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DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

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Ransom Center


The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center offers a rich variety of materials in Latin American studies. Its collections include manuscripts, rare books, artifacts, artwork and photography from noted Latin American artists, authors and cultural figures.

The Latin American holdings begin with the Edward Larocque Tinker Collection, which the Ransom Center acquired in 1959. An author and philanthropist, Tinker (1883-1968) gathered books, art, documentary films, murals and artifacts depicting all facets of life in South America, with a special emphasis on gauchos and the Pampas region.

Pieces from the Ransom Center
José Guadalupe Posada
Corrido: La Soldadera Maderista illustration for Despedida de un Maderista y su triste amada, 1943
Russell Lee Collection, Ransom Center
Within his collection are sixty-six volumes of documents, letters and broadsides, most of which are unpublished, that were acquired by Bolivian scholar and politician Nicolás Acosta (1844-1893). These fascinating ecclesiastical, personal, literary and state documents, dating from the late sixteenth century to the late nineteenth century, provide first-person accounts of Bolivian history as well as those of Peru and Ecuador. Paintings, drawings, and prints by Florencio Molina Campos (1890-1959) reflecting the life of gauchos on the Argentine pampas are also preserved in the Tinker collection. Among Tinker’s treasures are fine examples of nineteenth century Mexican leatherwork, saddles, Peruvian silver, stirrups, spurs and Argentinean gaucho clothing. Many of these artifacts Tinker collected are on loan and can be seen at the Texas Memorial Museum.

The Ransom Center’s holdings continue with the twentieth century materials that comprise one of its most important collections. In 1999, the Ransom Center acquired a large archive of the work of famed Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), who visited the University and the Ransom Center several times during his life. The campus is, in fact, the setting for a Borges short story in The Book of Sand. The Borges archive contains drafts of some of his earliest work and stories printed on handbills that were plastered to Buenos Aires walls in the 1930s.

Next, there is Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the beloved Mexican poet and winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature, whose 1945 Labyrinth of Solitude provides an in-depth study of Mexican identity. As scholars of Latin American literature make their way through the Paz holdings, they will find his correspondence with his English translator (and former editor of UT Press), Lysander Kemp, in which Paz energetically debates word choice and syntax. The Paz collection also contains typescripts of several of Paz’s most important essays in the original Spanish and detailed business correspondence surrounding the 1976 translation of his book of essays on poets, The Siren and the Seashell.

The Ransom Center’s manuscript holdings also feature the archives of the prolific Margaret Sayers Peden, who translated Isabel Allende’s Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna and Daughter of Fortune and Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra and Burnt Water, among many others. The Peden collection also includes a sizable number of inscribed first editions of each of the many works she has translated.

Rounding out the Ransom Center’s Latin American manuscript holdings are the archives of Angel Flores, the literary critic who first applied the term “magical realism” to Latin American literature in the 1950s; Ronald Christ, a scholar and translator of Mario Vargas Llosa; voluminous business correspondence from the Latin American authors published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; and the archive of the beautiful bilingual Mexico City journal of art and literature from the 1960s, El Corno Emplumado.

Pieces from the Ransom Center
José Sabogal
Ruinas de un Tambo, 1955
Oil on canvas
Dudley Smith Collection, Ransom Center
For those who prefer images to words, the Ransom Center offers several collections of photographs focusing on Latin America. Work by well-known Latin American photographers includes, among others, that of Manuel Alvarez Bravo (b. 1902) of Mexico, whose images capture the surreal nature of life and death in Depression-era Mexico and later, dating from 1920-1972. The Ransom Center also has extensive holdings of historical photographs from the Mexican Revolution, largely by unknown photographers, but many by the pioneer photojournalist James “Jimmy” Hare.

Contemporary Latin American photography is represented by the William P. Wright, Jr. Peruvian Photography Collection, which totals 104 prints from sixteen Peruvian photographers. Notable among these is Fernando Castro, whose work uncovers the complexities of modern Peruvian life. For even more images, look to the works of photographers such as John Christian, Fritz Henle, Jesse Herrera and Paul Strand, all of whom shot extensively in Latin America and have selections preserved here as well.

The Latin American Art Collection at the Ransom Center is a feast for the eyes, boasting three works by the renowned Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Still Life (with Parrot and Fruit), and Diego y Yo, a sketch of the artist and her husband, Diego Rivera. Rivera (1886-1957) himself is represented by his Portrait of Jean Cocteau, 3 Mexican Market Scenes, and La Niña Con Muñeca (Little Girl With Doll).

The Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art, which has more than 100 paintings, drawings and prints by twentieth century artists, is highlighted by four of Miguel Covarrubias’ (1904-1957) gouache caricatures painted for Vanity Fair magazine in the 1930s, part of a series called Impossible Interviews. These paintings depict brilliantly hilarious pairings of prominent politicians, artists, writers and actors who would never be seen together in real life, such as Clark Gable versus the Prince of Wales and Mussolini versus Huey Long.

The Ransom Center also owns the important painting Cow Chasing Flies by artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), a Zapotecan Indian born in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, whose work often focused on plastic forms integrated with a masterful use of colors and textures. This painting shows how Tamayo’s style was influenced by the European Cubist movement.

Pieces from the Ransom Center
Fernando Castillo
La Hija del Pintor (Daughter of the Artist), no date
Oil on canvas
Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art, Ransom Center
In addition to these paintings, the Art Collection houses 365 prints (etchings, intaglio and posters) of Mexican corridos and calaveras by José Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913), whose images include scenes from daily life, such as festivities, brawls and traditional customs, as well as popular character types, portraits of heroes and depictions of dramatic religious scenes.

The Dudley Smith Collection of Latin American artwork focuses on folklórico, or peasant images, and contains watercolors by Mexican artist Eduardo Kingman (1913-1997), as well as oils on canvas by Peruvian artist José Sabogal (1888-1956) and Argentinean artist F. Molina Campos.

Finally, one of the most popular and most remarkable works of art in the Latin American collections is the Portrait of George Gershwin in a Concert Hall, given to the Ransom Center by Ira and Leonore Gershwin in 1961. Painted in 1936 by Mexican muralist, activist and painter David Alfaro Siquieros (1898-1974), the massive oil-on-canvas seems to spread out of its own frame, and depicts a 1932 concert given by Gershwin at the Met in New York. (Gershwin is purported to be playing his own Concerto in F in the painting.)

The pianist and Siquieros were great friends, recognizing the commonality in the artforms of music and painting, and, at Gershwin’s request, Siquieros painted the faces of Gershwin’s family into the first few rows of the audience. Siqueros also added his own face into the crowd, gazing amusedly askance. The portrait is on display in the Tom Lea Room on the third floor of the Ransom Center.

Siquieros is considered one of “Los Tres Grandes” of the Mexican mural movement. A lifelong friend of Diego Rivera, the two of them developed the key philosophies that inspired the mural movement in the 1920s and 1930s.

The holdings described in this article present a mere overview of the wealth of materials available at the Ransom Center to those interested in Latin America. For more information, contact us at 512-471-8944 or visit the Ransom Center Web site.

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May 14, 2002
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