Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall Meeting, East Texas Historical Association

ETHA Executive Director Scott Sosebee and Deanna Smith, Secretary-Treasurer
The East Texas Historical Association just completed its annual fall meeting at the historic Fredonia Hotel in Nacogdoches, Texas, held from September 24-26, 2009. Over thirty sessions and several speeches made for a very satisfying and exemplary meeting. Session topics ranged from a panel discussion on what geographically constitutes East Texas as a concept to a study of historic boom towns in the region. All sessions touched in some fashion on the history and culture of East Texas. Victoria Cummins and I presented papers in a session entitled “Depression Era Art,” that included my biographical study of sculptor Allie Victoria Tennant while my wife’s paper was “Art in Your Own Backyard: Mexican Muralism, the P.W.A.P., and Small Towns in East Texas.” Other sessions dealt with a panoply of topics across the political, economic, cultural, and social history of East Texas.

The opening plenary talk of the meeting featured Fort Worth journalist Jeff Guinn, author of a new book on the colorful outlaws of the 1930s, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. This talk constituted the annual Max and Georgiana Lale Lecture. Guinn’s assessment of Bonnie and Clyde provided a very human context for understanding them as complex historical figures. Ted Lawe, (see at right) in giving the presidential address, delivered an interesting and informative biographical assessment of his own career as a museum founder and proponent of an increased awareness of the Black historical experience in the region. The theme of African-American history was also featured in a timely luncheon address by Austin journalist Michael Hurd, a native Texan who is directing the Texas Black History Preservation Project. He spoke on ‘The Founding of Black Colleges in East Texas: Something from Nothing.” Milton Jordan of Georgetown was installed at the Saturday luncheon as the incoming president of the association.

Two very deserving historians were honored as recipients of the Ottis Locke Awards. Mary L. Kelley Scheer of Lamar University (at left) was given the Ottis Locke Educator of the Year Award. This honor goes to a person who has demonstrated excellence in educating the public about the history or culture of East Texas. Professor Kelley Scheer’s teaching and research interests include Texas history, the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, women’s history, and American social and reform movements. She authored The Foundations of Texan Philanthropy (Texas A&M University Press, 2004) and co-edited Twentieth-Century Texas: A Social and Cultural History (University of North Texas Press, 2008). She was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Potsdam, Germany, in 2004 and serves as a faculty sponsor for the Walter P. Webb Society.

Kyle G. Wilkison, (at right) a history professor at Collin College, received the Ottis Locke Award for the best book on East Texas history for his Yeomen, Sharecroppers and Socialists: Plain Folk Protest in Texas, 1870-1914, published in 2008 by the Texas A&M University Press. Professor Wilkison holds a B.A. and M.A. from East Texas State University, now Texas A&M—Commerce, and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. He has served on the Collin College faculty since 1994 and has also lectured at the University of Texas at Dallas and at Texas A&M--Commerce. This award-winning book analyzes the patterns of plain-folk life across East Texas and the changes that occurred during the critical four decades spanning the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. In addition, L. Patrick Hughes of Austin Community College received the Ottis Locke Research Scholarship to underwrite his on-going research on the career of Texas Governor James V. Allred.

The spring meeting of the East Texas Historical Association will be held in Fort Worth, in joint session with the West Texas Historical Association, February 26-27, 2010.

Website of the East Texas Historical Association

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sam Rayburn Symposium October 1, 2009

The Austin College Center for Southwestern and Mexican Studies will host a statewide conference on the history of Texas political leadership. It will start at 11:00 am on Thursday, October 1, 2009 in the Hoxie Thompson Auditorium of Sherman Hall, 916 Grand Avenue, on the Austin College campus in Sherman.

This symposium will be co-sponsored by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History of University of Texas at Austin. The Briscoe Center operates the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham, which will also be a venue for this symposium. The conference will celebrate the life and work Congressman Sam Rayburn, who represented the fourth Congressional District for a half-century, while it will also analyze the nature of Texas political leadership during the 20th century. The sympoisum is open to the public without charge.

11:00 a.m. to Noon, Hoxie Thompson Auditorium
Introduction of Dr. Remini by Light Cummins
Symposium Address – Dr. Robert Remini, Historian of the United States House of Representatives

1:30 pm-2:40 pm Hoxie Thompson Auditorium
Panel 1 - Politics and Congress in the Rayburn Era
Moderator - Jackie Moore
Panelists: Nancy Beck Young, Anthony Champagne, Fred Beuttler

3:00 p.m. - 4:10 p.m. Hoxie Thompson Auditorium
Panel 2 - Profiles in Power – Personalities and Texas Politics in the Rayburn Era
Moderator – Light Cummins
Panelists: Patrick Cox, Kenneth Hendrickson, Michael Collins

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

McMurry University Has A New History Professor

Dr. Stephen L. Hardin has joined the faculty at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas and is currently teaching his first classes there this fall semester. In so doing, he becomes a member of a well-established history department that includes Donald Frazier, Robert Maberry, and Gary W. Shannafelt. In spite of the fact that Professor Hardin is new to his office located on the second floor of McMurry’s Old Main Building, he is most certainly not a novice when it comes to teaching and writing history. He has been successfully engaging students in college classrooms for almost twenty years.

As well, his books and historical articles have won him widespread acclaim throughout the historical community. He is best known as the award-winning author of “Texian Iliad,” the most comprehensive military history of the Texas Revolution written to date. This book will most likely be the standard study of the subject for decades to come. He is also the author of “Texian Macabre: A Melancholy Tale of a Hanging in Early Houston,” a fascinating book that has attracted a wide readership. His books have won the T. R. Fehrenbach Award and the Summerfield G. Roberts Award. (At left: he autographs one of his books.) Dr. Hardin has also written more than a dozen scholarly articles and edited a book entitled “Lone Star: The Republic of Texas.” His colleagues in history have recognized his scholarship by making him a lifetime Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association. Dr. Hardin has also been inducted into the membership of the prestigious Texas Institute of Letters, an honor reserved for the state’s most distinguished authors. He is also one of the few historians listed on the Internet Movie Database, this because he served as historical consultant for the making of John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film “The Alamo” starring Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton. In that capacity, he also appeared in a documentary made about this film.

When he is not teaching or writing, he sometimes appears as a commentator on television, having been on NBC’s Today Show along with programs on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the A&E Network. Personally, I have an interesting -- and to me a satisfying -- connection to Dr. Hardin. He was an undergraduate student at the same university where I was a graduate student, and at the same time. He enrolled in the very first United States history survey class that I offered back when I was a beginning graduate teaching assistant. He sat in the center of the front row. Since then, I have probably learned far more from Stephen L. Hardin as an historian than whatever I imparted to him years ago when he appeared as a student in the first college class I ever taught at the start of my own career. As can be seen in the recent picture of us together, at the right, Dr. Hardin is a tall person. His exuberant personality and gracious manner exceed even his impressive height.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

High Tea and Texas Regionalism

This week I spoke in McKinney at a special “High Tea” to a group of art patrons as a run-up to the Texas Regional Art symposium to be held at the Heard Craig Center for the Arts on October 10 of this year. That symposium will feature talks, among others, by Lonn Taylor, former Curator of the Smithsonian Institution; Francine Carraro of Abilene’s Grace Museum; Sam Ratcliff of the Bywaters Collection at SMU; Carol Roark of the Dallas Public Library; Victoria Cummins of Austin College, and me.

My topic for the High Tea was an overview of Texas regionalism during the 1920s and 1930s. I covered not only art, but history, literature, architecture, and other manifestations of regionalism in the Lone Star State during that era. I also linked southwestern regionalism to the larger regional movements that were occurring across the nation at the time. In that regard, I reviewed the regionalist ideas of Lewis Mumford, Howard Odum, and others, all of whom postulated in the 1930s that the United States was an amalgamation of distinct regions. I surveyed the writing of the southern regionalists, including Agrarians such as Robert Penn Warren, as a context for the emergence of regional southwesterners. In so doing, I considered the works of Walter P. Webb, J. Frank Dobie, and Roy Bedichek as examples of southwestern regionalism, while I also examined the architectural works of Atlee B. Ayers, David R. Williams, and O’Neil Ford in a similar manner. Of course, I paid particular attention to regional artists including Jerry Bywaters, Alexandre Hogue, Olin Travis, Allie Tennant, and others. My central point rests on the proposition that Texas regionalism was a broad-based, interlocking intellectual movement during the interwar era that concurrently informed Texas history, literature, art, music, and architecture. No compenent part of that movement can be fully understood in isolation from the others.
Click Here for the Texas Regional Art Symposium

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bush and Books in Fredericksburg, Texas

Monday, December 7, 2009, will be an important date in Fredericksburg, Texas. On that day, the National Museum of the Pacific War will host a gala Grand Opening ceremony for its new, completely modern, and state-of-the-art building, the George H. W. Bush Gallery. The former President Bush, a veteran of World War II in the Pacific, plans to attend this event and dedicate the facility that bears his name. This new building, with over 40,000 square feet, will present “the most comprehensive exhibit on the history of World War in the Pacific and Asia ever created.” The National Museum of the Pacific War was formerly known at the Nimitz Museum, first created to honor Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, a Fredericksburg native. The original part of the museum complex is housed in the building that was once the Nimitz Hotel, an establishment formerly operated by the Admiral’s family. Today, the museum is one of the historic sites maintained and operated by the Texas Historical Commission. The new addition has been planned and built under its auspices. Museum Web Site.

It is anticipated that hundreds of people will be in Fredericksburg for this important occasion over a several day period in early December. Hopefully, in addition to participating in the significant events at the museum, visitors to the town who love books might also enjoy a few moments of serene contemplation by stopping nearby at one of the best little bookstores in Texas. Berkman Books is located just a block away on the same side of Main Street. Although it might appear unusual on first glance for me to mention a commercial enterprise on this blog, it must be said that this interesting bookstore is as much an intellectual experience for the visitor as it might be a retail establishment. Besides, who doesn’t love a good bookstore? Berkman Books is a browser’s paradise of both new and artfully assembled used volumes. It is the sort of welcoming place for book lovers that many Texas bookstores used to be, but sadly are no more in this age of mass market retailing. Berkman Books is owned and operated by people who read books and understand what they read. In fairness, I should note that the proprietor, David Berkman, is a former student at Austin College where I am a professor. It is therefore personally satisfying to me that the liberal arts are alive today on the shelves of his Fredericksburg bookstore. Store Site.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Texas Historical Commission Restores the Centennial Monument at Fort Griffin

The Restored Texas Centennial Monument at Fort Griffin

I recently visited historic Fort Griffin, located in Shackelford County. Fort Griffin operated from 1867 until 1881 as one of the fortifications created by the United States Army to protect the Texas frontier. The old fort lay deserted and deteriorated badly from the time of its closing until the late 1930s. At that time, it became the location of a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp whose workers rebuilt some of its historic structures and made the site into a public park. The park operated for many years under the auspices of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department until January 1, 2008 when the Texas Historical Commission assumed management of Fort Griffin as part of its historic sites program.

My visit, however, had little to do with the rich military history of Fort Griffin. Instead, what drew me to Fort Griffin was the professional restoration this summer of a long forgotten Texas Centennial monument at the park. In the mid-1930s, the Board of Control of the Texas Centennial Celebration selected the site of the fort to be the location of one of its monuments, a number of which were being placed around the state in addition to over two dozen heroic statues and hundreds of granite historical markers. (At right: A. Webb Roberts of the Monument Division, Texas Board of Control and the person who directed this project.) The idea for a monument at the fort apparently originated with United States Senator Morris Sheppard, who appreciated the history of the fort. In 1934, Senator Sheppard called for a restoration of the site and placing an historical marker there as part of the upcoming centennial celebration. The following year, A. Webb Roberts, who served as head of the Board of Control’s Monuments Division, visited the site of the fort and agreed that one of the memorials being created by his office should be designated for the fort. He earmarked $2,500 for such purposes and engaged two artists for the project: Raoul Josset and Jose (pronounced Josie) Martin. Josset and Martin were two French sculptors who had immigrated to the United States.

Raoul Josset, born in Tours, France in 1899, had attended the prestigious Ecol de Beaux Arts in Paris. He also studied with the renowned French sculptor Antonine Bourdelle. Josset learned to speak English as a youth and served as an interpreter for the United States Army during World War I. During the 1920s, he became a very well-known sculptor in France, winning the coveted Chenanard Prize. Joseph Camille Martin, whom everyone called “Josie” although he spelled it "Jose," was born in Miery, France in 1891. He too studied at Paris’s Ecol de Beaux Arts, although his student years did not coincide with those of Josset. Martin began his craft by learning from his father, who was a wood carver. He served in the French army during World War I, was wounded four times in battle, and received the Croix du Guerre, France’s highest military award. Like Josset, he too became an established sculptor. (Above left is the Fort Griffin monument text.) Josset and Martin had met in Paris during 1920 and became life-long friends. In spite of their successes in France, both men decided to come to the United States, where the number of construction projects would undoubtedly create a demand for their artistry. This was the case because architectural fashions of the day called for the ample use of sculptural embellishment on buildings and other projects such as bridges, park decorations, and monuments.

Martin came first to the United States in 1928 to work for a Chicago terra cotta firm, while Josset arrived several years later. Having known each other in France, they sometimes worked together on projects, including the statutes on the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge in Vincennes, Indiana. They were also employed as sculptors for Chicago’s Century of Progress Celebration. With that experience, potential for employment created by the Texas Centennial celebration drew both men to Dallas. There they worked on many of the statue projects associated with the revamping of Fair Park as a major location for the state-wide celebration of 1936. Josset’s best-known work at Fair Park, Dallas, is the graceful statue, “The Spirit of the Centennial,” while Martin’s became the “Founder’s Statue.” (At left, Jose Martin poses with his Fair Park, Dallas, statue.) Each man would eventually settle in Texas. Martin married a local woman and started a family the Lone Star State. Today, many examples of both sculptor's work can be found around the state.

When construction of Fair Park was completed in 1936, both men received commissions, jointly and singly, from A. Webb Roberts and the Texas Board of Control to sculpt statues, monuments, and historical markers to be placed around the state as part of the centennial celebration. In their joint collaborations, Josset sometimes planned the piece while Martin executed it. Of the two men, Josset worked at a feverish pace, executing several heroic statues including those at LaGrange’s Monument Hill, LaSalle at Matagorda Bay, the Fannin Grave Monument at Goliad, and the statue of George Childress at Washington-on-the-Brazos, all done during 1937 and 1938. (Above is Josset's statue of Childress.)

Martin also collaborated with him on a number of plaques and monuments, including the one at Fort Griffin. Josset and Martin crafted the clay and plaster model for the plaque in a Dallas studio while the casting work was performed by a Houston foundry. The architectural firm of Page and Sutherland designed the monument, while likely the Board of Control architect Donald Nelson approved the over-all look of the Fort Griffin piece while the Rodriquez Brothers of San Antonio, professional stone cutters, prepared the marble from their stores of Marble Falls granite. Nelson and the Rodriquez Brothers performed these tasks for most of the other Board of Control monuments across Texas. Although the exact date of its installation remains currently unknown to me, all parts of the monument had been shipped to Fort Griffin by the end of 1938 and were erected on the parade ground, where it would remain until approximately 1970. In that latter year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department built a modern Tourist Center. As part of that construction, the monument was dismantled. The heavy marble slab was taken to another location at the park and put on its side, remaining undisturbed until this year. The metal plaque was removed, laid on the ground, and set on top of an earthen incline as a decorative feature in the landscaping at the entrance to the Tourist Center. Visiting children sometimes happily ran up and down its slanted face, using the virtually indestructible plaque as a playground.

That all changed when the Texas Historical Commission undertook a full-scale restoration of the monument this summer. Professional restoration specialists from the Standard Restoration and Waterproofing Company of Temple Hills, Maryland accomplished the work. This company has also done restorations at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C., the Old Government Printing Office Building there, and several historic buildings at Johns Hopkins University. Restoration of the Fort Griffin monument went forward under the auspices of Laura DeNormandie-Bass, Chief Curator of the THC’s Historic Sites Division, with the participation of Fort Griffin Site Manager, Mitch Baird. Over a two week period in July, the restoration crew polished the old granite slab while they cleaned the metal plaque, moving both to a new location near the Tourist Center. There the monument was erected faithfully to its 1930s apperance. It now looks to be brand new and gleams in the sunlight as it welcomes visitors entering the old fort from the doors of the Tourist Center. It stands as a tri-partite memorial to frontier heritage of Fort Griffin in the nineteenth century, also to the efforts of the Texas Centennial to heighten appreciaton of the state's history during the 1930s, and, finally as well, to the present-day work of the Texas Historical Commission. (Above, THC Site Manager Mitch Baird stands beside the restored monument.)

The Texas Historical Commission has twenty historic sites across the state. Click HERE for a list of links to them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An Historic Day at the Texas Historical Commission

Today is a landmark date at the Texas Historical Commission in Austin. It is a day both to celebrate past accomplishments and also a time to anticipate new achievements that lay on the horizon for the Commission. Larry Oaks, (above left) the Executive Director of the Texas Historical Commission, is retiring today after a decade of distinguished service in that important post. He will be replaced by Mark Wolfe (above right.)

As Executive Director of the Historical Commission, Larry Oaks also served as the chief Historic Preservation Officer for the State of Texas. Larry has consistently been the very effective champion of all things historical in Texas. In so doing, he has visited all parts of the state, talked to tens of thousands of people, participated in countless meetings, walked through hundreds of museums, worked with a like number of country historical commissions, consulted tirelessly with preservationists, appeared wherever he was needed to advance the state’s heritage, and ceaselessly emphasized the heritage of Texas as important public policy throughout the corridors of state, county, and municipal governments all across the state. His achievements in these activities have been nothing short of remarkable. Under his leadership, the Historical Commission has advanced the Heritage Trails Program, the Guardian Cemetery Program, and the Visionaries in Preservation Program. Larry also realized that the courthouses of Texas, as a group of unique buildings, constitute one of this nation’s great architectural treasures. Hence, the Texas Historical Courthouse Preservation Program that he superintended has done remarkable work to save and restore many of these historic structures. Importantly, he also greatly expanded the roster of the THC’s historic sites and, in many cases, undertook programs to renovate and restore these locations so important to the history of Texas. Although he will be taking a well-deserved respite from his labors as Executive Director, Larry will not be at rest, but will continue to labor in the vineyards of Texas heritage. The upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War will provide him the opportunity, as a private citizen who loves Texas, to play an important role in advancing the many activities that will highlight, over the coming years, the historic role that Texas played in that conflict.

Larry’s successor as Executive Director of the Texas Historical Commission will be Mark Wolfe, who today begins his service in that post, also becoming the state’s Historic Preservation Officer. Mark is no stranger to the Commission, as he has been serving as the Chief Executive Director at the agency since August, 2008. At that time, he came to Texas from Colorado, where he was the deputy state historic preservation officer. In his Colorado post, he directed the nation’s largest historic preservation grants program while he oversaw heritage tourism efforts, preservation strategy, public policy, and program administration related to the history and heritage of that Rocky Mountain state. Under his leadership in Austin, the Texas Historical Commission will undoubtedly continue to excel in maintaining its crucial role of advancing the Texas heritage and advocating historical preservation across the state. As part of these programs, the THC operates the state’s historical marker program, works to conserve and preserve important landmarks, maintains twenty historic Texas sites, sponsors an annual conference, consults on preservation activities, publishes a considerable number of educational materials, has an active archeological program, and encourages heritage tourism. It is safe to say that great things are in store for the Texas Historical Commission under Mark Wolfe’s leadership.

Visit the Texas Historical Commission Web Site