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Social Media: Nothing New? Commonplace Books As Predecessor to Pinterest

By Kelsey McKinney

The Ransom Center’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibition includes a commonplace book kept by Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) with information about ciphers, anagrams, stenography, and labyrinths. As Kelsey McKinney, a former public affairs intern, writes, these “personal anthologies” functioned as “literary scrapbooks”. While these scrapbooks were “commonplace” in Victorian culture, modern means of communication fulfill the same desire for people to record and share their life experiences.

The exhibition—and Dodgson’s commonplace book—are on view at the Ransom Center through July 6, 2015.

Before the affordability of personal libraries, and before people were able to access the world’s knowledge through the Internet, readers and writers had to find reasonable ways to consolidate and store information that could be useful to them. There were no social media to help them aggregate and share stories, quotes, recipes, or images. That doesn’t mean they didn’t do exactly that. They created personal anthologies called commonplace books. Read more

In the galleries: Jason Reed’s "Motel, Terlingua" and W. D. Smithers’s "View of Study Butte, Texas"

By Abigail Cain

Jason Reed, "Motel, Terlingua," 2011. Courtesy of artist.
Jason Reed, "Motel, Terlingua," 2011. Courtesy of artist.
W.D. Smithers, "View of Study Butte, Texas," 1932.
W.D. Smithers, "View of Study Butte, Texas," 1932.

As photographer Jason Reed sat in the reading room of the Ransom Center, awaiting a box of Walker Evans photographs, he noticed a binder on the reference shelf nearby. In what he calls a “moment of coincidence,” he picked it up and discovered notes and captions describing photographs of West Texas—both the place he grew up and the area he has spent his life exploring through video and photography.

The binder contained a finding aid to the work of early-twentieth-century photographer W. D. Smithers, whose archive is held by the Ransom Center. Although 80 years separate the two artists, their work shares an uncanny similarity—take Reed’s Motel, Terlingua (2011) and Smithers’s View of Study Butte, Texas (1932) as an example.

The relationship between archives and the work of modern-day artists is the subject of the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. Created in conjunction with the Lakes Were Rivers collective, an Austin-based group of artists working in photography and video, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists.

Smithers began his career in commercial photography when he was 15 years old, eventually working as an aerial photographer for the U.S. Army Aviation Service during World War I. Between 1935 and 1939, under a contract with the International Boundary and Water Commission, Smithers photographed the entire U.S.-Mexican Border from Brownsville to San Diego.

Reed, too, focuses on the interplay between culture and land in the Texas-Mexico borderland. By pairing his and Smithers’s works, he said, “I work to elicit historical comparison and dialogue with the past while also creating space to reflect on photography’s role as an index of place and time, its inherent limitations in telling histories, and the archive as a catalyst in forming new ways of seeing.”

Motel, Terlingua and View of Study Butte, Texas are on display in the Ransom Center until August 4. On July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.

Enter to win tickets to an “All-Star Evening”

By Christine Lee

E.O. Goldbeck, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees, San Antonio, Texas, March 31, 1922.
E.O. Goldbeck, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees, San Antonio, Texas, March 31, 1922.

The galleries are being transformed in preparation for the Ransom Center’s new summer exhibitions Literature and Sport and Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. We hope you will join us for an “All-Star Evening,” the opening celebration for the exhibitions from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 14.

Be among the first to explore the literary all-stars featured in the Literature and Sport exhibition. Enjoy ballpark-inspired snacks including frozen pops from GoodPop, hot dogs and veggie dogs, mini soft pretzels, and more. Sip on a refreshing summertime cocktail from Dripping Springs Vodka, sangria from the Austin Wine Merchant, or locally brewed beer from Live Oak Brewing Company.

At the event, enter to win a sports-inspired prize package that includes a sports massage, two platinum film fan memberships to the Paramount Theatre, dinner for two at Lamberts, and more. Guests will also have the opportunity to meet Spike, the Round Rock Express mascot, and show off their best baseball player pose in our baseball card photo booth. Members will receive a printed version of their baseball card as a party favor!

Ransom Center members enjoy complimentary admission and valet parking at this event. If you are not yet a member, you may join or order individual $20 tickets at the door. Tickets are also available online until Friday, June 7. Valet parking is not included for non-members.

The Ransom Center is giving away a pair of tickets to an “All-Star Evening.” Email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “All-Star” in the subject line by midnight CST tonight to be entered in a drawing for complimentary admission for two. The winner will be notified by email.

Special thanks to these sponsors: Austin Beer Garden and Brewery, The Austin Wine Merchant, Blanton Museum of Art, Clickit Ticket, Dripping Springs Vodka, GoodPop, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Live Oak Brewing Company, Paramount Theatre, Peter Pan Mini Golf, RecSports, Round Rock Express, and JD Whittemore.

Curator discusses Norman Bel Geddes’s influence in video

By Ady Wetegrove

Donald Albrecht, exhibition organizer and curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York, discusses industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes’s influence on the American landscape. Albrecht—editor of Norman Bel Geddes Designs America (Abrams)—emphasizes the breadth of the Bel Geddes collection at the Ransom Center, which includes Bel Geddes’s plans and sketches of his futurist visions.