I never had a chance to meet Blake Alexander, who passed away one year ago today, but after perusing his library for the past six months I feel as if I have a strong sense of what he was like as both a professor and a person. One of the many ways he has revealed himself is through the gift inscriptions often found between the endpapers and cover pages of his books. These short, and often charming, messages show what an impact he had on his students as well as the high regard he was held in by his colleagues. I’m always touched when someone inscribes a book to me, and I’m sure Blake especially treasured these books with their sweet and thoughtful notes. Here are some of my favorites:
Schwin, Lawrence. Old house colors: an expert’s guide to painting your old (or not so old) house. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1990.
I had some initial hesitations about allowing Old House Colors: An Expert’s Guide to Painting Your Old (Or Not So Old) House by Lawrence Schwin III back on the shelf. “Really,” I said to myself, “do we actually want to encourage people to paint their homes garish reds, greens, and yellows?” However, Schwin’s color schemes are not meant for just any old house. An “insider’s manual for choosing the most beautiful and most authentic exterior paint selection for your home,” the title contains a total of 35 styles from every period, each showing “in gorgeous full color the exact shadings and nuances” essential to obtaining an exact reproduction. And, because the composition of paint has changed so much over the decades, the book includes “valuable charts showing how to mix today’s brand-name paints” to exactly replicate the recommended colors. Although I initially dismissed it, the more I looked through the pages of Old House Colors the more I realized what a useful resource it could be for anyone interested in historic preservation and restoration, two topics that aligned exactly with Professor Alexander’s interests.
Library of Congress call number: TT 320 S38 1990
A memorial resolution to honor Blake Alexander was recently approved by the University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers and Sue Alexander Greninger, secretary of the General Faculty. The resolution is available on the website of the Office of the General Faculty.
Watson, Aldren A. Country furniture. New York: Crowell, .
At first, a book like Country Furniture by Aldren A. Watson (1917- ) might seem out of place in the Architecture and Planning Library. Although many architects and architecture students have an interest in furniture design, their tastes tend to run in a more modern direction. Country Furniture, meanwhile, is a book that celebrates the traditional and, most of all, the handcrafted. Despite its old-fashioned subject matter, this title is a full of extremely comprehensive and valuable information on everything from established woodworking techniques and the properties of wood, to the woodworker’s workshop and the typical community it might have existed and thrived in.
What first attracted me to this book were the “over three hundred detailed pencil drawings” by author and illustrator Aldren A. Watson. These simple pencil drawings are remarkable for their clear and concise description of antique furniture. Watson, a respected New England artist, is well known for books on craftsmanship. Titles such as The Blacksmith: Ironworker and Farrier and Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings show a deep appreciation for bygone techniques and, as such, are an indispensable resource for historians and preservationists.
Library of Congress call number: TS 880 W33 1974
Will, Irwin. Highlights of Manhattan. New York: Century Co., .
Highlights of Manhattan was one of the first books in Professor Alexander’s library that caught my eye. Its lovely gilded cover and “roaring twenties” font beckoned me to open it up and see what was inside. When I finally did, I wasn’t disappointed. The title, by Will Irwin (1873-1948), is a travel book of New York City that details significant locations in and around the city – from Broadway all the way up to The Cloisters. These “highlights” are enhanced by thirty-two gorgeous engravings and one color etching by illustrator E. H. Suydam (1885-1940). Suydam, a student of the Philadelphia Museum’s School of Industrial Art, was a talented illustrator, etcher, lithographer, and block printer who specialized in providing images for travel books. Over the course of his career he created more than twenty volumes for Century, one for each of the “great” American cities.
Tourist’s guidebooks, like Highlights of Manhattan, are an important part of any architecture library. Although a volume from the 1920s might be outdated and irrelevant to anyone planning a trip to New York City today, that same title can hold a wealth of information for architectural historians and preservationists. Just a quick perusal of Highlights of Manhattan gave me both a real sense of what it might have been like to visit 1920s New York and allowed me to note some of the changes that have made a lasting impression on the city.
Library of Congress call number: F 128.5 I7 1927
The Library of Drury Blakely Alexander is a collection of architectural books assembled by Drury Blakely Alexander (1924-2011), or Blake (as he preferred to be called), over the course of his celebrated teaching career. Professor Alexander was both an alumnus of, and a distinguished professor in, the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture from 1955 to 1994. During his time at the University of Texas at Austin, he also laid the foundations for the school’s nationally important collection of architectural drawings, photographs, papers, and other ephemera that since 1997 has been known as the Alexander Architectural Archive. His library, which encompasses over 6,000 volumes, represents just one part of a generous bequest made by Professor Alexander to the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.
Since early this summer, I have been processing books and adding provenance notes to the many titles in Blake’s library. Professor Alexander’s primary interest was in making his books available to scholars and students, so this is being done to enable greater access to his extensive collection. Each week this blog will highlight one of the unique, beautiful, or interesting titles that have piqued my interest as I have sorted through the Library of Drury Blakely Alexander. Stay tuned!
The University of Texas Libraries and the School of Architecture will hold a memorial gathering to celebrate the life of Blake Alexander on Saturday, April 28, 2012 from 3-5pm in the Battle Hall Reading Room of the Architecture & Planning Library Forthcoming details will be shared in eNews and on the Alexander Architectural Archive web site.
The Alexander family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Alexander Architectural Archive or the Architecture & Planning Library. Please contact Beth Dodd at firstname.lastname@example.org or donate online.
For further inquiry please contact Nancy Sparrow at 512-495-4621.
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our namesake, Drury Blakeley Alexander. Blake was a champion for the education, documentation, and preservation of Texas’ architectural heritage. He was also a pioneer in recognizing the importance of archiving architectural records. The Alexander Architectural Archive grew out of his personal collection and stewardship. The resources he collected continue to play an important role in the restoration of many of Texas’ most important buildings and continues to support the education and scholarship of American architectural history.
To learn more about Blake’s life and legacy, please see: