Artists in the Archives – Grace Spaulding John (1890-1972)

Spaulding painting mural at MFAH, detail

Born in Michigan, Grace Spaulding John spent her childhood in Vermont; the family moved to Beaumont, Texas when Spaulding was a teenager. She studied art at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League of New York, the National Academy of Design in New York City, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Chester Springs, where she worked under Charles W. Hawthorne.  She became one of eight young artists in the nation who received a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, allowing her to study for a summer at the New York home of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

In 1921 Spaulding moved to Houston and married Alfred Morgan John, with whom she had two children. In 1927, Spaulding John went to Europe, painting in France, Italy and Spain. In 1928, she made her first visit to Mexico, returning to Houston with enough paintings for a one-man show at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. During her career she travelled to New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, California, New York, Canada, and back to Mexico and Europe to paint. Spaulding John was adept in many mediums – oil, dry-point, lithography, pastel, charcoal, pen and ink, watercolor, block print, and plexiglas. A hallmark of her work was her use of natural brown linen for her canvases, sizing it first with rabbit skin glue, a technique she learned from Hawthorne. She painted over a hundred and twenty-five portraits, among them Thomas Mann, Edgar Lee Masters, and Oveta Culp Hobby dressed in her uniform as first commander of the WAACS.

Oveta Culp Hobby

Spaulding John was deeply involved with the artist community in Houston; many of her colleagues appear in her papers at the WRC, including Chillman and McVey. She also published three books of poetry, illustrated with what she called her “living line” drawings. She died in Houston on July 22, 1972.

Artists in the Archives- Vera Prasilova Scott (1899-1996)

Gail Singer portrait

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Portland Art Museum in Oregon to see a collection of photographs by the extraordinary photographer and artist Vera Prasilova Scott. Prasilova Scott moved with her family from Houston to Portland in 1937, following her husband Arthur Scott’s appointment as a Professor in Chemistry at Reed College, and continued her career in the area. I was the guest of Curator Dr. Julia Dolan, Registrar Anne Crouchley, and Nadja Scott Lilly, Prasilova Scott’s daughter; they welcomed me warmly, and we shared our excitement over her works.

Exodus, courtesy of Nadja Scott Lilly

Mrs. Lilly was kind enough to show us sculptures created after the family moved to Portland. Prasilova Scott used her work to reflect her humanitarian response to social, political, and emotional events of the time. Exodus, shown here, was given with the Jordan Davidson Humanitarian Awards.

We have discussed the Prasilova Scott collection several times in the blog; both the beauty of her work and the techniques she used to accomplish it. Many of her photographs can be viewed online in the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive. You can also view a podcast narrated by Paul Hester discussing her portraits of Houston society here.

Artists in the Archives – William Mozart McVey (1905-1995)

Bill McVey, artist, teacher, and athlete, was born in Boston in 1905 and moved to his home town, Cleveland, Ohio, with his parents in 1919. Big and athletic, he enjoyed football in high school, and after entering the Rice Institute in 1923 as an Architecture student Bill was promptly recruited for the team. McVey was elected Slime President (president of the freshman class at the Rice Institute) and became notorious for his good-natured shenanigans: there is a wonderful story in the Thresher about his escaping the pursuit of the sophomore class for days before the Freshman Ball. He made All-Southwest Conference as a defensive tackle in his first year at Rice, playing for Coach John Heisman’s football team. McVey fully enjoyed undergraduate life in Texas; however, by 1925 he decided to return to home to attend the Cleveland School of Art.

After graduating from the Cleveland School of Art in 1928 McVey set sail for Paris, became a student of Charles Despiau (an assistant of Auguste Rodin), and attended the Académies Scandinave,  Colarossi, and  la Grande Chaumière. Returning to Cleveland in 1932, McVey sculpted early works for the Works Progress Administration. He also married Leza Marie Sullivan, a ceramics and textile artist. In 1934 McVey returned to Texas to work, receiving the commission for the frieze and bronze doors of the San Jacinto Monument. He sculpted the bronze statue of Jim Bowie in Texarkana and the pink granite memorial to David Crockett in Ozona in celebration of the Texas Centennial in 1936. His most controversial work, a nine-foot statue of Sir Winston Churchill smoking a cigar, stands on the grounds of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. One of his last works was a life-sized bronze of John Heisman, now on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Several pieces of McVey’s work can be seen at Rice University. The figure “Energy” at the entrance of the Abercrombie Engineering Laboratories depicts man converting energy from the sun. Cohen House, the faculty club, is decorated with his bas-relief portraits of distinguished professors. McVey and his wife, Leza, created terra cotta plaques depicting college life for the commons at Will Rice College and the original Hanszen College. The Woodson Research Center in Fondren Library holds a bronze bust of Architecture professor William Ward Watkin that we spoke about here. You can find more about Bill McVey and his work in his papers at the Woodson Research Center.

Images from:
Rice University Review, Vol 2, No. 1
1925 Campanile
Rice University Photo Files, Abercrombie Hall

Music in the Archives – Charlotte and Maximilian (1846-1927)


The Woodson’s international patrons use our archival collections in wonderful and inspiring ways. Recently Adriana Ruiz Razura of the Universidad de Guadalajara researched the Charlotte and Maximilian Collection, reviewing Mexican sheet music from 1862-1867. Her selections of this music were used in an orchestral concert in Mexico City (and a future concert in Guadalajara) of music that expresses the national character of Mexico.



Ruiz Razura is also searching for music celebrating one of the Dominican founders of Guadalajara, Fray Antonio Alcalde. She is shown here consulting with the Fondren Music Librarian, Mary Brower, and Music Catalog Librarian, Keith Chapman.

Art in the Archives – Oil Painting of Frederic William Browne (1877-1966)


In 2007 Ray Watkin Strange made another gift to the Woodson Research Center of an oil painting by Frederic W. Browne, framed in 1917. Painted in the impressionist style, the view of a French village, like many of his works of the period, evokes a restful vision of the country washed in a silvery gray light.

Born in Belfast, Ireland, Frederic Browne grew up in Philadelphia, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1911 he went to France and attended the Académies Julian, Colarossi, and de la Grande Chaumière. He toured France, Sicily, and Tunis during the four years he studied in Paris, returned to the U.S for a short period, and revisited France in 1917, working there for another four years. In 1925 Browne accepted a position as an instructor in Architectural drawing and painting at the Rice Institute; in 1935 he joined the art faculty at the University of Houston, where he remained until he retired.

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).