Don’t miss Mercantile Library’s ‘OK, I’ll Do It Myself’ exhibit and other must-see shows

Dale Evans memorabilia at the St. Louis Mercantile Library

Dale Evans’ scruffy boots and other memorabilia relating to the film and TV star are among 144 items on display through Sunday at the campus library. (Images courtesy of the St. Louis Mercantile Library)

The sheer range of decades-old delights on display at the St. Louis Mercantile Library on any given day makes every single visit an adventure. But if it’s been a while since you’ve explored the library’s subterranean expanse at the University of Missouri­–St. Louis, this week is a particularly great week to stop by.

That’s according to Director John Hoover, who earlier this month filled regional airwaves with excitement over the newly mounted “Headlines of History” show. He talked up the major exhibition on “St. Louis on the Air” during a fascinating conversation with host Don Marsh.

Hoover is also eager to make sure that members of the UMSL campus community and general public get a chance to check out another show – one that comes down after this week.

Calamity Jane

A second edition of the autobiographical “Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane” is part of “OK, I’ll Do It Myself,” which shows the ways in which American women in remote areas and times grappled not only with day-to-day circumstances but also struggled to ensure that their accounts of their experiences saw the light of day.

Titled “OK, I’ll Do It Myself,” the exhibit draws on the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. Meticulously assembled over the course of 45 years, the collection demonstrates the ways in which women grappled with day-to-day circumstances of life in remote times and regions.

“It was a very special experience for the Mercantile’s highly trained curators to display this special collection at the university and to offer its glories for our students to see,” says Hoover. “The Schimmel collection reinforces the Mercantile’s diversified collecting goals related to American history and helps counterpoint mutual interests in gender, women’s and book arts studies for our community.”

Along with memorabilia including sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s travel trunk and gloves and film and TV star Dale Evans’ pink boots, a wide variety of books, photographs and manuscripts currently fill the display on Level 2 of the library. An early edition of Calamity Jane’s autobiography and several different editions of Mary Godfrey’s gruesomely illustrated account of settlement life in 1825 are among them.

Also included, in the tiniest handwriting and using every inch of a 10-by-16-inch page, is an 1840 letter penned by newlywed Myra Eells describing her first year in the Oregon Territory.

Taken as a whole, the exhibit offers not only a glimpse of life in the wilderness but an insightful look at how American women struggled to ensure that their accounts of that life made it into print. And the show marks the first time that the private collection has been brought before the public to enjoy, Hoover adds.

In case “OK, I’ll Do It Myself,” “Headlines of History” and the other on-site exhibits only whet visitors’ appetites, still another Mercantile show is waiting to be explored just a few miles away.

A series of photographs of steamboat, balloon and vintage train travel are on display in St. Louis Lambert International Airport’s Terminal 1, titled “Traveling through Time: Photographs from the collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.”

Enlarged to nearly seven feet tall, the iconic images showcase a ship on the St. Louis waterfront, hot air balloon travel, some of St. Louis’ first female airline pilots, Union Station, a boatman navigating the Mississippi River and an early view of Eads Bridge.

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