Resting on a dusty shelf in the dark recesses of a UT laboratory lie jars of preserved brains, canned frogs and animal skulls. To most, encountering the collection would be disturbing or grotesque, but for UT alumna and art curator Andree Bober, finding these objects is like striking gold.
For the past decade, Bober ran UT’s Landmarks public art program by day and hunted for artistic treasures by night. In her book “The Collections,” released last week, Bober and a team of over 300 specialists detail 80 art collections across campus, ranging from the original Ulysses manuscript to biological specimens. Each page includes a photograph of the artifact, as well as a few paragraphs describing its cultural significance.
After scouring through 170 million objects within the UT campus, Bober said this is the most comprehensive account of the University’s holdings in existence.
“We finally have a road map for navigating UT’s collections,” Bober said.
As an undergraduate, Bober was aware UT’s museums and archives were stocked with culturally significant artifacts, but said she never fully appreciated the extent of its collection. It was only when she was hired to run Landmarks in 2001 that Bober began her excavations, regarding it as her duty to understand the objects contained behind UT’s closed doors in order to help students fully utilize the University’s resources.
“The Collections” weighs in at over 10 pounds and includes 750 pages detailing objects selected for their inherent original value. The book covers an enormous range of different materials in areas of fine arts, natural history, science, technology, popular culture and material culture found within the UT campus.
The artifacts she includes can be well known, such as the Gutenberg Bible, or lesser known, such as one of Bober’s favorite pieces — a 19th century wedding dress, photographed unbuttoned so the interior is exposed. Inside, a tuft of the bride’s husband’s hair is stitched, so when the owner would close the dress, Bober said, a part of her husband would rest against her heart.
“I thought that was very beautiful,” Bober said. “And it’s not something that people ordinarily would know unless they studied that collection.”
Jennalie Travis Lyons, the production editor of “The Collections,” said her favorite artifact was a 120-pound rosebud meteorite, a specimen more than four billion years old. Lyons has been working on “The Collections” for over five years, and said there are still many artifacts to be discovered. The team hopes to eventually create additional volumes of the book.
“UT is a living, breathing entity,” Lyons said. “As far as we know, no other University has tried to undertake something this big.”
Although the scope of “The Collections” is massive, each page manages to capture the life, history and culture encapsulated in each relic. UT’s music librarian David Hunter, who was the first to write an essay for the book, oversaw the selections taken from the 300,000 objects in his department’s collection, which include photographs of vinyl, cassettes and recordings of graduate student recitals.
“[‘The Collections’] covers so many different fields — almost the entire diversity of campus,” Hunter said. “[Universities] do issue substantial catalogs of their artworks, but they don’t generally include all the insects, the minerals, gems and gavels.”
Bober said the diversity of the artifacts is crucial for cross-disciplinary research. “The Collections” paves the way for further discoveries within the 40 Acres and beyond.
“I think it established the University as the cultural repository of the state of Texas and demonstrates that it’s an important collection to the world,” Bober said.