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Meet the Staff: Ken Grant, Exhibition Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services

By Marlene Renz

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. Ken Grant received a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Iowa and then worked as a logging geologist in the oil field for six years. In 1992 he started at the State University of New York College at Buffalo where he later received his Master of Arts in Paper Conservation. He joined the Ransom Center in 1997 and has worked as Assistant Paper Conservator and Paper Conservator, but he now serves as Exhibitions Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services.

 

The oil and museum industries are very different. What brought about your career switch?

As an undergrad I was interested in materials related to geology. I needed a job, and the oil field was booming and hiring anyone with a bachelor’s degree in geology. I gave it a try, and I enjoyed the travel, but I did not enjoy the oil field. The industrial culture was not conducive to my interest in museum work. Most of my friends from college were artists or art history majors or that sort of thing. And what they did interested me more in the long term than geology. When the bust of the mid-80s came to the oil fields I was out of a job and decided to go back to graduate school. I wanted to go back to something I really felt I enjoyed or was intrigued by.

 

How would you describe your job? How has it changed?

In a nutshell, it’s a coordinating position. I coordinate the preparation and installation of collection material for exhibitions. It involves the purchasing, resource management, and packing of materials for loan. There are loans to other institutions, loans on campus, and loans to the state government. I’m between the curatorial and the preparation functions. I don’t do conservation treatments anymore, and I haven’t for many years, and I miss it. I think that the actual hands-on interaction with the collection materials that a conservator does is very exciting. In some ways, it is a privileged kind of activity, not everybody gets to bathe rare drawings. However, moving into an administrative position allows you to see a broader range of the institutional functions. There’s a lot more conversation about development, membership, public affairs, and even development of the curatorial collecting areas.

 

What are the main benefits of loaning materials to other institutions?

I think that there’s always a benefit as an institution by making your presence known among the community of collecting institutions. You gain recognition of not only what materials you have, but also what you have in terms of staff and the capability of building the collection and using the collection. Oftentimes this awareness comes through a curator-to-curator conversation. That’s huge because it’s the network of people who you know that really creates your ability to move around within that world and make really great exhibitions happen.

 

There’s also the publicity benefit. Materials from the Harry Ransom Center are identified at the borrowing institution. That happens with very charismatic loan materials that we have, like the Frida Kahlo self-portrait. Almost exclusively, that portrait becomes the signature portrait for the exhibition that it travels to. That’s how powerful it is. When it is the signature portrait, it’s placed on banners, it gets put on posters, and buses. So you’ll see our portrait in all of these different places being used to promote the exhibition. I think loaning is recognized as a very useful tool that helps to develop the institution as a whole because it raises the profile of the institution.

 

What are your biggest apprehensions concerning the transportation process for materials?

There’s a very well-documented protocol in the museum world that is understood between different collecting institutions. In a lot of ways that is a comfort, a way of making the process more predictable and therefore less risky. My biggest concern probably would be not so much in the transportation per se. Sometimes loaning to institutions we’ve never loaned to before creates a little bit of uncertainty. We don’t know what the other institution understands or feels is important with regard to the loan process. That’s where communication is absolutely vital because we have to figure out what their expectations are explicitly with regard to the loan.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work I like to sleep, but apart from that I’m interested in historic photographic processes. I don’t get to practice it that much, but I am interested in learning about these processes and trying to recreate them. In my ideal world, I would have my own darkroom, and I would use historic processes because there is a richness of chemistry and aesthetic possibility within the photographic process. A lot of these older processes create tones and visual textures that you just don’t get with inkjet printers.

 

What about historic photographic processes interests you?

I think it’s the chemistry of it. The fact that so many different people along the way had to work out all of the chemical processes that go into creating a photograph is really interesting to me. There’s a huge amount of history there. Another thing I think is really interesting is the excitement that was created by the reproduction of images. It filled a need that wasn’t even known and didn’t even need to be met. Print culture followed the ability to print multiple copies of pictures and illustrated magazines. It captured people’s imagination and created this hunger in people for more and more images. They just wanted more, and that’s what digital photography has brought to the ultimate degree.

 

Related content?

A World of Interest: Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

Slideshow: Installation of door from Frank Shay’s Greenwich Village bookshop

John and Ken’s Excellent Adventure

 

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The “Wildly Strange” Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

By Jessica McDonald

The exhibition Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard opens March 7 at The University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. The exhibition features more than 35 photographs exclusively drawn from the Ransom Center’s photography collection and archives of writers from Meatyard’s intellectual circle. The exhibition is organized by Jessica S. McDonald, the Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography at the Harry Ransom Center. The exhibition will be on view through June 21.

 

Studying the creative process of artists and writers, as well as tracing collaborations and intersections between them, is at the core of research at the Harry Ransom Center. In March 2015, the Ransom Center will highlight the intersection of photography and poetry in its collections, while celebrating creative collaboration across campus, in an exhibition organized with the Blanton Museum of Art. Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard will feature approximately 35 photographs exclusively drawn from the Ransom Center’s photography collection and archives of writers in Meatyard’s intellectual network.

 

In the late 1950s, Meatyard (1925–1972) began staging elaborate visual dramas enacted by his wife, children, and close friends, and experimenting with multiple exposure, blur, and abstraction to imbue his images with an ambiguous, dreamlike quality. The abandoned farmhouses and densely wooded forests of rural Kentucky served as sets for Meatyard’s symbolic scenes, turning otherwise ordinary family snapshots into unsettling vignettes of life in a deteriorating South. Meatyard called these photographs “Romances,” adopting the definition American satirist Ambrose Bierce provided in his Devil’s Dictionary: “Fiction that owes no allegiance to the God of Things as They Are.”

 

Groundbreaking in their time and challenging even today, Meatyard’s photographic fictions were embraced by his circle of writers and artists in Lexington, Kentucky. Guy Davenport (1927–2005), a close friend and neighbor, was routinely one of the first to examine Meatyard’s new work and used one of his photographs on the cover of Flowers & Leaves, Davenport’s 1966 long poem. Just after Davenport viewed the last of Meatyard’s photographs in 1972, he wrote to literary scholar Hugh Kenner of the “wildly strange pictures” he had seen. The exhibition will present an intriguing selection of Meatyard’s “Romances” made between 1958 and 1970, including rare variants of published images.

 

While Meatyard’s “Romances” are familiar to those who study and appreciate photography, his evocative portraits of writers are less well known. Often incorporating the spectral blur and unconventional angles of his primary work, they served as unconventional authors’ portraits for book jackets and promotional materials. Prints were exchanged among Meatyard’s sitters, and many entered the Ransom Center’s collections with their archives. A group of these portraits will be assembled in Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard to highlight the relationships both between these creative figures in Lexington and across the collections at the Ransom Center.

 

As the Ransom Center continually seeks innovative ways to share its collections, this collaboration with the Blanton Museum of Art will introduce its photography holdings to a new audience and will demonstrate the collective strength of the cultural institutions across The University of Texas at Austin campus.

 

Related content:

Manuel Álvarez Bravo and His Contemporaries: Photographs from the Collections of the Harry Ransom Center and the Blanton Museum of Art

 

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Draw Me: A history of the illustrated Alice

By Alexandra Bass

Sir John Tenniel. Dalí. Yayoi Kusama. What do these artists of vastly different styles, mediums, and artistic movements have in common? Each, along with many other artists, has tried their hand at illustrating Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a tale so whimsical it demands illustrations. Alice appeals to such a broad range of artists because the creative quality of the story gives artists freedom to interpret the look of the story in any way they please, and the book’s quirky sense of fun is irresistible.

 

The novel’s first illustrator was none other than its author. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—alias Lewis Carroll—created a handwritten manuscript with 37 illustrations for the story’s muse, Alice Liddell, after she asked him to write down the fantastical story he told her one lazy summer afternoon on a boat ride. Although somewhat amateurish, the ink illustrations depict a sweet, pretty Alice, not unlike the famous Tenniel illustrations. Indeed, Tenniel, a famous Victorian political cartoonist, and Dodgson worked closely together in creating the now-classic illustrations for the first published edition.

 

Tenniel’s classical and rather prim imagining of Alice remained the standard throughout the nineteenth century and still remains the most recognizable Alice illustration today. It was not until the turn of the twentieth century that other illustrators tried their hands at Alice. These illustrations reflect the aesthetic of their time. Mabel Lucie Attwell’s 1910 rendering of Alice and Margaret W. Tarrant’s 1916 version are sweet and feminine and still very much geared toward a young audience.

 

By the middle of the century, illustrations of Alice became more experimental. German illustrator Wiltraud Jasper’s 1958 version is edgy and minimal, all in black and red. In 1969, iconic surrealist Salvador Dalí put his spin on Carroll’s story, creating a dreamy, abstract, and characteristically melty Wonderland in a melancholy color palate.

 

More recently, Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama has re-imagined Alice in her signature polka dots in a 2012 Penguin publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Kusama steers away from the “classic” scenes of illustrations and instead focuses on details. For instance, the Mad Tea Party chapter features a red-and-black polka-dotted bowler hat instead of the traditional scene of the eccentric cast of characters tucking into high tea at a long table.

 

At the very onset of her story, Alice muses to herself about the importance of illustrations: “‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without any pictures?’” What use indeed? Would Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland be the classic book and cultural phenomenon that it is without pictures? Likely not—both readers and illustrators alike have fun with the creative freedom offered by the Alice books.

 

See examples of some of these illustrations in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, on view through July 6. Share with #aliceinaustin.

 

Related content:

From the Outside In: Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, John Tenniel, 1865

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Mad Hatter Teas complement “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” exhibition

By Jennifer Tisdale

“It’s always tea time” according to the Mad Hatter. With this in mind, Four Seasons Hotel Austin is pleased to offer a special Alice-themed Mad Hatter Tea in conjunction with the Harry Ransom Center’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibition.

 

Complementing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter Teas take place during the run of the exhibition on February 22, March 29, April 26, May 31, June 28, and July 5, 2015, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Hosted in the Four Seasons Lobby Lounge, the teas feature creative treats, such as “Eat Me” carrot cupcakes, shortbread clock cookies, cheshire macarons, and queen of hearts cakes. Special decor, an “Alice in Wonderland” photobooth, and the classic movie playing on the big screen complete the whimsical event.

 

The Mad Hatter Teas are $42 per adult and $30 per child. Seats are limited. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting the Four Seasons at 512-478-4500.

 

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In the Galleries: “The Rectory Magazine”

By Danielle Sigler

The man who became famous as Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1832. Dodgson, the third of 11 siblings, grew up in northern England surrounded by his brothers and sisters. Together they put on plays and created family publications like The Rectory Magazine, named for their home in Croft-on-Tees. Dodgson’s father was an Archdeacon in the Church of England and lived in a rectory, or a residence for the parish clergyman.

 

This edition of The Rectory Magazine includes essays, poems, and short stories, as well as hand-drawn and colored illustrations. The sense of humor and parody that appear in much of Carroll’s later work is already evident in The Rectory Magazine, produced when Dodgson was 18 years old.

 

Visitors to the Ransom Center’s exhibition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, on view through July 6, can turn the pages of a digital version of The Rectory Magazine on a touchscreen in the galleries.

 

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Video preview: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

By Alicia Dietrich

Starting today, the Ransom Center celebrates 150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with an exhibition for the curious and curiouser of all ages. Learn about Lewis Carroll and the real Alice who inspired his story. See one of the few surviving copies of the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Discover the rich array of personal and literary references that Carroll incorporated throughout Alice. Explore the surprising transformations of Alice and her story as they have traveled through time and across continents. Follow the White Rabbit’s path through the exhibition, have a tea party, or watch a 1933 paper filmstrip that has been carefully treated by Ransom Center conservators. The Center’s vast collections offer a new look at a story that has delighted generations and inspired artists from Salvador Dalí to Walt Disney.

 

The exhibition can be seen in the Ransom Center galleries, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Daily public tours are offered at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

 

The exhibition runs through July 6.

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Slideshow: See the exhibition “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” come to life during installation

By Alicia Dietrich

Starting tomorrow, the Ransom Center celebrates 150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with an exhibition for the curious and curiouser of all ages. Below, get a preview of the galleries with a slideshow of images from the installation process over the past few weeks.

 

The exhibition can be seen in the Ransom Center galleries, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Daily public tours are offered at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

 

The exhibition runs through July 6.

 

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Meet the Staff: Webmaster Daniel Zmud

By Sarah Strohl

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.

 

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Spend the holidays with the Harry Ransom Center

By Christine Lee

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.

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