Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dallas Heritage Village Talk

I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual meeting of the Dallas Heritage Village. The title of my talk was "Does Texas Have a History and Why?" Of course, it was my contention that not only does Texas has a history, but that the state has a very unique, singular, and distinct one. There is a myth and mystique to Texas that makes for a firmly entrenched exceptionality to the history of the Lone Star state. My remarks presented four reasons for the distinctive history of Texas. First, since the colonial era, Texas has been an area with a distinctive mix of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. These include Native American, Hispanic American, African American, and Anglo American. The historical interplay between these cultures created a unique state-based historical frame of reference seen in few other parts, if any, of the United States. Second, the Republic of Texas shaped the formation of a "national" identity among many nineteenth century Texans, especially in the Anglo-American community. In general terms, the nineteenth century was a time all across the world when national identity formation was a powerful social and cultural force. Texans thus developed not only a national identification with the United States, but also with their state -- something that did not occur everywhere else in the nation. Vestiges of this exist to the present day. Third, the tremendous state-based wealth that came to Texas in the early twentieth century, mostly from oil, provided the financial resources that enabled a glorification of the Texas historical experience as something unique in the history of the state. This can be seen in art and architecture, literature, movies, music, and leisure events. The Texas Centennial Celebration of 1936 served as the high water mark of this process. Fourth, for much of the time since the 1830s down to the 1960s and 1970s, Texas cultural, social, political, and economic norms were dominated by Anglo-American perspectives and frames of reference. This point of view began to change in the 1960s, creating today an inclusive array of different points of reference that include the story of Native American, Hispanic American, and African American narratives as major part of the Texas historical experience, along with those of women. This gives a vibrancy to the study of Texas history that maintains its uniqueness and enduring vitality. I am most appreciate that the Dallas Heritage Village gave me such an enjoyable opportunity to give a talk that laid out my views on the uniqueness of Texas history. Attendance was very good, and I enjoyed meeting the people who were there. I was particularly glad to have a chance to visit with Gary Smith, Director of the Dallas Heritage Village. The distiguished Dallas Historian Michael V. Hazel was on hand to give me a very gracious introduction.

Click here for the website of the Dallas Heritage Village.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

East Texas Historical Association Fall 2010 Meeting

Milton Jordan Delivering the ETHA Presidential Address

The East Texas Historical Association has just concluded its fall meeting. It was held in the Baker Patillo Student Center at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. This year's program featured, as usual, a number of interesting sessions dealing with various aspects of East Texas History, including a session cataloging folklore with presentations by Peggy Redshaw and Jack Duncan. A fine session dealing with transportation history included papers by Charles Spurlin, George Cooper, and Mary Jo O'Rear. Archaeologist Kenneth Brown delivered the Max and Georgiana Lale Lecture regarding his work at the Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria County. His presentation was entitled: "Finding Africa under North American Soil: Historical Archaeology and the Development of African American Culture."

Light Cummins "Sculpting Texas History in Bronze"
I presented a paper entitled "Sculpting Texas History in Bronze: The Texas Centennial State-Wide Statuary Program, 1936-1939." This paper surveyed the roles played by John V. Singleton, Evaline Sellors, Louis Wiltz Kemp, and A. Webb Robers in creating some 20 bronze statues of Texas Revolutionary figures that were placed across Texas during the late 1930s. In that session, Jeff Littlejohn gave a paper on J. L. Clark while Linda Wolff talked about the making of a 1934 movie in Victoria, Texas.

A highlight of the meeting was the Presidential Address given by Milton Jordan. His talk was entitled "A River Creeps Through It." It dealt with the history of the Neches River and that stream's impact on the history of East Texas.

Click here for the website of the East Texas Historical Association.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Victoria Cummins Speaks at the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts

Victoria Cummins Speaking at the Carriage House
Today I accompanied Victoria Cummins to a formal high tea held at the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts in McKinney. Once a month, the Center sponsors a gala high tea in its historic home. As part of this high tea, a person is invited each month to speak on the arts in a lecture given in the Center's Carriage House meeting room prior to the tea itself.

Victoria Cummins was the speaker this month. Her topic was "Torchbearers of Culture: Club Women and the Promotion of the Visual Arts in Early Twentieth Century Texas." This talk made special reference to the career of Frances Battaile Fisk. As a committed club women in Abilene from the 1920s until the 1940s, Fisk served as chair of the Art Unit of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs. In that capacity, she directed several art appreciation projects including the Penny Art Fund that encouraged the purchase of art by women's clubs. In 1928, Fisk wrote the first book of Texas art criticism entitled "A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors." We are currently writing an article about Frances Fisk. It is: Victoria H.  Cummins and Light T. Cummins, “Frances Battaile Fisk and the Promotion of the Visual Arts in West Texas, 1921-1946” to be published in Stephanie Cole, Rebecca Sharpless, and Elizabeth Hays Turner, eds. "Texas Women/ American Women: Their Lives and Times," to be forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press. In addition to Fisk, the talk by Cummins reviewed activities of club women in several other Texas cities including McKinney. In that regard, she highlighted in her remarks the important role that the McKinney Art Club played in the civic and artistic development of that city.

At the conclusion of the talk, Victoria Cummins and the people who attended continued their conversation over high tea in the ornate Heard-Craig House.

Click here for the Website of the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts.