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.

Primary Source Literacy


Recently, we taught primary source literacy skills to students in Sophia Hsu’s FWIS 191. Literature and Public Health. The students looked at newspaper clippings, photographs, fliers, and other pertinent documents to get  a sense of how members of the administration, faculty, and students viewed the event. They also heard the voices of some of the major players including Dr. William H. Masterson on his megaphone, Dr. Clark Read speaking his mind, and Bari Kaplan explaining events from a student perspective.

In the class, the students first considered the differences between primary and secondary sources, identified the subjectivity of the archival items on their tables, and extracted information from the items, like key players and power relationships.


After these exercises, the groups looked at the primary source materials that they will be working on for the semester, which includes a few items from the McGovern Historical Center and the Woodson’s Encyclopédie and the Vince Bell collection.

If you are interested in us doing the same for your course, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Images used: “Rice University students and faculty protesting outdoors during Masterson presidency controversy, wearing “It Can’t Happen Here” signs.” (1969) Rice University:

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.



Memorabilia Monday: Gilley’s Bumper Sticker


This bumper sticker from the early 1980s comes from the Jack Saunders collection, which is currently being processed.

For those not from Pasadena/Houston area, Gilley’s is synonymous with Urban Cowboy the movie based on the Esquire article “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy.” If you haven’t read about Rice’s connection to the story, you should read this blog post from the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies published a few years ago.

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.