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Welcome Back Students and Welcome Our Newest Fellow

Department News, Houston & Texas History, Houston Hip Hop, Performing & Visual Arts

This week not only marks the arrival of the fall semester and the return of students to the University of Houston campus but, as mentioned earlier in the week, it also marks the arrival of our newest fellow, Stacey Lavender.

As the Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow, Stacey will assist with the processing of archival collections and other tasks associated with the Performing Arts, Houston & Texas History, and Houston Hip Hop collecting areas.

In regards to what drew her to this fellowship, Stacey writes:

I was definitely excited that the position was specifically directed at recent graduates and that I would have the opportunity to work with several different types of collections. I also have just always had the eventual goal of working in a university library and I hadn’t had the opportunity to do that during graduate school. So I thought this would be a really great way to take the skills and knowledge I had from my previous work and educational experiences and learn to use them in a university library setting.

A native of the greater Houston area, Stacey joins us from Michigan where she earned her MS in Information from the University of Michigan.  While in Ann Arbor she also worked at the U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, as a Science Records Intern, and as a Student Archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor.  Earning her BA in History at Rice, she also has experience as a Records Specialist at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

We are very excited to welcome Stacey and have her lending her expertise to the UH Special Collections.

Willis Knapp Jones and Latin American Theatre

Performing & Visual Arts
cover and title page of "El Juguete Roto" by Facundo Recalde, 1925; from the Jones Latin American Drama Collection

cover and title page of “El Juguete Roto” by Facundo Recalde, 1925; from the Jones Latin American Drama Collection

For over four decades Dr. Willis Knapp Jones studied, taught, and lectured on the subject of Spanish and other Romance languages.  Earning his MA from Penn State University and his PhD from the University of Chicago, Dr. Jones would go on to teach for a short time at Penn State before settling into his career at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Throughout, he traveled and taught in Chile, Uruguay, England, and Ecuador.  It was during his travels through Latin America that Dr. Jones went about acquiring the breadcrumbs of numerous, visually stunning, theatre programs (dating from the late 1930s through the early 1960s) and an even larger library of original plays, including rare and unpublished titles, and critical works related to the study of Latin American theatre.  After his “retirement” in 1963, he published Beyond Spanish American Footlights, a seminal English-language study of the history of Latin American theatre.

When Dr. Jones retired, the University of Houston Special Collections acquired his library related to Latin American theatre.  These materials include the previously mentioned programs making up the Willis Knapp Jones Latin American Theatre Programs collection as well as over 1,000 volumes Dr. Jones acquired over the years, constituting the Jones Latin American Drama Collection.  Researchers with an interest in our Performing Arts collections will certainly want to take a look at these programs and texts.  In addition, given Dr. Jones’s analysis of theatre as a barometer of the social mores, political leanings, and history of a nation, the resources from his library may also serve to complement scholars interested in visiting us to conduct research in our growing Hispanic Collections.

When you have a moment, do look through the detailed finding aid for the Latin American Theatre Programs or peruse the catalog of plays and come take advantage of these incredibly rich and rare resources.

The Chocolate Bayou Theater Collection

Performing & Visual Arts
Chocolate Bayou Theater Co.

Chocolate Bayou Theater Co.

Asking a non-Houstonian what comes to mind when they think of our fair city is likely to elicit the typical answers.  OilRodeo.  Theater.

Wait, theater?

Granted, those who may not know our city so well may not realize how vibrant a theater ecosystem we have carved out.  However, thanks to the generosity of our city’s patronage, combined with a bustling Theater District second only to New York, both established and upstart companies have made their home here, producing award-winning and critically successful dramas.

Leonard Wagner and Pat Miller, co-founders of Chocolate Bayou Theater

Leonard Wagner and Pat Miller, co-founders of Chocolate Bayou Theater Co.

Here at the University of Houston Special Collections, our Performing Arts collections serve to shed light on much of that history.  One example from this collection area, the Chocolate Bayou Theater Collection, illustrates what a determined, upstart theater company can accomplish in Houston.

In 1973 Leonard Wagner established a new theater company in conjunction with the Alvin Community College.  When Alvin withdrew from the project, Wagner remained undeterred.  He partnered with Pat Miller to create the non-profit, professional Chocolate Bayou Theater Company.  Enjoying critical success, the CBTC supported burgeoning playwrights through the establishment of the Preston Jones New Play Symposium.

Chocolate Bayou Theater Co. promotional mailer, 1984-85 season

Chocolate Bayou Theater Co. promotional mailer, 1984-85 season

Oil, of course, would remain a factor.  This is Houston, after all.  Financial troubles and the debilitating oil recession of the 1980s impacted a number of the arts in Houston, dependent on the benevolence of their benefactors.  Faced with financial difficulties, the CBTC would shutter their operations in 1987.  Scarce resources, however, would fail to diminish the legacy of two Rockefeller Foundation grants and over 100 productions through nearly a decade and a half of feverish creativity (The CBTC would produce seven premieres in its final year of operation).

If this type of window into the Houston performing arts community is of interest, do check out the finding aid for the CBTC or window shop some of the other collections of related materials.  When you are ready to visit, feel free to drop us a line or just drop in.

Statue of Four Lies (Spoiler Alert!)

Performing & Visual Arts
The Codex of the Statue of the Four Lies (available at the University of Houston Special Collections)

The Codex of the Statue of Four Lies (available at the University of Houston Special Collections)

Here at Special Collections, we just love The Art Guys.  That is, we love them until they start to hurt our brains by making us think.

Since 2010, when “The Statue of Four Lies” was added to the hundreds of other pieces of art that adorn our fine campus, a certain rite of passage seems to have been established.  Each fall semester, green undergraduate freshmen stumble by the piece, full of double takes and perplexed head scratching.  In time, they transform into jaundiced sophomores who long ago gave up trying to apply meaning to the statue and, instead, have retreated back into their academia in hopes of finding meaning.  Now, almost four years later, the occasional graduate student still stroll by with a scoff and roll of her eyes at those who continue to stand next to the statue in bewilderment.

open drawer of the Codex

open drawer of the Codex

Over these years the public has not been at a loss of ideas and theories as to “what it all means,” anyway and countless theories have surfaced.  Some argue it is a treatise on the nature of truth vs. Truth.  Others will put forward the theory that the statue is a critique on the ubiquitous and acceptable nature of lies as the basis of our day-to-day existence.  Here in Special Collections, of course, we knew all along that the statue was really… well…

contentsWe don’t want to ruin it for you.

However, the loyal Cougars that they are, The Art Guys made sure to house the Codex of the Statue of Four Lies here in Special Collections.  Particularly observant visitors to the statue’s website will note in the fine print that the, “CODEX SPECIALIBUS IN COLLECTIONIBUS BIBLIOTHECAE INVENITUR.”  So, don’t you want all the answers?  Don’t you want to know what it all means?  Just take a trip up to the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library and ask to see the Codex Specialibus to have the Truth truth revealed.

Or, is that a lie?

Knowing The Art Guys and their proclivity for playfulness and ambiguity, you may walk away with more questions and, really, is that such a bad thing?

Six Degrees of Spec. Collections

Collections, Performing & Visual Arts

As noted recently on NPR, today marks the 125th anniversary of the publication of the classic baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat,” in 1888. One of our patrons heard the piece on the radio, and while visiting us in the Reading Room for some other research, asked if we might happen to have any materials related to this poem. A discussion ensued, and while we do not have any direct connection, a challenge was thrown down: Could we find a connection from “Casey at the Bat” to something in our archives in six steps, a laSix Degrees of Separation”?

Well, here we go:

1. “Casey at the Bat” was written by Ernest Thayer.

2. Ernest Thayer was friends with William Randolph Hearst from their days together at the Harvard Lampoon – and Hearst later hired Thayer as humor columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, which first published “Casey” in 1888.

3. William Randolph Hearst was the inspiration for the renowned film Citizen Kane, directed by and starring Orson Welles.

4. Orson Welles exchanged correspondence with theater producer/director Cheryl Crawford; this correspondence is available right here in our archives among the Cheryl Crawford Papers.






Six degrees? Ha! We got there in four. So although there might be “no joy in Mudville,” as “mighty Casey has struck out,” we are feeling a bit victorious here in Special Collections today.

Interested researchers and visitors may view these letters and much more in our Reading Room. The bulk of the Cheryl Crawford Papers dates from 1940-1978, documenting Ms. Crawford’s career in theater through correspondence, production materials, scripts, programs, playbills, audio tapes, posters, sheet music, sound recordings, clippings, budgets, tax returns, legal agreements, contracts, audits, reviews, speeches, and miscellaneous items such as postcards and receipts.

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