Category Archives: archive

Interviewing Wayne Bell, the godfather of historic preservation in Texas

Think of historic preservation in Texas and you think of Wayne Bell.  So when my Introduction to Archival Enterprise group was assigned to process the papers Bell donated to the Alexander Architectural Archive, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the UT professor emeritus who was instrumental in founding the historic preservation master’s degree program.

Wayne Bell examines a photo more closely, with archives student Catherine Grady looking on
Wayne Bell examines a photo more closely, with archives student Catherine Grady looking on

When organizing an individual’s papers, you hope that they left enough reports, notes, photographs, and more to be able to piece together a story, to understand the person and his or her work. Bell had—for projects like the Inge-Stoneham House (1982-1987) and its relocation as part of the Winedale Historical Center program, we discovered day-to-day memoranda of contractor decisions, in addition to numerous photographs and other documentation. However, there also were many unlabeled contact sheets, research files without a clear project affiliation, and other records that only Bell could explain to us.

Inge-Stoneham entry hall photo
Inge-Stoneham entry hall photo
Inge-Stoneham entry hall description
Inge-Stoneham entry hall description

What we learned in chatting with Bell was even more revealing—while he showed remarkable powers of recollection about 40-year-old photos, there were a few photos and documents in the Wayne Bell papers that even Wayne Bell couldn’t explain. Sometimes an archivist just has to make an educated guess about a record and how it fits into the narrative—and hope that researchers will be able to complete the story.

iSchool students digitally archive George and Geraldine Andrews materials

Students in the Digital Archeology Lab

iSchool students digitally archive George and Geraldine Andrews materials

In the Spring 2010 semester, School of Information students completed a project to digitally archive materials in the George F. and Geraldine D. Andrews collection. The project team includes Tim Arnold, Matthew McKinley, Lisa Rivoir, and Kathryn Pierce, who were School of Information students in Dr. Patricia Galloway’s Problems in the Permanent Retention of Electronic Records course.

The team accessed files on 3.5 inch and 5.25 inch floppy disks used by George and Geraldine Andrews in the course of their extensive documentation of Maya architectural sites. Andrews’ field work documenting Maya architecture began in the 1950s. He, along with his wife, Gerrie, conducted architectural surveys at field sites from 1958 through 1997. The two compiled a rich collection of records, including measurements, architectural drawings, sketches, photographs, and descriptive text, documenting sites in the Puuc, Chenes-Puuc, Chenes, and Río Bec regions of the central Yucatán Peninsula. The pair documented approximately 800 buildings at 224 archaeological sites.

The iSchool students used resources in the newly established Digital Archeology Lab in the School of Information to access the older media. The goals of the project were to inventory the floppy disks, take disk images, access the files,and ingest these materials into Pacer, the DSpace digital repository hosted by the School of Information.

The project is the Alexander Architectural Archive’s first foray into digital archeology. One remaining goal of this project is to add the recovered files to the set of digital materials from the George and Geraldine Andrews collection that are being deposited into the University of Texas Digital Repository.

Sir Aston Webb – A Collection Assessment

Detail of Stonework
Detail of Stonework

The Webb collection includes of over 700 documents, including architectural drawings, “tearsheets”, photographs, sketches, doodles and presentation pieces.  Sir Aston Webb worked as an architect in London during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and was responsible for the design of many public buildings and monuments.  This important collection was transferred to us through The Harry Ransom Center in 1983.

These images offer interesting insights into the working process of Sir Aston Webb.  Many of the drawings have hand-written notes, corrections and annotation scribbled on them. We have a few literal back-of-the-napkin calculations and ideas, as well as very rough conceptual sketches.  It is this kind of evidence which brings us closer to history and the people who built the world we live in today.

Interior of a chapel
Interior of a chapel

Working with two iSchool volunteers, Ana Cox and Ashley Butler, our primary responsibility was to create digital images of each item in this collection to allow eventual digital access, but along the way we also re-housed some items and performed some minor conservation on others.  The re-housing was performed to keep the smaller items from sliding around in large drawers, and also to allow for more efficient storage.  We encountered several jewels which our images, though accurate, fail to do justice to.  A big part of this project, for me, was the increased appreciation of the artistic value of these supposedly technical drawings.

Most of the conservation performed was simple surface cleaning.  While it may seem elementary to clean a dirty document, some important considerations must be acknowledged.  First, the cleaning is abrasive to the surface of the document, and so should only be carried out on those objects sturdy enough to withstand it.  The method of surface cleaning must also be considered, as some are more effective, and more potentially damaging, than others.  Finally, time has to be taken into account.  Each item must be cleaned front and back.

Cleaning by itself might seem to some to be of little importance, especially when the document being cleaned has a huge tear running through it.  However, dirt can do damage in a number of ways.  Small particles can be sharp, and as one object slides against another these particles can scrape the paper, damaging and weakening it.  Also, dirt can attract pests which eat paper.  Paper by itself can be food to some insects, but dirty paper is delicious food.  Dirt obscures details, warps our perception of color, and can easily be transferred from one object to another through careless handling or just through contact.  Dirt can include pollutants from the air, which in this case means that our collection was coated in a thin layer of Victorian London’s industrial smog.  I’m not sure exactly what such smog was made up of, but I am confident that chemicals harmful to paper, such as sulfur and chlorine, were in the mix.

The left side has been surface cleaned using a soot sponge, the right has not
Ink and ink wash on paper, mounted on board

This during-treatment image of some surface cleaning gives an idea of how a simple treatment can have a dramatic effect.  The left side has been surface cleaned with soot sponges, while the right has yet to be worked on.

Assessment of a collection is a necessary step, but it is only one step in the life of a collection at an institution.  It is sandwiched between accessioning on the one side and re-housing and conservation on the other, and even that simplification fails to take into account the previous and future life of the collection.  Our assessment was not only able to tell us what we had, but where it was, what its condition was, how it was treated before it came to us and how we could best treat it in the future.  Owning a collection is not simply a matter of keeping it in drawers, but is an active and thoughtful process that should be managed with care and consideration.

Collection of Prominent Texas Architect Donated to University of Texas Libraries

The University of Texas Libraries has acquired a collection of materials belonging to Houston architect and Frank Lloyd Wright devotee Karl Kamrath (1911-1988).

The materials, donated by Karl’s children– Eugenie Mygdal, Jack Kamrath, Karl Kamrath Jr., and Tom Kamrath–will join an earlier lot donated to The Alexander Architectural Archive.

The collection, which includes business papers, project records, correspondence, original architectural design drawings, photographs, prints and ephemera, provides insight into the prolific Texan’s work, much of whose modernist design aesthetic paid homage to Wright.

The strengths of this archive are in its design drawings and post-construction photographs, including some of Kamrath’s award-winning projects such as the Kamrath residence of 1939, Temple Emanu-El in Houston, the Houston Fire Alarm Building, M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, and the Contemporary Arts Association in Houston.

Karl Kamrath grew up in Austin and earned his bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas. In 1934, he moved to Chicago, where he worked for the architectural firm Pereira and Pereira, the Interior Studios of Marshall Field and Co. and the Architectural Decorating Company.

In 1937, he and another former graduate of the university, Frederick James MacKie Jr. opened their own architectural firm, MacKie and Kamrath in Houston, Texas. MacKie and Kamrath were among the first Houston architects to follow a modernist approach to design for which they received national recognition.

Kamrath left the firm from 1942 to 1945 to serve as a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. Shortly after his return in 1946, Kamrath met Wright and immediately became an advocate of Wright’s Usonian architecture style.

Kamrath became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1939 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1955, and at various times served in an adjunct capacity at the University of Oklahoma, The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Oregon. He was also a founder and served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum from 1948 to 1952.

“Our archive already contains a strong collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-related work,” says Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture. “The Kamrath Collection enhances the depth of Wright-related materials and will benefit architectural scholars for generations to come.”
The sister collection for the office of McKie and Kamrath, including the bulk of the office files, job files and construction documents, resides at the Houston Metropolitan Research Collection of the Houston Public Library.

The Kamrath archive is projected to be processed and available for use by patrons by August 2007.

O’Neil Ford drawings donated to UT Austin’s Alexander Architectural Archive

Drawings of the noted Texas architect O’Neil Ford (1905-1982) have been donated to the Alexander Architectural Archive at The University of Texas at Austin by his widow, Wanda Graham Ford. The gift includes 5,540 original architectural drawings, 5,484 prints, 40 presentation drawings, 39 presentation sketches, and 63 sheets of photographic materials.

The donation covers Ford’s work through 1966 (at which point he went into partnership with Ford Powell & Carson) and complements an earlier gift to the Alexander Architectural Archive of Ford’s office files, personal papers, and books.

O’Neil Ford emphasized the integration of crafts and the use of native materials in his designs. His larger, most notable projects include the restoration of La Villita and designs for the new campus for Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and Skidmore College in New York. Among his honors were appointments to the National Council on the Arts in 1968 and to the American Council for the Arts in Education in 1975. The first endowed chair in the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin was named for O’Neil Ford.

It will take several years to fully process and catalog this extensive collection of materials. Access to the O’Neil Ford materials within the Alexander Architectural Archive, a unit of the General Libraries of The University of Texas at Austin, is by appointment only.