The influx of storage auction attendees in the past couple of years is a reflection of the current status of the American Dream. We all want to get rich- and quick! While many storage units are auctioned off daily, only a few hold objects of true monetary value… and even fewer act as tombs for the invaluable. Such a storage unit was auctioned off recently in Connecticut, inside the unit were documents that were pivotal to American history. Malcolm “Shorty” Jarvis, a musician who was a close confidant of Malcolm X, followed his friend’s career closely and scrap booked his achievements, leaving these treasures to collect dust in a storage unit after his passing. Just over one-thousand documents were purchased by a collector of African American historical artifacts, who then sold the assorted papers and scrap books to the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in Omaha in co-operation with the Black History 101 Mobile Museum in Detroit.
“Once (the buyer) found out that it was of a significant historical nature, he decided then he didn’t want to break the collection up. He wanted to make sure it went to the right home,” said Khalid el-Hakim the man who created the Black History 101 Museum, and whom still curates the museum today. The contents of the storage unit passed hands repeatedly before finally settling in the belonging of the two museums, and will offer a unique glimpse into the life of not only Malcolm X but also Malcolm Jarvis, a close friend of X’s. While the documents contain evidence of Malcolm X and Malcolm Jarvis’s involvement in a 1945 home theft, there is also a scrapbook documenting Malcolm X’s life; a testament to the reverence and respect these friends felt for one another. Such a compendium of information regarding one of the Civil Rights Movements most prominent leaders is an invaluable contribution to museums such as the Black History 101 Mobile Museum as well as the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation. Keep attending auctions in your area and follow your instincts if you have a hunch about a particular unit, you never know what relic is lying buried within.
When one thinks of New York City as captured in classic Black & White, images come to mind from Andy Warhol, Weegee, and Diane Arbus. But one such creator of monochromatic metropolitan imagery almost went unnoticed and unrecognized forever. Deep within the recesses of a storage unit in Chicago, Illinois, a man named John Maloof discovered over 100,000 film negatives, newspaper clippings, letters, and more from one Ms. Vivian Maier. Maier a French-American, grew up in both New York City and France before becoming a nanny in her adulthood, raising the children of newsmakers such as Phil Donahue. Maier’s unique worldview wasn’t limited to her photography (she utilized square compositions, harsh contrast, and close-ups), children she raised remember her as being a “a feminist, a socialist, and an excellent, caring nanny who shepherded them on trips into the city to see art films and into the countryside to explore and forage for strawberries.” While the discovery of Vivian Maier’s images is not the first major find of its kind in the world of photo history, it certainly is a landmark for images procured from a storage auction. Had the system for auctioning off storage units not been in place in Chicago, a photographic virtuoso would have gone uncelebrated for good. Maloof and another Maier collector by the name of Jeff Goldstein, own the majority of the photographers assorted works. Maier not only recorded her life in photographs, but also film and voice recordings, amassing some 200 boxes to her name before her entrance into a retirement home. How many numerous photographers never “struck it big” and await their inevitable acknowledgement and entry into the history books of the art world. The hunt is on to locate the next undiscovered Photo master, and you could be the discoverer with constant vigilance and a discerning eye at your next storage auction.