Skip to content

New Artists’ Books in Special Collections!

July 6, 2021

UTSA Special Collections is currently home to more than 250 artists’ books. For the unfamiliar, an artists’ book is a work of art that derives its inspiration from the form or function of the concept of the book. It has been a few years since we have shared any of the artists’ books we have added to Special Collections, so please allow me to update you on some of our most recent acquisitions.

Which side are you on? by Bonnie Thompson Norman is an accordion-folded book attached at either end to tan-cloth-covered boards. The inspirations for this artists’ book were the issues of building a wall between the United States and Mexico as well as the caging of migrant children being major news items in February 2019. Norman recognized how her comfortable life made her “both complicit and implicitly responsible for these and other injustices to exist and to continue”. She sees making artists’ books and broadsides as a way for her to call attention to these issues and hopefully make a difference.

Next up is the 2019 artists’ book Talisman by Ellen Knudson. Talisman is a small artists’ book, small enough to fit in your pocket. Its size is purposeful as it is meant as an offering of support to creative people who might be feeling alone. I doubt Ellen Knudson could’ve known how many creatives would need little moments of feeling less alone over the following year.

The book is a single page, double-sided linoleum-block printing on Okawara paper, which has been folded up to a size smaller than the average cell phone. If you unfold the sheet, you will find the image of a grackle, which Knudson included as a kind of spirit guide through rough terrain. The grackle feels like an appropriate familiar to lead folks through troubled times–grackles are highly resilient and adaptive birds who can make their homes where others can’t.

Common threads, Volume 119: Composition by Candace Hicks is an artists’ book by Stephen F. Austin State University School of Art Assistant Professor, Candace Hicks. Hicks crafts incredible canvas composition books for her series “Common Threads”. Each volume is hand-stitched, hand-embroidered, and includes a journal entry by Hicks. Unlike many of our other artists’ books, which are part of limited edition runs, each of Hicks’ Common Threads volumes are one-of-a-kind.

2020: a fiasco by Todd M. Thyberg is a cathartic look at the horrors of America in 2020. Our copy is actually the artists’ proof as the edition of 22 sold out very quickly. The book “cover” is a resin-cast, hand-painted dumpster complete with a torn American flag on the side. Inside is a shredded copy of the Bill of Rights along with 13 hand-drawn images depicting major events/figures from 2020 with descriptions on the back of each. This artists’ book perfectly encapsulates how many Americans felt about 2020.

To learn about other artists’ books in our Rare Books Collection, please see my Artists’ Books research guide.

Pins, Posters, and Pumps-Ephemeral Bits of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ History

June 1, 2021

Ephemera is defined as that which is fleeting, short-lived, of no lasting importance. Au contraire! The LGBTQ+ collections held by UTSA Special Collections contain a wealth of queer ephemera-those seemingly insignificant “bits and bobs” of history that held a special place in the lives of the people who hung on to them. The tiny rhinestone pumps shown here once cradled the feet of San Antonio legend Lollie Johnson-successful business entrepreneur, beloved by the queer community.

Lollie wore her dainty heels to an awards ceremony honoring her countless contributions to the community she cared for so deeply. Ephemeral items in the Lollie Johnson papers offer the researcher an opportunity to see tangible remnants of San Antonio’s LGBTQ past. In addition to the pumps and panel, the collection contains several textiles including t-shirts from Lollie’s bars.

Noo Zoo Too faux stained glass panel, 1980s; Lollie Johnson, undated

Like Lollie Johnson, Martha Prentiss was a prominent activist in San Antonio’s lesbian and gay community. The Martha Prentiss papers hold some small, but powerful treasures that capture snippets of local queer women’s culture and the fight for gay rights. Pins, buttons, and badges (so called by the Brits) were and continue to be popular collectibles in private collections. Fortunately, when these collections are preserved in archives, we all benefit from the dedication of the collector.

If there was a single person who embraced ephemeral material at a whole other level, it was our dear, departed friend and donor, Gene Elder. There was not a single piece of ephemera that Gene did not latch onto and stash away in the cavernous Happy Foundation GLBT Archives. Gene’s very mode of transport was held together by ephemeral pieces and parts, truly a representation of his devotion to collecting all things artsy and queer. The hundreds of pages of his journals are plastered with fleeting bits that captured Gene’s eye and imagination.

Gene Elder in his Mud mobile, undated, photographer unknown
The Mud mobile was adorned with flip flops and swim noodles in addition to many other repurposed items that most folks would toss in the dumpster after their usefulness was exhausted.

I must admit that I too have ephemeral reminders my personal history and that of my community. Rainbow flags and rainbow tags hang by my desk in my home office. Small things I know, but trinkets that remind me of the path I forged as I came out later in life and symbols that link me to a community of which I am a part. My research files are sprinkled with small remnants of San Antonio’s queer history–an empty matchbook from the San Antonio County–a popular gay disco in the 70s–is snuggled in amongst photos and documents. My favorite piece of ephemera is a poster from the 2nd annual Gay Pride celebration in 1999 which I plucked off the women’s bathroom wall in one of the clubs on the strip (naughty I know but truly in the spirit of historic preservation). This special bit of memorabilia conjures up nostalgic moments of a wonderful evening spent in the company of good friends and delightful drag divas.

One day my papers will live in the archives and hopefully, my ephemeral odds and ends will be enjoyed by those who come upon them.

Helping our patrons, and patrons who help us

May 10, 2021

Like many other cultural heritage institutions, for the past year our department has had to adapt to a limited in-person work structure where we’ve done our best to help patrons with remote access (in addition to continuing our ongoing projects for collections maintenance and access).  Our reading room teams have dealt with hundreds of remote research and digitization requests since the pandemic started (big shout-outs to Moira, Tom and Carlos in particular for diligently handling the bulk of these!).  While we’re always working hard to accommodate our patrons’ needs, we don’t always hear back after we’ve shared the digitized content they asked about.  Did they find what they were seeking?  Was there some knowledge they had that we might not be aware of?  Are they even happy with the experience???

We get it–our patrons are busy too!  So we keep at it, moving through the lists of requests as fast as we can, glad to be of service.  To our delight, we occasionally do get a response back!  And sometimes, it even shows us where we can improve.  Below we’ll highlight a recent request, since it involves the timely events of Mother’s Day and Graduation.

First, we checked our department email ( to find this request waiting (shortened for brevity, used with permission from the patron):

My name is Julie Lubbering. I just searched what was available online for Gil Barrera photographs and was unable to locate but one picture for the Fifth Annual Commencement, May 14, 1978. 

I am specifically looking for a photo of me waving at my father as he graduates. I was 7 years old in the photo. I would love to see it and share it with my mother for mother’s day. She is in the photo too. 

12-26: Julie Lubbering, 7 waves at father (he receives MFA degree) Louis Lubbering with Mother Marilyn Lubbering

My father Louis Lubbering died last year of COVID so any photo like that would mean a lot to me and my mother.

It was great to hear why Ms. Lubbering was looking for this photo, which clearly would have a deeper meaning to her and her family given her father’s recent passing. We strive to help all of our patrons as best we can, but hearing why people are seeking certain things can help us look for related material they might not be aware of, as well. We also appreciated that she had contacted us ahead of time and shared her deadline—especially since we’re only on campus set days of the week, good advance notice has really become necessary.

But it also helped us in another way: When it was routed to my attention, it made me realize that we have a gap in a very important collection! Top Shelf readers may know from a previous post that the Gil Barrera Photographs of the University of Texas at San Antonio, 1972-1978 is the go-to collection for UTSA’s early years, as it visually documents construction of the new campus through opening days, campus life and early graduations.  Since it’s consulted regularly—especially by our UTSA community and alumni—years ago our department decided to digitize the contact sheets Barrera made of his film rolls, add in the metadata he’d written on the back, and get these into our Digital Collections so users can find them.

So why could our patron only find one image from 1978? Checking into our documentation, turns out back in 2015 our Digital Archivist (*ahem* that would be me) had discovered this gap and noted that the majority of the contact sheets from 1978 had not yet been digitized and put into our Digital Collections, and I’d planned to get that done “soon” according to the note I left…whoops.  But, with this gentle reminder, I’ll definitely elevate this in our special projects queue!

When it was my turn to get to campus next (maybe also self-motivated in part by a sense of guilt) I made sure to go by the space where we store these negatives at the John Peace Library and see what I could find.  I located the box of negatives from 1978, noted the identifier and range listed in the metadata (negative frames 12-26), and scanned these with the negative scanners we use for quick, on-demand patron requests.

As I was looking at the negatives, I’d noticed that Barrera had been shooting a crowd of graduates before he turned his camera to a section of the audience where I could see a young girl waving excitedly in frame 12.  I figured that had to be a 7 year old Julie Lubbering.  I wondered if maybe you could see her father in the crowd from frame 11, so I scanned the shot just in case it might be meaningful to her.  And I also wondered who the other people were—clearly there are other young kids around her (maybe with some familial resemblance?) and other adults who seemed to be smiling and waving as well. 

The Lubbering family cheers at UTSA’s 5th Commencement, May 14, 1978. Shots featured from “12-26: Julie Lubbering, 7 waves at father (he receives MFA degree) Louis Lubbering with Mother Marilyn Lubbering,” Gil Barrera Photographs of the University of Texas at San Antonio, MS 27, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

The final shot was the only one where you can get a clear image of Marilyn Lubbering’s face as she and Julie watch the crowd of graduates.  But I figured she’d be interested in all of those wider shots of her from afar and those other people around her so I definitely made sure to get those too.  After scanning, I bundled the digital files up into a shared folder and sent the link in an email to Lubbering, hoping she’d be happy with the shot of her and her mom and glad I could get this to her in time for her Mother’s Day deadline.

Julie and Marilyn Lubbering close up, from txsau_ms00027_05-17-78-4_026, Gil Barrera Photographs of the University of Texas at San Antonio, MS 27, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

The next morning, we got this message:

[You] have no idea how happy you made me and my mother. I couldn’t wait to show her the pictures and she and I just couldn’t believe these pictures exist at all. My grandmother Caroline, my great Aunts Evelyn and Leona as well as my great Uncle Clarence are also in the pictures.  They are all deceased now. My brothers Paul and Karl are also in the pics-very much alive. She said it was the best Mother’s Day present she ever got. Her name is Marilyn Lubbering. And yes my father is in the group picture. I think he is standing in front of the guy with the mustache. […]

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Julie Lubbering & Family

p.s. You really went above the call of duty my father who was a vet would probably say. He taught photography for many years so I’m sure he and Gil probably knew each other. 

Yay!  This warms our hearts for sure, we’re always so excited to hear that we’ve been able to help our patrons.  But this also answered my own questions about who those people were—the rest of Louis Lubbering’s family, there to support him and celebrate his graduation with clapping, waving and some cheers.  And I also got some of the story behind the lens: maybe Barrera was shooting the crowd and saw Louis Lubbering, who he probably knew, and then looked around to find the rest of the Lubbering clan in the stands?  And those other kids were her siblings.  Those other people weren’t just additional onlookers, they were all there to witness their father/husband/son/nephew receive his diploma in the spring of 1978.

It definitely invokes a sense of graduation excitement, of crowds of people gathered to celebrate, something our UTSA graduates and their friends and families sadly had to miss last spring.  As our campus community gears up to celebrate the 2021 spring Commencement, we look forward to seeing at least some of the communal parts of the graduation ritual, which mean so much to those graduating and those who are celebrating with them.

As for the Gil Barrera box of 1978 negatives—we’re hoping to get the rest of those contact sheets scanned sometime this year, stay tuned!  And we definitely owe thanks to Ms. Lubbering for helping us see a gap in our coverage that we (really, *I*) might not have gotten to for a while longer!

Remembering Nickie Valdez, Pioneering San Antonio LGBTQ Activist

April 15, 2021

For sixty years, Nickie Valdez served San Antonio’s LGBTQ community as an ardent activist. As early as the 1960s, Valdez worked to secure equal rights for gay women and men. She served on the board of the San Antonio Gay Alliance (SAGA), San Antonio Lesbian Gay Assembly (SALGA), San Antonio Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus, and was instrumental in the formation Dignity/San Antonio in 1976. Dignity was founded to accommodate lesbian and gay members of the Catholic church.

Nickie would sit on the steps of her local parish church, making herself available for gay and lesbian people who may have felt excluded by the church. She spoke with leaders of the many religious communities in the San Antonio area, urging them to include LGBT people in their outreach and ministries.[1]

Articles and photos about Valdez’s activism frequently appeared in local LGBT publications.

Nickie’s life partner, Deb Meyers shared Valdez’s passion for advocacy. Together they participated in social justice events and were leaders of DignityUSA’s Couple Ministry and Committee for Women’s concerns.[2]

The couple met in 1985 and were formally married in June of 2015. I had the opportunity to meet Nickie and Deb in 2017 when I gave a presentation at First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Antonio. I spoke about the importance of preserving our individual and collective histories and participants at the event brought their personal archives to share with the group. I spoke at length with Deb and Nickie and had the privilege of viewing some of materials they had collected over their decades together.

Nickie Valdez passed away on December 25, 2020 with her spouse of 35 years by her side. She may be physically departed from her beloved San Antonio LGBTQ community, but her legacy will be remembered for decades to come.

[1] “Nickie Valdez, Pioneering Catholic Lesbian Advocate, Dies on Christmas Day,” [], retrieved on April 15, 2021.

[2] Ibid.


March 25, 2021

After experiencing Winter Storm Uri, March has brought the much needed spring weather to Texas, a time for many outside activities. For this blog post we showcase pictures of people enjoying the outdoors during spring. In this set of photos you will see images from early 20th century to the 1990s.

Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas cadets playing cards during their annual spring hike, ca 1912. (General Photograph Collection, 081-0015)

Eloise Ohlen cooking a meal at Brackenridge Park Tourist Camp, 5/9/26. (San Antonio Light, L-0618-B)

Corrinne Heubaum holding a large beet, 5/17/26. (San Antonio Light, L-0619-F)

Betty Jameson (left) and Mrs. J. Lee Wilson at a golfing tournament in Brackenridge Park, 3/37 (San Antonio Light, L-1553-L)

Harry Wiedenfeld on a paddle boat, 3/40. (San Antonio Light, L-2413-G)

Spring Magic Festival at El Mercado, 3/17/85. (San Antonio Express News, E-0285-133-13)

Spring break on the North St. Mary’s Street Strip, 3/17/90. (San Antonio Express News, EN1990-03-17-12)

100 Years Ago in Texas: A Selection from the General Photograph Collection

January 6, 2021

For our first blog post this year we display a few images that give us a glimpse of Texas in 1921.  They show typical small businesses in a time before chain stores.  Views in rural communities reveal streets reminiscent of the 19th century.  At the same time, urban areas were growing fast.  We selected one image to illustrate the expanding role of military bases as one of the vehicles of growth.  There were no major events in Texas that year other than the tragic flooding that took place in Central Texas in September, caused by a dying hurricane moving over the area.  At least 215 people died, including 51 in San Antonio.  Most of these photographs are copies from family collections.

La Gloria, 101 South Laredo Street, San Antonio, one of many small neighborhood grocery stores before the arrival of chain supermarkets. (098-1119, courtesy of Patti Elizondo)

Brooks Field, San Antonio, the primary military airship facility in the state.  (075-0913, courtesy Express Publishing Company)

Pontoon boat outside the Gunter Hotel on North St. Mary’s Street, San Antonio, during the flood of September 9-10.  (091-0290, courtesy of Minnie Campbell)
Main Street, Granger, Williamson County, September 10.  (098-0193, courtesy of Dan Martinets)
Business district of Gallatin, Cherokee County.  (081-0663, courtesy of Gertrude Gatlin)
Barbecue held to bring farmers and townspeople together, Victoria.  (084-0487, courtesy of Margaret Virginia Crain Lowery)

Lane family and friends picnicking at Anderson Ways, Galveston Island.  (117-0058, courtesy of Andrew Grohe)

Del Rio boy scouts on a rattlesnake hunt, Val Verde County.  (091-0301, courtesy of Jo Beth Palm Fawcett)

Working From Home…What Have We Been Up To?

July 29, 2020


Special Collections staff on Zoom

Since the end of March, Special Collections entered unfamiliar territory when we began working remotely due to COVID-19. While telecommuting has its challenges, we’ve learned to adjust and have made telecommuting a pretty successful work model for ourselves and for our patrons. While we aren’t able to provide the exact same level of service, we are actually able to accomplish quite a bit. All of our hard work over the years digitizing material and creating finding aids and inventories, has allowed us to continue providing reference assistance and reproduction services. Of course, there are some inquiries we are unable to assist with remotely, but we are committed to as soon as we are able to return to campus. During our time working from home, we are also working diligently on a wide range of projects such as:

Our students have also been able to continue working for us from home. They are an invaluable part of our team and their contributions help us enhance access to our collections. You can read about their projects here.

Though our reading room isn’t open, we are here for you. Please reach out and we will support your needs as best we can!


Juan Nepomuceno Cortina

July 13, 2020

Today in Texas history, marks the beginning of what is known as the first Cortina War.  On July 13, 1859, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, shot Brownsville marshal, Robert Shears, after watching Shears violently drag to jail one of Cortina’s former ranch employees.  This conflict came after much racial tension between Anglo and Mexican Texans.  Here are two images of Juan Nepomuceno Cortina from the General Photograph Collection.

(General Photograph Collection: 073-0842b)

(General Photograph Collection: 092-0193)

Pride presentations during a pandemic

July 1, 2020

For the last couple of years, I have had the good fortune to partner with the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) during Pride month. In 2018 and 2019, I curated a Pride exhibit at the Central Branch and had hoped to do so this year. Unfortunately, the exhibit did not happen due to the pandemic. However, we were able to pivot and coordinate three virtual presentations on San Antonio’s LGBTQ history which were hosted by three branches of SAPL.

Delivering presentations online was definitely a learning curve for me. I love presenting in person, interacting with the audience, being able to read their expressions as I speak. I don’t have that luxury during a Zoom presentation. Instead, I peer into blocks with names, initials, or avatars. Despite the weirdness of speaking to blocks, I enjoyed giving the presentations. I recognize that for many months to come, this will be our “new normal” and I need to find ways to engage a virtual audience just as I would in-person participants. I am always delighted to talk about San Antonio’s LGBTQ history and using a virtual platform facilitates reaching a broader audience. 

There a so many nuances to San Antonio’s queer past and UTSA Special Collections has a wealth of materials that document those subtle layers. Fortunately, our LGBTQ collections don’t only get trotted out once a year during the month of June. Pride is celebrated all year long and there are many opportunities for us to share our queer materials with students and our community. Last year from June to September, UTSA Special Collections participated in the creation of an award winning exhibition at the McNay Art Museum: TransAmerica/n. I wrote three blog posts for the McNay during the exhibition, each exploring a different facet of San Antonio’s queer history and highlighting many of the LGBTQ materials held by UTSA Special Collections. 

Media coverage of our queer collections gets the word out beyond the confines of the archives and into the public sphere. As we work to grow our LGBTQ collections, reaching out to the public is imperative as there are unique materials in private collections that might one day need a permanent home. Additionally, queer history is one layer of San Antonio’s cultural heritage that deserves exploration and recognition, an important thread in the city’s historical fabric, one that many San Antonians might not be aware of. 

Urban-15 Pride presentation, Images, UTSA Special Collections. View this presentation at  http://Pride, Proud, Present. Collecting San Antonio’s Queer Memorias


Juneteenth Celebrations

June 22, 2020

Last Friday, we celebrated Juneteenth. Juneteenth (June + nineteenth), is the “most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States”, as defined by Henry Louis Gates Jr. It commemorates Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, on June 19th, 1885, bringing the order to reestablish Union control over Texas and thus the news of the 13th Amendment and the abolition of slavery to the state, two and a half years after it had taken affect. Juneteenth Day as a holiday started the year after. This holiday has managed to endure through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, gaining strength due in part to migration, freedman colonies and the Civil Rights Movement. While it has particular significance in Texas because of it’s origins, Juneteenth is a symbol of total  freedom from the slave trade across all states, including Texas.

For a more thorough history, check out this PBS history written by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

San Antonio has celebrated Juneteenth throughout the years. The San Antonio Express News covered the celebration in 1982 to 1984, which took place on E. Commerce Street and other locations. Larger celebrations took place in other Texas towns, as described in a couple oral history interviews from the Institute of Texan Cultures oral history collection. Included are Dr. I.J. Lamothe’s oral history, from Marshall, TX, as well as Marian and A.L. Holbert interviews, from Palestine, TX. Their conversations on Juneteenth can be found on pages 85-87 and 32-34, respectively.

Every year, UTSA holds a Juneteenth Day celebration. Including poetry and musical performances as well as a performance by the African American Studies students, it is a lively event.juneteenth Last year, Special Collections tabled at the event to show materials from the Peyton Colony Records, a freedman’s colony (just north of San Antonio), as well as the Washington Family papers, of which a large portion are digitized and can be accessed here. There was also a bill of sale for a slave from the Israel Worsham papers from before 1885, which was read aloud by Dr. Karla Broadus to a very powerful and somber effect. UTSA Libraries also tabled to provide more than 60 books and DVDs for check out to students and faculty that attended the celebration. This year, with the spread of COVID-19, UTSA still held the celebration virtually on rowdy link. It was recorded and can be experienced here.



Wish to learn more about Juneteenth? 

Check out this list of materials from UTSA Libraries:

Online Access:

Juneteenth Texas : essays in African-American folklore by Abernethy, Francis Edward

Available through UTSA libraries:

Juneteenth : a celebration of freedom by Taylor, Charles A

Juneteenth, unique heritage : an historical analysis of the origin and evolution of the 19th of June celebration in Texas by Williams, David A

Juneteenth : a novel by Ellison, Ralph

%d bloggers like this: