When I first read about the Library of Congress acquisition of Marilyn Church courtroom drawings in the Library’s Information Bulletin, I was immediately intrigued. The intersection of two of my interests and degrees – an art history major in college and a J.D. – fascinated me. Artist Marilyn Church captured some of the most dramatic moments in high-profile courtroom trials during the past 36 years with colored pencil and crayon.
As the Library’s press release states,
Church’s drawings are an important part of American history, because she portrayed events unfolding in courtrooms where cameras were not allowed. She provided insight into the people who influenced the major issues of the late 20th century, including race and race relations, gender, women’s reproduction, political and corporate corruption, religion, international relations and celebrities.
Luckily, I was on the reference desk one day when a Junior Fellow assigned to Prints & Photographs to work on the project came in to ask for research assistance. The Fellows were assigned to find background information about the famous trials and other types of trials Church drew that the Library received as part of the acquisition. I met with them to discuss their research strategy and how they could best find this information.
Judicial decisions are reported in books known as reporters. However, not all judicial decisions are reported (or published), especially those at the trial court level. (Meg ran into this in her most recent blog post.) Instead, most case reporters consist of decisions at the appellate level.
Once we determined that most of Marilyn Church’s drawings were of trials and would probably not be published in case reporters (and, therefore, not searchable in commercial databases), it meant we needed to focus on where we could find the information. The Junior Fellows ended up doing a lot of their research in databases containing news articles, especially the New York Times, since New York City was where Marilyn Church did a lot of her work.
If you search the Prints & Photographs online catalog, you can see some of the Marilyn Church drawings that have been digitized by the Library. The Junior Fellows completed their project and the Marilyn Church collection will be accessible online in the next few months as the staff of the Prints & Photographs Division completes the finding aid and catalog records.