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Office Space

In the past few months, it’s become quite trendy to declutter your space and get rid of your stuff.

July 24, 2019
Office Space name plates.

In the past few months, it’s become quite trendy to declutter your space and get rid of your stuff. So trendy, in fact, that in February, thrift stores reported seeing an overwhelming increase in donations. But whether they bring you joy or not, the things you collect over time help tell the story of your life. You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their space, and that’s why we decided to get to know these four professors by taking a peek inside their home away from lecture hall — their campus offices.

Wendy Crone
Professor of Engineering Physics, College of Engineering
Office Space: 543 Engineering Research Building, 1500 Engineering Drive
Joined UW faculty in 1998; in current office since 2004.

For Wendy Crone, an office isn’t so much a workplace as a storehouse for memories. “The office is just a box,” she says. “Everything in it — that’s all me.” Each item — paintings and clay and books and cabinets, organic and inorganic matter — is a key to a memory. Friends and family members and former students are all represented. “Everything here, it’s a connection to people or things that I care about.” After 20 years on the UW faculty, Crone has accumulated a lot of keys on her memory keychain, and even the most random-seeming object might unlock the tale of someone who influenced her life.

Rescue PlantsThe windows in Crone’s corner office are almost fully obscured by leaves and stalks of plants that have turned her sills to jungle. But don’t ask her genus or species. “I have a garden at home, but I’m not really a specialist,” she says of her many plants. “I don’t know the technical names of any of them. They’re rescues — adoptees, I guess. The plants all came from people I know who have left.” The makeshift container garden includes an aloe that’s at least two decades old and a “vine thing” that is descended from a plant that once threatened to engulf the entire TA office at Engineering Hall.

Sheared Spline

Sheared Spline
To the average eye, this rusty metal cylinder is nothing more than … a rusty metal cylinder. But when Crone’s husband spotted it while hiking near an old mine in rural Wisconsin, he knew he’d found something that would interest her. “It’s a broken spline from a mining cart,” Crone says. “It’s used to transfer torque, and it failed due to shear stress.” Those sentences involve a lot of engineering words, which is why Crone was so taken with it. A spline is a shaft with a series of grooves that fits into a gear and enables that shaft to turn a wheel (i.e., to transfer torque). Shear stress is pressure that runs along the cross section of a material (like, say, a drive shaft) and can cause it to break. “I’ve used this in class to illustrate principles of materials science,” Crone says.

Book collection in office space.

Books“I worked in a library when I was an undergraduate,” Crone says. “I love books.” While the digital age, with electronic journals and online bookstores, has its advantages, she mourns the disappearance of the physical search for the right reading material: “I miss browsing in bookstores. I miss browsing in libraries, too.” Those walls in Crone’s office that aren’t full of plants are covered by books. These include not only monographs on materials science, but also her undergraduate calculus textbook; copies of Survive and Thrive, a handbook she wrote for untenured faculty; and copies of the science fiction journal Analog.

Jordan Rosenblum
Professor of Classical Judaism, Center for Jewish Studies, College of Letters & Science Office Space: 230 Bradley Memorial Building, 1225 Linden Drive
Joined UW faculty in 2008; in current office since 2017.

Jordan Rosenbaum’s office is deceptively neat. His last office, he hints, was as unruly as the beard that stretches below his collar. (“This is my Bolshevik beard, my revolutionary beard,” he says. “In old Russia, you grow a beard like this, and then when the authorities are on to you, you shave it off, and no one recognizes you.”) But when his department moved him, he was forced to neaten up his space, if not his chin.

Two guitars in office.

In a stand to the right of his desk, Rosenblum keeps an electric guitar and a bass. The instruments aren’t just decorative testament to a hobby; they’re also how he clears his head between professorial obligations. “Fifteen minutes before class or a meeting, or when I’m trying to do research, I can I can play a little, and it relaxes me,” he says. “This is why I have an electric guitar. I can plug it into my computer and play, and I can hear it, and it doesn’t bother anyone else.”

Today, Rosenblum is a member of a band that might be called Sounds Reasonable, though the group hasn’t yet agreed on a name. They play “a lot of cheesy ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s songs,” he says. “Things we listened to when we were kids; things we can all play and be reliably in tune. We get up and jam, and it’s therapy.”

The instruments are often a conversation piece; the red guitar, he notes, is a Les Paul. “He’s a Wisconsin guy, right?” he says. “Anyway, you know how it is: when you’re in high school, everyone’s in a garage band, and no one thinks it’s interesting; when you’re in college, if you have a guitar, you’re slightly more interesting; if you have a guitar when you’re an adult, you’re genuinely interesting.”

A Rabbinic Literature Collection.

Rabbinic Literature Collection
Rosenblum’s walls are lined with bookshelves that stretch nearly to the ceiling, many of which are — unsurprisingly — full of titles in Hebrew: commentaries on the Talmud and Torah. One of the reasons why there are so many books in Rosenblum’s office is that he isn’t allowed to have them at his house. “My wife and I have a deal,” he says. “I can buy as many books as I want, as long as I never bring them home.”

Sherry Tanumihardjo

Director of Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health, Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Agricultural & Life Sciences Office Space: 273 Nutritional Sciences Building, 1415 Linden Drive Joined UW faculty in 1999; in current office since 2011.

Sherry Tanumihardjo’s fireplace with bas-relief depictions on the mantel of Mother Goose and nursery rhymes such as “Jack and Jill,” and “Jack Be Nimble,” as well as Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol.

FireplaceThe most notable feature of Sherry Tanumihardjo’s office is a fireplace with bas-relief depictions on the mantel of Mother Goose and nursery rhymes such as “Jack and Jill,” and “Jack Be Nimble,” as well as Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol. Located in what was formerly the Mary Cornelia Bradley Hospital for the Study of Children’s Diseases, the room “was set up as a way for parents to say goodbye to their dead child,” she says. The office also has an inset in the wall the size of a small casket where the children’s bodies were placed. The room sat empty for many years until Tanumihardjo became the director of the Certificate in Global Health program. She then requested the office because of its medical history. “Suddenly, it meant more to me,” she says.

“I like it and students like it,” she adds. “I renovated it a little bit. I have it set up kind of like a living room, so when students come in, they can sit on the comfy couch.” A buffet table that Tanumihardjo brought from home now graces the casket area. When visitors see the office, Tanumihardjo says, “They’re kind of like, ‘Wow.’ And there are stories of ghosts, but not in this room.” An emeritus professor informed her that the alleged ghosts were actually on the fourth floor. “I personally have never seen a ghost in this building,” she says.
Tom Jones
Professor of Photography, Art Department, School of Education Office Space: 1242 Art Lofts, 111 N. Frances Street Joined UW faculty in 2005; in current office since 2010.

Inside a gray building, down a gray hallway, and behind two gigantic gray doors, is Tom Jones’ office. After navigating the ironically cold halls of the Art Lofts, Jones’ office welcomes visitors with an explosion of primary colors, jubilant patterns, and delicate textures. “Mainly, this is where I get my work done,” says Jones. He also meets with his graduate students in the space; in addition to teaching some standard courses, Jones also works with independent-study students.

A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Jones works to examine and celebrate the American Indian experience through his art. The shelves of his office are so full of antique toys, signs, and other trinkets representing Native Americans that his space almost doubles as a museum of representations. “We’ve kind of been erased ...” Jones pauses. “Even within the culture — within television and media,” he says. “It’s important to know your history. The way that we’ve been represented is kind of harsh, but just keeping it out there [is important] so people are aware.”

Cut-out photos
“It’s nice that I already had this laid out!” Jones laughs when asked what he’s currently working on. Lined up on a large table in the center of the room are rows of the same vintage photo: a white man and woman posing for the camera. But in each photo, the man’s suit is a different beadwork pattern. While antiquing — one of Jones’ favorite hobbies — he found the photo of the couple, and the man’s suit had been cut out. “Originally, I bought it because I thought it would be good for the darkroom [students] to do photograms with. But then I placed it on my pants after I bought it, and thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool!’” He recreates the moment by holding the card down so his dark denim becomes the fabric of the man’s suit. “There’s a big thing going around about cultural appropriation of native designs. So, I’m literally just laying [the cutout] on top.”

"People of the Big Voice" book on desk in office.

One of the objects in his studio that Jones is the proudest of is a book that he worked on — People of the Big Voice. The book compiles photographs of Ho-Chunk families taken by Charles Van Schaick (1879–1942), who lived Black River Falls, Wisconsin— the seat of government for the Ho-Chunk Nation. “They asked me to come look at the images,” says Jones, “and I said ‘You’d better have a Ho-Chunk working on these.’ Little did I know I was going to be the one.” Jones gathered a group to write essays for the book, and he worked with Ho-Chunk elders and tribal genealogist George Greendeer to identify the people in the photos; in the end, more than 90 percent of the individuals were identified. Identification was difficult, because the Ho-Chunk tribe had been separated and displaced again and again during the 1800s. “They moved us many places, but we ended up in Nebraska. I want to say they moved us about seven times — North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota — all within the removal periods of the 1800s. The Ho-Chunks [in the book] are the ones who kept returning.” Whereas much of Jones’ current work focuses on showing positive representations of his culture, People of the Big Voice gave him a chance to help bolster its history. “This is why I do this kind of work,” he says.

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