With a merci to the Weatherspoons,
the André Savine collection comes to Carolina
In her 22 years as curator at Carolina, Zilper created an in-depth collection of various materials from the third wave of the emigration - much of which was purchased from Savine. Their mutual respect grew into a professional relationship that lasted for 20 years.
"When André became ill, he asked me to come to Paris for a visit," Zilper said.
Savine died a year later in 1999, leaving his wife, Svetlana, at a complete loss.
"Mme. Savine wanted to keep the business going on her own but realized she didn't have the knowledge to do so," said Zilper. "She approached three libraries to buy the collection in part: The British Museum Library, the National German Library in Berlin and the University Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. I rejected the notion of buying only part of the collection. It would be all or nothing and at that time, we had no money."
But the University did have an interest. Zilper was sent to Paris to meet with Mme. Savine. Their conversations quickly revealed a double entendre.
"When Mme. Savine talked about the collection, I thought she was referring to the stock on the shelves of Le Bibliophile Russe. This was not the case," Zilper said.
Mme. Savine took Zilper to her apartment and showed her André's private collection, amassed over 30 years - rare editions, archival materials and documents from 1917 to the present. "It took my breath away," Zilper said. "It was amazing what they had in there - and more was stored around Paris. I came back to the states determined to bring the entire collection to Carolina, and if not, to find a good home for it. As a curator, I couldn't let it disappear."
According to Zilper, the value of the Savine collection lies in the assembling of so many items in one library. "Moreover, it contains a significant number of monographic and serial titles not held by any institution in the world - particularly full runs of serials," she said.
As Nadia Zilper was getting to know the Savine collection, Kay and Van Weatherspoon of Charlotte were getting to know Nadia. Kay Weatherspoon was a long-time member of the Friends of the Library board. Her husband, Van, was an avid supporter. Although the Weatherspoons attended many Friends lectures and presentations over the years, a speech given by Zilper on her experiences in the Soviet Union really attracted their attention.
"It intrigued me that she was working for Carolina and traveling back to Russia when the Soviet Union fell apart to buy books at pennies on the dollar," Van Weatherspoon said. "It was farsighted on her part-and on the University's part."
Joe Hewitt, director of the University Library, calls Zilper's trips a "margin of excellence activity."
"Endowment income gave us the flexibility to send Nadia to Moscow and Paris where she could get better deals on books. And it facilitated her relationship with the Savines," he said. "But just as important was the relationship she developed with the Weatherspoons."
The Weatherspoons began to make unrestricted donations to be used at the behest of the University Library. Because of their interest in Nadia's work, the library designated those funds to Slavic resources. Van Weatherspoon also asked Zilper to let him know if she had any special projects. "He and Kay started to monitor our activities in the best sense of the word," she said.
When the Savine collection was offered to UNC, Zilper let the Weatherspoons know. She and Michele Fletcher, director of development for the University Library, went to Charlotte as guests of the Weatherspoons to share the information they had gathered.
"We had fundraising in mind," Fletcher said, "but Van said they weren't ready to give again to Carolina; however, he did invite us to come visit them and discuss fund-raising strategy."
Around the dinner table, Fletcher, Zilper and the Weatherspoons discussed the value of the collection to students and researchers interested in 20th century Russian history and Russian emigration. The next morning, Nadia set up a PowerPoint presentation she had put together. According to Fletcher, all didn't go as planned.
"As we were getting started, Van said, 'How long is the PowerPoint going to take? Nadia said she didn't know and I had a sinking feeling that Van needed to run off to a meeting. Nadia rushed through her presentation showing some of the highlights.
Then, in an off-hand manner, Van said 'Kay and I already decided last night that the Savine collection needs to come to Chapel Hill. And we will make it happen.'"
The Weatherspoons wanted to position Carolina as one of the world's top sites for research in the field of 20th century Russian history and emigration. "Anyone with a UNC degree has the obligation to do what he or she can do in order to maintain and hopefully improve the competitive position of the University," Weatherspoon said.
"Obtaining the Savine collection places Carolina - by far - in the number one position for research on this topic. Since no new materials of the same magnitude are likely to be discovered in the future, Carolina will continue to maintain this top position. In short, we didn't want to see the University pass up this wonderful opportunity."