The Ferris collection of more than 8000 items is unique in the Western world and there can be no question that its presence at USC has an immediate, global significance. Tom and Jeri Ferris set out to try and unravel the mystery of a nation and regime that dominated the political and social evolution of the 20th century and their extraordinary collection reflects this noble aspiration. This collection also constitutes a precious and unprecedented research tool: this vast assemblage of books, journals, documents, photographs, recordings, banners, and material items of high and low culture provides rich and diverse data essential to a multifaceted and objective appreciation of what used to be the USSR. Beginning in 1970 Jeri Ferris and her late husband, Tom Ferris , made over thirty trips to the USSR, acquiring items which, they felt, expressed the spirit and achievement of Soviet culture whether that be a coffee-table album celebrating Stalin, a survey of the Moscow metro, a cigarette-case, an abacus, a school uniform, a portrait of a Party leader, a porcelain figurine or plate carrying Stalin or Kirov, a KGB ID, a panorama of the Soviet army, a vintage photograph of Lenin, a partisan's how-to manual, a dissident painting, a caricature of Brezhnev, a money-box in the form of Gorbachev, etc.

The material artifacts of Soviet culture: fine arts, decorative arts, graphic design, and ephemera are repositories of many stories, documenting the motivations, opinions, intentions, and ideas of the people who lived under communism and watched the life cycle of an ideology from its birth in revolution to its unexpected end under Gorbachev. The Ferris collection of Sovietica incorporates the elements of daily life, as well as the iconic symbols of communism, examined as a whole, it provides invaluable insights that cannot be found in written documentation; the strength of the material is reflected in its multidisciplinary approach to looking at objects as both agents and expressions of change. No component of Soviet life is left unexamined:  it is a vast assemblage of objects that include journals, paintings, books, prints, industrial and decorative art objects, toys, and ephemera. With the accession of this collection, the IMRC hopes to engender an appreciation of ordinary objects and enhance the understanding of how objects and mass-produced images have been used to effect social, political, and technological change in Russia. We hope that as a result of exposure to this unique material, our students will become better critical thinkers and have a more clear understanding of the Soviet culture as a whole. It is important to understand that this collection is unique and represents both the vision of its collectors and Soviet culture in a way that cannot be replicated or reproduced. At this time the collection has yet to be fully documented and the true value of the collection has yet to be fully ascertained. With its emphasis on both high Stalin culture and on everyday life, the collection is unmatched in its variety, scope, and rarity. Beyond that, perhaps one of the most dramatic dimensions of the collection is that, on the one hand, it illuminates the history of America's - and Capitalism's -- strongest rival and also demonstrates how pervasive and omnipresent its ideological propaganda was; in no small degree, the collection tells us of the invasiveness of political dictatorship and the fragility of democracy.


Composition of the Collection

The Ferris collection has three separate components: materials related to the cult of Stalin (banners, medals, ceramics, statuary, commemorative albums, and propaganda), Gorbachev and perestroika ( lithographs, paintings, pamphlets, newspapers, books), and daily life ( toys, ephemera, posters, mass produced items. While a complete inventory of the Ferris collection has yet to be made, a conservative estimate of the various sections (ca. 3000 books and journals, 2000 photographs and prints, 80 banners and flags, 200 paintings, etc.) would produce a total of ca. 8000 items:

1) Printed materials include: monographs, catalogs, and periodicals include pre-Revolutionary materials (e.g. women's magazines of 1914, caricature journals of 1905), original avant-garde editions, deluxe Stalin folios, year calendars of 1920 onwards, presentation and anniversary editions (on the Revolution, WW2, aviation, Moscow architecture, etc.), music programs, Stalin's speeches and writings, books about Soviet Russia such as travelers' tales, a substantial selection of US periodicals such as Time, Look, and Life from the 1940s onwards (featuring articles on Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, etc. -- and, incidentally, a major resource for American historians). Many of these items were published in limited editions and in some cases were withdrawn from circulation and/or destroyed (especially after Khrushchev's formal condemnation of Stalin in 1956) and are now bibliographical rarities, commanding high prices in the open market. In addition, there is a large assortment of modern, English-language books about Soviet literature, art, theater, and everyday life that would serve as an excellent reference library and contextual framework.

2) Photographs and other illustrative materials. The Ferris' acquired many photographs and other kinds of reproductions concerned with the Soviet Union, most dating from the 1970s, of political leaders, street scenes, construction sites, collective farms, etc. In addition, this documentary section is supplemented by numerous printed ephemera such as Russian and Soviet passports, announcements, how-to-books (including The Partisans' Manual), official passes, programs, didactic panels, certificates, phonograph records, and correspondence. In a society that equated individual worth with collective contribution, such documents of affiliation are of major importance to the historian - and yet they are exactly the kind of flimsy, transient material that tends to be thrown away or disregarded.

3) Three-dimensional objects. Among the highpoints of the Ferris collection are the many objects in porcelain, textiles, metal, and wood. These include busts of Lenin, Stalin, Kirov and other political leaders, propaganda plates and figurines, highly ornate flags and banners used for May Day and other demonstrations, and children's toys. The countless minutiae include coins, medals, medallions, badges, clips, matreshki, many dating from 1930-60.

4) Curios. Although the collection as a whole is, by its very nature, exceptional and unconventional, its wroth is enhanced even more by certain items which, at first glance, might seem to be casual anomalies, but which in their unexpectedness tell us how universal the Soviet style was: a teapot celebrating the White Sea Canal, the bugle and drum of a Young Pioneer (Soviet boy scout), a schoolgirl's pinafore and satchel, a Georgian chased metal plague of Stalin, a steel purse for coin denominations, toy cars and airplanes. Such curios demonstrate immediately that it was not only high culture that received the imprimatur of the Party doctrine, but also the profane things of everyday.

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