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Meet the Staff: Jean Cannon, Literary Collections Research Associate

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. Jean Cannon has been the literary collections research associate at the Ransom Center since March 2012. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Duke University, a Master’s degree from Tulane University, and a PhD from The University of Texas at Austin. Cannon is responsible for helping patrons in the reading room, answering research queries, and curating exhibitions. She spent the last two years working with colleague Elizabeth Garver to co-curate the current exhibition, The World at War: 1914–1918.

 

What’s your favorite thing about working at the Ransom Center?

I love the moment when you see a student or researcher come across an artifact that really just makes their jaw drop, the “wow” moment.

 

Can you tell me more about curating the current World at War exhibition?

We started that process about two years ago. I did my dissertation research using several World War I collections at the Ransom Center, but even having done that, I had no idea just how much was here. I had worked in the literary collections, but we also have photographs and posters and all sorts of things that made it a very exciting treasure hunt throughout the building. It was a long process of researching and amassing material from the collections, and then the painful part was choosing the items and having to cut things out because you only have so much space in the gallery. We did a lot of what I like to call “dreaming and scheming.”

 

What is it like picking and choosing items for the exhibitions?

It’s exciting and can also be kind of chaotic. I think research on that large of a scale is a process of ducking down lots of different rabbit holes every day.  Even if you try to be systematic about it, you will find yourself getting drawn to different items. For example, I went through about a month of being obsessed with carrier pigeons, and Elizabeth went through a month being obsessed with pilots.

 

Did carrier pigeons actually work?

Absolutely. On the western front, telephone lines would get blown up really easily with all the shelling on the western front, so carrier pigeons were actually more reliable. It was a strange meeting of the old world and the new, nineteenth-century and twentieth-century technologies co-existing on the battlefield.

 

If you could pick a favorite item in the Ransom Center’s collections, what would it be?

One item that really means a lot to me is Wilfred Owen’s last letter to his mother. That’s one of the most affecting of the letters that I’ve read here, and it’s in the gallery now, right in the middle of the show.

 

Can you tell me a little more about your educational background and how you ended up in your current job at the Ransom Center?

It’s a long, twisty tale. I started graduate school at Tulane in New Orleans, and the second year I was there, Hurricane Katrina hit. So I ended up evacuating and coming to UT because the university had a large enough program that they were able to absorb some of the Tulane students, for which I’m ever grateful. The wonderful thing about being here was being able to do the two-year graduate internship at the Ransom Center. I just fell in love with the place, and I continued volunteering and doing freelance research in the reading room. Then, as I was finishing my doctoral degree, the director at the time recruited me to come in and serve as literary collections research associate. So I defended my dissertation, took two weeks off to hike the Grand Canyon and then came back to start working here full time. It was a whirlwind!

 

I hear you are a talented hat maker. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Well, I’ve always loved hats and have always worn a lot of hats, even as a child. Then, when I was working in New York, I saw that there was a night class at Parson’ School of Design, so I just decided to take it! At that point I didn’t even know how to run a sewing machine, and I loved it even though I was really out of my depth. Since then, I’ve sought out classes here and there and found old millinery text books and manuals in the archives. My house is full of 50 or so hats.

 

What is a perfect Saturday for you?

I would probably go for a run on the Greenbelt, maybe go for a swim, read a good book on the porch (for which it has to be sunny, but not 100 degrees), work on a hat, and cook a nice dinner and have people over! Possibly a good film also, especially if it’s hot outside and I can go to the Paramount Summer Classics series.

 

What book would you consider a “must read” this summer?

I just finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It will take you awhile, but it’s really worth it. She’s a big believer that a book can be escapist but also very smart, and I really love that combination.

 

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High Museum of Art’s “Dream Cars” exhibition features drawings, designs from Norman Bel Geddes collection

By Sarah Strohl

“We dream of cars that will float or fly, or run on energy from a laser beam, or travel close to the ground without wheels. Such research may border on the fantastic, but so did the idea of a carriage going about the country without a horse.” –The Ford Book of Styling, 1963

 

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta is currently hosting the exhibition Dream Cars through September 7, which includes items from the Ransom Center’s Norman Bel Geddes collection. The exhibition showcases the innovative and artistic design of rare vehicles from the early 1930s to 2010 and encompasses the evolution of the automobile from a horseless carriage to a sleek, highly functional speed machine. Dream Cars highlights designs and models from across Europe and the United States, including a blueprint, a photograph, and three drawings of Bel Geddes’s 1932 design, Motorcar No. 9.

 

The exhibition brings together 17 concept cars, including designs from Ferrari, Bugatti, General Motors, and Porsche. These vehicles are paired with conceptual drawings, patents, and scale models to demonstrate how imaginative designs and innovation changed the automobile from a basic, functional object to a symbol of limitless possibilities.

 

None of the vehicles and designs on display in this exhibition were ever intended for production. Rather, they represent the “dream” of future possibilities and highlight the talent and imagination of industrial designers.

 

Bel Geddes was an American theatrical and industrial designer who gained fame in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. The Motorcar No. 9 model demonstrates his expertise in aerodynamics and streamlining as a means to modernism. The Ransom Center’s extensive Norman Bel Geddes archive includes a model of Motorcar No. 9 among other papers, designs, and artifacts that span 50 years.

 

Related content:

Video: Curator of Norman Bel Geddes exhibition discusses influence of the industrial designer

 

Please click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.

 

Now open at the Wolfsonian: “I Have Seen The Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America”

By Sarah Strohl

The exhibition I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America is now open at the Wolfsonian at Florida International University in Miami Beach, Florida.  Pulled mostly from the Ransom Center’s Bel Geddes archive, the exhibition originated in fall 2012 at the Ransom Center and was on view earlier this year at the Museum of the City of New York. Bringing together some 200 unique drawings, models, photographs, and films, this exhibition highlights Bel Geddes’s creativity and desire to transform American society through design.

 

Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958) was an industrial and theatrical designer who gained fame in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s for his streamlined and futuristic innovations. His designs played a significant role in shaping America’s image as an innovative powerhouse and global leader into the future. One of his most famous undertakings was the unforgettable Futurama exhibition at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair.

 

I Have Seen the Future is on view at the Wolfsonian until September 28.

 

Image: Norman Bel Geddes, Motor Car No. 9 (without tail fin), ca. 1933.

 

Related content:

View the Norman Bel Geddes Designs America book

Curator of Norman Bel Geddes exhibition discusses influence of the industrial designer

Read an inside look at Bel Geddes’s design, Motorcar Number 9

Celebrating the films of the First World War

By Sarah Strohl

The Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918 marks the centennial anniversary of the start of World War I. “The war to end all wars,” as it was optimistically dubbed, was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and paved the way for cultural and political change worldwide. This war, entrenched with heartbreak, heroes, villains, and camaraderie, inspired many stories both historical and fictional—some of which were captured for the silver screen.

 

Some of these films, including Wings (1927), The Big Parade (1925), and Sergeant York (1941), are highlighted in the current exhibition and the ongoing World War I Film Series, co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society and the Paramount Theatre.

 

Wings, released by Paramount Pictures in 1927, was filmed on location in San Antonio and was an homage to pilots of the First World War. The film tells the tale of two young fighter pilots who fall in love with the same woman. Hundreds of extras and some 300 pilots were involved in the filming, including pilots and planes of the United States Air Corps. It was directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, who had been both an ambulance driver and pilot during the war.

 

Starlet Clara Bow played Mary Preston, an irresistible Red Cross ambulance driver. Though Bow, known largely for her flapper dresses and pearls, despised the army uniforms required for her role, the film was one of her most successful. Wings costume designer Edith Head commented: “It’s pretty hard to look sexy in a U.S. Army uniform, but Clara managed.”

 

Wings went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. A film still from Wings is on view in the galleries.

 

King Vidor’s poignant and humanizing silent film The Big Parade follows the spoiled, lazy son of a wealthy family as he joins the army and proceeds to make a few friends and fall in love amid the hardships of war.

 

The Big Parade portrayed the human costs of war and was influential in the creation of later war movies. Widely popular, the film earned MGM studios an almost instant profit of $3.4 million upon reception. Watch a screening of The Big Parade at the Paramount Theatre tomorrow at 7 p.m. as part of the World War I Film Series.

 

Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper, Sergeant York is the true story of one of World War I’s most decorated soldiers, Alvin York. York was a hillbilly sharpshooter who, despite his misgivings and claims of being a pacifist, was drafted into the war and became a hero. Sergeant York was the top grossing film in 1941, and Cooper won the Academy Award for best actor.

 

Warner Brothers is releasing these three films, along with Dawn Patrol, in the WWI Centennial Commemoration DVD set on July 22.

 

Please click on thumbnails below to view larger images.

 

 

 

Two interactive activities added to The World at War: 1914-1918

By Sarah Strohl

Two new interactive activities—an audio tour and a passport project—are now available for visitors to the exhibition The World at War, 19141918.

 

Daniel Carter, a PhD student in the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin who researches how people interact with cultural objects, facilitated the pilot project.

 

“I spent some time in the gallery watching people move through The World at War exhibition,” said Carter. “I became interested in thinking about other kinds of interactions that might happen in that space.”

 

Carter reached out to designer Brent Dixon and local theater group Paper Chairs to ask them to produce something for visitors in the gallery. In response, Dixon created the passport project, and Paper Chairs recorded an audio tour for the exhibition.

 

Visitors can receive a passport booklet with a map to guide them through the exhibition and to illustrate the larger story of how each country was affected by the war. Within each country’s section of the exhibition, visitors will find a reproduction of a major artifact—for example, French poet and soldier Roger Allard’s description of conditions at the frontline. The passport project, reminiscent of a scavenger hunt, provides visitors context with another way of engaging with the exhibition.

 

“Our hope is for people to approach each section of the exhibition with a slightly richer context,” said Dixon.

 

The Paper Chairs audio tour brings textual material in the exhibition to life so that it can be experienced on a personal level. Kelli Bland of Paper Chairs chose 15 letters and poems in the exhibition and recruited talent from her theater community to read them aloud. Rather than mimicking the dialects and accents of the writers, the actors instead aimed to capture the emotion of the letters and poems and to give a human voice to the documents so that visitors could connect with the material.

 

“We, as a society, are separated from the experience of war,” Bland said. “I am hoping that our little guide will support the message I received from the exhibition: war is consuming, thrilling, and terrible. It changes the world and all of the people in it.”

 

The current exhibition, including Dixon’s passport project and the Paper Chairs audio tour, is on view through August 3. The audio guide and passport are available at the visitor desk during regular gallery hours.

Enter to win a signed copy of Geoff Dyer’s “The Missing of the Somme”

By Alicia Dietrich

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918 marks the centenary of the start of World War I. Triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Bosnian-Serb student, open conflict began the following month when Austria-Hungary invaded the Kingdom of Serbia in retaliation. Within weeks, nearly all of the nation-states of Europe were drawn into a war that lasted four long years and killed ten million servicemen.

 

Tomorrow, June 28, marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination that sparked outbreak of the First World War.

 

Enter to win a signed copy of Geoff Dyer’s book The Missing of the Somme, a book that is part travelogue and part meditation on the remembrance of the First World War. To enter, tweet a link to this blog post with the tag @ransomcenter.

 

Not on Twitter? Email hrcgiveaway(at)gmail.com with “Somme” in the subject line. By entering via email, you are also opting-in to receive the Ransom Center’s monthly email newsletter.

 

All tweets and emails must be sent by Monday, July 1, at midnight CST. A winner will be drawn and notified on Tuesday.

Video showcases exhibition “The World At War: 1914–1918”

By Gabrielle Inhofe

A recent Longhorn Network video featured the Ransom Center’s exhibition The World At War: 1914–1918 as part of The Alcalde’s magazine program. The video includes interviews with exhibition co-curators Jean Cannon and Elizabeth Garver, as well as Professor Steven Isenberg, who taught a class on World War I this spring at The University of Texas at Austin.

 

The three discuss how the Great War shaped modern politics and conflict, paved the way for World War II, introduced new technologies, and changed attitudes about the nature of war. The exhibit, which runs through August 3, draws on the Ransom Center’s extensive collections to illuminate the experience of the war from the point of view of its participants and observers, preserved through letters, drafts, and diaries; memoirs and novels; and photographs and propaganda posters, prints, and more.

World War I Film Series highlights films made during and about the First World War

By Gabrielle Inhofe

In conjunction with the current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918, the Ransom Center, Austin Film Society, and Paramount Theatre are presenting a series of 13 films centered around World War I.

 

The films will be screened from May through July at the Ransom Center, Paramount Theatre, and Marchesa Hall & Theatre. Tonight, Grand Illusion (1937) will be screened at 7 p.m. at the Stateside Theater at the Paramount.

 

Other films in the series include All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The African Queen (1951), The Big Parade (1925), Gallipoli (1981),  J’Accuse! (1919), Jules and Jim (1962), Paths of Glory (1957), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Sergeant York (1941), A Farewell to Arms (1932), Shoulder Arms (1918), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). View the full schedule.

 

Screenings at the Ransom Center are free. Tickets are required for screenings at the Paramount and Marchesa Theatre and may be purchased at their box offices or on the Paramount website or the Austin Film Society’s website.

 

The Ransom Center’s Charles Nelson Prothro Theater has limited seating. Line forms upon arrival of the first person, and doors open 30 minutes in advance. Patrons are encouraged to visit the exhibition, which is open until 7 p.m. on Thursdays, before attending the screenings.

Image: Film still from A Farewell to Arms (1932).

World War I Red Cross poster undergoes conservation treatment for exhibition

By Heather Hamilton

The conservation department at the Harry Ransom Center treated many collection items in preparation for the current exhibition The World at War 1914–1918. Among these were numerous posters of various sizes, including a mural-sized poster (about 3 x 5 feet) depicting a Red Cross nurse. The poster reads: “Join—Red Cross Work Must Go On!—all you need is a heart and a dollar.”

The poster came to the paper conservation lab having been lined in the past with a heavy, blue, starch-filled cloth, much like that used for binding books. This inappropriate fabric lining was noticeably wrinkled, and the blue color accentuated a large loss near the upper right corner of the poster. We made the decision to remove this lining and flatten the cockled poster. We also decided to fill the loss with a toned paper to make this area less distracting to the viewer.

First, we surface cleaned the poster using a large, soft brush to remove loose dust and dirt. We continued cleaning the surface grime with rubber sponges, sometimes referred to as “soot sponges.”  To remove the lining fabric, we needed to bathe the poster, which would loosen the lining adhesive and allow us to gently peel back the fabric. We tested all of the inks to ensure that they would not be sensitive to water, and we then pre-humidified the print and bathed it in deionized water at a neutral pH. The adhesive began to soften within only a few minutes, and we were able to separate the lining from the poster. While the poster was still in the water bath, verso upward, we could feel that there was still adhesive clinging to the back of the paper. We used wads of cotton to swab off this residual adhesive. We exchanged the water bath two times until we were confident that we had cleaned it as well as we could. Next, we lifted the wet poster out of the bath. Handling wet paper is not difficult because we include a layer of spun polyester—called Reemay—on both the front and back of an item when we bathe it. The Reemay acts as a support during the bath and afterwards, when transporting the wet paper. The poster was allowed to dry flat between layers of Reemay and blotters, under weight.

About a week later, we removed the poster from under the weight and began work on the fill. In paper conservation, Japanese paper is often used to fill losses. This strong, thin paper works well for repairing or filling losses and can be toned to a suitable color. The poster’s missing portion covered both red and off-white sections. We toned a Japanese paper with red acrylic paint and layered this over an off-white Japanese paper. The fill was then shaped to fit the loss and adhered in place with wheat starch paste. Again, the poster was placed between Reemay and blotter, under weight to ensure that the fill would dry flat. Once the poster was completely dried, the fill was trimmed along the outside edge.

This treatment was unusual only in that the poster is so large. Otherwise, the techniques described here are common treatments in paper conservation.

Please click on thumbnails to view larger images.

 

Behind-the-scenes: Customizing a mannequin, from legs to limbs, to display a World War I uniform

By Jill Morena

Presenting a costume or historical clothing on a mannequin may seem deceptively simple at first glance. Yet there is rarely an instance of a mannequin, standardized or made-to-measure, that is ready to use “out-of-the-box.” Each area of the body—shoulders, torso, arms, legs, and feet—must be customized and often requires several fittings with the garment. This is similar to the process of fitting a made-to-order garment to a human body, although in this case the process is reversed as the mannequin must be shaped and conform to the garment.

 

A World War I uniform, from the collection of the Texas Military Forces Museum and currently on display in The World at War, 1914–1918, presented us with a particular challenge. The physique of most modern, full-body mannequins is too tall, muscular, and athletic for early twentieth-century clothing and footwear. The size of the mannequin must always be smaller than the measurements of the costume to allow for supportive padding and to prevent any stress or strain on the costume when dressing or on display. We made the decision to pad up an adolescent/teenage dress form that was already in our inventory and to construct realistic-looking legs, a crucial element in presenting the ensemble successfully.

 

This was our first time to use Fosshape, a polyester polymer material often used for theater costume design or millinery. Textile conservators have recently explored and used Fosshape for museum display, and we decided to use this flexible, adaptable material to construct the legs. An approximate tapered “leg” shape was cut, sewn, and placed over the calves and ankles of a full-body mannequin to get a realistic leg shape. When steam heat is applied to the Fosshape, it reacts, shrinks, and hardens to the shape of the mold beneath.

 

Because the leg dimensions of this particular mannequin were too large to safely fit through the narrow hem of the uniform jodhpurs, we had to “take in” the legs to a smaller circumference, while still retaining an accurate calf and knee shape. Because the definition was lessened somewhat, we made “knee” and “calf” pads to help support and define the shape of these areas. Additional Fosshape pieces were created and steamed to provide more structure and interior support.

 

The legs were adjusted accordingly and covered with a smooth polyester fabric to aid with dressing, and pieces of velcro were sewn to the inside of the Fosshape legs and the exterior of the mannequin legs for easy attachment.

 

Arm patterns, taken from an excellent resource on mannequin creation and modification, A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting by Lara Flecker, were modified to fit the length and curvature of the jacket’s arms. Once sewn, the arms were filled with soft polyester batting and sewn to the mannequin’s shoulders. The chest and back were padded out where needed, and a flesh-colored finishing fabric was cut, sewn, and secured to the mannequin’s neck.

 

The final crucial details were aligning and orienting two twin silver mannequin stands so that they would reflect a natural body stance once the legs and boots were placed. Additionally, the stands were covered with a matte black fabric, so the high shine of the silver bases would not distract from the uniform. Once the stand was correctly aligned and covered, dressing the mannequin could begin.

 

Constructing, modifying, or dressing a mannequin is never a solitary endeavor. This entire process was a collaboration between the curator of costumes and personal effects and conservation and exhibitions staff. Colleagues Mary Baughman, Ken Grant, Apryl Voskamp, and John Wright were invaluable with their help and expertise.

 

Top image: World War I uniform on display in Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918. Photo by Pete Smith. Please click on thumbnails below to view larger images.