Art in the Archives – Watercolors of James Chillman Jr. (1886-1952)


The Woodson Research Center is fortunate to hold two watercolors by James H. Chillman, Jr. “Chemistry Building Construction Scene”, dated 1924, is an architectural sketch of the construction of the Chemistry Building. This was the first Institute building that was designed by William Ward Watkin in collaboration with Cram & Ferguson.  It was also the only permanent academic building constructed in the interwar period at Rice. Finished in 1925 and renovated in 1998-2000, the building (now W. M. Keck Hall) includes humorous reliefs/sculptures of student life which were designed by Chillman. The watercolor was gifted to Pender Turnbull by Helen Chillman (the daughter of James Chillman) in 1973. Turnbull, a graduate of Rice Institute in 1919 who worked in the library as Bibliographer and Curator of the Rare Book Room, left it to the library.



The second sketch, “Gardens of Doria Palace, Genoa”, dated 1922, belonged to long-time supporter of Rice and the archives Ray Watkin Strange, who donated it to the Woodson Research Center. The centuries-old gardens belonged to the Doria Pamphili family of Genoa, Italy. Dr. Chillman doubtless sketched the gardens while spending three years as a fellow in architecture at the American Academy in Rome. He returned to an appointment in the Architecture Department of the Rice Institute in 1922, and became the first director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Woodson holds Chillman’s papers, and he will be featured in a future post.

Art in the Archives – The Fondren Library of Rice Institute (1952)

Hanging over a desk near the Carroll and Harris Masterson Texana Collection is a pastel/multi- media drawing of Fondren Library in 1952. The drawing is a view facing the library from the quad, showing the cloisters, the ornamental shrubs and cypress trees, and the statue of William Marsh Rice.

The library was not identified in the original Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson General Plan for the Institute; instead, a temporary space was created in Lovett Hall (the Administration Building.) This space became inadequate by the 1920’s, but it was not until the 1940’s that the Institute initiated planning for a library. In 1946 Ella Cochrum Fondren and her children donated the money for construction of the library in memory of Walter W. Fondren, co-founder of the Humble Oil & Refining Company. John F. Staub, one of Houston’s influential architects and a student of Cram’s at MIT, designed the building, the first on the Rice campus with air conditioning. Fondren Library opened in 1949, three years before creation of the drawing.

The mixed media/pastel was created by Texas artist Edward Muegge “Buck” Schiwetz (1898-1984). Schiwetz studied architecture at Texas A & M, but never practiced. After a year studying in New York at the Art Students League he returned to Texas, founded an advertising firm and began exhibiting his art. Schiwetz generally chose historic buildings, oilfields, and natural scenes in Texas as his subject. He exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the American Watercolor Society, the Philadelphia Watercolor Society, the Architecture League of New York, and the Library of Congress; by 1948 he had one-man shows in five Texas museums. In 1966 he left advertising to focus solely on art. We don’t know the story of Schiwetz’s drawing of Fondren Library, but would love to hear about it if you know more.

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.

Art in the Archives: Edgar Odell Lovett (1871-1957)

At the entrance of the reading room of the Woodson Research Center stand a bust and a maquette of Edgar Odell Lovett, first President of the Rice Institute. Educated at Princeton, Lovett spent the first years of his career as a professor of mathematics at Princeton. Nominated by Woodrow Wilson for the presidency at Rice, Lovett and his wife, Mary Hale Lovett, spent a year (1908) taking a world tour of colleges and universities, examining best practices at leading institutions around the world, and developing a bold and innovative vision for the Institute.

In the Houston community at the turn of the 20th century there was nothing like Lovett’s vision. Lovett planned an institute which would provide research, scholarship, and teaching of international quality. To accomplish this he attracted faculty from the best universities, gifted students, and supervised the building of a campus notable for its beauty. To form the character of the Institute he advocated the establishment of a residential college system and the honor system. Lovett’s words at the formal convocation of the Institute in 1912 still inform the vision for the university: “no upper limit to its educational endeavor.”

During the Centennial celebrations in 2012 Rice University unveiled an 8-foot bronze statue of Dr. Lovett in the Keck Hall courtyard. The original statue of Lovett, as well as the maquette and bust on display at the Woodson, are the works of artist Bruce Wolfe (1941-), noted for his dynamic sculptures of individuals such as Barbara Jordan and Margaret Thatcher. This image of Dr. Lovett reflects the scholar as a young man, striding forward into the future with confidence in all its possibilities. The bust is a gift of the artist to the university, an exact replica of the bust on the full-sized statue.

Art in the Archives: Mary Ellen Hale Lovett (1875-1952)


The portrait of Mary Ellen Hale Lovett looks calmly out over the reading room of the Woodson Research Center. Educated at West Kentucky College and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she married Edgar Odell Lovett, the first President of the Rice Institute, in 1897. After E. O. Lovett’s career at Princeton the couple spent a year taking a world tour of leading colleges and universities, developing ideas for the Institute.

Mary Ellen Lovett actively worked supporting cultural and artistic projects in Houston. In 1914 she was elected to the board of directors of the Houston Art League, an organization of women supporting the arts that eventually became the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  In 1928 she received a medal from the Central Federation of the Alliance Française in Paris, given to the president of the local organization which has been the most active, for her work in French-American relations. She was also a member of the group which founded the Houston Symphony and the Faculty Women’s Club of the Rice Institute.

The portrait is oil on canvas, by Auguste Leroux (1871-1954), a French painter, illustrator, and professor at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  It was offered in 2002 to the Woodson Research Center by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Mrs. Lovett is dressed in a black lace-edged gown, and wears two ropes of pearls and a ring.  The background is a landscape reminiscent of Renaissance paintings, and near her left elbow is a bird (Mrs. Lovett was very fond of birds).

Art in the Archives: Margaret Bremond Rice

Patrons visiting the Woodson Research Center reading room often comment on the portrait of Margaret Bremond Rice, first wife of Rice Institute founder William Marsh Rice.  We know very little about her, apart from her obituary notice in the Houston Telegraph. Bremond was the eldest daughter of Paul Bremond, one of the founders of the Houston and Texas Central Railway; she married when she was 18 and Rice a successful businessman of 34.

Margaret Rice was known for her charitable work in Houston. She attended the sick during the city’s many epidemics of yellow fever and cholera, and was active in war relief efforts for the families of soldiers during the Civil War. She died in 1863 at 31 of unknown causes.

The portrait is oil on canvas, the artist and the date unknown.  It was offered to the Rice Institute by a descendant of the Bremond family in 1947, and received in 1948. The painting is described as follows:

She is dressed in a lace-edged robe de style of bronzed green velvet, a Paisley shawl in dark orange thrown across her right arm.  She wears a cameo and matching earrings of a classical temple.

Weber-Staub-Briscoe Architectural Collection online!

Fondren Library is happy to announce the digitization of 940 objects from the Weber-Staub-Briscoe Architectural Collection.

Botanical and geometrical design ornament

Botanical and geometrical design ornament originally installed at the Clayton house in Houston, Texas, 1940

Founded in the late 1920’s by Herman Weber as Weber Iron Works, Weber Iron & Wire Company was a fabricator of high-quality custom architectural details in metal and other materials, and became instrumental in creating original designs and duplications of fine nineteenth-century ornamental ironwork and metalwork for the projects of many of Houston’s leading architects and builders, most notably John F. Staub and Birdsall P. Briscoe. In order to produce the exceptional metalwork exactly as specified by the designs of the architects, scale and full-sized drawings of the designs were created. Most pieces were created by a detailed process including the formation of a replica of the design in clay which was cast in aluminum and placed on a pattern board used to make the final castings in iron, bronze, or aluminum. The body of work produced by Weber enriched Houston’s heritage for the greater part of the 20th century, and continues to be admired in many of Houston’s architectural treasures.

The digitized portion of the collection includes pattern boards (design molds) and metal castings of architectural details such as stair rails, fencing, and other metalwork ornaments manufactured by Weber Iron & Wire Company from the 1930’s to the 1990’s. The larger collection also includes photographs, architectural drawings, reference books, and tools used in the manufacturing process, along with invoices from the company from 1933 to 1987.


The original materials which these digitized versions represent are held by Rice University, Fondren Library, Woodson Research Center. The materials are available for research by appointment.