He could have chosen a Minnesota home for his archives and it would have surprised no one. His hometown of Hibbing was probably a bit too small to house the scholars and Dylan fans from every part of the world that would have made the trip. Duluth, the city of his birth, certainly could have handled any number of visitors and the University of Minnesota, with its main campuses in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, would have welcomed the prestige of housing the archives of its home-grown Nobel laureate. It was there he made the transition from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan while playing in folk music coffeehouses in Dinkytown near the campus.
But he decided instead to accept the offer of Tulsa, Oklahoma to host his archives, including hand-written lyrics, book manuscripts, vinyl records, acetates, test pressings, rare photographs, drawings, paintings and other long sought after music memorabilia in a place only an hour north of his idol Woody Guthrie’s birthplace. It made perfect sense.
Dylan’s personal collection of memorabilia, the enduring evidence of a career that has lasted for more than six decades (and shows no sign of ending soon) is largely available to researchers and is being gathered at the Gilcrease Museum’s Helmrich Center for American Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Thanks to the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa, future generations will have access to a vast archive of more than 6000 pieces of Dylan's unmatched treasure trove of memorabilia. Much of it will be housed in Gilcrease Museum’s Helmerich Center for American Research, along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a collection of Native American art, and the papers of Oklahoma’s own Woody Guthrie. The archive will be accessible for academic study and curated by the museum for public exhibitions. The Dylan archives include hours of studio sessions, film reels, and stacks of unpublished lyrics.
The New York Times reports that The Dylan collection will include the newly acquired and long sought after notebooks Dylan used while writing the songs for his 1975 album Blood on the Tracks that many consider among his finest recordings. Prints of never-before-seen photographs, poems, and works of art will also be accessible. Transferring the entire archive may take roughly two years.
The memorabilia and other material of historical importance will be permanently housed at the museum, but exhibits will eventually be mounted in Tulsa's Brady Arts District, near the museum honoring Guthrie that opened in 2013. In 2011, Guthrie's archives had also been acquired by the George Kaiser Family Foundation in 2011 at a cost of $3 million, and the Woody Guthrie Center is a fitting neighbor for the Dylan Center. Acquiring Guthrie's archives and housing them in Tulsa was an important factor in the acquisition of the Dylan archive, according to Steadman Upham, the president of the University of Tulsa, who helped make both acquisitions a reality.
"Getting Woody back to Oklahoma created a foundation that began to explore the rich musical history of this city," he said. "I believe it was all those things together. Bob Dylan did not want this to be another thing on the shelf; he wanted this to be special."
The archives will also hold the master tapes of Dylan’s recordings, as well as rare outtakes, hundreds of hours of film and video material, including filmmaker Murray Lerner’s Festival from 1965, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1967), and Dylan’s Eat the Document (1971). Other original film footage of Renaldo & Clara (1978), Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2006) and a host of music videos will also be available for research and for periodic showings.
The archival material is said to have been purchased for between $15 and $20 million. It is expected to provide a unique insight into Dylan’s creative process and “it’s going to start anew the way people study him," according to Sean Wilentz, a prominent historian, and author of Bob Dylan in America.
The curator of the archive, Michael Chaiken said Tulsa's reputation as a working-class city and a crossroads for several genres of music make it an ideal choice to house Dylan's archive rather than much larger cities or institutions that lobbied for the acquisition. "With everything with Bob, it's a little bit of a sideways move," Chaiken said in an interview. "No disrespect to one of the Ivy League schools, but I think there's something endearing about it going to Tulsa and not going to an Ivy League school."
Chaiken spent months searching through stacks of boxes at Dylan's New York office and offsite storage facilities. "So many people have written about that enigma of Dylan. I don't feel like at any point the mystery was solved by looking at this stuff. But what it did do was bring into relief just how disciplined and serious he was as a writer."
Chaiken has only begun to dip into the hundreds of hours of raw Dylan recording sessions, but he's already come across a completely different version of 1997's Time Out of Mind, produced by the late Jim Dickinson, who had long denied it existed. Chaiken also has heard the complete John Wesley Harding sessions. "It's such a mysterious record. I heard a couple of alternate takes of 'All Along The Watchtower' that were, to me as a fan, just incredible. The collection is going to continue to grow," says Chaiken. "As Bob continues to tour, there's going to be more stuff that's added."
Dylan's complete recording sessions were kept in Iron Mountain, an underground, climate-controlled facility and have been digitized for public access. Sony has retained the rights to the material and will likely release it to the public as volumes of Dylan’s Bootleg Series. The Tulsa facility will own the physical tapes.
Author and historian Douglas Brinkley is presently researching the archive in preparation for his new book, Dusty Sweatbox Blues: Bob Dylan and the Open Road 1974-1978, according to a recent press release. The book is said to focus on Dylan’s albums Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, Desire, and Street Legal, all from the mid-70s.
KOSU, Tulsa’s NPR affiliate, reports that “Guggenheim Fellow and TU Chapman Professor of English Randall Fuller is currently examining the archive’s rich trove of manuscripts and rare audio and video for a book-length study that examines the relationship between Dylan and African-American music.
“The Bob Dylan Archive is an invaluable resource for this project,” said Fuller. “I’m discovering so many revelations in the songwriter’s exploration of blues, gospel, and soul forms. Without access to the Archive, my book would be all but impossible.”
Dylan, who's originally from Minnesota, said in a recent statement that he's glad the archives found a home and the Tulsa location makes a lot of sense, "to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American Nations. It's a great honor," Dylan said in a statement.
Now there is a reason to visit Tulsa we’ve never had before.