Image courtesy of www.comicsbeat.com
An image from the pages of Wonder Woman, with Trina Robbins’ signature in the lower left corner. Photo credit: www.comicsbeat.com

History and background

The term “underground comix” defines a style of small press or self-published comic books produced outside of the mainstream styles. The Underground Comix Collection in Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections includes over 1,500 printed comics, hand-drawn sketches and related materials ranging from 1947 to 1995. Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop notes that while many of the pieces in the collection made their way to the university library in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, records indicate that there are some comics in the collection from as recently as 2007.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily
Fight Girl by Trina Robbins, 1972. Underground Comix Collection,
MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the artists who worked in this style created comics that discussed controversial topics and mocked conventional society. Their work explored mature themes like drug and alcohol use, sexuality, violence, feminism, anti-abortion and anti-war sentiments, Black Power, and LGBTQ+ issues. In doing so, the artists and the publishing companies did not adhere to the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which was introduced in 1954 and was intended to censor comic book content. At one time, Underground Comix were banned books.

The official logo of the Comics Code Authority (CCA).

As an aside: While doing a little online research, I came across an interesting blog post on this subject. It was published by The Robert E. Kennedy Library of Cal Poly State University on their Special Collections blog. You could take a brief detour and read it: “Understanding Underground Comix: An Introduction to the Moore Collection.

Covers of selections from the Moore Collection of Underground Comix, Special Collections of the Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University. Photo credit: CPSU

People

Many artists published with Underground Comix instead of a larger company because it gave them the opportunity to present their work with less censorship of the X-rated content. Underground Comix greats included cult figures like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Richard Eugene “Grass” Green, Denis Kitchen and Trina Robbins.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at an event at Lucca Comics & Games in 2014, Tuscany. Photo credit: Creative Commons

You may be surprised to learn that popular TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Johnny Quest, and Space Ghost drew their first breath as underground comix. In fact, Trina Robbins, a female artist who published with Underground Comix, was the first to draw Wonder Woman. Richard “Grass” Green was the first African American comix creator to participate in the movement.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish News of Northern California.
Trina Robbins, the first woman comic artist to draw Wonder Woman, poses in a book shop next to her creation. Photo credit: The Jewish News of Northern California.

ISU Library Special Collections also holds a related collection of Clay Geerdes photographs (MS 0630). Clay Geerdes took numerous photos of Underground Comix artists and of their work. Geerdes’ photographs have appeared in many publications and were published as a book, “The Underground Comix Family Album“, in 1998.

Left: Gilbert Shelton inks a page for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in Venice, CA, July 1971. Right: Gary Arlington gives a few tips to Armageddon artist Barney Steel in his San Francisco Comic store, 1971. Images from the Clay Geerdes Collection, MS 0630, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Conservation treatment

The library’s collection of 3-dimensional artifacts contains a few dozen buttons from the early 1970’s. The buttons feature some of the iconic characters from Underground Comix. Assistant conservator Cynthia Kapteyn and I have recently run into a box of these buttons in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of the library’s artifact collection.

Underground Comix buttons, 1971-1972, Artifact Collection, 2009-R035, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Recently we have been seeing lots of Comix at the Preservation lab, both printed issues and artist sketches.

Left: An issue of E.C. Comics Tales from the Crypt, 1953, PN3448 S45 T34x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library. Right: Crime SuspenStories, 1952, PS648 C7 C74x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

The printed issues were from the 1950s, published by E.C. Comics. Many of the covers and pages had become torn and creased over time. Chunks of brittle paper have been lost, since these prime examples of ephemera were printed on low quality wood pulp paper and were not made to stand up to time and the relentless deterioration mechanisms of oxidation in cellulose. Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Technician, has repaired hundreds of pages using light weight Japanese tissue, pre-coated with a mixture of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose and activated with a light application of de-ionized water.

Mends and fills made with pre-coated Japanese tissue are visible around the edges of the back cover.
Left: A large fill in a back page was made with Japanese tissue that was pre-coated with a mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Right: A detail from an artist sketch, Underground Comix Collection, MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

One of the oversized boxes within the collection holds a number of drawings by an unknown artist associated with Underground Comix. The sketches were taped together with masking tape. The adhesive from the tape has started to penetrate through the paper, giving the paper a translucent oily quality and causing the sketches to stick together.

Using a micro-spatula, Sonya is lifting the edge of a small “speech bubble” fragment, taped over a previous version.

The artist had gone through a fascinating editing process, while creating their story line. If the artist was dissatisfied with a given cell or a speech bubble, they would rework the image or text on a fragment of paper and tape the new fragment over the segment they did not like. The artist used small loops of masking tape to stick down the fragments, so that the tape would not be visible past the edges of the stuck-on fragment. But over time the adhesive from the tape had leeched into the paper, making the tape underneath show through.

Left: A smaller fragment of paper is attached to the larger sketch with loops of masking tape. Right: Masking tape is lifted and a previous iteration of the sketch is revealed under the small fragment.

Masking tape was removed from the sketches and adhesive residue was reduced as much as possible. Mends of Japanese tissue were used to hold the sketches together in place of tape.

A heated spatula is used to remove fragments of masking tape from the reverse side. A Japanese tissue mend runs along the mid-line of the sketch (note the faint white tint).

The artist’s “edits” were reattached to the sketches using small hidden hinges made from Japanese tissue, using wheat starch paste. The sketches look and function in much the same way as they did before the conservation treatment. But the damaging tape adhesive has been removed, so it will no longer contribute to deterioration of the paper.

Other mentions

In the past, the Underground Comix Collection has been mentioned, exhibited and written about by other people on campus too. The Special Collections and University Archives blog, Cardinal Tales, has featured the Underground Comix Collection in 2015 in a post titled “Not Your Ordinary Comic Books”. The staff at Special Collections has used some rather spooky Underground Comix titles for the library’s Halloween Pop-Up Exhibit.

The Special Collections department featured Underground Comix in their Halloween pop-up exhibit in 2017.

The ISU Daily student newspaper had published the article “Underground Comix Have Rich History” in 2013. Student writer Victoria Emery had interviewed ISU College of Design professor John Cunnally about his scholarship related to the collection.

This is my humble homage to the candid and unapologetic art of Underground Comix artists. The image on the left is part of the cover of “The R. Crumb Handbook”, by R. Crumb and P. Poplaski, 2005.

[originally posted July, 2017]

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A Common Video Preservation Scenario: A researcher requests a copy of a show held in your special collections. It’s a university production from the 1970s, a unique recording on ¾” tape. This tape is an “at-risk” item, because the inherent vulnerabilities of magnetic based media. What do you do? Do you send it out to a vendor, or do you digitize the tape in-house? Where possible, it’s best to digitize at-risk items in-house. It’s faster, it’s more economical over the long-term, and you can maintain your own quality-control standards.

AV preservationists have spent un-countable hours of our lives discussing the best capture format for analog video preservation. But actually… how you send the signal from the deck to the computer’s capture card is the most important aspect of digitizing analog video. You can capture 10-bit 4:2:2 anything, but the quality of what you’re capturing is linked to the signal you’re sending. So with this fact in mind, this post will describe the necessary equipment and guide you through the basic setup required for digitizing your at-risk analog video in-house.

One of the biggest issues that defines magnetic media as “at-risk” is obsolescence. It’s quite difficult to find and maintain the device needed for analog video playback. Prepare to spend some time digging around online or contacting potential dealers to find a functioning playback device. A good place to start looking for old, obsolete AV equipment is the on-campus video production house. They might have old gear hanging around! Or a local television station may have gear to donate to your archives. Be creative. You need well-maintained, industry-grade equipment with as much related documentation as possible. Those dog-eared operational and service manuals are invaluable for maintaining the functionality of old gear.

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RG-59/U 75 Ohms Broadcast BNC Video Cable

Using correct cables and cabling may be the single most important aspect to setting up a video preservation rack. Know your source signal (composite, component, or Y/C ) and send it out using only the highest-grade shielded cable. Remember: Shielding reduces electrical noise and…its impact on signals and…lowers electromagnetic radiation. Shielding prevents cross-talk between cables… Shielding not only protects cable but… machinery and people as well. [1] http://www.wireandcabletips.com/importance-shielding-cabling/

PRO-TIPS: Cables, Cabling, and Termination
• ALWAYS use broadcast-quality RG59 BNC 75ohm cables for video
• ALWAYS prefer XLR (balanced audio) cables to RCA (unbalanced audio) cables
• ALWAYS terminate open loops with 75ohm terminators at end of signal loops*

*But be careful! Improper termination can affect the video signal. A double termination can cut the video signal in half, while a lack of termination will overload the video signal. This might be where you need professional help.

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75ohm Terminator

CONGRATULATIONS!! You have managed to acquire a professional-grade BVU U-matic deck that supports machine control input. Now you are able to control the deck from a computer via a RS-422 cable, not missing any information at the beginning of the tape. This is good. This is why the RS-422 cable is included on the equipment list.

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RS-422 cable for Remote Control

Now what about the capture card and computer? I like the AJA KONA LHi capture card and AJA KONA KLHi-Box. Together, these will allow for seamless capture of composite, component, and Y/C (for analog signals) and SDI or HDMI (for digital signals). The KONA LHi works well with Premiere CS6, but it also has its own software that captures SD analog video as 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed v210. The Kona LHi is also able to capture closed captioning and timecode information. All of these are required metadata for video preservation. The preservation master could have up to five streams of data per file: a video stream, two audio streams, timecode, and closed captioning CEA-608. With newer computers, you’ll have to place the AJA Kona Li capture card in a thunderbolt expansion case and send the digital video signal from the expansion case to computer‘s thunderbolt in.

Now. It’s very important to place a Time Base Corrector between the deck and the capture card. You also need waveform and vector scope connected post-TBC, so you can monitor and adjust the video signal, using the scopes as your measurement tools. For example, if color bars are in front of the program, you can adjust the luma, chroma, black (set up), and hue (NTSC only) levels to get the best possible signal from the tape. Also, I recommend having all equipment ‘genlocked’ to the same reference to ensure picture stability. For SD composite video, it’s called blackburst – a composite signal of black with no picture data. With all pieces of equipment timed and in-sync, or locked to master sync, you increase the stability of your capture.

My preference for signal monitoring is viewing the signal directly off the deck, as well as post capture card. This helps pinpoint where any problems might occur in the signal. For example, if there is visible signal error on the monitor connected at the end of the chain (post capture), but the video looks good coming straight out of the deck, you can focus your troubleshooting on the cables, settings, and equipment either at or after the TBC point. It’s also important to have a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor in order to view the video signal as it was originally intended. AND it’s best to have a CRT with blue-only, underscan, and H-V delay features. ‘Blue only’ allows you to calibrate your reference monitor with color bars and monitor your VTR noise. ‘Underscan’ allows you to see every scan line in the video signal, and ‘H-V delay’ allows you to check vertical and horizontal sync. These features will help you get the best signal out of your deck and troubleshoot any signal errors.

This brings me to the last piece of gear to install in your AV Rack: a test pattern generator. A test generator helps you check proper signal flow by sending a test pattern, like color bars, through the signal path. You can also use the color bar test pattern to set display levels – like brightness – and contrast to ensure your monitor is properly calibrated.

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Video Preservation Rack

YOUR EQUIPMENT LIST
• Professional rack*
• Professional-grade decks for each format (U-maticSP, BetaSp, VHS, SVHS, Digibeta, etc.)
• RG59 BNC 75 Ohm cables
• 75 Ohm BNC terminations
• XLR cables
• RS-422 cable
• Time Base Corrector/Proc Amp
• Test generator
• Sync generator
•  ADC Patch bay
• AJA Kona capture card
• AJA Breakout box and cable
• Sonnet Echo Express SE I Thunderbolt 3 to full-height/half-length PCIe card
• Waveform and vector scope monitors
• CRT monitor**
• Computer***
• Calibrated computer monitors
* sturdy, does not wobble, and allows decks to be pulled out easily and safely
** preferably one that has underscan, blue-only, and H/V delay
*** preferably with a high-speed processor, minimum 16GB memory and 1TB storage

Well, I hope this was helpful for anyone wanting to build an AV preservation rack for their special collections. In the next issue of AV Club, I’ll be discussing best practice for embedding technical metadata into files for future digital preservation conservators. Cheers!

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The 150th anniversary of Iowa State University is just around the corner, and to celebrate, Special Collections and University Archives are putting together a brand new exhibit. Titled “We Are ISU: Snapshots of Student Life”, the exhibit will focus on photographs, scrapbooks, journals, t-shirts, and more from past students. There are several collections included within this exhibit, so if you see something that interests you, you can ask the staff in the Special Collections reading room to see other boxes from that collection number to discover what other cool pieces of ISU history may be in there.

The staff at the preservation lab has been busy getting the exhibit ready for  opening day. Boxes from different collections line the book trucks in the lab, waiting to be put on display. A few of the objects have needed minor repair work, like mending tears, removing tape, surface cleaning and attaching hinges for display. This is all done to make sure that the exhibited items are stable enough to be put on display or to be digitized. Each item has been mounted on a custom-fit display stand made from museum-quality mat board. The artifacts will then be installed into the glass exhibit cases in the SCUA Reading Room.

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One of the many book trucks in the preservation lab holding mounted photos for the exhibit.

Conservation Technician Jim Wilcox was able to help me with going through a few of the artifacts for this blog post. One of his favorite items in the exhibit is the Lorris Ann Foster scrapbook, from RS 21/7/147. Lorris created the scrapbook in 2002 and soon after it was donated to Special Collections and University Archives. The scrapbook is full of relics from Foster’s days as an ISU student in the 1940’s, and includes dance cards, photographs, letters, flyers, and even an official University Rule book!  While flipping through the rule book, we came across some of  rules for female students living on campus. The first rule that stood out to me was the female housing quiet hours:

“Quiet hours begin at 7:30 pm and are to continue until 6:30 am.”

The rules continue, listing the curfews the women were to follow, and what days those curfews were extended. Another rule that stood out to me, was this:

“When a woman is leaving Ames at any time she must secure an out-of-town permit from the residence director. Letters of approval for out-of-town trips and all automobile trips should be sent by parents.”

Can you imagine not being able to leave Ames to go shopping without approval from the residence director!?

 

While talking with Jim, I learned some interesting facts about Iowa State University history that I had no idea about. For example, in 1929 Fan Chi Kung, an international student from China, died in a rollover car accident while teaching a fellow student how to drive. Because his family was not able to afford to ship his body back home, he was buried in the University Cemetery. Special Collections holds his photo albums from his time here on campus.

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Photo of Fan Chi Kung sitting at his desk in his room. RS 21/7/49

This photo is from Fan Chi Kung’s photo album, and has the caption “In my room” on the back. According to an information card, many Chinese students rented rooms from a home on Welch Avenue, but it is not clear whether Fan Chi Kung had rented this room there as well. The exhibit captures numerous snapshots of student life from the last 150 years, so you never know what cool things you might discover as you go through the exhibit.

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Special Collections and University Archives Reading room while the former exhibit, the Farmers’ Protest, is removed and the new exhibit, We Are ISU, is installed.

The exhibit opens on March 13th in the Reading Room on the 4th floor of Parks Library, Rm. 403. There will be an online exhibit as well, for people who cannot see it in person. If you are interested in learning more about the earliest student life here on campus, come to the lecture:

What: Student Life at Iowa State: 1869-90
Who: Dr. Douglas Biggs, Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Kearney
When: Wednesday, March 13th @ 7 pm
Where: Memorial Union, the Sun Room.

To check out the exhibit, visit the reading room from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday!

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Over the last few months, our preservation lab has had some new faces working alongside the full time staff. Earlier this summer, the Iowa State University Library decided to begin a relationship with the Project SEARCH program. Project SEARCH is a worldwide program that creates work experiences and training for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The project began in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and has been continuing ever since. Participants work in a nine-month unpaid internship where they will learn job skills from three different jobs. The positions are in a real work environment, so that participants can learn how to gain and maintain paying long-term employment in their community. Project SEARCH first came to Iowa in 2011, and since then has been introduced to fourteen locations across the state.

 

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Current Project SEARCH intern Shyanne working on surface cleaning documents in the preservation lab.

While working in the preservation lab, participants have worked closely with Lennox Foundation Intern Cynthia Kapteyn and Conservation Treatment Assistant Mindy Moeller on a number of different tasks throughout the lab. The participants have removed staples from documents, cut folders, worked on book prep by cutting book cloth and linen, cleaned documents, and sorted supplies. So far, the lab has had two interns this year. Each participant is different, so the tasks are adjusted to each person’s skill level. The hands on experience, mentor program, and weekly evaluations help the participants develop skills they may need in future employment opportunities. After finishing their rotation in the preservation lab, they are moved to another area in the library to start their next rotation. Multiple departments in the library are participating in the program, allowing for participants to gain skills from several different types of jobs, from preservation to office work. While this is the first time the university library has been involved with the program, other locations on campus have worked with Project SEARCH before.

For more information on Project SEARCH, check out their website!

Recently, our Lennox Foundation Intern Cynthia Kapteyn  finished working with  conservator Sonya Barron to create a portfolio for a Periodic Table found here on campus. Dr. Wolfgang Kliemann, a member of the Mathematics Department at ISU, requested that the Periodic Table be repaired and preserved so that he could use it in lectures and  demonstrations.

The Periodic Table was made by W. M. Welch Manufacturing Company in 1956.  The print  was found rolled up and stuck deep in a closet in the Ames Lab facility. It had been stored there for many years after being removed from its hanging place on the wall of Gillman Hall’s main lecture auditorium. The heavy weight paper of the print had turned brittle. The print had sustained moisture damage at some point in it’s lifetime and had a few major tears. When measured, it turned out to be H 41 ¼ in x W 57 ¾ inches. Sonya and Cynthia knew that whatever they created to house the table, it was going to have to be large.

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Lennox Foundation Intern Cynthia Katepyn, ISU conservator Sonya Barron, and Dr. Wolfgang Kliemann with the Periodic Table.

With Sonya’s input, Cynthia got to work building a portfolio that would not only house the Periodic Table, but would also work as a display support when Dr. Kliemann was using it during show-and-tells. The table was humidified and flattened and the tears were mended with a heavy-weight Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Once the piece was repaired, hinges were adhered with paste to the reverse side.  These Japanese paper hinges were used to attach the Periodic Table to the portfolio that Cynthia had created.

The portfolio needed to be light enough to carry with ease but still sturdy enough to protect the Periodic Table from future damage. Archival foam core boards, book cloth and cloth sewingse tape were used to create a portfolio that would open and close safely for storage and display.

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Once the frame was constructed, lightweight handles and dust flaps were added. With the handles, the portfolio could be carried from location to location without the worry of needing extra help to move the large piece. After all the work was completed, Sonya and Cynthia delivered the periodic table to Dr. Kliemann, who now has it in his office in Catt Hall.

While working on this blog piece, Sonya thought it might be fun to include some photos of Gilman Hall during the era, during which the periodic table would have been in use! Cynthia found the photo below, and while we thought that we hit the jackpot and found a picture of the actual periodic table, we later realized that there is a slight difference between the lower right hand corners of the tables. However, they are very similar and it is still definitely a cool find!

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Gilman hall, 1961. Photo from Special Collections and University Archives RS 13/6/F, M Box 1053

The preservation department of Parks Library here at Iowa State University offers an internship every year generously funded by the Lennox Foundation with the goal of providing experience and education in preservation work within an academic library to a graduate student or recently graduated student of a preservation or conservation  program. The 2018 recipient of the Lennox Foundation Internship for Preservation Education, Training, & Outreach is Cynthia Kapteyn.

Cynthia grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended high school. After graduation, she went on to study a double bachelor’s program in English and Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. After a winding route of positions, places, and bookbinding
courses, Cynthia packed up her bags and moved to London, England where she enrolled at the University of Arts London. While there, she studied at the Camberwell College of Arts in the Conservation program.

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Lennox Foundation Intern Cynthia Kapteyn

While living in London, Cynthia had many exciting jobs and internships. She held internships at the London Library, The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She applied for the Lennox Foundation Internship because she was looking for a chance to get some hands on experience  in an academic library setting. Since she started at the preservation lab in July, Cynthia has worked on some interesting projects!

Most recently, our conservator Sonya was repairing a very large periodic table from 1956. After Sonya was done stabilizing the piece, Cynthia was able to create a portfolio to house the document in to prevent it from future damage. damage. The portfolio also doubles as a mount for exhibition. In the picture below, you will see Cynthia holding the table after it was mounted into the portfolio that she designed with helpful feedback and advice from the library’s conservator, Sonya Barron..

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Lennox Foundation Intern Cynthia Kapteyn posing with the periodic table that she and our conservator Soyna worked on together.

 

Cynthia has also spent time repairing agricultural pamphlets for our Skromme archive. In the photos below you will see a pamphlet, where Cynthia has mended tears and filled in losses using remoistenable tissue and toned tissue fills.

When Cynthia isn’t at work, she enjoys reading in her spare time. Moving to Ames, Iowa was a bit of an adjustment for her, as Ames is the smallest city she has ever lived in, but she assures us that she is enjoying her time in the midwest! After completing her internship here at ISU, Cynthia hopes to go on to work in a preservation department of another academic library or museum.

Back in March of 2018, our department conservator Sonya wrote a blog piece about the slides and papers in the Hortense Butler Heywood Collection here at ISU. The collection was digitized, and is now online for public viewing. One viewer, Kelli Ireland, stumbled across our piece and the collection while researching her barn in an effort to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kelli reached out to Sonya to let her know that Heywood’s name is quite literally written on her barn!

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“Mrs. R.E. Heywood 8-29-1929” photograph by Kelli Ireland, Clay County, Iowa

Hortense Butler Heywood was a well known entomologist who was born and raised right here in Iowa. She co-authored the book, Handbook of the Dragonflies of North America and is also known for her detailed illustrations of specimens.

Ireland’s family rented the property from Hortense’s daughter Julia for a number of years before purchasing the land. How cool for this family to have such an interesting piece of history in their own yard! Thank you to Kelli for sharing this wonderful information with us, and for allowing us to update our readers!

 

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The Butler Heywood Barn photograph by Kelli Ireland, Clay County, Iowa.