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Canadian makes semi-annual pilgrimage to the Ransom Center's galleries

By Alicia Dietrich

Alain Dame visited the exhibition 'Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century' in May. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Alain Dame visited the exhibition 'Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century' in May. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Alain Dame may very well be the Ransom Center’s biggest fan.

The letter carrier from Quebec, Canada, visits the Center about twice a year and spends days (yes, days) in the galleries exploring the exhibitions. In a scenario that exhibition curators can usually only dream about, he takes the time to read every label and studies each item in the exhibition.

Dame first visited the Ransom Center in 1999. At that time, the Center had no gallery space of its own and often mounted small exhibitions in what was essentially a hallway on the fourth floor of the Flawn Academic Center. Dame’s first visit was for an exhibition on Oscar Wilde, and he remembers seeing another exhibition on photographer Eliot Elisofon.

But when the Center completed a renovation and added a gallery space in 2003, it was able to mount in-depth shows drawn from its collections. One of the first exhibitions in the new galleries was Make It New: The Rise of Modernism, and it made quite an impression on Dame: “It was so good,” he said. “It’s my favorite of all time.”

An item from the Arthur Conan Doyle collection caught his eye in the Make it New exhibition because he found it so moving.

“He [Doyle] was into a lot of esoteric things because of his son’s death in the war. He drew the night, and he was so angry that his son died that he was making holes, piercing the paper with his pen. That was a touching one.”

While Dame has an interest in modernism and James Joyce—one he shares with Ransom Center Director and Joyce scholar Thomas F. Staley—his interests range far and wide. He remembers a letter from J. D. Salinger in which the famously reclusive writer thanks a female correspondent for recommending Ovaltine because it helped him sleep.

“I love arts in general,” he said.”I’m crazy about arts.”

And that love is apparent when speaking with him on the topic of the humanities. He speaks knowledgably and eloquently about writers and artists from Joyce, Salinger, and Doyle to Igor Stravinsky, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace.

Dame was here again last week to view Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored and The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925.

Some of his other favorite exhibitions have included On the Road with the Beats from spring 2008 and The Persian Sensation: “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” in the West from spring 2009.


Molly Schwartzburg

As a curator of many exhibitions at the Ransom Center, I can attest to Alain’s wonderful engagement with the exhibitions. Every time I see that he’s back in town, I can’t wait to ask what his favorite item is and what he has found most interesting in an exhibit. What a joy to know there’s someone who reads and thinks about every single exhibition label you have spent hours upon hours crafting! Thanks, Alain!


Again, this man is an encyclopedia! Quebec is proud of you

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