Underlying all of our work at Theodore Payne Foundation is preservation: preservation of biodiversity, preservation of California’s landscapes, and preservation of Theodore Payne’s legacy. We learned long ago that the best way to keep precious things safe is to share them widely – the more plants there are and the more people who care about them, the less chance that they will be threatened with destruction.
Theodore Payne’s personal papers have been under the stewardship of the Foundation for decades, tucked away in the headquarters building. The archives have been looked after and well preserved for decades, especially after former Board President John Wickham took them under his care. John organized and labeled the collection, housed it safely in archival folders and boxes, and refurbished a spare room into a secure storage area.
The Theodore Payne Collection consists of Mr. Payne’s personal and professional papers, including records of his 59 years as a nurseryman in Los Angeles, his landscape design practice, and his tireless work to promote California native plants. The materials date from circa 1872 to 1963. Mr. Payne’s books and nursery catalogs are also part of the collection.
There are two clear reasons for our decision to move the archives: to make them accessible to researchers and to keep them safe. Theodore Payne, although beloved by many, is rather obscure outside the world of California native plant enthusiasts. With access to his archives, scholars will help Mr. Payne take his place alongside his peers, including his collaborator and noted landscape architect Ralph Cornell. With wildfires causing TPF to evacuate twice in 2017, keeping the archives safe shifted from being an abstract motivation to a priority.
Before a research institution could reasonably expect to assess the archives, we needed a finding aid, or general guide to the materials of the collection. When an opportunity came up in 2016 through LA as Subject (LAAS), I was delighted. LAAS is a consortium of archives that hold collections about the history of Los Angeles. Through funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, LAAS sponsored visiting archivists at collecting institutions around town. I applied for the program and Amelia Parks was assigned to our site, and she created the first finding aid for the collection.
With the finding aid in hand and memory of recent evacuations top of mind, I started looking for a suitable repository for Theodore Payne’s archives. Last fall, one of my long-term goals was fulfilled when one of our precious charges moved to a safe, new home. UCLA Special Collections was thrilled to have Mr. Payne’s papers. Ralph Cornell’s papers are already housed there, so researchers looking into the work of either will have ready access to both. Mr. Payne’s papers are available by appointment and, in time, we hope UCLA will be able to make them available online. As an act of stewardship, deeding Theodore Payne’s archives is a step that assures the growth of his reputation and the endurance of his legacy.