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TranSanAntonian: Anatomy of an Exhibit

June 24, 2019

In September of last year, the McNay Museum approached UTSA Libraries Special Collections about a possible collaboration in tandem with a ground breaking exhibit set to open in June 2019: Transamerica/n is the country’s first exhibition of artwork to explore gender, identity, and appearance today. The exhibition showcases artists from underrepresented backgrounds, many of who are local.

TranSanAntonian is San Antonio’s first exhibit that explores identities and appearance across the gender spectrum through the lens of archival materials housed at UTSA Libraries Special Collections. Initial concepts, digitization, planning, item selection, writing, meeting with McNay staff, and finally, installation, took place over ten months.

The process gave us a better sense of how to execute an exhibit on a large scale within the context of a larger exhibition. With the help of the extraordinarily talented staff at the McNay, the exhibit came together piece by piece. When the installation date arrived, we were ready!

Neither Katie or I had worked with such a large space before, so making our materials stand out proved to be a bit of a challenge. But with trial and error and much thought, we configured the fixturing for maximum impact. Everything fit perfectly and thanks to the assistance of the wonderful folks at the McNay, the exhibit was ready for the Transamerica/n VIP preview on June 18.

Transamerica/n drew a large crowd for the VIP preview (over 200 attendees) and the members only preview the following evening brought in well over 600 people! How exciting and validating for everyone who worked so hard to make this happen.

Much to our delight, TranSanAntonian, located in one of the galleries below the main exhibition, drew quite a few patrons. Comments included thoughtful, moving, brilliantly executed, and important. Special Collections LGBTQ archival materials provided historical context for the contemporary interpretations of gender, appearance, and identity represented in Transamerica/n.

Transamerica/n will run from June 20 through September 15, 2019. For more information on the exhibition visit

TranSanAntonian curators, Katie Rojas, Manuscript Archivist and Melissa Gohlke, Assistant Archivist, UTSA Libraries Special Collections (photo by Chris Rojas)

Introducing: Updated Digital Collections

June 18, 2019

Earlier this month, on June 7th, we launched our new and improved Digital Collections page!

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New UTSA Libraries Special Collections Digital Collections landing page, June 7, 2019. 

After months of work and collaboration, we are proud to show off the improvements made to the landing page for our collections’ digital materials. While not radically different, there have been a number of improvements we are eager to share with you.

Our greatest improvement is that our Digital Collections page is now 100% responsive.

Since the update, it is accessible on any handheld device without the awkwardness that comes with resizing and moving the page around that happens when the page is not built for your phone or tablet.

Another change is simply the look of the new landing page. Instead of having the collections featured below in list form with a link, we have now given the page a face-lift. Using thumbnail images that correspond to each collection, clicking on one will take you to a landing page for each collection with a more detailed description of its contents and a link to its collection guide and digitized material.

Within the collections’ digitized materials, audio and PDF materials are now downloadable. In particular, with the oral history collection, nearly all of the transcripts and audio files are available for download onto personal computers. To make the viewing of video easier on patrons, especially on mobile and handheld devices, it is now embedded in the browser instead of switching to another browser window on a video hosting platform.

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An example of a digitized oral history. The turquoise circle indicates the download button on the new page.

Previously, the layout for digital collections had thumbnails and limited info next to it. Users could mouse over the material objects listed on the database, prompting a pop-out to appear to give more information about the item. To make our digital materials more responsive, the new listing has the information needed under the photo instead of in a pop-up. While this creates more information on the screen, scrolling  and scanning are now smoother actions. These changes we hope will make use and accessibility of our digital collections smoother and more straightforward.

We hope to see an increased use of our digital materials now that it is more easily accessible on mobile devices. Please visit our new page at and please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or concerns about our updated web page. We would love the feedback!


“Fix” vs. Fidelity: how we steward our digitized images

June 4, 2019

Recently we checked our department email and got a message from a patron about a photo in our digital library:

I fell in love with this photo entitled Woman at San Antonio & Aransas Pass station and spent hours digitally fixing it.

Here is my fixed, cleaned up version for your collection so people can enjoy a better view of it.

Chino Chapa

We’re always excited to hear from our users! And this is a very interesting share—the image Chapa found clearly had tears in it and he was able to digitally mend those right out:


“Woman at San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad Station,” 100-0520, General Photographs Collection, UTSA Special Collections. Original image scan on left, restored image on right.

In the images above, readers can see the fruit of Chapa’s labor. The original physical photo, a picture of a smiling young woman waiting on a railroad station platform in a fun skirt, must have been damaged at some point. These tears and scratches that were visible in the original scan have disappeared with Chapa’s careful edits.

While we’re happy to highlight this on our blog, it does bring up a question that we’re often asked by patrons: why don’t we “fix” photos in our collections or restore them to how they looked when taken?

Let’s break the answers to that down into a few key points:

1) We focus on faithful copies of originals

First, our photo collections consist of over 3 million images, many of which we hold as physical prints or negatives.  Of those, there are many that were collected by UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures staff years ago as part of the General Photographs Collection, a collection of photos that aim to document many of Texas’ communities and ethnic groups.  Photos were donated to the ITC or loaned to the museum’s staff so they could be copied.  For the loans, these were captured as copy negatives or, in more recent times, digital scans of the originals that have since been returned.  When staff captured the copy, they did so to create a faithful copy of the print or negative as it appeared at the time, the same way it would look if you were looking at the physical original.  This particular image was loaned and a copy negative was made, then later a digital scan was created of that copy negative so that it could be shared in our digital library.  The damage apparent on the image is representative of what staff saw when they received the loaned photo and made that first copy.

2) We focus on preservation, not restoration

These photos that we’ve received are often very old, and despite being treasured by the families or groups who’ve cared for them they’ve experienced the normal degradation of time.  When we accept archival material into our collections, we do so with the goal of preserving the material for future generations.  This might mean that we house photographs and negatives in special enclosures to help mitigate the effects of acidic paper, or keep them in a temperature controlled environment so that the chemical reactions taking place in dyes will slow down or possibly cease – and images and colors will remain visible.  Our primary goal is to stabilize the material, so that it stays looking the way it did when we received it, with all of the markers on it that indicate how it has aged and been used.

That being said, as stewards of these collections, it’s up to us to make the determination when archival materials need extra help.  There are times that we might decide that an intervention is needed, such as sending rare books or manuscripts off to conservators so they can be mended and handled safely.  We’ve even sent severely damaged negatives that we received to experts who were able to piece these back together and make them visible again—a considerable feat that you can read about in this post.  For digitized material, we keep the scan as faithful to the original as we can, so we never use software to sharpen images, remove dust or scratches, restore colors or otherwise alter the digital surrogate.

3) We welcome our patrons to interact with our publicly available materials

Our goal in digitizing images in our photographs collections is to make as much of these available to the public as we can.  We put in a lot of time and labor to scan images, create and structure metadata so these are described appropriately and findable, and do what we can to encourage use from the public.  While we don’t edit the content of images, we’re always interested in learning about how our patrons decide to use digitized images, from public exhibits to more personal uses, such as Chapa’s detailed restoration work above.

So keep sharing your stories with us about how you’ve used our digitized collections.  It’s literally what we’re doing all this work for!

Special Collections’ 3rd Annual Ven A Comer Fundraising Dinner

May 27, 2019

On May 5, 2019, Special Collections held its 3rd annual fundraising dinner, Ven A Comer, at Hotel Emma in the Pearl. This year, we were delighted to have Diana Kennedy as our guest of honor.

Just three months prior to the event, Kennedy traveled from her home in Michoacán to donate her culinary archives to UTSA. The collection contains about twelve linear feet personal papers, as well as her personal library of Mexican cookbooks. Selections from Kennedy’s papers were on display at the event, along with eleven 19th-century cookbooks.

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Our featured chef was Juan Cabrera Barrón, the owner of Fonda Fina restaurant in Mexico City. John Brand and Jaime Gonzalez (Hotel Emma), Elizabeth Johnson (Pharm Table, San Antonio), Silvia McCollow (NIDO, Oakland), and Sofia Sada (CIA San Antonio), contributed their expertise to the creation of the wonderful menu that guests enjoyed that evening. Last but not least, we were happy to once again have Pedro Jiménez Gurria (Mezonte Mezcal, Guadalajara) as our mescalero.

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Tickets for this year’s Ven A Comer sold out well in advance of the event. If you’d like to receive news about next year’s event, be sure to check our website and get on our mailing list. Proceeds from the event support UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook collection. If you weren’t able to attend and would still like to show your support, you can become a sponsor of the Diana Kennedy Collection or contact

Thank you to everyone who worked to make this year’s event the best yet! See you in 2020!

Nineteenth Century Studio Portraits Donated to Special Collections

May 17, 2019

Special Collections recently received a gift of mid to late nineteenth century portraits representing the work of 21 Texas studios.  The prints, mounted on cardstock, are in the popular forms of presentation at that time, either carte de visite (4 ¼ x 2 ½ inches) or cabinet card (4 ½ x 6 ¼ inches).  Most are albumen prints, but a few are gelatin silver prints.  Many of the reverse sides include the photographer’s logo and an advertisement for the studio.  These card photographs were often displayed in albums in the family parlor and extra copies were traded among friends and relatives.  The photographs, a gift from Mary Eck, are mostly of unknown subjects who were friends of the Creaton, Eck, Hoffstetter, and Sutor families in Austin.

The images provide information about both the photographer and the subjects.  We see the hair styles and clothing, probably their “Sunday-best,” worn by middle class Texans during those decades.  Likewise, we see the way photographers positioned their subjects in idealized environments among painted backdrops that were conveniently rolled into place. [1]

These are a few examples of the photographs.


Albumen carte de visite by William James Oliphant (1845-1930), who operated a studio in Austin from 1866 until 1880. The photograph, taken around the late 1860s, shows girls wearing identical dresses and similar pantalettes. (119-0003-01)




Albumen cartes de visite by Mrs. Martin, late 1860s. Although she placed an ad in an Austin newspaper in 1868, her full name is unknown. (119-0002)

Albumen cartes de visite by George Schuwirth (1843-1906), a native of Hesse, Germany, who operated a studio in Austin from the late 1870s to the early 1900s. These composite images have a backstamp with cherub and camera, a common motif in studio logos in the 1870s and 1880s. (119-0006)

Albumen carte de visite by Samuel B. Hill (1840-1917). Hill gained notoriety for his photographs of the fire that destroyed the State Capitol in 1881 and he incorporated an engraving of one of them in his logo. (119-0012)

Albumen cabinet cards by Samuel B. Hill. These double portraits of men, taken in the 1880s, have the studio name in the lower margins, but no backstamps. (119-0013)

Albumen cabinet cards by Harvey R. Marx (1821-1902), who had a studio in Austin from about 1870 until shortly before his death. These portraits, from the 1880s, show some of the picturesque hats worn by both younger and older women at that time. (119-0015)

Albumen cabinet card by Maximillian T. Jesse (1842-1929), who was born in Russia. The portrait of “Daisy” wearing a velvet bonnet was taken about 1888, based on the various locations of Jesse’s studio in the San Antonio City Directories. (119-0030)

Albumen cabinet cards by F. G. Mills, with studio in Bastrop.  The subjects are Celestine Prokop Schuelke and her twins, Olive and Frank Schuelke, born in 1889.  No advertisements or other information about the studio has been located.  (119-0023)

Albumen cabinet card by David P. Barr (1839-1925), who operated a studio in San Antonio from about 1880 until the early 1920s. The subject, wearing knickerbockers with cap on the floor beside him, is posed with a cane that is probably a studio prop.


[1] For information about Texas photographers see Haynes, David.  Catching Shadows:  A Directory of 19th Century Texas Photographers.  Austin:  Texas State Historical Association, 1993.


Goodbye to Fellow Archivist and Good Friend, Gene Elder

May 3, 2019

On Sunday, April 28, 2019, artist and activist Gene Elder passed away quietly after a battle with cancer. The impact Gene had on San Antonio was profound in many ways. His artwork was multi-faceted, at times organic and flowing, at other times powerfully political. He challenged the status quo on a daily basis often dispatching missives to the local paper. For those of us on Gene’s email listserv, daily updates came from Gene on multitude of issues, items of interest, and his thoughts on pretty much everything. We will probably continue to receive emails from Gene from the other side. 

For me, Gene’s most compelling contribution to San Antonio is the Happy Foundation Archives. I served as an intern at the archives in fall of 2009 and collaborated with Gene on projects over the course of the last 10 years. 


Gene taught me how important it is to collect and preserve our LGBTQ history. For four decades, he amassed an invaluable collection of materials that are of great importance to researchers as well as local community members. Thanks to Gene, I came to work at UTSA Special Collections and as an Assistant Archivist, I am able to carry on his work by collecting and preserving queer history for San Antonio and South Texas.

I am honored to be one of seven people Gene selected to serve on a committee dedicated to the continuation of the Happy Foundation Archives. We will strive to continue his legacy and ensure that the rich archival treasures Gene cared for will be preserved and accessible for research as he intended.

For more information on Gene Elder, please visit the online guide for the Gene Elder papers. His papers can be accessed via the John Peace Library Special Collections Reading Room after submitting a visit request form.

Related posts: San Antonio Artist and Activist Donated Journals to UTSA Special Collections, New Exhibits in Special Collections, LGBTQ Pride Month-Remembering Queer Activism in San Antonio, 1978, San Antonio LGBTQ Publications now online

A Month in Special Collections: March

April 8, 2019

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