In August 2013 I was extremely excited to begin my position as the Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. I was straight out of my graduate program at the University of Michigan and ready to dive into the field as a professional archivist. I was also thrilled to return to Houston, my hometown and favorite city, and to work with materials that reflected the community where I grew up. Over the following two years, I worked on some amazing projects, developed inspiring working relationships, and gained knowledge and skills that I’ll use throughout my career.
The two largest portions of my time here at UH have been dedicated to arranging and describing archival collections and to assisting with the curation of digital projects. I have worked with a wide variety of materials in our Houston Hip Hop, Houston and Texas History, Performing and Visual Arts, and Contemporary Literature collections. I’ll admit that when I started, I was most excited to work with Houston hip hop materials. I felt that hip hop materials were in particularly great need of collecting and that they would resonate particularly strongly with students. I was right! But at the same time, I discovered that each of the collections I worked with, whether they included materials from a German singing club with over 100 years of history, one of the largest regional theatres in the nation, or 1970s and 1980s science fiction and fantasy conventions, documented an important part of our history and held direction connections to the Houston community. I’m proud to have contributed to making so many new materials accessible to our students and researchers, and working with such a diverse array of materials certainly kept me on my toes and made coming to work every day exciting!
I’m grateful that this position also provided many opportunities to work directly with our patrons. Throughout my time at UH I spent about eight hours a week manning the reference desk, and this January I also began serving as contact point for Performing and Visual Arts reference. It’s always my pleasure to help students and researchers find the materials they need. One of the most exciting (and unexpected!) outreach projects I worked on was co-curating the “Nina Vance and the Alley Theatre: A Life’s Work” exhibit with our Architecture & Art Library Coordinator Catherine Essinger. Designing and implementing the exhibit, which ran from October, 2014 to May, 2015, gave me the opportunity to work with people all over the library, across campus, and with former and current Alley Theatre actors and staff. I’ll always remember it as one of my favorite accomplishments here.
UH has also been very supportive of my professional development, which I think is essential for any early-career librarian or archivist. I have attended several conferences and workshops during my time here, and completed my first professional presentation at the Society of Southwest Archivists convention in 2014.
But perhaps my favorite thing about working at the University of Houston Special Collections was the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of colleagues, both in our department and across the library. I’ll miss coming to work with them every day, but I look forward to our paths crossing in the future as I continue my archives career.
The University of Houston Special Collections is happy to announce both the recent publication of the Houston Saengerbund Records in the UH Digital Library and significant additions and revisions made to the finding aid for the related physical collection housed here in Special Collections!
The Houston Saengerbund is a German singing society that has been active in Houston for more than a century and continues to perform at public events throughout Houston and Texas to this day. It was founded in 1883 and was one of many all-male singing organizations which formed in the German communities of Texas during the last half of the 19th century. These local groups were united under Der Deutsch-Texanische Saengerbund (the German-Texan Singers’ League), a regional organization that held biennial meetings and Saengerfeste (Singing Festivals) in various Texas cities. Both the digital collection and physical materials provide insight not only into the activities, performances, membership, and administration of this group, but also into its responses to major events and social changes throughout the last century of American history.
The digital collection consists of five bound ledgers covering the years 1874-1937. In these ledgers you’ll find meeting minutes, financial statements, programs, clippings, and correspondence between the Houston Saengerbund and other German organizations. The materials span the time from the group’s inception, through its growth to over 1000 members in the years before World War I, and to the formation of the Ladies Auxiliary and the Damenchor (Women’s Chorus) in 1937.
The updated finding aid describes physical materials dating from 1874 to present. Here you’ll find songbooks and event materials, administrative records, legal files, financial records, and publications from all points in the group’s history. Of particular interest is the effect of anti-German sentiment that developed during the World Wars. With the onset of World War II, the Saengerbund members changed the name of the group to “The Houston Singing Society,” quit their primary activity of singing German songs, and began keeping minutes in English due to their concern about arousing anti-German sentiment. It wasn’t until after the war ended that the club members restored both their singing and their name.
The events mentioned above are just a couple of the points of interest to be found in the rich and storied history of The Houston Saengerbund. Check out the digital collection or visit us here in Special Collections to find out more!
Last week Stacey Lavender, Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow for the University of Houston Special Collections, continued our Brown Bag Series by hosting the UH Libraries’ faculty and staff in an up close and personal look at the recently processed Main Street Theater Records. The Main Street Theater Records, filled with materials related to productions throughout its history, fundraising activities, and so much more, provide a telling view behind the curtain of Houston’s theater community and trace the evolution of Main Street from those heady, upstart days of the 1970s to the new century which sees Main Street and its multiple stages as an essential pillar in Houston theater.
In her presentation of the materials, Ms. Lavender highlighted the history of Main Street Theater, the role it has played in developing artistic talent, and the relatively unheralded but significant work done in the areas of education and outreach with the city’s youth. Following the presentation attendees participated in a Q&A, touching upon the challenges and rewards experienced in processing the collection, the delicate balance between access and privacy, the exciting possibilities of Main Street Theater as a living collection, and its potential for future research. Attendees were also given an opportunity to view and peruse items from the collection including production posters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and children’s fan mail addressed to Main Street, all culled by Ms. Lavender to highlight some of the treasures the collection holds.
Main Street Theater has been an important part of Houston’s vibrant performing arts community for almost forty years. Led by founding director Rebecca Greene Udden, the company staged their first production in the summer of 1975. As the name suggests, their first home was located on Main Street at Autry House, a community center belonging to the Episcopalian Diocese. The theater has grown steadily since then, first moving into a larger 92-seat space on Times Boulevard in Rice Village in 1981, and later adding a second, even larger, Chelsea Market location. The Main Street Theater is currently in its 39th MainStage season and its 34th Theater for Youth Season.
The Main Street Theater Records provide insight into the company’s activities both on stage and behind the scenes. The first 12 boxes of the collection consist of materials like playbills, scripts, posters, flyers, and photographs, documenting the theater’s MainStage productions as well as productions that are part of its Theater for Youth program. The collection also contains substantial amounts of financial records, meeting minutes from the Board of Directors and various other committees, donor correspondence, and materials related to the planning of benefits and fundraisers.
Take some time and peruse the finding aid, or better yet come visit us at Special Collections and see the history of this Houston theater for yourself!
The campus is still abuzz over this week’s announcement regarding the Alley Theatre performing its 2014-2015 season at the University of Houston.
Beginning in July 2014, the Nina Vance Alley Theatre building will begin a $46.5 million renovation scheduled to last until the opening of the fall 2015 season. The renovation, planned to modernize and improve the infrastructure of the Alley, also sent the Alley looking for a temporary home.
Enter the Wortham Theatre and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
The result provides what UH President Renu Khator has characterized as “an outstanding opportunity for our theatre students to directly engage with the Alley’s working professionals.”
Not only is the University of Houston providing a temporary home for this world-renowned theatre, but we are also proud to be home to a little of its history as well–the Nina Vance Alley Theatre Papers.
In 1947, after working in Houston as a high school teacher, Nina Vance began a campaign to establish a resident theatre in Houston. She set up shop in a former dance studio, tucked away in a little alley (hence the name) near Main Street. Shortly thereafter, the Alley would also call an old abandoned fan factory home before finally settling in at its current address at 615 Texas Avenue. Vance would continue to serve as an influential figure in theatre, serving on the advisory committee for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, serving two terms on the U.S. Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs, and playing the role of cultural ambassador during a 1977 State Department tour of Soviet Russian theatre. Nina Vance passed away early in 1980 and the building she willed into being was renamed in her honor.
The Nina Vance Alley Theatre Papers, available for study in the Special Collections Reading Room, provide a telling road map of the evolution of theatre in the city of Houston and a bold experiment that served to challenge Broadway and helped democratize stage theatre for other regions of the nation. Highlights from the collection include Vance’s personal papers, correspondence related to the Alley, along with calendars and diaries illustrating the day-to-day work of a pioneering figure.
As the Alley comes to call the UH campus home, we invite you to visit us here at the University of Houston Special Collections and spend some time catching up on the history of this iconic theatre and the woman who manifested that vision.