Up All Night: Relaciones Geográficas Take a Road Trip
A librarian and two truckers are on a mission. They will travel for 27 hours, through four states, and at least one of them won’t get much sleep. Their journey involves high-security cargo, a climate-controlled 18-wheeler, and some rare documents from the 16th century. There will be truck stop food, photos with Snapchat filters to document the trip, and, by the end, an invitation to a wedding. View the full article, with photos, here.
Last summer, librarian Brooke Womack was assigned the task of escorting some priceless cargo from the Benson Latin American Collection on a journey from Texas to California. The Huntington in Los Angeles had arranged to borrow four 16th-century documents from the Relaciones Geográficas collection held by the Benson for an exhibition titled Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin. The show is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, a “far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles” that involves collaboration of art institutions across Southern California.
The Relaciones Geográficas, or RGs, are a collection of maps and written questionnaires that were commissioned by the Spanish Crown in 1577 in an attempt to document the population, demographics, languages, terrain, vegetation, and other details of the area known as New Spain. Many of the maps in the collection were created wholly or in part by indigenous artists. The two maps sent to California for display were Guaxtepec (Tepuztlan), Mexico, dated September 24, 1580 (a map of present-day Oaxtepec, Morelos), and Atitlán, Santiago, Guatemala, dated February 1585. The questionnaires are Relación de Metztitlan and Relación de Ixtapalapa.
Womack’s journey to California as “guardian of the RGs” gives us a glimpse into how rare and priceless materials are handled in the world of library and museum lending. She explains that the process of safely packing and transporting the 16th-century documents was extensive and elaborate. “For the crating of the RGs, we used MasterPiece International, who built and packed the crate,” Womack said. “It took them about two weeks prepare the crate, and then they came to the Benson to pack and secure the RGs. We did all of this in the first floor rare stacks. It took roughly an hour to get the crate in, get it packed, and to secure the crate. Then the next week is when we loaded the crate into the truck.”
The trip would surely have been tedious and somewhat stressful, but Womack embraced the long hours on the road and the hourly checks on her precious cargo in its climate-controlled cabin with good cheer. Here are some excerpts from her notes on the journey, accompanied by photos that range from documentary to humorously doctored.
Read the fulll article and view photos via Portal, LLILAS Benson's online magazine: "Up All Night: A Librarian and Two Truckers Travel Cross-Country with 16th-Century Goods"