Lessons in Controversial Collections: Processing the Frank Watt Collection

Frank Watt at Mobridge dig site, 1962
This is the only identified photograph in the collection of Frank Watt at a dig site. It was taken in August 1962 at a Smithsonian Institute campsite in Mobridge, SD. (Frank Heddon Watt collection #470, Box 11, Folder 17, The Texas Collection, Baylor University)

By Casey Schumacher, Texas Collection graduate assistant and museum studies graduate student

In July 2015, President Obama declared the Waco Mammoth Site a National Monument, and Central Texas rejoiced. About the same time, a less well-known archaeological find occurred at The Texas Collection as I began processing the Frank Heddon Watt collection. Among his many vocations, Watt was a founding member of the Central Texas Archaeological Society in 1934. And so, while the National Park Service was sharing images and samples of mammoth bones, I was discovering photos of human remains and hand-drawn maps of their burial sites. Over the next eight months, I realized the Frank Watt collection had just as much to teach our archival staff as it had to teach our patrons.

Archives are not the only repositories for Native American materials, nor were they the first to ask questions about how to properly handle human remains. In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) laid the groundwork for museums to examine carefully the state of Native American objects in their collections. The primary goal of NAGPRA was to assure appropriate and respectful use, care and (in some cases) repatriation of sacred or culturally sensitive objects, such as human remains, funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. Museum visitors would notice these changes the most in exhibits that included Native American mummies, pipes, or costumes used for sacred rituals. Behind the scenes, this new legislation required museum staff to complete copious amounts of paperwork and extra work to ensure they were up to NAGPRA’s standards. However, NAGPRA only applied to museums; it offered no suggestions or standards for archives like The Texas Collection or for archival collections like that of Frank Watt.

As an institution in the public trust, The Texas Collection believes it should maintain a high ethical standard, even if it is not bound by law to do so. As a result, I believed the images of human remains and the detailed reports of their excavation deserved to be stored and handled both carefully and respectfully. Ultimately, my supervisor and I created a new policy for The Texas Collection; namely, that in the spirit of NAGPRA, archival collections with culturally sensitive materials would be open for public research, but that researchers should maintain a quiet, respectful attitude during their research and that scanning or digitizing culturally sensitive materials would be strictly prohibited.

Cardboard Proof of Stone Engravings by Frank Watt, undated
Not all of Frank Watt’s drawings depicted bones and pottery. The Lithography & Art series in his collection includes extensive lithograph samples, sketches, and prints of buildings, landscapes, and portraits. You can see in this flower sketch that his artistic designs included his scientific attention to detail. (Frank Heddon Watt collection #470, Box 16, Folders 13 and 20, The Texas Collection, Baylor University)

Now that the entire collection is open for research, the Frank Watt collection has much to offer besides archaeological materials. Watt held degrees in lithography and music, as well as teacher’s certification for public school music. He was an avid stamp collector, artist, and cello player. He worked as a printer, stone engraver, hotel serviceman, tree surgeon, and music teacher in Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and New York. In addition, his military service during WWI included field printing and working as an aircraft mechanic near Houston. In other words, Watt was a jack-of-all-trades and master of several. In his collection, researchers will find samples and collected pieces of lithography and stone-engraving, sketchbooks from his art classes at Winona Technical Institute, and military-issued manuals of aircraft mechanics.

At the end of the day, collections like that of Frank Watt are extremely important for both researchers and archivists alike. Naturally, they offer extensive resources for students and professionals in several different fields. They also present an opportunity for archivists to explore how we maintain ethical and professional standards in our institution and help us educate the public about why we do what we do.

Bischof, Robin E. “Boxes and Boxes, Missing Context and an Avocational Archaeologist: Making Sense of the Frank Watt Collection at the Mayborn Museum Complex.” Master’s thesis, Baylor University, 2011.

Bosque Museum. “Ancient Archeological Site on Exhibit at the Museum.” Bosque Museum. Accessed August 8, 2015. http://www.bosquemuseum.org/hornshelter.htm

What I Did This Summer: Graduate Student Projects at The Texas Collection, Part 2

Samuel Palmer Brooks in his office, undated
Dr. Brooks began his presidency at Baylor in 1902 in the midst of pursuing a master’s degree at Yale University. He served as president nearly thirty years. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers #91, box 1, folder 2

This summer, The Texas Collection was fortunate to have four graduate students working with our staff and in our collections. We asked them to share a little about their projects and what they have learned. Last month we heard about Baptist collections and athletics film; this month, we’ve got the papers of a beloved Baylor president and of a Central Texas archaeologist/lithographer/Renaissance man.

My name is Amanda Mylin, and I am a history master’s student from Pennsylvania. This summer I had the privilege of working for The Texas Collection as the D.M. Edwards Library Intern. (I previously was a graduate assistant at the TC for the 2014-2015 year, working with Amanda Norman and Paul Fisher, primarily on Baylor University records.) My major project this summer was to process and rehouse the Samuel Palmer Brooks papers. This collection is well-used by researchers, necessitating preservation work and an electronic finding aid.

J. Frank Norris letter to Samuel Palmer Brooks, 1927
Dr. Brooks carried Baylor University through the Fundamentalist-Modernist evolution controversy, which involved engaging with Texas Baptist Fundamentalist leader J. Frank Norris. Samuel Palmer Brooks papers #91, box 31, folder 7

Brooks served as Baylor’s president from 1902 to 1931. His presidency saw the heyday of the evolution controversy between Fundamentalists and Modernists, prohibition, women’s suffrage, and the onset of the Great Depression. Rehousing this collection afforded interesting glimpses at major twentieth century historical moments through the lens of Baylor and Brooks.

I also learned much about Baylor in the early twentieth century, including the students’ fondness for “Prexy,” as they lovingly called him. His dedication to Baylor students and the Baptist community was also evident through the sheer number of flowers, condolence letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles surrounding his death. Many articles discussed his devotion through his decision to sign the 1931 diplomas despite his rapidly failing health.

Now that the papers are rehoused more comfortably and the finding aid updated, the collection amounts to 59 document boxes and 2 oversized boxes. Since I hope to continue working in special collections in the future, I had much to gain from this summer’s project. I encountered situations like insect-chewed papers, learned what happens to deteriorating silver gelatin photographs, and experienced tackling a very large collection, among other things. Upon completion of this project, I finished out the summer by processing a new collection, the papers of Diana Garland, former dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work.

We’re fortunate to have Amanda stay on with Baylor awhile yet, although not at The Texas Collection. After she graduated in August, she began work as a project archivist working on the Chet Edwards collection at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials.


Frank Watt at Mobridge dig site, 1962
Frank Watt at Mobridge, South Dakota, dig site, 1962. (Frank Heddon Watt collection #470, box 11, folder 17, The Texas Collection, Baylor University)

Hello, Texas! My name is Casey Schumacher and I’m a Museum Studies graduate student from Central Illinois. I started working with Benna Vaughan when I moved here in August 2014 and was able to work with her on manuscripts collections through this summer. As a non-Texan, every day is an opportunity to learn something new about this state and its people.

My primary summer project involved processing the Frank Heddon Watt collection. Processing a collection involves placing the collection in order so researchers can access it easily, putting the materials in new folders and boxes and uploading information about the collection online. This collection ended up filling 46 document boxes, so processing it took longer than some of my smaller collections.

With large collections like these, consistency is vital, and it’s best if one person sees the whole project from beginning to end. I began processing the Watt papers after they had already been arranged a couple of times, and a previous assistant had started a third arrangement but only made it halfway through the collection. In other words, the whole collection was a mess. I ended up redoing the entire collection so it would all be processed the same way and more efficient for researcher access.

Cardboard Proof of Stone Engravings by Frank Watt, undated
Not all of Frank Watt’s drawings depicted dig sites and artifacts. The Lithography & Art series in his collection includes extensive lithograph samples, sketches, and prints of buildings, landscapes, and portraits. Several Waco area businesses used letterhead designed and printed in his shop. Frank Heddon Watt collection #470, Box 16, Folder 20

Watt (1889-1981) was a jack-of-all-trades, and his collection included 3D objects, photographs and notes from archaeological digs in Central Texas, as well as several boxes of lithography samples, sketches, and instruction books. Once the project was completed, I felt like a bit of a professional in each area he researched!

I really enjoy working at the Texas Collection and when I return in the fall, I’ll be working with different collections and learning archival techniques new to me. Working with a diverse selection of collections will also help me prepare for the Certified Archivist Exam after I graduate from Baylor. While I won’t have the opportunity to dig as deep into a specific subject or person as with larger collections, I’m excited to learn more about Texas history and help make these collections accessible for students and the broader community.

Research Ready: August 2015

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here are August’s finding aids:

Baylor Round Table Anniversary Dinner invitation
The Baylor Round Table celebrated its 40th birthday in 1944 with a dinner in Catherine Alexander Hall. The invitations of this era often were beautifully handmade, and the menus for the organization’s older events are a bit of a curiosity to us today. Highlights from the menu for this dinner included: half grapefruit, broiled chicken with gravy, baked potato, whole tomato salad, rolls, cake, ice cream, and coffee. BU records: Baylor Round Table #BU/39, box 16, folder 15.
    • Thomas E. Turner, Sr. papers 1814-2007, undated (#2200): These papers include information on issues, people, and events in Central Texas during the career of Thomas E. Turner, Sr. as a newspaperman for the Dallas Morning News, Central Texas Bureau, and as a Baylor administrator. Materials primarily cover current events from the 1940s-1980s.
    • William A. Mueller papers, 1871-1995, undated (#3959): Materials include the reading and lecture notes, sermons, and teaching materials from the long and productive career of a German-American Baptist seminary professor of theology, philosophy, church history, and German intellectual history.
Baylor Female College, Independence, Texas-October 1969 (1)
This photo, contained in the Baylor University General Photo collection, shows Tommy Turner standing between the remaining columns of the female dormitory at the site of Baylor University in Independence, Texas. You can find more photographs like this on Central Texas and Baylor University in the Thomas E. Turner, Sr. papers 1814-2007, undated (#2200).