Archivists’ choice

This week we presented a special program at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to celebrate the opening of our new lobby exhibit, Archives a la Carte. In putting this exhibit together, State Archivist Jelain Chubb had the idea to ask each of our archivists to select two items from the collection that they found particularly interesting and that they would like to curate as part of the exhibit.

From left to right, TSLAC Archives and Information Services staff Tonia Wood, Tiffany Criswell, Mackenzie Ryan, Maria Barker, and Angela Kent.

I loved the idea immediately. Our vision for the archives is that they become better known to researchers and the general public as the vast treasure that they truly are. Who better than the archivists to point us to the best stories, the hidden gems, the episodes that make up the varied and complex history that is Texas?

But our professional archivists took this project to an even more interesting outcome. To their knowledge of the collection, they added their own experience and perspective and judgement, their compassion, sometimes their own family stories, to create a truly multi-faceted examination of Texas history.

The result is an exhibit that includes very well-known treasures such as the famous Journeay violin – by legend fashioned from the wood of Santa Ana’s chair and played for the hapless survivors of the benighted Mier Expedition of 1842 and the original 1839 drawing of the Texas Flag and seal by Peter Krag.

Assistant State Archivist Laura Saegart (center) describes a historic map of Austin and a wanted poster for Clyde Barrow to visitors to TSLAC.

And there are also documents of the notable events in Texas history, such as the photograph of Governor Preston Smith presenting Texas Medals of Honor to Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldin, Jr. Or the poignant dinner program to welcome President John F. Kennedy to Austin on November 22, 1963.

But perhaps most fascinating of all are the artifacts of ordinary people caught up in the big events of history, such as studio portrait of the famed fugitive Gregorio Cortez, whose 10-day run from the Texas Rangers in 1901 sparked a famous ballad. Or the photos of Jewish immigrants arriving in Galveston Island. Or the passport of African-American Freewoman and Texas Revolution heroine Emily West.

What our archivists have helped us to see is that the story of Texas, as reflected in its primary source material, is more immediate and more personal than we guessed – and more powerful. This is the value of an educated, experienced, and talented staff, and it is not something that is available for free on the Internet.

The following are the Archives and Information Services staff who worked on this exhibit:

  • State Archivist Jelain Chubb
  • Assistant State Archivist Laura Saegart
  • Senior Reference Archivist Tonia Wood
  • Head Reference Librarian Angela Kent
  • Conservator Sarah Norris
  • Archivists Caitlin Burhans, Tiffany Criswell, Halley Grogan, Anna Reznik, Rebecca Romanchuk, and Jessica Tucker
  • Reference Archivists Richard Gilreath and Caroline Jones
  • Reference Librarians Sandra Bailey, Taylor Fox, and Mackenzie Ryan
  • Cataloguer Naomi Frantes
  • Digital Archivists Mark Myers and Brian Thomas
  • Library Assistants Stephanie Andrews, Maria Barker, and Andrew Glass
  • Research Assistant Sergio Velasco

Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz expertly managed all phases of the development of the exhibit and the program. The lobby exhibit also features a case describing the history and impact of TSLAC’s Talking Book Program curated by TBP Public Awareness Coordinator Jacklyn Owusu.

I hope you have a chance to visit our agency and see this exhibit in the coming months.