Kelsey Rose Williams, Photography Archivist for the Eames Office and freelance historian/writer - Seattle, Washington
What do you collect?
It’s funny—I have never identified as a collector until being asked to do this interview! I say that because my lifestyle over the past 13 years hasn’t been super conducive to collecting. Since graduating high school, I have lived in Phoenix, Tucson, Brooklyn, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and now, Seattle. Because my life has seen a lot of physical transition for over a decade, my belongings reflect what’s closest to my heart. Whatever I could fit into my car made it to the next home—which has required lots of editing and goodbyes along the way.
The items I have collected were born from my childhood interest in art, fashion design, and interiors, and have morphed themselves into my adult interests of modern art, architecture, city planning, writing, and travel. I’ve been collecting postcards from past museum visits, books, stories from The New Yorker that have affected me, and vintage building/construction catalogs.
How did your collection start?
I’d say my museum postcard collection is the longest-running collection I have. I grew up going to museums and studied art history and museum studies as double majors in college. Whenever I would visit a museum, I would try to leave with at least one postcard as a token of the experience. In a way, this act helped me track the special exhibitions I saw, which museums and cities I visited, and my interests over time. The process started becoming more out of control once I started working in museums! I still can’t seem to part with any of the postcards I bought while working at MoMA and interning in the publishing department of MoMA PS1 in 2012. The experience of living in New York City and working at those two institutions, although so briefly, will stay with me for the rest of my days.
Books were also an early love for me, but they’ve been the items I’ve had to be super selective with when moving homes. In 2011, I started collecting editions of Josef Albers’s “Interaction of Color” because I was writing my thesis on it. That was the first and only book I’ve intentionally purchased multiple copies of. Over the years, I loaned some copies to friends, so the collection is smaller now, but it makes me happy knowing they are scattered across the country.
How do you collect?
The postcard and construction catalog collecting happens when I visit a museum or find them in an antique store, respectively. The books accumulate whenever I am researching an interesting topic, through recommendations, or discover another book/topic within a book. The book acquisition tangents are dangerous and seem never-ending! I read The New Yorker every week, and I immediately tear out my favorite stories for safekeeping. I imagine it would be easier to bookmark the articles online, but an important aspect of reading that magazine, to me, is the tactile feeling of it.
Why do you collect?
I collect to gain more knowledge and to remember pleasant times related to art and architecture.
I specifically like collecting vintage construction catalogs because of my time spent working at the Eames House. When talking with visitors at the house, I was the most drawn to speaking about historic building materials and how the Eameses constructed their home. Now, I continually have my eyes open for ephemera related to the companies and materials used in building that particular design. Finding a 1949 Truscon steel catalog made me squeal out loud at an antique store. The Eames House was built in 1949, and Truscon manufactured the steel decking for its roof and the open-web steel joists for the ceiling. Charles Eames (alongside Eero Saarinen) designed the first draft and ordered the parts for the Eames House in early 1945, so they technically didn’t use a catalog from 1949. But it’s still a really neat find!
In your opinion, how many objects do you think it takes to make a collection?
This is tough—maybe five or more? I think it depends on the object.
Where do you house/store your objects?
Bookshelves and storage files at home.
What is your relationship to your collection?
Besides clothing and my cat, these are the only items I have brought with me from home to home, from city to city. They are my housemates, in a way, and they are physical reminders of my unending curiosity and growth.
Do they serve a purpose? Are they functional or purely decorative?
I would say that all of them are functional, but they also have a decorative element to them!
Do you think about your collection beyond acquisition?
Yes! I went to graduate school for archiving and I’m a design/art/architecture/furniture-related archivist, so I’m definitely thinking of the longevity of these paper-centric items. I have the vintage construction catalogs in plastic sleeves, but they aren’t proper archival sleeves. I’m less precious with the postcards, but now I am wondering if I should organize them more properly. As I am leafing through them now, I am realizing how much nostalgia is packed into each one. I can recall the museum visits almost perfectly—like the first time I ever saw Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in person after learning about it in school! So I think this is a sign to myself that they need to be stored more carefully.
With my books, it’s less about longevity and preservation (except for the more rare ones), and more about getting lots of use out of them. I’m not someone who buys books just for the coffee table. I buy them to read, digest, share, and sometimes reread with just as much enthusiasm as the first time!
How has your relationship to your collection changed or shifted since Covid?
I’ve always been a huge advocate of writing letters, so Covid upped that behavior for me. I used to swear that I would never send out any of my collected postcards, but I broke that rule during Covid! My postcard collection is quickly dwindling away because I was frequently writing to friends and family members. I have no regrets!
In general, how attached are you to these objects? If you lost everything, would you start your collection over again?
If I lost the postcards, the vintage catalogs, or The New Yorker pages, life would go on. My books? Those feel a lot more personal and sentimental to me. My interests have evolved over the years and I think they’re the perfect witnesses—and evidence—of my shifting. It would be tough to replicate the collection again!
Anything more you would like to share?
Thank you for having me!
If you are ever in Los Angeles, Palm Spring or Seattle, check out Kelsey's The Not-Trespassing Tours of Modern Homes tours Kelsey developed - https://www.kelseyrosewilliams.com/tours