestern culture and history. With help from the NEH, we were able to dedicate much-needed time to the William Franklin Grisham Collection, which documents the history of the early film industry in Chicago; the Frank Koza Collection of mid-century newsreels; the Tom Palazzolo Collection, which captures the outermost fringes of life in Chicago; and the Rhodes Patterson Collection of design, architecture and industry films.

We found plenty of exciting and potentially groundbreaking narratives through our work. For example, the William Franklin Grisham Collection contains elements from The Very Last Laugh (1976), a documentary directed by Grisham that features the only known footage of Luther J. Pollard, the head of Ebony Film Co. and possibly the first African American film producer in history. Work is currently underway to further understand Pollard’s role in the establishment of Ebony Film Co., but for now, The Very Last Laugh presents a fascinating story that is under-acknowledged within film history. Also included in the collection are rare 16mm prints of several films made by Ebony in the 1910s, including The Comeback of Barnacle Bill and A Black Sherlock Holmes, now streaming.

We also found hidden gems within the Frank Koza Collection, which contains wonderful snippets of Midwestern life in the 1950s and ‘60s. CFA brought on contract archivist Jiayi Chen to work on inspecting and stabilizing the massive collection of 2100 reels of news footage shot by the professional cameraman. Jiayi was able to inspect nearly 400 elements over the course of the grant, and CFA staff digitized and catalogued 48 new titles from the collection. Highlights among these newly streaming films include never-before-seen footage of Elvis getting ready to enter the military in 1958, scenes of polio vaccinations being administered in 1960, and a look at Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1959. 

Collections Manager Yasmin Desouki was also able to dig into the vast Rhodes Patterson Collection, uncovering a surprisingly diverse body of work. Among the architecture and design films we were expecting, Yasmin also came across a film Rhodes made with his wife Norma, The Signal (ca. 1966), which features delightful stop-motion puppetry. Another charming find was The Dogs of Aspen, a humorous film about, you guessed it, the dogs that live in Aspen, CO.

Jiayi Chen

Archivist Jiayi Chen inspects a roll of film from the Frank Koza Collection

 

Digitization manager Olivia Babler and transfer technician Justin Dean were excited to work on the Tom Palazzolo Collection, which contains more than 1700 prints, trims, and elements from the filmmaker known as “Tommy Chicago.” The entire collection has now been inventoried, and this grant also enabled us to digitize and catalogue a number of Tom’s underground documentary films and home movies. We truly enjoyed getting to ask the insightful and goofy filmmaker more about his work over the last six months (and have delighted in the sometimes elaborate, costumed selfies he frequently attaches to his e-mail correspondence). You can now stream some of Tom’s earliest works, his first feature, and even his wedding film on our website.

A heartfelt thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities for facilitating this work. We are delighted to have been given the capacity required to work on these wonderful collections in the past few months, and to have catalogued upwards of 80 films for our audience to research and enjoy. Below you will find links to view all of the films we have digitized and catalogued for this project.

 

 

NEH-Horizontal-Seal-Black820

 

Frank Koza Collection

Tom Palazzolo Collection

Rhodes Patterson Collection

William Franklin Grisham Collection

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