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

First things first- we HAVE to start with William Ward Watkin. We’ve talked about Watkin at length on the blog, so this post will be more personal.

Here’s Watkin as he’s portrayed by colleague and good friend James Chillman (note the students bowing and one poor fellow ground under Watkin’s heel!  a design approved by Watkin himself for the Chemistry Building.)

Watkin caricature in stone capital of Chemistry building, Rice University

High school yearbook staff, Danville High:

High school yearbook staff, including William Ward Watkin in the center of the first row, 1903

College, hanging out with friends:

William Ward Watkin at University of Pennsylvania, ca. 1908

With his young family on their passport photo:

Passport Photo of Watkin family, 1925

Archi-Arts Ball in 1929:Watkin inspired the theme of the first Archi-Arts Ball, which started in 1922. Here he is in costume for the Venetian Ball:

Archi-Arts Venetian Ball, 1929

Watkin, the first chair of the Rice Architecture Department, remained in Houston until he died in 1952. He developed a thriving private practice in Houston and around Texas, and wrote thoughtfully about architecture and communities. To learn more about him you can view this online exhibit or examine his papers in the WRC.

Artists in the Archives – George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

Thanks to Dr. Robert Patten (Lynette S. Autrey Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Rice University) we have extensive materials, including rare books, on George Cruikshank, popular English humorist and illustrator of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Today we’ll look at some examples of Cruikshank’s lesser known works.

Cruikshank began his career as a political satirist in the mode of Hogarth:

Valour and Discretion

Later he became interested in book illustrations and theatrical caricatures:

The Betting-Book

George Cruikshank’s Fairy Library

In his lifetime Cruikshank created nearly 10,000 prints, illustrations, and plates; collections of his works are in the British and the Victoria and Albert museums. You can learn more about his works in the WRC in this collection.



Artists in the Archives – Gertrude Barnstone (b. 1925)

Gertrude Barnstone at Association of Rice Alumni Honors Dinner

Gertrude Levy Barnstone was born in Houston, Texas on September 5, 1925, and began studying art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston when she was 7 years old. Since there were no children’s classes available at the time Gertrude joined the adult classes, and discovered a life-long love for sculpture. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Rice University in 1945, and after a brief period working in acting she married Houston architect Howard Barnstone, with whom she has three children. Throughout these life changes she continued to pursue her art.

In 1953, Barnstone was commissioned to create a sculpture for the exterior of the S. & H. Green Stamp building on Holcombe Blvd. in Houston. After her divorce in 1969, Barnstone studied welding at Houston Community College. She worked at a factory making plexiglass skylights, a job that gave her the skills to incorporate glass into her colorful and intricate metal sculptures. During her career she contributed artwork to local exhibitions and created sculptures for private residences, working largely with steel, and also with wire, glass, mirrors, fabric, and other materials.

Gertrude Barnstone with garden sculpture

In addition to her art, Barnstone made community involvement a large part of her life. Educating her children in the Houston Independent School District of the 1960’s ignited a passionate commitment to grass-roots activism. She was elected to the school board in 1964 and strongly promoted the desegregation of Houston schools. From 1970-1973 Barnstone produced the KPRC-TV educational children’s program “Sundown’s Treehouse” and from 1972-1973 served as Director of Development for the Institute for Storm Research. Barnstone served as President and Treasurer for the Texas ACLU Foundation, President of the National Coalition of Women’s Art Organization, 1981-1982, and president of the Houston Women’s Caucus for Art, 1980. In the early 1990s she founded Artist Rescue Mission, an organization that provided aid to people in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. In 1995, Barnstone received the Lifetime Achievement in Civil Liberties award from the Greater Houston chapter of the ACLU. In 1999 she received a Distinguished Alumni award from Rice University. More information on Barnstone’s life and art can be found in this article published in Cite, the publication of the Rice Design Alliance. The guide to her papers in the Woodson Research Center can be found here.




Artists in the Archives – James H. Chillman, Jr. (1891-1972)

Dr. James H. Chillman, Jr., seated outside Faculty Club, Rice Institute














James H. Chillman, Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1891; he attended the University of Pennsylvania (William Ward Watkin’s alma mater), where he studied architecture and fine arts, and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, before moving to Houston in 1916. There he began a career at the Rice Institute, serving as professor in the Architecture Department, art historian, and artist. In 1919 Chillman, a Classicist and Renaissance scholar, received a Furnham Fellowship in Architecture at the American Academy in Rome, and took a leave of absence to spend three years in Italy. In Rome he met his wife, Dorothy Dawes, an artist who specialized in interior design. Upon his return to Houston in 1922 he resumed his appointment in the Architecture Department, and became the founding director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He divided his time equally between working as the museum director and working on the faculty at Rice.

Chillman’s puckish sense of humor made him the perfect person to design the reliefs of student life at the Institute which were carved into the Chemistry Building (now Keck Hall). These carvings can be found in the capitals in the cloister alongside the Chemistry Lecture Hall, and include a caricature of William Ward Watson and an allusion to dreaded freshman class Chemistry 100. (Extra points for those of you who can identify the difference between the reliefs as executed and the original designs.)

Pencil sketch of Panel for Pier Caps facing East of Chemistry Building (now Keck Hall)

Described as a sparkly and inclusive wit, Chillman made it his goal to help Houstonians learn to enjoy art. He developed exhibits of local artists, notably the Houston Artists Annual Exhibition, and annual touring exhibitions organized by the Southern States Art League which brought art works to communities throughout Texas. In the 1950’s he wrote and aired a very popular radio show called “Art is Fun” which discussed art relating to Houston, popular currents, and new art, all aimed at getting the Houston community interested in art. Chillman worked at the Museum of Fine Arts until the early 1950s, and he was Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Fine Arts at Rice into the early 1970s. He died in 1972 after 55 years of service to the Rice and Houston community. A more thorough examination of Professor Chillman’s life and work can be found in this article published in the Cornerstone, the Rice Historical Society newsletter. The guide to his papers in the Woodson Research Center can be found here.


The Life and Legacy of Jesse H. Jones (1874-1956)

We are happy to announce that our new exhibit, The Life and Legacy of Jesse H. Jones, is now available online! The following is a report from our Fondren Fellow Corinne Wilkinson, who worked hard over the summer to create this exhibit:

This exhibit explores the impact of Jesse H. Jones on the city of Houston and the United States as a whole through Jones’s lifelong work as an entrepreneur, politician, and philanthropist. Jones rose from humble beginnings to build a significant portion of downtown Houston in the first half of the twentieth century, then took his talents to Washington, D.C. to help rescue the nation’s finances. In his role as chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Jones became known as the second most powerful man in Washington (after President Roosevelt himself) and was responsible for stabilizing the nation’s banks and mobilizing the country for World War II.

The exhibit highlights items from several of the Woodson’s collections, including the Jesse H. Jones Family & Personal Papers, the Jesse H. Jones Corporate and Property Records, and the J. Russell Wait Port of Houston papers.

Location of Jones’ buildings in Houston

Jones was responsible for building a large portion of downtown Houston in the mid-twentieth century; many of his buildings are still standing today. This exhibit includes an interactive map showing the location of 25 of Jones’s buildings downtown. Clicking on a point on the map reveals a photograph and more information about each building, including the date it was built and demolished.

While Jones had a significant impact in Washington with his role in reconstruction finance, his story is particularly pertinent to Houstonians, as his name and legacy is prevalent throughout the city. Together with his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones, he established the Houston Endowment, dedicated at its inception to supporting educational opportunities for minorities.

Jesse Jones is a fascinating man to research, and his collections in the Woodson Research Center hold a wealth of documents and photographs that truly showcase his character and dedication to his greater community.


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.