University Libraries Spotlight: Catherine Wallack
Designer-turned-archivist Catherine Wallack hails from Washington, D.C. A strong visual arts student with a knack for math, Wallack gravitated toward architecture from a young age.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts in architecture and art/art history from Rice University, Wallack worked for a number of years in the Boston area. She then completed her Master of Architecture degree at Harvard University. Upon graduating, she immediately followed her now-husband to Fayetteville and has lived here ever since.
It was while doing research on a line of furniture – the Fulbright Furniture that Edward Durell Stone designed for his childhood friend, Bill Fulbright – that Wallack discovered the Special Collections department at the University of Arkansas. Her research efforts eventually resulted in an exhibition.
"The process reinforced my love of research and revealed the magic of working with primary source documents," said Wallack. "I would never have guessed that I'd end up working in a library, but I love it."
Currently, Wallack serves as the architectural records archivist for University Libraries. In this role, she makes materials in the Arkansas Architectural Archive available to researchers. These materials relate to design professionals of import who have strong connections to Arkansas. Wallack is also charged with maintaining the materials and promoting them, and she has a hand in the collection of new materials. Patrons of the Arkansas Architectural Archive include individuals from around the world, such as architecture students looking for the drawings of Thorncrown Chapel, academic scholars of modernism, and current homeowners of local mid-century architect Warren Segraves.
Wallack is also involved in exhibitions and coordinates the loaning of items from Special Collections to various institutions.
"Among other things, we've loaned photographs to local museums, a dress and shoes from Arkansas' first Miss America, Donna Axum, to the Miss America organization, and a sizeable architectural model to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles," she said.
Wallack said her two favorite parts of her job are working with the wide variety of individuals of position puts her in contact with and having the privilege of working with the documents.
"Pretty much everyone who sets foot in Special Collections is interested in and cares about something," said Wallack. "It's hard to not be moved by that."
One of Wallack's goals is for every student in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design to have visited the Architectural Archives before they graduate. Another is for every U of A student to see the Special Collections.
"I wish every student attending the university would engage in some meaningful way with Special Collections, whether through a visit to the reading room, using a digital collection, or pausing to check out a physical exhibit," Wallack said. "This is a remarkable, constantly evolving resource that is available to them, to everyone."
In her spare time, Wallack remains an art enthusiast, is "as devoted to [her] early morning walk as the dog is," and spends time with her family.
"I'm not a big James Bond fan, but in order to hang out with my teenage son, I've seen a lot of 007 in recent years," she said. "To their credit, these films have provided a springboard for some good discussions on topics including the Cold War, sexism and 70s fashions."
And, like any red-blooded library worker, she concurs that there is nothing like a good book.
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