A frequent question I ask myself is what makes a book presentation of photographs different than viewing them in a gallery setting or on a computer screen. What is it about the book that continues to capture photographers' attention as a means to convey their images? The history of the photobook could easily be told from the library's collection. Over the years, we've collected "traditional" photobooks with straight forward sequences of images to recent works that push at the format's limits, testing how a book can function as a communicator of images and information and more self consciously as an object (art or otherwise) and sometimes simultaneously functioning on all levels.
George Tice's new book, Seldom Seen, which the library recently acquired, continues Tice's longtime relationship with the book. Published by Brilliant Press, its quadtone images reveal such depth that, as Tice discusses in a recent video, you might mistake them for silver-based prints, ie "real" photographs. Tice also reveals that when he's engaged in a photo project, the work is intrinsically tied up with thinking about how his images will play out in book form.
Bryan Schutmaat's new book, Grays the Mountain Sends, also new in the library, features the familiar territory of somber portraits and landscapes of small-town American West, especially mining towns. Yet the book offers a few surprises that tease it into the realm of an art object. Its metal binding suggests ore or perhaps the rails of a mining car, and its tightness makes the reader flip the pages rather than linger on a spread (the book will not lie flat). The book requires that you handle it in order to take in its contents. Alternating landscapes and portraits are interspersed with coal-colored sheets that seem to force a retinal reset, serving as a pause between sections. These features married with the images give the viewer a multidimensional experience.
Each takes a different approach to the book format, yet both communicate with equal power. You can experience both in the reading room starting next month.
Samuel Duncan, Library Director
The 118th annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo starts January 17, bringing numerous visitors into Fort Worth’s cultural district. Amon G. Carter had a long history of association with the Stock Show going back to at least 1924 and every year during the show the museum library displays his collection of badges supplemented through the current year. Come by the library and see the badges and a selection of photos and publications on the history of the Stock Show and cattle industry in Fort Worth.
Erwin E. Smith, Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show Rodeo, Fort Worth, Texas - ca. 1925-1926. P1986.41.264
As a companion to ¡Hombre! Prints by José Guadalupe Posada, the research library has installed a selection of color woodcuts from the 1947 portfolio 100 Original Woodcuts by Posada in the reading room. These prints are on loan to the library from a local collector through December. We’ll rotate these prints on three-week intervals to show a broader selection.
The portfolio’s introduction provides some context for the woodcuts:
"… Posada’s principal techniques for his larger works were engraving on type-metal and relief etching, by which he is principally known. His woodcuts are mostly small and mostly were made for vignettes. Almost all of the surviving blocks are published here for the first time since Posada’s day. Many either never have been published before or the original broadsides in which they appeared have been destroyed, as was their nature. Many are portraits; many are caricatures. Whereas in his larger works we are most often struck by Posada’s vigorous burin and monumental composition, in these woodcuts we see to best advantage his fine line, the work of a man who used his graver with consummate delicacy and skill … The plates were printed in Mexico by the House of Vanegas Arroyo, where they were purchased by the Taylor Museum. Herbert Bayer designed the cover and the title-page … [Jean] Charlot and Don Blas selected the original blocks, still owned by the firm, and Don Blas supplied, from the archives of the house and very probably from his own head, the little verses which, in traditional manner, accompany the plates. Many of these verses are known to have appeared in the original broadsides (though not always accompanying the same vignettes), and Don Blas tells us, in a special declaration, that he has left their popular and non-academic grammar alone, out of respect to their original form. While most of the verses are undoubtedly not those which inspired the original engraving of the associated block, they are in the same spirit. … Almost all of the verses are satiric; some are nonsense rhymes. For the benefit of non-Spanish readers … English translations … give some sense of their contexts. However, the originals depend for their wit on a double and even triple entendre and a play of words almost always impossible to render in translation."
We had the honor of hosting Richard Misrach and his wife, Myriam, in the reading room yesterday. Along with making sure that the library's collection of about twenty books by and about the artist were signed, we cajoled him into taking a peek into the library's clipping file that we've been building since early in his career. It's not often that we witness a living artist thumbing through the past as recorded in the flotsam and jetsam contained in these files in the form of gallery invitations, reproductions, exhibition checklists, and the like, but it was exciting to offer this, as I quipped, "trip down amnesia lane." Mr. Misrach seemed delighted to revisit some of this material, and his response underscores the importance of these collections as encapsulated records of an artist's life.
Beyond an art object's aesthetic qualities are the story of its creator and history. The museum is fortunate to have an archives where these pieces of information can be found. A fine example is the Roman Bronze Works Archive, which contains the entire foundry records of the premier art bronze foundry in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. This foundry cast many of the sculptures being done by artists of the period, including most of those in the museum's collections. The image below is taken from the foundry's accounting ledger for the works they cast for Frederic Remington.
The archive is open to researchers seeking information about their sculptures, and we are delighted to field queries. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Research Library resumes its Saturday hours beginning September 7. Please stop by this stunning and contemplative space to learn more about the museum's art collection or to research any topic related to American art, photography, and history. The librarian on duty will be happy to guide your research from 11 am-4 pm.
It might surprise some of our readers to learn that the research library has a large collection of yearbooks from the United States Department of Agriculture. We were recently taking a closer look at this set to determine how it compared to other library holdings in the area. While we discovered that the the Cowgirl Museum and TCU have good coverage of this title, we are the only collection that offers the earliest report of the newly-christened department covering the year 1862. In this report Congress lays out its charge:
Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby established at the seat of government of the United States a Department of Agriculture, the general designs and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of that word, and to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.
The department's first commissioner, Isaac Newton, waxes about agriculture's importance to the moral fiber of the nation and its countrymen, invoking some of the tenets of the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer ideal:
I hardly deem it necessary to attempt to convince our intelligent countryman of the vast importance of such a department, inasmuch as whatever improves the condition and the character of the farmer feeds the life-springs of national character, wealth, and power ... Agricultural pursuits tend to moderate and tranquilize the false ambition of nations, to heal sectional animosities, and afford a noble arena for honorable rivalry. The acquisition of comparatively slow, but sure, wealth, drawn from and reinvested in the soil, develops health of body, independence and simplicity of life, and love of country; while the rapid accumulation of wealth, not by production, but by trade and speculation, is unnatural and unhealthful. It attracts men to cities and tempts to wild investments. It too often unsettles moral principles, and substitutes selfishness for patriotism.
Newton further quotes a supporter of the Homestead Act of 1862 regarding the necessity of attracting immigrants to till the soil, filling the void of so many Americans lost in the ongoing Civil War:
Every acre of our fertile soil is a mine which only waits the contact of labor to yield its treasures, and every acre is opened to that fruitful contact by the homestead act. When the opportunity ... shall be understood by the working millions of Europe, it cannot be doubted that great numbers will seek American homes in order to avail themselves of the great advantages ... Every working man who comes betters the condition of the country as well as his own.
The 1862 yearbook also features a preamble of plates highlighting the agricultural riches of the nation:
In fact our copy of the report for 1864 features its own real plant life: we discovered five specimens sandwiched within its pages. Working with the Amanda Neill, Director of the Herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, we learned that all five specimens are examples of nasturtium. Since we do not know when or where the specimens were gathered, they have very little scientific value.
We cannot always squeeze everything we want into the galleries, and some objects are not easily displayed on the walls. The research library is exhibiting several items that could not be fit into the We the People: Picturing American Identity exhibition, yet enhance the show in interesting ways.
One exhibition looks at the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as depicted in mass media print sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Another showcases the work of contemporary photographer Doug Rickard, who takes photographs of images of depressed parts of the nation from Google Street View as they appear on his computer monitor. A New American Picture comments on race and class, privacy and surveillance, and the tradition of street photography while asking the larger question of how this kind of digital image making relates to American identity.
The Emancipation of the Negroes, January 1863, the Past and the Future
In: Harper's Weekly (Jan. 24, 1863)
The research library, with the help of volunteer assistance, recently finished barcoding all the books in the main part of the stacks. Close to 50,000 items had to be examined, and items without a barcode got one attached. This process not only facilitates electronic checkout to staff, but it also helped us inventory the collection. Kudos to Mary Jane Harbison, Library Technical Services Coordinator, for shepherding this monumental project.
The photo below of volunteer Phyllis Evans, chief barcoder, shows relief or perhaps shock that she has crossed the finish line!