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Pursuing Her Passions

Bancroft Library Curator Bonnie Hardwick Heads for New Mexico

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted August 19, 1998

"You discover what your real passion is when you find time for it no matter how busy you are," says Bonnie Hardwick, who will retire from Bancroft Library Sept. 1. At 55, she says, "I've come to a point in my life when I no longer want to 'fit in' my passions. Now is the time to let them flourish."

Curator for Western Americana at the Bancroft, Hardwick will move to her 18th-century adobe home in Santa Fe, N.M. to paint sacred icons, do photography, and write a book about Richard Kern's drawings of the 1853 Gunnison Expedition, which surveyed possible railroad routes to the Pacific.

"This plan has been a long time in the making," says Hardwick, "but I didn't want to leave Bancroft just as a new director was taking over and with so many projects unfinished. Now, with the library in better fiscal shape, I know that my position will be filled."

In the interim, Hardwick attended the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) to pursue a Master of Theological Studies degree as a way of healing after the death of her husband.

"His death taught me that life is such a fragile gift, and that if you've got a dream, you should follow it if you can," she says.

Hardwick received her MTS last May. Her thesis was "Santos of the Southwest: The Iconographic Tradition." She will continue work on the subject in New Mexico and plans to return to the GTU next summer to lecture on the topic.

Hardwick came to library work in a rather roundabout way.

With a doctorate in American literature, she had originally intended on an academic career. However, she discovered while working at Denver Public Library, that what she really loved -- one-to-one contact, helping students and researchers reach a goal -- was best accomplished as a research librarian.

She returned to school for a master's in Librarianship and Information, and worked as a manuscripts librarian at Denver Public Library, until 1985 when she came to Berkeley to head the manuscripts division at Bancroft.

At Bancroft Hardwick has won grants for important projects including "Bancroft Library Manuscripts Retrospective Conversion and Access Improvement Project," "Documenting 100 Years of Conservation: The Sierra Club Records," "Preservation of the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records," and "The Disabled Persons' Independence Movement: The Formative Years in Berkeley, California. A Research and Documentation Project."

"Grants are needed for the bigger, visionary projects," she says. "Money from the state barely pays for the day-to-day work of making collections accessible." She will continue as a consultant in archives and historical research, she says.

"I hate to leave," says Hardwick. "I really love the university and the Bancroft. I will always be dedicated to the Bancroft collections. I'm emotionally tied to the place -- that makes leaving difficult.

"I have a wonderful position here -- one of the best in the U.S.," she continues. "Bancroft is by far the most-used special collection in the country. Seldom do I look through an out-of-print catalog and find something we don't have. But maybe it's time for someone new to take over, someone with new ideas, new energy."

Asked what she will miss most, Hardwick answers, "collegial relations with staff, faculty, and researchers."

But New Mexico calls. "It's a spiritual center for me," says Hardwick. "I feel at home there -- the landscape feeds my creative spirit."

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