NEWS RELEASE, 11/19/99

New UC Berkeley curator making her mark with Bancroft Library's Western Americana collection

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs


At a recent show-and-tell about collections at The Bancroft Library, library director Charles Faulhaber was surprised to see a letter from Thomas Jefferson to physician and educator Benjamin Rush, describing expedition leader prospect Meriwether Lewis.

"I didn't even know we had it," said Faulhaber.

The inclusion of the letter in this event said a lot about the eye of Theresa Salazar, The Bancroft's new curator of Western Americana.

While familiarizing herself with the library's holdings - including thousands of books, maps, photographs, newspapers, manuscripts and photos - Salazar spotted this letter about one of the West's most intriguing explorers.

She knew that people attending the gathering - book collectors from the New York City University Club - would find it an interesting document, as it reflected Jefferson's thoughts about Lewis and this key expedition into the American West.

A native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where her family has lived since the late 18th or early 19th century, Salazar spent 26 years in northern New Mexico and another 10 in southern Arizona near the Mexican border. California has been home since July.

Salazar sees her professional experience as an asset in keeping The Bancroft strong, and Faulhaber agreed, calling her a perfect match for the library's concentration on California and the West Coast, Mexico and Central America.

"One thing that I bring that's unusual is a vision of the West that has been informed by living in the Southwest," she said. "I bring an understanding of the themes that are so Southwestern, but also of importance for other regions of the West."

She considers central themes to be water, development, an evolving landscape of urban, rural and suburban communities, and the roles of ethnic groups as told by those groups as well as by outsiders and professional historians.

"What I'd like to do is give them all a voice," Salazar said.

Salazar holds a bachelor's degree in art history and a master's degree in English from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and a master's degree in library science from Columbia University. She has worked in photo archives and international folk art at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, then was named a Helena Rubenstein Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, organizing exhibits and doing everything from writing display text to hanging artwork. She worked at the Parsons School of Design, also in New York City, for a year.

An internship drew Salazar to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the manuscript division. Then, she joined the New York Public Library as a print specialist.

Getting homesick for the Southwest and the desert, Salazar next moved to Tucson, working on exhibitions, fundraising, acquisitions and scholarship as special collections librarian at the University of Arizona. She expanded the school's holdings on the Southwest, northwest Mexico, Mexican Americans and Native America literature. She added to the fine press and book art materials.

Salazar relishes giving expression to the West's neglected contributors. She is working at The Bancroft on a digital project that will document the Chinese in California, including San Francisco, from 1850 to 1920. She's curious about contributions of labor unions, fraternal organizations and others in building the West.

She already is busy making collection decisions, such as two acquisitions.

The first, offered by a dealer, was "The Cowboy Songbook," a small, red-covered book featuring tunes from the trail assembled by a working cowboy back in 1908.

The second, purchased at a recent Sotheby's auction in New York, is a manuscript written by Frank P. Bennett, ex-chief of the Apache Scouts, defending the Indian scouts who pursued Geronimo under General Crook's command in 1886.

Salazar said the past is still vital today. While The Bancroft may appear filled with ancient, dusty books and other materials antiquated in the age of the Internet, Salazar said their value is enduring.

"I think that libraries will always be there," she said, "because books, manuscripts, photographs, and the other materials as tangible objects will always possess valuable information and meaning."


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