Art in the Archives – William Ward Watkin (1886-1952)


A nook in the Woodson Research Center holds a bronze bust of Architecture professor William Ward Watkin. Watkin, the first Chair of the Rice Architecture Department at the Rice Institute, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Following his graduation (first in his class) in 1908 Watkin spent one year traveling in Europe. Upon his return, Watkin joined the Boston office of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, the architectural firm commissioned to produce a campus plan and to design the initial buildings of the Rice Institute. Watkin worked on the development of both the campus plan and the building plan in the Boston office; when construction began in the summer of 1910 Watkin was sent to Houston to serve as the firm’s representative supervisor.

As supervising architect he worked closely with Dr. Lovett, President of the Rice Institute, and was offered a faculty appointment in Architectural Engineering at the Institute. He developed a thriving private practice in Houston and other Texas communities, designing buildings for educational institutions, commercial ventures, and residences. Watkin also wrote articles for journals primarily dealing with Houston, its growth and development, and the implications these held for the city’s architecture. He became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1913, and was elected to its College of Fellows in 1949.

William Ward Watkin with bronze sculpture of himself

The William Ward Watkin Family Papers (MS 508) contain a photo of Watkin holding the bust in front of his home (ca. 1938). The piece was donated by Ray Watkin Strange, Watkin’s oldest daughter and a devoted supporter of Rice and the archives. Sculptor and former Rice student of Architecture William (Bill) Mozart McVey (1905-1995) created the bust. McVey studied at the Cleveland School of Art (where he finished his career as a teacher) and in Paris under Rodin’s assistant Charles Despiau. The Woodson Research Center holds his papers as well; look for additional information on Bill McVey in a future post.

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