Ransom Center

While not all students can say they have seen the work of Frida Kahlo in person, the Harry Ransom Center will have one of her most popular paintings on display during the 2014-2015 school year.

After being loaned to more than 25 museums around the globe, Kahlo’s “Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” which was created in 1940, will be on display in the Ransom Center from Sept. 5 through March 31. “It is one of Kahlo’s most important self-portaits,” said Peter Mears, curator of art at the Ransom Center. “It is a rare painting, and it’s not going to be [at the center] forever.”

The painting has been featured in exhibitions since 1990 and is one of her most frequently borrowed paintings, travelling to countries, such as France, Italy and Australia. 

Kahlo, the Mexican painter famous for her self-portraits, has influenced many artists postmortem. Her self-portraits have been on display in museums in cities, such as Mexico City, Rome and Paris.

Kahlo was born in Mexico City and died there, at her home, known as La Casa Azul. According to the Frida Kahlo Foundation, her career as a painter started because of a tragic bus accident, in which she suffered injuries at 18. During her recovery, she looked to art to pass the time and taught herself how to paint. 

Eventually, Kahlo married the artist Diego Rivera in 1929 and from then on endured a temperamental relationship. Kahlo was involved in several affairs, including an affair with the Hungarian photographer Nickolas Murray. 

According to Mears, Kahlo’s inspiration for the painting from her relationships with both Rivera and Murray. 

“The animals you see are symbolic of both of her lovers,” Mears said. “The monkey represents Diego Rivera, and the black cat represents Nickolas Murray.”

Kahlo is known to have mostly painted self-portraits, symbolizing torment, pain and death. 

“She put herself on the spot,” said Sandra Fernandez, art and art history assistant professor. “She used herself to talk about a lot of things women go through.” 

After its time at the Ransom Center, Kahlo’s self portrait will move to New York for the “Frida Kahlo’s Botanical Garden” exhibition. 

Twenty one personal letters written by J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” have been added to the Salinger collection at the Harry Ransom Center. In the letters, Salinger, who was known for keeping out of the public eye, directly addresses his reservations about the publishing process.

The letters, which were sent over a 40-year period, were nearly all addressed to Ruth Maier, a classmate of Salinger at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania until Salinger dropped out in 1938. After purchasing the letters from Maier’s family for $25,000, the Ransom Center added them to their already large Salinger collection, which also includes short stories, galley proofs, typescripts, and other writings — both published and unpublished. 

In November, an unknown source pirated two unpublished works from the Ransom Center and sold them for publication online.

According to Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, the letters will provide researchers with a candid insight into the life of the famous author.

“[The letters] will amplify what we know about Salinger and provide a fuller picture of his life. The correspondence is remarkable for its duration — 40 years — and for the open and unguarded way Salinger confided his thoughts to his friend,” Enniss said.

Enniss said the letters also reveal the rigor with which Salinger approached his work.

“I was most taken with what the correspondence reveals about Salinger’s high and exacting standards: He was unable to release new work into the world until he felt it was perfect in every way,” Enniss said.

Enniss said the new letters, and the Salinger collection overall, are important because they make famous authors accessible to today’s readers.

“This certainly opens up Salinger’s work to a new generation of students and scholars and [is] an important way the University fulfills its service to a research community,” Enniss said.

Salinger wrote candidly in many of the 40 letters, discussing Maier’s love life and marital status. In a letter from 1941, he wrote, “I hope you’re happy, Ruthie. You’re probably in love with the big handsome boy who kicks you in the stomach three times daily.”

In a 1978 letter to Maier, Salinger used a more jovial tone: “Ruth Smith Maier Pendergast Walker Snapperstein Combs (you do have a lot of names), Author of “Sheila’s Kid,” cabaret singer, mother of eighteen, Channel swimmer, etc.”

With the letters now available for viewing at the Ransom Center, psychology freshman Logan Hailey said she thinks the letters allow a rare look into Salinger’s personal life.

“Considering the profound literary influence of Salinger, releasing recently discovered letters, though personal, would be incredibly beneficial to both readers and scholars in understanding Salinger’s life and works,” Hailey said.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the original version of this story incorrectly named J.D. Salinger's collection of work. Additionally, the story misstated the research restrictions placed upon the new letters. They are available through the Ransom Center's standard patron application.

UT classical archaeology professor Joseph Carter returned to Chersonesos, Ukraine, on Friday to celebrate the site’s World Heritage status designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

Carter, the director of UT’s Institute of Classical Archaeology, has led an excavation at the site since 1994.

The site’s designation was first announced in June after its nomination by the World Heritage Convention. The convention seeks locations around the world that deserve protection because of either physical or cultural significance on an international level. Chersonesos is one of 981 World Heritage sites around the globe in 2013. 

“The Chersonesos site has universal cultural importance for humanity, as it is the birthplace of democracy in Ukraine, which was then the Soviet Union, and the birthplace of Christianity in the Slavic world,” Carter said. “It is one of only two ancient cities in the eastern world with chora, a way of life in the countryside with farms, fields, burials, sanctuaries and that’s what makes it different.”

Carter has been increasing collaboration between the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos at Sevastopol, Ukrainian archaeologists and students regarding the excavation and preservation of the Chersonesos site. Among the staff performing conservation training at the site were conservators from the Ransom Center.

“What played a significant role in the site’s World Heritage designation was [Carter’s] interest in building big labs [at Chersonesos] for object conservation and for research of archaeological remains,” said Jim Stroud, associate director for conservation and building management at the Ransom Center. 

Conservators from the Ransom Center went to Chersonesos for two summers to discuss possibilities of establishing conservation training programs at a university level, Stroud said.

In addition to assistance from the Ransom Center, the project in Chersonesos received contributions amounting to more than $12 million from the Packard Humanities Institute, which has offered Carter support throughout the years of his excavation.

Anthropology sophomore Alia Nazir said she was impressed by UT’s involvement in the World Heritage site. 

“I am proud of the University’s pervasive global presence, especially in regards to such a culturally and historically significant site,” Nazir said. “Civilizations, cultures and people can trace their ideological and religious origins back to this place.” 

Editor's note: Kelsey McKinney worked as an intern in the Department of Public Affairs during the 2011-2012 academic year.

After 25 years as the Director of the Harry Ransom Center, Thomas Staley will hand over the responsibility of leading the staff and acquiring collections to Stephen Enniss. 

While at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., Enniss was responsible for the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and the largest collection of early English printed books in North America. Enniss worked as curator and director of Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library before joining the staff at the Folger. Enniss will start at the Ransom Center on August 1 and assume all responsibilities upon Staley’s retirement August 31. The Daily Texan interviewed Enniss about his expectations and motivations for his future tenure at the Ransom Center. 

The Daily Texan: How do you expect your new job as Director of the Ransom Center to differ from your current position?

Stephen Enniss: Well, I think that the Folger and my previous experience at Emory University have been perfect preparation for the Ransom Center’s very broad and deep collections, spanning from the Renaissance to the most contemporary writers and artists. Really, the past experience I’ve had touches on each period of history that the Ransom Center has documented. Coming to the Folger, I was at Emory University for 16 years, and it was while at Emory that I was very active in acquiring major literary archives, which of course is a special strength of the Ransom Center. 

To elaborate, I was always aware when I was building collections at Emory how I was engaged in an activity that paralleled the works that Tom Staley and the staff at the Ransom Center were doing. So, in that way, I think the transition should be an easy one.

DT: What led you to want to lead these large literary institutions? 

Enniss: I certainly have been a literary creature from a very young age and a consumer of poems, and novels, and short stories and plays. So that’s primary. But I also respond very much to the artifact, the object itself and what these objects say about the past and what they contain about the past. So working in research libraries that are known from their acquisitiveness has been a perfect fit for me. I’ve always had an acquisitive streak myself, whether it was natural history artifacts that I would pick up as a child or later books that I would collect. In some ways, I feel like the act of collecting is really the first act of scholarship and certainly a foundation of what the Ransom Center is engaged in. 

DT: Do you have a favorite author, or an area you’ve studied extensively?

Enniss: That’s something like asking someone to pick your favorite child. I presume that [Staley] can say that he prefers “Ulysses” because Joyce is safely dead. But I’m involved in collecting so many contemporary and living authors at this point that I wouldn’t want to pick among them. My own research interest is focused on contemporary Irish poetry, but my own graduate work was in the American novel. I should be equally at home in developing the collections of major novelists and short story writers as well. 

DT: Looking forward to your time as director of the Ransom Center, do you have any personal goals? 

Enniss: I think the first task is really to sustain the program of excellence that’s been achieved there and that’s not necessarily a new initiative. In terms of things that might be purely new, I think all of us in the research library community that collect major archives know that the nature of modern archives changed in the mid 1980s. We have to plot a smart path forward for managing and making digital archives available for research. 

DT:  Do you have any coveted collections you dream of acquiring?

Enniss: The most important acquisition is always the next one. What often focuses one’s attention is the next opportunity. I can’t tell you at this point what that will be, but we have to be oriented very much to the future. Certainly, literature is a personal research interest and a personal passion of mine, but the Ransom Center collections extend far beyond modern literary figures. Things that have been acquired over the years create a kind of DNA record. When you look at the collection strengths that are there and map that DNA, you find that those strands lead you to other collections that are complemented by the existing holdings. I will very much be using my sense of that genetic map to further the Ransom Center’s collection activities. 

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Rachel Platis, a senior Plan II and multimedia journalism major, prepares a mini-exhibition of sports photographs at the Harry Ransom Center Wednesday afternoon. Platis is one of the many students who intern at the center, which recently expanded its application to consider students of all majors.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Tucked inside 21st and Guadalupe streets, underneath a group of trees and passed by hundreds, if not thousands of students a day stands a building seven stories high made of grey concrete and with few windows. The building, the Harry Ransom Center, appears enigmatic and imposing, impenetrable to the average student.

Undergraduate students, however, may be surprised to realize the access they have to the greatest works of art and events from high-profile writers and artists. Even more, the events and handling of the material at the Ransom Center may very well have been worked on by some of their peers and friends as undergraduate interns.

Knowing a Harry Ransom Center intern may become more common, as the center is expanding its undergraduate internship program to all majors for next year and is currently accepting applications through April 9. The internship gives students the opportunity to gain experience in a variety of fields, from public relations to conservation.

“There are a lot of interests that can be piqued and fed through the programs here,” said Megan Barnard, curator of contemporary literature for the center. “Not every university has a center like this, not every university has a Gutenberg Bible, not every university has the world’s first photograph. It’s a resource here for the students.”

Opened in 1957, the Harry Ransom Center was founded by its namesake, who was vice president and provost of the University at the time, to provide and preserve original cultural material for education and entertainment. Whereas other centers had established reputations and large endowments to compete for pieces, Ransom decided to acquire what were then contemporary pieces in a much less competitive field.

Since having added works like medieval scripts, film and photography, the center has a collection that can just about tell the history of time beginning with the Gutenberg Bible.

While they are in possession of a Gutenberg Bible and the personal writings of David Foster Wallace, the center sees itself as more than simply a holder for these works. It strives to create an interactive relationship with students.

In 2003, the entire building was renovated to make it more inviting. The artwork and banners were placed outside while exhibits moved from the Flawn Academic Center to the first floor of the center and a theater was added.

On any given day, Kelsey McKinney, Plan II junior and public affairs intern, blogs for the website or interacts with visiting authors. The internship gives her the ability to understand the inner workings of a place she first discovered her freshman year in a world literature class.

“I think what the Harry Ransom Center really offers [as an intern] is befriending and making friends with the people you work with,” McKinney said. “When you work here, you not only interact with the people here but with visiting scholars who may be here for the David Foster Wallace [material], people you wouldn’t interact with at a ‘regular’ arts or humanities center because there is so much traffic.”

Moreover, for 2009 undergraduate and Latin American studies graduate student Albert Palacios, his senior year internship solidified his career path in exhibition design and led to his current job as the film curatorial assistant at the center.

“When I was working for the Making Movies exhibition, I ran across beautiful costume designs just on regular paper,” Palacios said. “I brought it to their attention, and no had known they existed. It was like finding treasured material.”

Because of its current program’s success, the center opened its internship program to four additional undergraduates in any major or school.

“We’ve been thankful for the program so far, and so we wanted to reach out to students regardless of major. So if there’s a biology major that wouldn’t have been able to apply previously, now it’s important to them,” said Danielle Sigler, assistant director and curator for academic programs.

Whether an intern or not, the center’s main attraction is proximity to the collections. All year long, the center holds exhibits, like its current one on the King James Bible.

Most notably, at any moment during its hours, a student may head up to the Reading Room and gain access to the works and physically hold them.

“There’s a materiality from that experience of holding something,” Palacios said. “In smelling that odor, touching the pages. It’s so connected with the human experience.”

That’s the appeal of the center to students who have been there: Despite its ominous appearance, the Harry Ransom Center is not a skeleton of mere support but a moving organ pumping life into students’ undergraduate experience, allowing them to actively experience these works they passively learn about in class.

“We can walk out from the street and hold a document from Virginia Woolf, and not every undergrad has that opportunity. Not every scholar has that opportunity,” McKinney said.