Over the past three years I have been fortunate enough to process many individual collections from the Mazer Archives, each taking on its unique contours, representing both an historical moment as well as generously contributing to the collective intimacies of the lesbian archival record. Over time, one begins to recognize that almost every collection contains evidence of community involvement and organizational activities, professional commitments as well as deeply personal materials, evidence of the impossibility of separating or compartmentalizing lesbian lives.
The collection policy of the Mazer Archives has always been generous–“anything a lesbian touches”; its local focus and grassroots history are clear. These collections are vital snapshots of the history of Los Angeles, bringing social movements into relief in formal and informal manifestations. It is here where we see the indispensability of community archival practices, self-documentation, in telling history on one’s own terms, capturing not just the facts of the past but the messiness of their construction.
It is inevitable that while working so closely with materials, you begin to become attached to certain collections, certain relationships, and certain senses of humor that you can glean from personal correspondence. At times, collections seem to be in communication with one another, filling in gaps, serving as connective tissue between seemingly disparate women. Some collections serve as hubs in a wheel, fanning outward to capture not just the movement of a community but the movements of individuals within that community. By collecting materials not traditionally thought of as archival, the Mazer Archives attempts to express and reconstruct everyday life instead of focusing just on the exceptional. T-shirts are alongside financial documents, crafts next to birth certificates.
Many of the collections were deposited informally, friends dropping off boxes, women donating materials for their friends and lovers. As a result, we often may not know much about the donor, able only to use the contents to fill in the gaps. After months of research, reaching out to the community and even making a pilgrimage out to an address contained in a collection, I recognized a mystery donor in the artifact of another. Still housed at the Mazer Archives is a standing screen constructed by Ester Bentley (see above). A collage of photographs, drawings, decorations, and aphorisms, it is titled “Celebrating the Women in My Life, 1915–200?” (Bentley died in 2004). Although I knew from speaking with those active in the Mazer Archives, as well as through my processing work, that the collections represented a networked collective in various states of organization throughout its history, the screen provided a visual understanding of those connections through a single individual’s life experiences. This screen captures not only the many connections that were so difficult to find through a paper trail alone but also the impetus behind the Archives. “Each picture will be to the last a fleeting moment rescued from the past” is written on the screen, highlighting the immense amount of love, care, and work that has gone into and will continue to go into these archives.
-- Stacy Wood