Briscoe Center Acquires the StudioEIS Archive
Adds to the center’s newest collection strength: symbols, imagery, and memorialization
Brothers Elliot (left) and Ivan Schwartz at the StudioEIS design studio.
The Briscoe Center has acquired the archives of StudioEIS, an internationally renowned sculpture-design studio. The archive documents the work of Elliot and Ivan Schwartz, whose studio has created hundreds of sculptures for museums over a four-decade career.
“Historians are rightly interested in the relationship between symbolism and memory in American culture, and the StudioEIS archive speaks powerfully on this subject,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “The archive represents a significant addition to the center’s collection strengths related to historiography, imagery, and memorialization.”
Over the last 40 years, StudioEIS has produced more historical sculptures than any studio in the United States, making the record of their work itself part of America’s cultural history. By documenting the creative process of countless historical projects, the StudioEIS archive lifts the veil on how public commemoration is conceived, initiated, and realized.
StudioEIS’s projects have covered a wide variety of historical topics including civil rights, Native American history, and the presidency. Their work has included sculptures of many iconic figures including Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, and all forty-two signers of the US Constitution at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
“The Briscoe Center is the only institution that made sense to us especially in view of its new impetus to study the power of symbols,” said Ivan Schwartz, cofounder of StudioEIS. “The fact that this eclectic and eccentric collection will be made available for future study has made Elliot and I feel as if our efforts to use visual storytelling to enhance the mission of museums has been worth it.”
The collection includes study photographs and prints; models; press books; video tapes; busts; press clips; foundry reference books; working files; project files; client correspondence; and ephemera. Of particular interest are the project files, which document StudioEIS’s relationship with clients, painters, costume makers, researchers, model-makers, museum staff, and academics.
StudioEIS was founded in 1977 by brothers Ivan and Elliot Schwartz, during a time when a growing number of museums–new and old–were looking to commission sculpture projects as part of their storytelling missions. While varied in scope and size, the majority have sought to “put a face to history” by creating lifelike sculptures that engage museum visitors. Some have been part of revisionist projects aimed at changing traditionally held perceptions of public figures.
“Texas and UT Austin are places where the past is often as hotly contested as the present,” said Carleton. “The StudioEIS archive gives historians, cultural anthropologists, and other academicians another frame of reference for understanding the American experience.”
The Briscoe Center has numerous collections related to public remembrance, imagery, and memorialization. In 2013, the center acquired the Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection, which documents the symbolism and significance of flags and heraldry. The center is also home to the Coppini-Tauch Papers, which detail Pompeo Coppini’s historical sculpture projects including the World War I memorial Littlefield Fountain at UT Austin and the “Spirit of Sacrifice” cenotaph of Alamo defenders in San Antonio. The UT Office of Community Relations records at the center include material related to UT campus statues of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan.
Furthermore, the Bride Neill Taylor Papers includes manuscripts, speeches, and notes related to Elisabet Ney, a German artist, whose career included commissions to sculpt busts of Otto von Bismarck, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Sam Houston, and Stephen F. Austin. Finally, the papers of the Texas Fine Arts Association, founded in honor of Ney, include organizational files, correspondence, exhibit scrapbooks, and clippings.
Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography
The Briscoe Center proudly presents Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography, which features nearly 60 photographs taken between the 1930s and 1970s that show the flashpoints of the civil rights movement.
“Drawn from the center’s unrivaled photojournalism collections, the images on display are compelling, beautiful, disturbing, and encouraging—just like the history they document,” says Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “Like those who marched, protested, and organized for civil rights, photojournalists put themselves in great danger. Struggle for Justice unashamedly celebrates their legacy.”
The photographs on display provide compelling visual evidence of the struggles, flashpoints, and achievements of the civil rights movement—from Jim Crow to Black Power. The exhibit showcases images by Spider Martin (right), Flip Schulke, Charles Moore (photos below), R. C. Hickman, and others—emphasizing the perspective of the photographers. It focuses on five areas: signs of segregation, organizations and leaders of the civil rights movement, the risks and threat of violence that civil rights activists faced from their fellow Americans, marches and protests, and a section that documents the contemporary achievements of the civil rights movement.
“The exhibit is designed to create multiple entry points for viewing the photographs and learning about the civil rights movement,” said Sarah Sonner, assistant director for exhibits curation at the Briscoe Center. “We also constructed a v-shaped wall that reconfigures the space and chose vibrant color accents inspired by Black Panther newspapers.”
Racial segregation dominated American culture for the first half of the twentieth century. Many states, especially those in the South, used segregation to systematically discriminate against black Americans in all areas of public life including the ballot box, classroom, and dining hall. “Separate but equal” was inherently false, often to a farcical degree. The civil rights movement gained momentum rapidly after World War II. Regardless of the various differences between civil rights leaders and organizations, they shared a desire to repeal Jim Crow laws and were often met with violence and intimidation by local officials and mobs.
Photojournalists often put themselves in danger to document the violent responses to civil rights activism, which included police brutality and the intimidating, unsavory tone of counter protests. Some photojournalists, like Schulke, who became Martin Luther King’s personal photographer, embedded themselves in the struggle. For others like Hickman, documenting the movement was simply part of their work covering current local events. Either way, the publication of their pictures helped to galvanize public support for the civil rights movement and its legislative goals.
“At first glance, these images simply present a striking visual record of the civil rights movement—its trials and successes,” added Carleton. “And yet, they remain so salient and resonant. They touch upon issues very much still with us—they are able to conjure within us questions about the America we live in today, as well as the one we’ve inherited.”