P ersonal photos, rare album covers, contracts and racks of clothing are among items historians and archivists are preserving to remember Prince Rogers Nelson.
Even notes and memorials left by fans who visited Paisley Park following the rock star’s April 21, 2016 death at his Chanhassen home were saved, according to Angie Marchese, Paisley Park director of archives.
So far 7,500 items have been archived at Paisley Park, not including documents, papers and Prince’s music equipment.
The smallest Post-It notes Prince used to scribble down a phone number or a fleeting thought on are kept, Marchese added. Nothing is thrown out.
“We are always learning and discovering and will be for years,” said Marchese, who has been working at the archives department for 28 years at Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate in Memphis, Tenn.
“We are still discovering things at Graceland — the discovery will never end,” she said.
When Marchese began her work, archivists searched for artifacts to display at Paisley Park. “We had seven weeks until we opened to tours, so we put our eyes on everything to figure out the key pieces,” she said.
“We were in a very fast-paced environment.”
Now, wardrobe pieces for tours such as the Gold Experience and Purple Rain tours will be available to view at Paisley Park on a rotating basis. Most of those pieces were relatively easy to put together, according to Marchese. She noted that Prince had separate wardrobe racks labeled according to the tour and year he wore the clothes.
“That was the biggest surprise was finding that much attention to detail. He was so focused on what he was creating and that he wanted to preserve his past, even when he was alive,” she said.
“We are going to be rotating those displays out … as we are discovering and will be keeping exhibits fresh,” she said. “Paisley Park had a certain vibe about it that it was a living thing. We are maintaining that (vibe) now and it’s still a creative space ... and still what he envisioned it to be.”
Staff at the estate have also installed a black fence inside of the premises for fans to attach memorials and signs. Once filled, the items will be taken down and stored with others.
“We have people that bring stuff in everyday,” Marchese said, adding that items placed on Paisley Park’s fence at the time of Prince’s death help tell the story of what fans felt when he died and are therefore preserved.
“When we first got there, there was a clear vision Prince had for Paisley, which can be seen through his emails and graphics for it,” she said. “The goal was to be always true to his vision and who he was.”
Clothes in wardrobes that aren’t displayed are meticulously placed in acid-free boxes and with acid-free tissue. Nothing is folded, so that they will be seam-free, Marchese said. The items are then marked and are placed into climate-controlled spaces.
Over at the Carver County Historical Society, the collection of Prince artifacts has grown.
Most recently, a friend of Prince donated 18 photos taken between 2004 and 2006 inside Paisley Park that show another side of the artist. The historical society also has albums, videos and books about the musician.
Album covers show the world how he wanted to be perceived, said Carver County Curator of Collections Adam Smith. The personal photos show the inside of the studio when Prince was at ease and in his own private space.
“These photos provide an inside look of what life was like there,” Smith said. “The records have a different look and emit what his public imagery is.”
Like many of the items at Paisley Park, the photos at the historical society are kept in special acid-free sleeves and are handled with white gloves. Bare hands have oils that can potentially degrade the image and the corners can be easily disfigured. When stored, the photos are placed in an acid-free box. Light exposure and humidity will strain the photos and other artifacts, Smith added.
The storage rooms are kept at 45-55 degrees in temperature to ensure that the artifacts will be preserved as well as possible.
The records will likely never be heard. “We already know what’s on there without having to play it,” Smith said. “We want to avoid playing it anytime because if you put it on a record player it can get scratched.”
If it was ever played, there would have to be some research behind it and the historical society would likely seek out an organization that could do it as gently as possible, he added.
The Minnesota Historical Center keeps its artifacts in state-of-the-art storage areas, according to Lori Williamson, Minnesota Historical Society acquisitions and outreach coordinator. A conservation laboratory makes sure the humidity and temperature of the storage areas are correct and employees monitor the rooms on a weekly basis.
Williamson estimates that about 5-8 percent of artifacts are displayed at a time. The famous suit Prince wore in the movie “Purple Rain” (and donated to the center by Prince) was pulled out of storage and displayed at the time of his death.
On display was a contract between the “Purple Rain” production company and Minneapolis music venue First Avenue during the filming of the movie and lyrics to a song handwritten by Prince.
On the daily basis, visitors can flip through artifact photos of the Prince collection, Williamson said.
Although the Prince collection is large, it isn’t as big as many of the other collections of people at the historical center, such as the collection of former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey, she noted.
“The Prince collection is one of the larger ones in terms of impact, I would say,” she said.