Beyond the galleries, deep behind the closed doors of UT’s hallowed halls, you might stumble upon hidden brains. Or vintage Chanel. Or an eggbeater patented in 1868.
“The secret life of objects at UT,” Andrée Bober calls it, and she should know: She’s spent the last 11 years sifting through 170 million of them.
Director of UT’s Landmarks public art program by day, author and artifact wrangler by night, Bober is the editor of The Collections, a first-of-its-kind sweeping guide to 80 fascinating collections and archives found across the Forty Acres. Often tucked away from the public eye, their holdings feature irreplaceable relics and specimens radical in range—from the Gutenberg Bible to freshwater algae samples to the emerald green curtain dress worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
The art of collecting was a university tradition long before the Longhorns were called the Longhorns, or Bevo began his reign. On the day the University of Texas was founded in September 1883, the Board of Regents was gifted a plaster bust of former Texas Governor Oran Roberts, sculpted by local artist Elizabet Ney.
Today, a marble replica of that bust sits in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, one of 40 distinct academic units that oversee the current campus collections. Alongside Bober, more than 350 researchers joined together to document the intricacies, and more simply, the existence, of their repositories.
“The bulk of the collections represented are highly regarded within their disciplines, but not within the UT community,” Bober says. “This is a way for each of them to tell their story.”—Jordan Schraeder
Celestial Globe, ca. 1688
Kraus Map Collection,
Harry Ransom Center
In 1681, King Louis XIV commissioned a pair of globes—one terrestrial, one celestial—by Vincenzo Coronelli, widely regarded as the greatest cosmographer and cartographer of the century. The Harry Ransom Center is one of only a handful of institutions in the world to have a replica pair, and one of only two in the U.S.
Modeled human forearm & leg, Peru, Moche, Early Intermediate Period, 100-700 CE
Art & Art History Collection,
College of Fine Arts
Somewhere between 100-700 CE, in the north deserts of Peru, these ceremonial vases were crafted by the Moche people to honor their traditions of ritual combat and human sacrifice. According to Astrid Runggaldier, a lecturer in the Department of Art & Art History, the half-fisted gesture, with its various elevations of knuckles, is a nod to the mountains where these sacred sacrifices took place. “Think about where they are in the Moche Valley, nestled between the desert and the mountains,” Runggaldier says. “These sacrifices were a way of maintaining
a balance between extreme opposites.”
Woman’s “plate” necklace, Maasai, Kisongo region, Tanzania, 20th century, beads & wire
John L. Warfield Center for African
and African American Studies,
College of Liberal Arts
On the second floor of Jester next to J2, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies is dedicated to preserving and studying the history and traditions of Africa and its diaspora. Its art collection, recently acquired from the Texas Memorial Museum, features nearly 1,000 artifacts representing 40 distinct ethnic groups of Africa.
The intricate beading of the necklace to the left, worn by the Maasai people of Tanzania, indicates the wearer’s culture, station, age, and marital status.
Judicial wig with accessories & box, English, 19th century
Hyder Collection, School of Law
Judicial wigs stem from a larger societal custom of wearing wigs in England and France in the mid to late 1600s, when a full head of hair was the ultimate status symbol amid syphilis and head lice outbreaks. “The higher a man’s status or station in life, the larger his wig—hence the term ‘bigwig,’” says Barbara Bintliff, law professor and director of the Tarlton Law Library and Jamail Center for Legal Research. The owner of this particular wig is presumed to be James Fitzgerald, a politician and King’s Counselor in the late 1700s.
Radial beam forced air-cooled VHF triode
Ohmes Vacuum Tube Collection, Department of Electrical and Computer
Known as thermionic valves outside of North America, vacuum tubes such as this one were essential to the development of electronics throughout the 20th century. With roots in Thomas Edison’s patented “Edison Effect,” these tubes amplify or modify signals by moving electrons around an evacuated space. Until the early 1960s, they were the go-to devices for amplifying signals used by radio transmitters and receivers. Though they’ve become increasingly rare due to advancements in technology, vacuum tubes can still be found in high-end audio equipment, microwave ovens, and TVs today.
Alamo Daguerreotype, 1849
Dolph Briscoe Center
for American History
With four divisions, 200,000 books, and 17 miles worth of archives, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History is one of the nation’s leading history centers—collecting, preserving, and sharing its extensive collection with students and scholars in Bonham, Uvalde, Winedale, and Austin. This daguerreotype, taken in 1849 of the Alamo Mission, is the earliest datable photo taken in Texas. It’s the only exterior image of the building before the chapter buildings were reconstructed in 1850. The photographer is unknown.
Crescent Wrench bent by professional
strongman Dennis Rogers, 2006
HJ Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture & Sports, College of Education
One of the newer collections on the Forty Acres, the HJ Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports was founded by faculty members Terry and Jan Todd in fall 2009. Its historical manuscripts, sports equipment, and fitness ephemera are housed in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. Among them: this crescent wrench, bent by professional strongman and former arm-wrestling world champion Dennis Rogers. “The ability to bend a crescent wrench in the middle is very, very rare,” says co-director Terry Todd. “I’m unaware that anyone has been able to bend that quality of wrench the way Dennis Rogers did.”
Bartolomeo Paoletti e Pietro figlio incised gemstone and signet casts with original boxes
College of Liberal Arts
Overseen by the Department of Classics in the College of Liberal Arts, the Classics Collection has its roots in UT’s Museum of Ancient Art, founded in 1904 as the first university institution dedicated to art. Today, it’s home to these gemstone and signet plaster casts crafted by the Paoletti brothers in 1820. They were once used to communicate information about iconography—think revered gods and heroes—and style. “For scholars, this was an era in which it was difficult to move visual media,” says Adam Rabinowitz, associate classics professor. “These casts were easily collected and disseminated—sort of the Internet of classic images in the 18th and 19th centuries.”
Manufacturer’s stamps, wood
type block, the Hamilton
Manufacturing Company, 1889-91
The Rob Roy Kelly American Wood
Type Collection, Art & Art History
Department, College of Fine Arts
Housed in the College of Fine Arts, the Rob Roy Kelly Wood Type Collection features 160 distinct typefaces that represent a rapid transition from calligraphy to industrialized type in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Manufactured methods were cheap, reliable, and perfect for posters and broadsides that required larger text. Wood type blocks from this era can be identified by a small imprint on the capital ‘A,’ signifying their company of origin. These typefaces are the work of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and William H. Page & Company of Greeneville, Connecticut.
Fossil starfish (Crateraster mccarteri; originally Austinaster mccarteri),
Non-Vertebrate Paleontology & Geology Lab, Texas Natural Science Center
The Non-vertebrate Paleontology and Geology Lab, now administered by the Jackson School of Geosciences, zeroes in on rare specimens that lack vertebral columns or backbones—more than 4 million of them, to be precise. The study of clams, oysters, snails, and extinct non-vertebrate species is vital to the study of evolution and oil exploration. World-renowned for its size and biodiversity, the repository and its holdings, including these fossilized starfish (Crateraster mccarteri), are regularly loaned out for education programs, exhibits, and research.
Monkfish skeleton (Lophius gastrophysus)
Ichthyology at Texas Natural Science Center
One of the greatest indicators of environmental change is a surprising one: fish. Studying the biodiversity of fish species, both living and extinct, is the primary purpose of the Ichthyology Collection in the Department of Integrative Biology, previously administered by the now-shuttered Texas Natural Science Center. The department’s research on Texas freshwater, marine, and estuarine species has been used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the United States Geological Survey. This Lophius gastrophysus, or monkfish, can be found in the western Atlantic and the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Greek papyrus fragment,
second century BCE
Harry Ransom Center
Preserved in a trash heap for centuries, this Greek papyrus fragment features a letter between civil officials discussing the taxation of beer and natron, a mineral salt used in mummification. “The tax record isn’t very interesting in itself,” says associate classics professor Adam Rabinowitz. “But it gives us an unintended window into people’s private lives and the economic transactions and bureaucratic paperwork of the ancient world.”
Class: Red Algae (florideophyceae),
Strain: Bostrychia tenella
Culture Collection of Algae
An unexpected contender has emerged in the search for alternative biofuels: algae. Per acre, biofuels made from algae could potentially produce 30 times the energy of traditional crops. The UTEX Culture Collection of Algae, housed in the College of Natural Sciences, is home to 3,000 living specimens that could play a key role in improving water quality, reducing toxic emissions, and enhancing energy production.
Excerpted from The Collections, edited by Andrée Bober, distributed by the University of Texas Press for the University of Texas at Austin College of Fine Arts, 2016.
Photos by Mark Menjivar (6) and Adam Voorhes (3).
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