A summer day at the museum

By Haley Rodriguez

The Harry Ransom Center is offering a look at Henri Matisse’s artbook, “Jazz,” displaying all 20 plates concurrently. Matisse’s book consists of paper cut outs (gouaches découpés) as later in his life, a cancer diagnosis and surgery left him wheelchair bound. Photo by Haley Rodriguez

During the school year on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the Harry Ransom Center is likely to be occupied by large groups of Austin school students on a field trip. 
 But in the summer you may have a more intimate experience with the artifacts.

The museum, archive and library are home to over 40 million artifacts housed on the three upper levels of the building’s seven floors. The first floor exhibit, “Stories to Tell,” is free, open to the public and in 2016, it was seen by over 50,000 visitors. Posted on a wall in the gallery, the hopeful principles of the Ransom Center are to acquire, preserve and make available cultural material for future and current generations to study and enjoy.

In the galleries, there’s the occasional group of visitors, a man with his arms rested on a glass case, reading about author Tim O’Brien. And a couple analyzing Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate Papers as if they could almost touch the documents through the framed museum glass. Turn the corner and a visitor is alone, mesmerized by Henri Matisse’s art book, “Jazz,” number 18 of an exclusive 250 copies published and signed by Matisse or Albert Einstein’s first approximation of gravitational waves.

“I love the Einstein notes on the wall, said Katherine Cooper, a fellow from Newcastle University researching poets essay, “I keep thinking I’m going to catch clever from it.

Tucked away towards the back of the galleries are selections from De Niro’s collection of more than 1,300 boxes in the archives. On display is De Niro’s role, Travis Bickle’s signature jacket from “Taxi Driver.”

“I quite like Robert De Niro’s jacket, although I should be saying James Joyce technically because I study 20th century literature, but no, it’s definitely the jacket that does it for me,” Cooper said.

Walking through the Ransom Center’s 10-feet tall doors, guests are typically greeted by Monte Monreal, Visitor Services Manager, and a volunteer, who on this day, was Anna Martin, a resident of Austin who has come in once a week for the past four years.

“It’s quiet, but there’s some interesting people here that you meet in the summer,” Martin said.

The typical summer visitors are guests from out of town, parents waiting for their students to finish registering for classes and the occasional group from an in town astronomer’s convention, who Martin said was visiting earlier in the day.

The Ransom Center keeps a permanent staff of 90 people, but in the summer, Monreal said they lose interns and student workers.

“We definitely feel their absence when they’re gone,” Monreal said.

As head of visitor services, Monreal does tasks associated with the gallery, coordinates group tours and restocks the small gift shop just right of the Gutenberg Bible, as well as the first photograph ever taken, both permanent exhibitions at the museum.

“Every now and again you’ll have a summer camp here, it mellows out but there’s still some high energy days,” Monreal said.

“I love a job that feeds my curiosity and creativity. It always gives me something new, interesting, historical, or literary to sink my teeth into.”

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