The Bancroft Survey Project began in February 2008. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundations, the survey project is intended to be a simultaneously broad and in-depth survey of all manuscript holdings of the Bancroft Library, which has been collecting for over a century. Four archivists were hired to scour the collections for a three year term, during which they will review the vast myriad of manuscript materials and use a survey instrument designed to gather data on collection scope, subject categories, and physical condition. The survey archivists are Marjorie Bryer, Amy Croft, Dana Miller, and Elia Van Lith, and they are also the authors of this blog.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Therese Bonney- famous photographer, cheese lover!

When I ran across this collection in the stacks one day while surveying, I was immediately charmed by the diversity of its contents. The three main sections of the Therese Bonney manuscript collection (in catalog as BANC MSS 83/111) reflect three major focuses of her career: early fashion photography, war correspondence, and her personal love of and fascination with -- you guessed it -- cheese. I was surprised that a woman with such a serious career- famous for her work exposing the horrors experienced by child victims of World War II- would also be infatuated enough with cheese to capture several hundred images of it and to keep boxes of notecards describing different varieties of cheese (see picture above.)

While there are many paper documents and several photographs and a few negatives in the Therese Bonney papers held by our manuscripts division, I knew there were also a very significant number of photographs and negatives in our photograph collection (BANC PIC 1982.111--PIC). Photo archivist Sara Ferguson was working on them at that time, so I asked her to provide some details about Bonney's collection and Sara's project work overall.

Pictorial Stabilization Project Archivist Sara Ferguson’s primary role is to coordinate the move of Bancroft’s acetate photographic film collections into the library’s new on site cold storage facility and to establish procedures for their access. In addition, Sara has been identifying major photographic collections in need of processing and re-housing work, such as the Therese Bonney Photographic Collection.

Sara Ferguson:

What I love about working on this collection is being able to see the progression of Bonney’s life, from model to author and publisher to photographer, to see how her life experiences influenced the direction her work took.

The collection includes Bonney’s early fashion and editorial work in Paris, but primarily consists of her work throughout Western Europe during WWII. Bonney’s best known photographs illustrate the effects of war and exile on children, taken with the hope of securing aid for civilian victims.

However the collection as a whole shows her work was even more ambitious and far reaching. She photographed not only the effect of war on children but documented daily life in war time society. She recorded entire communities: their families, customs, and industries, their artists and politicians, their schools and their churches. Taken as a whole, the Bonney collection shows not only the horrors of war but the hope and perseverance of those who lived through it.

Sara does not mention the cheese, but she confirmed verbally to me that there are many, many images of cheese in the Therese Bonney Photographic collection in addition to the more serious matter discussed above. I personally find it heartening that a professional who used her profession to deal so eloquently with such weighty issues could also indulge interests of a lighter nature. It shows great dimension to her personality-- and I never knew how many kinds of cheese there were!

-- D. Miller.

(Left: Some of the "cheese files" in the manuscript collection. The blue folder at top is labeled "cheese correspondence.")

(Right: cheese labels on a folder marked, "cheese research." Triple Creme Brie anyone?)


  1. Fabulous Fromagery!
    Though cheese is perhaps not the most photogenic of subjects, I am glad to see it made its way into the collection. I wonder what kind of cheese she liked best?

  2. I'm interested in Bonney’s early fashion and editorial work in Paris - has any of this work been catalogued? I live in the UK and am researching French couturieres of the Belle Epoque,in particular Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix.
    Any info appreciated.