Kamran Javadizadeh, an assistant professor in the English Department at Villanova University, visited the Ransom Center this fall to conduct research for his current book project, “Bedlam & Parnassus: The Institutionalization of Midcentury American Poetry.”
The idea for Javadizadeh’s book began when he discovered that Ezra Pound and Elizabeth Bishop could both see the U.S. Capitol from their very different positions in 1950—one was a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital and the other the poet laureate. He argues that the combination of these two poets creates an understanding of what poetry meant culturally and societally in post-war America. While at the Ransom Center, Javadizadeh studied the Robert Lowell and Ezra Pound collections.
Javadizadeh’s work was jointly funded by the Frederic D. Weinstein Memorial Fellowship and the Dorot Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Jewish Studies, as part of the Ransom Center’s fellowship program.
The performing arts collection at the Harry Ransom Center includes a remarkable set of theater backdrops, all in miniature. This collection of 112 backdrops, along with other free-standing scene elements, depicts grand symbolic imagery: Egyptian landscapes, biblical imagery, grand architecture, and even catacombs. These scenes were created to support the theatrical rituals, or degrees, of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. But why are they miniature? The model-sized drops were used by a salesman to market stage scenery to Masonic temples, and the small size allowed for ease of transportation.
The model—and the corresponding full-sized scenes—was produced around 1900 by Sosman & Landis Studio, specialists in scenic art. The drops are painted in gouache onto paper illustration board. Some of the paperboards are cut to resemble “cut drops” and “leg drops,” scenic drop elements used further upstage from the backdrop to create depth of field for the audience. The collection is housed in a wooden travel trunk. Each drop has a wooden slat nailed along its top edge, and this slat allowed the drop to hang from two rails secured into the trunk. Because the drops were packed fairly tightly together in the trunk, they suffered damage over the years. To remove a drop, it had to be pulled up and out of the trunk, dragging against the adjacent drops in the process. This caused breaking of the sometimes-complex paperboard cutouts as well as rubbing and scraping of the paint layer. Many of the drops became partially detached from their wooden slats, and all were dirty from many years of settling dust and grime.
In the summer of 2014, paper conservation intern Rémy Dreyfuss began a project to conserve this beautiful example of turn-of-the-century theater technology. To begin, Rémy surveyed the entire collection, taking note of the condition of and photographing each item. He created a database to organize the descriptive data, condition information, and treatments performed on each item. The database links each item’s description to its corresponding digital image. Rémy surface-cleaned each drop using a soft brush and dry rubber sponge. He secured the boards that had become detached from their slats. He did not use nails for the re-attachment, but instead used small gussets of Japanese paper adhered in place with wheat starch paste. The gussets allow attachment to the wooden slat without unwanted stress on the paperboard. Rémy mended breaks and tears, again with archival quality Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.
Rémy also designed, along with Apryl Voskamp, Head of Preservation, a new storage system for the models. The updated storage allows better access to the materials, while minimizing risk of future damage. Though the drops will be stored in the new housing, the original travel trunk will remain a part of the collection.
In addition to the drops, this collection includes a small-scale stage. The drops can be arranged here to show the dramatic effect of the layered elements of backdrop, cut drop, leg drop, and border. Rémy completed his project by photographing the groups of drops in place on the stage, as they would be viewed during a performance.
Until now, these materials were almost inaccessible to curators and researchers because of their unstable condition. With the conservation treatment completed, the miniature scenery can be handled safely and made available for research.
As a final note, the Ransom Center is only a few blocks from a Scottish Rite Theater on West 18th Street in Austin. The theater houses, and still uses, an original collection of Sosman & Landis stage drops, the full-sized drops that the Ransom Center models represent. The Center’s conservation staff visited the theater to view the stage scenery and to get a backstage tour of the scenery collection and how it is used during performances.
The Harry Ransom Center announces the appointment of Gerald W. Cloud as its Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts.
Cloud will be responsible for overseeing the Ransom Center’s extensive holdings of early books and manuscripts, including promoting access to, and use of, the collections and interpreting them for varied audiences. The Ransom Center’s Pforzheimer Library of English Literature is one of the cornerstones of the Center’s early books and manuscripts collections.
Prior to joining the Ransom Center, Cloud served as head librarian at UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, curator of literature at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and most recently as an antiquarian bookseller at James Cummins Bookseller.
“Gerald’s professional experiences—academic teaching, collection development, knowledge of the antiquarian book trade, scholarship in bibliography and the history of the book—will be invaluable to the Ransom Center and its patrons,” said Steve Enniss, Director of the Harry Ransom Center.
Cloud will support researchers working with the Ransom Center’s early book and manuscripts collections and collaborate with colleagues to promote enhanced access to collections, including digital initiatives and exhibitions. He’ll also work closely with the Center’s conservation department on setting treatment priorities for collection materials as well as expanding and strengthening the Pforzheimer Library.
“I look forward to raising the profile of the Ransom Center’s collections and invigorating use for original research with scholars, students, faculty and others,” said Cloud.
Holdings within the Pforzheimer Library include the plays, poems, novels, essays, polemical writings, and translations of some of the most important English writers from 1475 to 1700. All major writers (William Caxton, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, John Donne, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, John Dryden, and William Congreve, among many others) are represented by first and important editions. The Pforzheimer books are supplemented by 2,000 manuscript items.
Meet the Staff is a Q&A series on Cultural Compass that highlights the work, experience, and lives of staff at the Harry Ransom Center. Daniel Zmud, who joined the Ransom Center in 2001, manages everything web-related and supervises the digitization of the Center’s archival sound recordings, videotapes, and motion picture films. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Radio-Television-Film from The University of Texas at Austin in 1996 and has led the Ransom Center through two major website redesigns, the latest of which launched in 2008.
Can you tell us a little about what you do here at the Ransom Center?
My responsibilities have grown over time. At first I was only producing the public website and online research tools, but since then I’ve also been supervising the audiovisual digitization lab and creating interactive installations for the exhibition galleries.
What do you like most about working at the Ransom Center?
I like being a part of activities that shine some light on our collections. They could sit on a dark shelf forever, but it’s much more enjoyable to take them out for exhibitions or research. I was lucky enough to be around when we were scanning the Gutenberg Bible. It’s almost never out of its display case, so it was a pretty rare opportunity to have it there on the scanning station, turning every page, and getting to see it up close. We had to have an armed guard on duty…it was an incredible experience.
I hear you have spent some time building the web exhibition for The Making of Gone With The Wind. How has that been going?
It has been a whirlwind of activity this spring and summer. The web exhibition will include Gone With The Wind content that we’ve previously published, but we’re also integrating a fan-mail database. People can search by name or topic and read actual correspondence that was sent to David O. Selznick’s film production company before, during, and after the making of the film. You’ll be able to type in your relatives’ names to see if they sent in any comments or applied for a job.
Do you have a favorite item or collection here at the Ransom Center?
I haven’t seen every collection, but I always want to tell people about the Norman Dawn collection. He was a special effects inventor for film projects in the early 1900s. We have over 150 display cards from him, and each one describes a different special effect. Special effects at that time were so new—directors didn’t want to spend money on them unless they knew that they were actually going to work. He used a variety of artistic techniques like sketching, watercolor, and painting to sell the special effects to whoever was making a movie, and then he went back after the fact and inserted film stills of the finished special effect. The skill and artistry involved is incredible.
Can you tell us about your car restoration hobby and the cars you’ve been working on lately?
Well, I go to antique malls pretty often, and one time around three years ago I came across this stack of car-customizing magazine from the ’50s and ’60s. They really showed me the creative element in repairing and customizing old cars. I never thought it was something I would be able to do, but flipping through those magazines, I realized that older cars are actually simple machines. So, I was going through Craigslist around that time, and I came across a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair that just intrigued me. It was in rough shape, and I thought to myself, “Here’s a blank slate!” With the help of many people giving me advice and directing me to spare parts, I was able to get that car looking really nice within a year, and I ended up reluctantly selling it. What I learned was that once you finish a project, you are eager to start another one. Right now, I’m working on two Mazda Miatas.
Below, watch Zmud drive the 1965 Chevrolet Corvair that he restored.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
Every year since 1988 I’ve gone to Taos, New Mexico for a week or two in the summer. I like to hit the reset button there. I’m with my family, and it’s not a typical trip where every minute is scheduled. I just get to relax, take in the scenery, and escape the heat.
Do you happen to collect anything?
I collect snapshots. You’ll find these buckets full of snapshots in antique stores, and I like flipping through every last one of them. When one sticks with me as interesting or artistic, I decide to take it home. People can be accidentally artistic, even when they are just taking a picture of their aunt and uncle, or the picture isn’t in focus.
Please click on thumbnails below to view full-size images.
Visit the Ransom Center’s exhibition The Making of Gone With The Wind, which reveals why Gone With The Wind remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released. View rarely seen items—photographs, storyboards, fan mail, and costumes including the green curtain dress—all drawn from the Ransom Center’s collections. Don’t miss this blockbuster exhibition, on view through Sunday, January 4. Want to see the exhibitions without the crowds? Become a member for access to member-only exhibition hours which occur each weekend from 10 a.m. to noon. View holiday hours at the Ransom Center.
Share a year of literature, film, photography, and art by giving a gift membership to the Ransom Center. The festively-wrapped membership includes a year of private member events, behind-the-scenes experiences, invitations for the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland opening party, and more. Purchase your tax-deductible gift membership ONLINE by Monday, December 15 or pick up on-site at the Ransom Center through December 23.
Pick up the perfect holiday gift from the Ransom Center’s pop-up shop. The shop features the exhibition catalog for The Making of Gone With The Wind, custom “Fiddle-Dee-Dee” and “Frankly, My Dear” t-shirts, books related to the exhibition, and more. Have a writer or artist on your holiday list? Pick up a Moleskine journal featuring the Ransom Center’s etched glass windows. Other Ransom Center merchandise includes one-of-a-kind totebags and banners made from past Ransom Center exhibition banners, coffee mugs, and Ransom Center baseball caps.
Daily public tours of The Making of Gone With The Wind are offered at noon, as well as Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. A selection of Gone With The Wind screentests are shown in the Ransom Center’s theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends.
Tomorrow, the Harry Ransom Center presents a panel discussion to answer the question “How do you care for some of the most iconic costumes in film history?” at 7 p.m. in the Center’s Prothro Theater.
Ransom Center Curator of Film Steve Wilson leads a discussion on the preservation of Gone With The Wind costumes, including the green curtain dress and burgundy ball gown, with independent textile conservator Cara Varnell, Ransom Center Assistant Curator of Costumes and Personal Effects Jill Morena, and independent scholar Nicole Villarreal.
This program is in conjunction with the current exhibition The Making of Gone With The Wind, which features five costumes from the film and is on view through January 4.
In 2010, the Ransom Center raised funds to conserve original costumes from Gone With The Wind, which are part of the Center’s David O. Selznick archive. Donors from around the world graciously contributed more than $30,000 to support the conservation work, which enabled the Ransom Center to display the costumes safely on custom-fitted mannequins in the current exhibition.
The Ransom Center’s detailed and careful conservation work took more than 180 hours and occurred between fall 2010 and spring 2012. A description of some of the conservation work conducted on these costumes is available. View videos of conservation work in progress and interviews with curators and the conservator.
The Ransom Center will be closed on Christmas Eve Day (Wednesday, December 24) and Christmas Day (Thursday, December 25). However, the Ransom Center Galleries will be open the rest of winter break on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Additional member-only hours will be available from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday.
Please also be aware that the Reading and Viewing Rooms and administrative office will be closed during the University holidays from Saturday, December 20, through Thursday, January 1.
Free docent-led gallery tours occur daily at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. (There will be no public tour on the closed days of Wednesday, December 24 or Thursday, December 25.) The public tours meet in the south atrium, and no reservations are required. On weekends, a selection of screentests from Gone With The Wind will be shown in the Ransom Center’s first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Admission is free. Your donation will support the Ransom Center’s exhibitions and public programs. Parking information and a map are available online.
Receive the Harry Ransom Center’s latest news and information with eNews, a monthly email. Subscribe today.
Image: Scene concept for “Christmas at Aunt Pittypat’s in Atlanta” in Gone With The Wind.