Artistry and Archives: Former MASC Volunteer Reflects on Her Experience

“The special thing about working on an archive collection is that everybody who works there is a part of the history. You get to be the person that repairs the object so that someone can see it in 100 years.”

Second-generation WSU alumna Mariah Boyle arrived at WSU in 2010 to pursue a master of fine arts degree in drawing. 

Following her graduation in 2012, she extended her stay at WSU as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Art. She also decided to get involved in her personal interests, which aligned perfectly with the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections department in Terrell Library. 

Boyle said she always gravitated towards paper objects and art history. Her love for paper went hand in hand with her love for drawing, books, and printmaking. 

“I just have more books than anybody else I know,” Boyle jokes. “Even though I didn’t get a degree in art history, it’s always something I’ve been interested in. It seemed like a natural fit to want to be in the library.”

Boyle gained hands-on experience in the MASC department’s basement doing art restoration. She learned how to repair book bindings and to perform small technical work, such as taking out staples and sewing. 

Some of her favorite objects dealt with the Pacific Northwest, travel, tourism, and items belonging to women, Boyle said. Anything small and physical with typography or graphic design caught her eye. Holding something in her hand that someone wrote in, she said, made her feel connected to the past, like she was in the same room as that person. 

“Having access to all of that was such a great experience, especially after graduate school,” Boyle said. “Now I have the needed [technical], intellectual, and research skills.” 

Boyle joined Spokane Falls Community College almost 10 years ago as a full-time faculty member, teaching drawing, design, art history, and foundational work in visual art. Her experience at WSU and MASC continued to influence her. The technical skills she learned from the archives, along with her passion for history, helped her seamlessly integrate into teaching and her personal work. 

“If I have paper tears or problems, I repair them myself using the same methods that I was taught in the archives. I do that for my students, too. If someone’s drawing gets ripped in half, I repair it and show them how to do it,” she said. 

Boyle seeks to build a strong foundation for her students before they start a higher level of study. She said community college is a great fit because it’s a place to start a new adventure. Some of her students transfer from WSU all the way to the Parsons School of Design in New York. 

As an artist, Boyle has been part of Spokane’s Saranac Art Projects for the past 14 years, holding annual shows related to her drawings. She is also considering doing illustrations for a graphic novel.

Recalling her memories from the WSU Libraries, Boyle emphasized the importance of an honest look at history and the role of institutions like MASC in preserving cultural heritage. For current MASC employees, she reflects on collective responsibility and preservation.

“One of the things I got out of [MASC] is that I had a sense of purpose in being somebody who took care of a collection for the future. I felt like my time there was really well spent for that reason,” she said. “It didn’t feel like it was just about me. It felt like I had a bigger goal, like every page that I would fix or every binding I would repair made a difference.”