Rice TSU UH
by Paul Hester
My expectation at the beginning of this search was to discover forgotten treasure on the shelves of some back room. It almost happened in the Special Collections Room of the University of Houston's Anderson Library. Acting Head Gene Jackson and Wendy Sterba, Senior Library Assistant, came up with a cardboard box filled with turn-of-the-century glass plate negatives. These wonderful images document the F. W. Heitmann Company, the first exclusive iron dealers in Texas. Stacks of galvanized buckets, bundles of wire, binds of hardware and parts, each immortalized with their own 8 x 10 inch glass image in excellent condition. Outstanding in the group were several office interiors with the boss at his rolltop desk and his secretary taking notes. In one it was possible to read the date of March, 1909, on the calendar. Another showed wagons pulled by horses being loaded in front of a building with faces peering from the windows. In addition to these glass plates by George Beach, the boxes contained two framed prints by Joseph Litterst of two young children on Christmas morning with their new pony,
Houston's institutions are too young to have collected the rare volumes filled with original prints that preceeded the invention of half-tone reproductions. The libraries of the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and Rice University primarily contain photographs relating to their own histories. Each welcome interested viewers, and an increased demand and awareness of the value of their photographic holdings should encourage more funding for these areas.
The Rice University archives in the Woodson Research Center of Fondren Library go back to the opening of the school in 1912, with numerous panoramas of the campus when the few buildings were the only things standing on open prairie. One admires the audacity, courage, and faith of those dreamers who planted two-inch oak trees in such straight lines. A 1921 album The Flying Owls pictures the growing campus from the air, A wonderful series of 8 x 10 contact prints by Frank Schlueter mark the changing styles at "The Garden Party,” held each June following commencement in the shadows of the Physics Building. The early "candids" show how the cultural elite relaxed and enjoyed themselves, standing around in the Texas summer in formal attire. Several snapshot albums donated to the archives show the casual side of student life in the 1920s.
The Special Collections at the University of Houston Anderson Library contain the George Fuermann Collection of photographs and prints related to the history of Houston. Some arc copy prints of older Houston, but many come from Feurmann's tenure as editor of the editorial page at The Houston Post. The Special Collections also contain several drawers of 5 x 7 negatives of mug shots of undergraduates from the 1940s and 1950s, in their mass a strong study of the physiognomy of the early student body.
Texas Southern University Library contains, — in addition to the usual institutional archives of portraits and public relations poses, - the Barbara Jordan Archives, which trace her career from her election as the first black woman to serve in the Texas Senate through her years of service in Washington as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Archives picture her with the black congressional caucus, and with the white male power structure represented by Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.
The Heartman Collection of TSU has two dozen intriguing 19th century photographs by commercial photographers in Florida, Alabama, and New York. Some portray well-to-do black families in formal poses; some are documentary images of black living conditions on plantations, and some are racist attempts at "black humor." depicting young blacks playing banjos while stuffed alligators nibble from behind.
The Art Department of the University has a growing print collection that contains four portfolios of photographs by Garry Winogrand, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Robert Doisneau, and Elliot Erwitt. Each is from an edition of 100 and contains fifteen prints-Published by Hyperion Press, they are an uneven mixture of each photographer's better known images and lesser known ones. The Winogrands stand out from the group as a consistently high level of powerful images that cover twenty years of his life, with particularly strong ones chosen from the group published as Public Relations.
Coincidentally, the Art Department at Rice University includes the same four portfolios by the same four photographers by the same publisher. It also includes a number of photographs from the Farm Security Administration Collection of the Library of Congress see- Photograph: Where to Buy, page 00. These 35 photographs were purchased in conjunction with a symposium and exhibition at the University in the spring of 1976 and are by Walker Evans, John Vacon, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, and Dorothea Lange. The Art Department also owns images by Richard Pipes, a very good photojournalist working in Houston in the 1960s and 1970s; Andre Kertesz's Hungarian Rhapsodies portfolio; a portfolio of color prints by John Lee Simons of Texas WPA murals; Widelux prints from Geoff Winningham’s graduate work at the Institute of Design; and five extraordinary vintage prints by Lewis W. Hine from 1909 through 1917.