Blake Alexander’s Collection

I wrote a few weeks ago about Blake Alexander, the man whose manuscript collection I am processing.  I want to spend a few minutes today telling you about his collection.  As I previously mentioned, Blake was a professor in the School of Architecture for over 40 years.  As you can imagine, he not only taught courses, but he was involved in a number of University and School of Architecture committees, groups, and organizations through the years.  In addition to his time at the University, he also had an active professional career, dealing with architectural history and historic preservation in Austin, in the greater Texas region, and throughout the United States.

The materials in Blake’s collection came to the Archive in various donations over the course of twenty years.  The first donations came in the 1990’s when Blake retired from teaching.  He stayed active professionally and in the University community, and continued to create and collect materials.  As he entered the later years of his life, he left his home where he had lived for over thirty years and moved into an active retirement community.  That brought with it a donation of items to the Archive.  And finally at his death in 2011 the Archive received the remainder of his papers.  Throughout this time the Archive’s Curator, Beth Dodd, worked with Blake to understand the materials he had, and make sure that we knew as much about them so that when the time came to process them we could make them available to researchers in the best way possible.

So what exactly do you do with scores of bankers boxes filled with papers representing a lifetime of work?

Blake Alexander Collection in process

I first started with understanding as much as I could about Blake and his work.  I read books which he published, researched the history of the School of Architecture where he spent so much of his time, and worked to enhance my understanding of architectural history and historic preservation.  I was lucky to be assisted in that endeavor by people who knew and worked with him.  Then I spent time looking through the materials to see what stood out to me.  I identified some main themes (or, series, which is what we call big groupings of materials that were created from the same activity).  After that, I began to see, within the series, different sub-series and groupings relating to specific work or projects.  This is what we call arrangement.  And this arrangement evolved, and continues to evolve.  I’ve listed below the arrangement as it stands now.  But stay tuned, because by the time this project is finished in May, you will very likely see some changes.  Our goal in arrangement is to keep the items as close as possible to the way that Blake had them, while making them accessible and useful for researchers.  I think we have achieved that with this collection.

Personal Papers –  As you can imagine, these are things relating to Blake’s personal life.  We don’t have a lot of materials of this type, but things we do have pertain mainly to Blake’s own time as a student at The University of Texas at Austin.

Professional Papers – This series consists mostly of items that Blake created on a professional level, but that were not a direct result of his time working as a faculty member in the School of Architecture.  Blake served on a number of professional associations, community organizations, and local government advisory committees.  He also wrote and published extensively.  All of these activities are represented here.

Faculty Papers –  At first glance this seems straightforward.  But the things that Blake did in his professional career and in his academic career often overlap.  Every attempt was made to make things in this series very clearly relate to his time at the University.  This series will be particularly helpful to people researching the creation of programs and curriculum in the School of Architecture, as Blake pioneered its architectural history and historic preservation programs.

Research and Reference Files –  Blake collected materials to support his teaching, research, writing, and professional work.  Because his interests overlapped, it is often impossible to distinguish what he used a particular news clipping, article, or brochure for.  Because of this we have separated these research and reference files into their own series.

Travel –  Blake traveled extensively.  This travel was sometimes personal in nature, when Blake often traveled with friends.  However he also collected information about buildings and sites he saw when traveling and used these in his teaching and writing.  Again, these materials supported a variety of pursuits, so they are separated into their own series. 

Postcards –  This series is in many ways similar to both Research and Reference Files and Travel, but it is distinct because the collection of postcards – numbering around 6,500 – includes postcards that Blake obtained from his colleagues Marian Davis and Edward Maverick.  They are a mix of postcards originating as correspondence (with writing and postal cancellations), and blank postcards, which we believe, were retained for their informational value. 

Slides –   In an era before computer presentation tools like digital photographs and Power Point, educators and professionals alike used photographic slides to share images of buildings, sites, and projects.  This series has over 3,000 slides, some of which were scanned for Texas Architecture: A Visual History.

Blake Alexander

For the past five months I have been processing the Blake Alexander collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive.  The collection belonged to Drury Blakeley Alexander, an ardent supporter of the Architecture and Planning Library, the namesake of its Archive, and an architecture professor and architectural historian.  I’m writing today to tell you a little more about Blake.

Blake was born in Paris, Texas on February 4th, 1924.  His mother was Katherine and his father Drury Blakeley.  The world that Blake was born into in Paris was one of architectural growth and change.  The city suffered a devastating fire in 1916, so when Blake and his brother John were growing up in the 1920’s, there was an incredible amount of re-building happening all around them.  This, coupled with the significant examples of nineteenth century architecture which did survive, caused Blake to develop a deep appreciation for architecture, its history, and the way that it is influenced by and influences the places in which it exists.

After a stint at Paris Junior College, Blake made his way to the University of Texas in 1942 to study architecture, but was called away to serve in the United States Army.  When he returned to the University in 1946 he had a taste of Europe and his path as an architectural historian was settled.  He received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1950.  At the time the study of architectural history was based in art history, and Blake sought out the guidance and advice of a young and vibrant art historian named Marian Davis.  Blake and Marian began what would become a life-long friendship.  She encouraged Blake to return to class, and he received his Bachelor of Science in Art.  After that, he went on to Columbia University where he earned his Master of Arts in Art History in 1953.

It was only natural that Blake would be drawn back to the University of Texas.  He spent time in Austin as a youngster, staying with family members who had a home on Wichita Avenue, before the 40 Acres’ inevitable growth had enveloped it.  His grandfather’s sister, Ada Stone, was married to H.Y. Benedict, an early University president.  And in his memoir, Oral Memoirs of Drury Blakeley Alexander, he said, “in Paris, of course, it was just the University” (28).  So after a year teaching at Kansas State University, he came back to teach at his alma mater.

Blake’s professional career includes numerous achievements, which I will cover in another post.  He passed away on December 11th, 2011.  Later the following spring his friends and colleagues convened to remember the man’s illustrious career and life.  I never had the opportunity to meet Blake, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know him a bit these past five months.  His collection speaks to the fact that he was a constant professional, always a gentleman, and appreciated a good joke.  His commitment to the education of architecture students at The University of Texas at Austin was never in question.  He supported the library and developed the collections which would become the Archive which would bear his name.  And to ensure that these materials would remain accessible, and the collections remain vibrant and relevant, he left as a final legacy a significant financial gift.  The Blake Alexander Architectural Library Endowment will fund the purchase and maintenance of materials for generations of architecture students, and for that we are most thankful to Blake.

Come back for more updates about Blake’s collection, to be posted soon.

Ghosts Along the Mississippi

Laughlin, Clarence John. Ghosts along the Mississippi : an essay in the poetic interpretation of Louisiana’s plantation architecture. New York: Bonanza Books, c1961.

Within the Library of Drury Blakely Alexander there are many books that focus on regional and domestic architecture. However, one of these stands out from the rest. Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts Along the Mississippi is more than just your typical Southern architecture coffee table book filled with allusions to magnolias and Southern Living style photography. Instead, this book is an unusual blend of plantations and poetry by one of the South’s best known Surrealist photographers. Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985) was born near New Orleans and, despite employment with Vogue and the United States government,  his interest in “the evolution of Louisiana plantation culture” stayed with him throughout his professional life. Ghosts Along the Mississippi, first published by Scribner’s Sons in 1948 and then reprinted by Bonanza in 1961, is among his best known works. This fascinating book contains 100 black and white plates of abandoned plantations, moss-strewn bayous, and decrepit old cemeteries. Subtitled An Essay in the Poetic Interpretation of Lousiana’s Plantation Architecture, each image is also accompanied by original text from the author/photographer. Through evocative language, colorful historic details, and unusual double-exposed photographs, Laughlin succeeds in capturing the “grandeur and decay” of the old South in a way that is both novel and compelling.

Library of Congress call number: F 370 L3 1961

Treasures from the Weinreb Architectural Collection

In 1968, a proxy working on behalf of the University of Texas Libraries walked into book dealer Ben Weinreb’s London shop and purchased his entire stock. There was no catalog and many copies existed in duplicate or bulk. In 1970, a visitor to the university noted that these materials were still in boxes, but eventually over 50,000 books, journals, drawings and papers were assumed into the architectural book collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center where many volumes remain available to scholars and independent researchers.

In the late 1980s, HRC, University of Texas Libraries and Architecture and Planning Library staff began discussing the possible transfer of Weinreb duplicates from the HRC to the Architecture and Planning Library’s special collections. This would lead to the infusion of over 5,900 of what Weinreb felt “were ordinary working books of value for the information they contained rather than their antiquity, rarity, or fine printing into the Architecture and Planning Library’s collection, increasing holdings by 15%.

Unusual among the architect and educator libraries stored in the Architecture and Planning Library special collections, the Weinreb Architectural Collection expresses no discrete professional or academic vision. Rather, Weinreb, who has been described as an “incorrigible buyer of bulk,” was an accidental architectural enthusiast whose “restless ambition to fortify [himself] with [a warehouse] full of stock” eventuated the assembly of both rare and ubiquitous volumes on architecture in English, Dutch, French, German and Italian. These materials address a range of topics including hospital and asylum architecture, the history of interior design, ornament, plumbing, metalwork and design theory. In addition, several monographs for great residential palaces complement other such folios held in special collections.

Stay tuned for more from the Weinreb Architectural Collection!



East Texas Architecture

Garner, John S. East Texas architecture: a select study / prepared for the Texas Society of Architects by John S. Garner. [College Station, TX: J. Garner], c1979.

John S. Garner’s East Texas Architecture: A Select Study is a labor of love describing more than 150 buildings across 33 counties in East Texas. This incredibly useful study, undertaken through a grant from the Texas Society of Architects to further scholarship in the “History of Architecture and the Southwest,” spotlights a myriad of forms – from log or “dog-trot” cabins to Gothic Victorian mansions and Greek revival courthouses. The book is organized according to city (Texarkana, Longview, Tyler, Mexia, Lufkin – to name but a few), with each community featuring several structures of varying styles. The buildings are represented by a single, yet straightforward image, and a description detailing the building’s history and significance. Although this publication is not glamorous or glossy (like many of the books in the Architecture & Planning Library), it provides a wealth of information on historic, regional architecture.

Library of Congress call number: NA 730 T5 G37 1979