“I’ve always wanted to work in a library or archives,” Foster says. “I’m interested in keeping and maintaining and taking care of a collective memory of a place.”
Foster started work May 13 as the State Archives’ new archival assistant for conservation. He works closely with Curator Julienne Crawford to make sure records, documents and artifacts are preserved for future generations.
The State Archives has millions of documents, images, books and artifacts, forming the largest holdings on Arkansas history and culture in the world.
Foster, who moved from Chicago back home to Arkansas last year, said he had been looking for something that would use his artistic talents while also allowing for his professional development and education. The Archives is a perfect fit, he said.
“I’m excited,” Foster says. “I like it a lot.”
Foster is among three recent hires at the Archives. Emily Summers and Wesley Oliver recently started as contracted workers to do much-needed archival work, Crawford said. On a recent Thursday, Summers finished scanning and digitizing post-Civil War voting records, while Oliver scanned index cards with information about Arkansas soldiers who served in the Mexican War. Both said they are excited to join the State Archives.
The new employees are a great asset to the State Archives, which has seen an increase in donations of material, said Wendy Richter, director and state historian. County courthouses, private individuals and other state agencies have been donating more records, she said. The conservation work Foster does is vital to maintaining those records so they can be made or kept accessible to the public, Richter said.
“Our staff members are at the forefront of preserving Arkansas’s history and heritage,” Richter says. “The archival assistant for conservation position is extremely important. I feel Hunter is more than capable and is a great fit for us because of his attention to detail, passion for history and skill as a working artist.”
With a degree from the Arts Institute of Chicago, Foster comes with a strong background in arts. He also has an art studio in Little Rock where he focuses on sculpture, painting and textile works. His artistic skills fit into a job meant to repair and maintain items, like books, documents and maps. The key, Foster said, is to preserve the material for public use while keeping the original appearance.
Foster said his education and work as an artist has helped him develop focus and patience. The repair process, like the page-by-page repairs he finished recently, are delicate and tedious. Foster spends hours poring over 100-year-plus materials. On a recent workday, he plugged in a Bonnie Raitt album while he finished work on the “Official Army Registry for 1865.”
Work at the State Archives is satisfying, but Foster already has plans to improve himself. He wants to take professional development courses and do his own research, including checking out Archives’ textile collection. “I want to learn and expand the skills I already have,” Foster said.