Works in Progress - Autumn 2012

Preserving the Dead

By Tom Bentley | March 18, 2013

They toured for 30 years, performed more than 2,300 concerts, and invited fans to send them letters. Given the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic pedigree, you might expect the letters to be colorful, and they are. But Day-Glo postcards and airmailed harlequin artwork form only one layer in the collection of rock history curios and chronicles contained in the Grateful Dead Archive, now a permanent exhibit of the McHenry Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Archivist Nicholas Meriwether has processed a third of the original bequests from the band, including recordings, posters, videos, fliers, photographs, and a 14-foot conference table. Additional materials from band members and from former employees, associates, and collectors are being processed as they come in. The inaugural exhibit opened June 29; new ones are to be mounted annually.

Meriwether, formerly the oral historian at the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, says the collection is defined by one-of-a-kind items: “Most emotionally resonant: perhaps a wonderful, two-page letter written by Pigpen’s father, shortly after Pig [the band’s original keyboardist] died, thanking the band for taking care of his son.”

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