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New Additions to the Cather Collection

New Additions to the Cather Collection

Monday, March 27, 2017

Several weeks ago, an unexpected phone call reached Executive Director Ashley Olson's desk: were we interested in a collection of personal items which had belonged to Willa Cather, including her desk? Little did she know that archivist Tracy Tucker was also making plans for a new acquisition, "a stack" of letters written by Willa Cather to a former Red Cloud associate. The two quickly cleared their schedules to bring the new collection items to Red Cloud, where some of the items are already on display.

In the new study room of the National Willa Cather Center, Cather's beautiful drop-front secretary desk with book case welcomes guests and displays photos and other items from the WCF collections. Made by the St. Louis Furniture Makers Association and still bearing its shipping label to "C. F. Cather, Red Cloud, Neb.," this simple, Eastlake-style piece likely belonged to a young Willa Cather, and it's difficult to estimate how far it may have followed her as she moved on the East Coast. The desk—and the silk blouse, lace fan, embroidered handkerchiefs, books, and photos that accompanied it—were bequeathed to Cather's niece.

While Cather's personal effects enlighten us on her personality and preferences, her business correspondence shows us another side. From 1938–1946, Willa Cather engaged I. W. Crowell of rural Red Cloud as a farm manager, to see to the day-to-day operation of three tenanted farms. Their correspondence routinely discusses the weather and farm markets, as well as taxes, crop insurance, and the like, but these letters also give us important markers as we trace Cather's travels and family relations. We welcome research requests on these and other correspondence in our collection.