Meet John Wilson, originally from Ohio and Director of The Texas Collection, in our last staff post giving you a peek into the day-to-day work of The Texas Collection.
When I arrive at work each morning, I am never certain what I will discover, learn, and see. The suspense of unknown waiting treasures provides great enjoyment for me as director of The Texas Collection. I have been in this role a little over three years, and it is an unusual day when I do not receive an email from a donor, a phone call asking a Texas-related research question, or an inquiry from a faculty colleague about some aspect of Baylor’s past.
My day generally begins with reviewing after-hours emails and telephone calls. Once those inquiries have been answered, I try to speak with each one of the staff, then say hello and ask for collection processing updates from our graduate students, and finally try to speak with each of our undergraduate student workers. There are always interesting and new finds from the work our students are accomplishing. These finds might include identifying an early Republic of Texas document with Sam Houston’s signature or discovering that we own an original Tom Lea drawing.
I then begin work on two or three pressing projects. This involves multitasking throughout the day. My first project of the day might involve planning or maintenance concerns dealing with Old Baylor in Independence. Once or sometimes twice a month, I travel to Independence to walk the grounds of Windmill Hill or inspect the columns at Academy Hill. On these trips, I also visit a Baylor graduate or donor and check in with Peggy Ward, who manages the day-to-day operations in Independence and works closely with our community partners, the Independence Historical Society.
In addition to leading and managing The Texas Collection, I work closely with two parts of our extensive holdings, our map collection totaling nearly 17,000 items and photograph collection of more than 1.4 million images. I might review a print or online dealer catalog for both maps and photographs.
Another project that might be pressing for my attention is planning a lecture by a guest speaker such as the Honorable Tom Phillips. This type of special event and all of its many details are vitally important to the outstanding reputation and continued outreach necessary to having a vibrant and active special collection. Our speakers have researched in The Texas Collection and connect with our resources and the audience, particularly our students.
On a daily basis, I work with donors to acquire new archival collections that will enhance and strengthen our holdings. We are always searching for early Texas collections from the Spanish Colonial period, the Mexican period, and the early Republic of Texas period. We are also interested in Waco history, the Civil War, Baylor-related items, and of course, print materials dealing with Texas. I am closely involved with the budget, endowments, and fundraising.
One of the most interesting parts of my job is talking with people about The Texas Collection. These days, we talk with and reach out to more people than ever before due to our social media outlets. Flickr, Facebook and this blog are followed and read by fans across Texas and around the world.
I think the most rewarding part of my job is working with Baylor students. This could involve teaching a class, collaborating on a project, or advising students on studying abroad in Italy (another one of my interests). The students are the reason I have stayed at Baylor for 26 years. Our students are smart, talented, and willing to work hard for their Baylor degrees. I am fortunate to work with a great staff and exceptional students.
The Texas Collection turned 90 this year! But even though we’ve been at Baylor for so long, we realize people aren’t quite sure what goes on in a special collections library and archives. So over the course of 2013, we have been featuring staff posts about our work at The Texas Collection. See other posts in the series here. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about our work.
By Brian Simmons, Archival Assistant and Digital Input Specialist
As last week’s Christmas on Fifth Street and the Christmas tree lighting celebration fade into memory, here at The Texas Collection it has revived nostalgia for Baylor’s Christmas celebrations of yesteryear. The first communal Christmas tree at Baylor originated with Irene Marschall, then current Dean of Women, in 1926. Aided by her assistant, Lily Russell, Marschall’s idea became an event on Fifth Street with the lighting of the tree, a performance by the Glee Club and an appearance by Santa Claus. That same year, Russell wrote a Christmas program that would continue to be performed in the women’s dormitories at Baylor for over a decade.
Known as “Old Christmas,” it was inspired by Washington Irving’s work of the same title. Performers included dormitory residents, members of student organizations and volunteers. Guests were immediately immersed in the setting after being greeted by cast members in costumes and viewing the decorations that adorned the entry and banquet hall.
Guests were seated and carols were sung until the program, which incorporated a dinner within a dramatic production, began. The dinner included traditional English touches such as wassailing and the Boar’s Head feast. In 1935, Dr. A. J. Armstrong arranged for an antique wassail bowl to add to the authenticity of the event. The event was traditionally held in Burleson Hall, but as the program grew in popularity, a second night was added at Memorial Hall.
Lily Russell went on to become Dean of Women in 1931, and she organized not only the “Old Christmas” program but also other Baylor Christmas festivities. Christmas entertainment for students and faculty included dramatic productions, concerts, banquets and dances.
After becoming Dean of the Union Building in 1948, Lily Russell found a way to share her passion for entertaining with student groups. She arranged for a competition in which student organizations would decorate the various rooms of the Union for the Christmas Open House event. Once completed, Russell arranged for people from the community to come in and pick their favorite rooms. After tallying the votes, the group with the winning room was presented a gold loving cup by the president of the university at the Open House.