Alexander Girard’s exceptional original order
In the archival world, one of the most basic guiding principles is that of “original order,” defined here:
"Since files and series reflect the aggregation of records in relation to the activity undertaken, this order should be maintained not only during the phase when the records are current, but also in the phase of preservation…in order to guarantee the possibility of meaningful future use." (Guerico, 2001)
This means that when an archival collection like the Miller House and Garden Collection comes to the archives, we do everything that we can to maintain or restore the original order of the records from when they were in use by their creator.
In the case of the MHGC, the “activity undertaken” by Alexander Girard was the interior decoration of the Miller House, and the records that he used throughout this process give a unique insight into the meticulous way that Girard approached his work.
To explore Girard’s indexing system, we have selected a Winter pit pillow fabric that we previously shared via Tumblr, Jack Lenor Larsen’s “gill plaid.” The purchase of 2 yards of this fabric was documented by an original paper invoice, and was assigned the item number “47-2.” [This was the 47th purchase that Girard made while decorating the Miller House, and Larsen’s “gill plaid” was the second of four fabrics from this purchase.] Information from the paper invoice was copied on an index card (top picture above), and is one of hundreds of invoice index cards now stored in MHGC archival Box 35 in the Indianapolis Museum of Art Archives.
The collection includes a second group of index cards solely for fabric samples (the front and back of the “gill plaid” index card are also pictured in the top image). As you can see, the fabric index cards not only documented the item number, but the fabric’s intended use (“for: Pit Pillows Winter”), the amount that was purchased (“2 yards”), and the unique code that Girard assigned to the area in the house that the fabric was purchased for (“6-C5” - the conversation pit). This group of index cards has been stored together in MHGC archival Box 83.
From these materials in the Miller House and Garden Collection, it is clear that every aspect of Girard’s work was first thought out and planned in great detail. A section of Girard’s overall design board for the Miller House (middle right picture) shows area “6-C5,” the conversation pit. Small swatches of multiple Winter pit pillow fabrics were attached to the board to display Girard’s color scheme, including a sample of Larsen’s “gill plaid,” which is the upper-right fabric on the board. As an additional point of reference, Girard stapled a card with “6-C5” and “item 47-2” onto a larger swatch of the fabric (bottom picture).
Together, the original paper invoices, the invoice index cards, fabric sample index cards, larger fabric swatches, and Girard’s overall design board create an intricate web of linked reference materials used throughout the design process. As archivists, our goal is to maintain and represent this original order faithfully, and to provide enough context for researchers to understand and interpret Girard’s intentions and the final product.