Stories To Tell: A Peak into Harry Ransom Centers Private Collection

Stories To Tell: Selections from the Harry Ransom Center coincidentally marks the museums 60th anniversary as well as their 60th exhibition since opening in 2003.

The Harry Ransom Center home to The University of Texas at Austin campus offers a preview into their extensive archives in order to shed light on literary and cultural artifacts ranging from art, manuscripts, photography, costumes, books, ect. The exhibition Stories To Tell: Selections from the Harry Ransom Center, was thoughtfully co-curated by Cathy Henderson, Eric Colleary, Megan Barnard, and Steve Wilson. They choose what they considered their most popular pieces from each arts division to cultivate stories between the variety archived works, bringing the past and the present together in the galley space in a new imaginative way. This exhibition not only highlights the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive archives, but also focuses on their renowned Conservation Department which modernizes methods of preservation, restoration, and display of artwork. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the current exhibition a section of the gallery will be sectioned off to house a rotating collection to celebrate their archived works year around. This separate collection will help support and teach students at The University of Texas at Austin through mandatory courses which help students explore campus across disciplines. Bellow you will find an insider’s look into just a couple of the phenomenal pieces you will find when you visit the Harry Ransom Center.

“A great archive is a bottomless well” – Cathy Henderson

The Henry Matisse’s Jazz, was created after Matisse was diagnosed with abdominal cancer which left him bed ridden. His assistants helped by tracing the shapes Matisse would cut from colored paper and attached to his wall. Screen printed images would then replicate the vibrant color fields created by Matisse to make accessible to the public. By brushing the inks through the stencils the artist was able to replicate the 3-D effects of actual paper shapes seen on the wall. The lively colors and organic shapes celebrate nuance in theatrical arts, as each title represents elements found in a circus performance.

“We are not just stuff that’s old” – Steve Wilson

The HRC has acquired numerous costumes; on display is the Piquant dress from Ballet Russes, one of the first ballet companies to bring ballet into the 20th century. Leon Bakst was the designer of the hand painted dress, illustrating his costume ideas with the figure in motion to capture how the dress will move on stage. The HRC created a custom clear mannequin to display the dress in order for the viewers to see the inner workings. Some of these hidden modifications showcase the past-life of the dress, including the dancers name written on the inseam under the arm, a German customs stamp, a built in brassier(which was modern for its time), and alterations which signify that more than one dancer wore the dress. Ballet Russes would also commission contemporary artists of the time; Pablo Picasso who drew set designs and costumes, another step in bringing ballet to the 20th century. His set designs were described as surreal three years before surrealism reached Paris.

In the same room you can find more culturally famous costume, such as the outfit worn by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Featuring his army veteran jacket with a King Kong patch on the sleeve on top of a plaid button down, at first glance it gives the viewer a sense of his character in the movie. A tough returning veteran on the outside and a country good-guy on the inside. In the display case opposite of the costume reveal De Niro’s manuscript opened to sc. 142  where he came up with the famous line, “you talkin’ to me” noted as “at mirror?” in his classic sloppy handwriting. This famous scene was also one of the last scenes shot for the movie. In the same case is his New York taxi drivers’ license, when he became a real taxi driver as a way of method acting in preparation for the roll. De Niro learned method acting through classes at the Actors Studio, taught by Lee Strasberg. He also studied under Stella Adler who instead of embodying the character she focused of becoming the character through physicality in actions. A combination of both methods is said to be the crux of De Niros’ skyrocketing success in film while carrying an almost tabloid-free lifestyle.

These are just a few of the pieces you will find when journeying through Stories To Tell: Selections from the Harry Ransom Center. Allow your own story to unveil through the historical and culturally infamous works found in the archives of an internationally renowned humanities and research museum. Here, you will find a video of the instillation and a Spotify playlist created for experiencing the exhibition!


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