Art and Archives at the Harry Ransom Center

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on June 10, 2007 0 Comments

I have been living in Austin, Texas for over nine months now, and as an intense bibliophile and art aficionado, I always knew that the Harry Ransom Center was somewhere I must visit.  You know how things go, though, and I just never got around to it.  When I saw, however, that the New Yorker had beaten me to the punch — well, I knew I had to get my butt there.

The first thing I noticed upon reaching the museum — which, luckily, is just across the street from where I live — were its windows.  The Ransom Center has enormous etched glass windows that contain some of the most famous images in history, including Picasso’s Eyes by David Douglas Duncan (1957), “Allie Mae Burroughs” by Walker Evans (1936) and “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange (1936).    It also has portraits of Charles Dickens and D.H. Lawrence, a sketch by Dante, illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a publicity photo of Elizabeth Taylor.  You could stand for hours just examining each picture, and when you look out of them from inside the Ransom Center lobby, you see these wonderful images with trees and buildings behind them.

After free admission into the Ransom Center (which is definitely a perk in this day and age!), one finds the Gutenberg Bible.  It is the first thing you see when you enter, a trademark of one of the most dramatic events in history sitting right in front of you.  This very Bible was the first material ever to be printed after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Printed in Mainz, Germany in 1454 or 1455, it is enormous when compared to today’s holy books, which are mass printed by the thousands.  All of the information on the Gutenberg Bible can be found at the Ransom Center’s website.

As you walk past the Bible, to your right, you find the first photograph ever taken, yet another incredible historical treasure.  The photo, entitled “View From the Window at Le Gras” (1826), was created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a Frenchman who experimented and invented with his brother, Claude.  The photograph is still housed in its original frame.

The current exhibition at the Ransom Center is called “The American Twenties,” and it is filled with photographs, paintings, posters, first edition books and manuscripts pertaining to this time in American history.  Walking through the exhibition, one can see materials that promoted the war effort and photographs from the early silent movies.  There are also letters and notes from American classics by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, Edna St. Vincent Millay and others.  You can actually see the drafts of their work, and where they crossed things out and changed them.  In addition, there was a ton of stuff on the Harlem Renaissance.

I saw a listing for a series called “Voices of the American Twenties,” which consists of theatre performances where actors read the words of American greats from the period.


June 16, 17 Rosa Covarrubias
June 23, 24 Emma Goldman
June 30, July 1 Archivist
July 7, 8 Langston Hughes
July 14, 15 Archivist
July 21, 22 Archivist
July 28, 29 Rosa Covarrubias

I will definitely be back for the Emma Goldman and Langston Hughes events, and if anyone else out there is in Austin, you should swing by as well.  What do you have to lose?  After all, it’s free.

Ransom Center Galleries

21st and Guadalupe Streets

The University of Texas at Austin


For more arts & culture stories, check out the Entertainment group.


April D. Boland is a freelance writer and editor.  Originally from New York City, she now resides in Austin, Texas where she enjoys reading, writing, soaking up culture and taking advantage of the beautiful outdoors that she never had back home.  She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Della Donna, a webzine for women for which she heartily accepts submissions.  Her published work can be found at her website,, and she blogs about writing at These Words.

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