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Displays at the Powell Library


Three times a year, the Kitty King Powell Library presents a display of rare books. The displays, which often include related objects from the Bayou Bend Collection, are on view in Bayou Bend’s Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center, on the second floor, during the library’s hours of operation.

Tools of the Trade: Artisan Companions and Business Guides

Engraving, page 136, The Paper Hanger, Painter, Grainer, and Decorator’s Assistant, 1879

Charles Savory, The Paper Hanger, Painter, Grainer, and Decorator’s Assistant, 1879, engraving of a graining tool, page 136, published by Kent & Co., London.

February 5–May 29, 2021

Cabinetmakers, painters, and decorators in the 19th century had a plethora of manuals and guides from which they could learn and improve their skills. Publishing companies capitalized on this interest, and the Powell Library’s collection has numerous examples covering a range of trades during the 18th and 19th centuries. These books conveyed both the basic principles of a particular craft and the business of manufacturing. As a result, an artisan could confidently set up a business without the specialized training and experience otherwise required.

The volumes on view in Tools of the Trade represent common categories of 19th-century technical and industrial publications as related to the decorative arts: apprenticeship anecdotes; business advice; pattern and design examples; formulas and instructions; and material and labor costs. Also included are examples from one of the most prolific industrial and technical publishers in the United States: Henry Carey Baird.

Beautifully illustrated and occasionally annotated by the artisans who used them, these guidebooks enable researchers to learn more about the skills, techniques, equipment, materials, and business acumen of the craftspeople who created decorative arts objects in the Bayou Bend Collection.

“Wonderful Things”: Glass and Books Collected by Ima Hogg

American Glass by Mary Harrod Northend

Mary Harrod Northend, American Glass, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1926, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library, gift of Ima Hogg.

October 1, 2020–January 30, 2021

Glassmaking is the oldest manufacturing industry in America, and glass objects were among the first American antiques collected by Ima Hogg. Her first major glass purchase in 1923 included an amethyst-colored pocket bottle, featured in this display. As she wrote her brother Will about the purchase, “... the things I thought so wonderful for which I paid so dearly! Nevertheless, I am the proud possessor of some rare specimens of Stiegel and Wistarberg glass.”

Ima Hogg studied any new collecting interest seriously, and she began acquiring books about glass in the early 1920s. Just before purchasing the amethyst bottle, she acquired Stiegel Glass, a limited-edition 1914 book about its maker. Upon the completion of Bayou Bend in 1928, she arranged her glass purchases on glass shelves in the Pine Room windows to take advantage of the light. Many remain there today. This display features several of her first acquisitions of glass, as well as the books she purchased to guide her glass collecting.

Limited Time Only: Rare and Delicate Materials in the Powell Library’s Rare Book Collection

February 4–August 22, 2020

For protective purposes, the Powell Library’s rare books are displayed only for limited periods of time, following the MFAH policies for works of art on paper. External factors, such as light exposure, or internal factors, such as the book’s paper and ink, can cause damage. These internal factors are known as “inherent vice” in libraries.

The rarely exhibited items in this display demonstrate the results of safe storage practices as well as inherent vice. Examples of the latter include periodicals printed on paper made of wood pulp, an innovation popularized in the publishing industry in the 19th century that allowed for cheaper printing, but that degrades much faster than earlier papers made of cotton rags.

Conversely, two 19th-century British periodicals contain fabric and wallpaper samples that remain in excellent condition, showing their original vibrant colors, because of their preservation away from light in bound volumes. After this display closes, the books return to the rare book stacks, where they are protected from light and fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

Feathered Glory: The Eagle as Represented in the Powell Library’s Rare Book Collection

October 1, 2019–January 25, 2020

Eagles figured prominently in American decorative arts of the 19th century, adorning silver and brass objects, ceramics, and furniture, while also appearing in three dimensions as weather vanes or ship figureheads. This display features images of the national bird of the United States found in Powell Library books, along with objects from the Bayou Bend Collection that were created during the first 100 years of U.S. history.

Moving far beyond the stylized frontal pose used in the Great Seal of 1782, the eagles in this display devour prey in realistic settings on the pages of John James Audubon’s and Alexander Wilson’s ornithological works. These eagles also spread their wings and appear with dynamic feathered glory on functional and decorative objects, asserting their owners’ pride in the new nation.

Leaving Your Mark: Inscriptions, Annotations, and Additions in the Powell Library’s Rare Book Collection

Powell Library | Art du potier d’étain

Pierre August Salmon, Art du potier d’étain, hand-colored plate, published by Chez Moutard, Paris, 1788, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library, funded by William J. Hill.

The New-York revised prices: for manufacturing cabinet and chair work, published by the New-York Society of Journeymen Cabinet Makers, printed by Southwick and Pelsue, New York, 1810, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library. (Notations by journeyman cabinetmaker Daniel Turnier) 

George Washington, The President’s address to the people of the United States, September 17, 1796: intimating his resolution of retiring from public service, when the present term of presidency expires, printed for W. Young, Mills & Son, Philadelphia, 1796, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library. (Drawing of eagle by unknown artist)

Henry E. Chambers, A Higher History of the United States for Schools and Academies, published by F. F. Hansell & Bro., New Orleans, c. 1889, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library.

Henry E. Chambers, A Higher History of the United States for Schools and Academies, published by F. F. Hansell & Bro., New Orleans, c. 1889, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library. (Inscription to Ima Hogg from her father, James Stephen Hogg)

Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Saint Elizabeth and Other Stories, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1890, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Saint Elizabeth and Other Stories, Frances Hodgson Burnett, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1890, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library. (Inscription by Ima Hogg, age 8)

Young Lady’s Own Book: A Manual of Intellectual Improvement and Moral Deportment, published by Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia, 1838, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Powell Library.

July 16–September 28, 2019

Readers often leave their own marks on books in one way or another. Although librarians usually object to the practice, Leaving Your Mark presents examples of interesting marks and the stories they tell—or the mysteries they present.

People may inscribe books to commemorate special occasions, such as giving a book for a graduation or birthday, or simply to record ownership. Among the examples on view are books lovingly inscribed by a father to his young daughter (James Hogg to Ima Hogg), as well as a book that records an important meeting between Ima Hogg and her fellow collectors years later.

Sometimes marks reflect the owner’s profession, such as a cabinetmaker’s sketches and cost calculations in a cabinetmaking price book from the 18th century. Even collectors and curators mark the pages of auction catalogues as they search for new acquisitions.

Marks are not always in written form. The young owner of the 1838 etiquette book on display left the indentations of her fingers on the book’s cover, creating a tangible record of her presence—and raising several questions. Was the reader happily clutching the book tightly in her hands? Or do the marks indicate annoyance at being tasked to learn the rules contained within the book?

Printed Color for All: Chromolithographic Book Illustrations in the Powell Library’s Rare Book Collection

February 7–July 13, 2019

When Owen Jones (1809–1874) published the first edition of The Grammar of Ornament, he turned to the relatively new and expensive process of chromolithography. This method of printing could require up to 20 different lithographic stones, each with a separate color, printed one on top of another, producing intense and often subtly modulated tones. Chromolithography, or color lithography, grew into the most popular form of color book illustration in the second half of the 19th century, replacing hand-coloring with brighter and more consistent results.

Chromolithographs swept across America, decorating walls as well as book pages. These images delighted the public, even as leading moralists and intellectuals scorned what they saw as a debasement of high culture that became known as “Chromo-Civilization,” a term first used in 1874 in the magazine The Nation. The pioneering 1979 book The Democratic Art by Peter Marzio, director of the MFAH from 1982 to 2010, helped to establish chromolithography as a subject worthy of scholarly research and artistic appreciation.

Printed Color for All features a range of 19th-century chromolithographs that served artistic, educational, commercial, and decorative purposes. Chromolithography brightened the world of 19th-century Americans and continues to delight viewers today.

Houston Artists of the 19th Century in the William J. Hill Texas Artisans & Artists Archive

September 28, 2018–January 6, 2019

This display highlights Houston painters, photographers, and silversmiths of the 19th century, as well as handwork and needlework. The creators of many 19th-century Texas artworks are unknown, and even when artists’ names can be determined, information about their lives and creative output can be sparse and difficult to locate. 

Bayou Bend’s William J. Hill Texas Artisans and Artists Archive unites documents and resources hidden in collections across the state to enable researchers to learn more about these artists and their world and gain a better understanding of their achievements. Named for the late Houston philanthropist and collector William J. Hill, the archive is intended to facilitate research and appreciation of Texas art and decorative arts. More than 100,000 records are online, and the collection continues to grow. 

Complexity and Civility: American Victorian Dining Silver in the Bayou Bend Collection

May 15–September 8, 2018

The Victorian era encompasses the reign of Queen Victoria from her accession to the throne on June 20, 1837, until her death on January 22, 1901. British design and culture continued to influence America during this era in spite of American political independence. The display at the Powell Library focuses on silver cutlery that was made or sold in America, and reflects trends in dining, etiquette, and design in a uniquely American way. Design and etiquette books that fostered the creation and use of such objects are also featured.

Americans had imported much of their silver from abroad until the Tariff of 1842 imposed heavy taxes on imported goods and led to an increased focus on American silver production. American manufacturers looked to European design trends, often taking the form of various “revivals” of past styles including Rococo, Classical, and Egyptian.

Economic trends fostered the growth of a middle class eager to outfit their homes with furnishings that could project their status in the world. Etiquette books proliferated to help guide their readers through the formalities of social engagement, in which dining took on a major role.

Printed and Bound in Texas: Selections from the Powell Library’s Hogg Family Collection

February 23, 2017–May 14, 2018

Printing in Texas began on February 22, 1817, with a document printed by Samuel Bangs. Traveling as a printer for Francisco Xavier Mina’s expedition to Mexico, Bangs printed a manifesto for Mina using a portable printing press during a stopover on Galveston Island. Pamphlets, proclamations, proceedings and ephemera were characteristic of early Texas printed material through the 1820s, as entrepreneurs struggled to establish a permanent printing press on the sparsely populated colonial frontier. By the mid-1830s, printing presses across the state were issuing successful newspapers throughout the newly christened Republic of Texas. Shortly thereafter, these same enterprises offered bookbinding, stationery, and job printing, firmly placing printing among Texas’s bourgeoning trades.

Many well-known Texans engaged in printing during the 19th century. In 1835, Gail Borden Jr., along with his brothers, started the Telegraph & Texas Register at San Felipe. In the 1850s, Texas legislator John Henry Brown served as editor for newspapers in multiple Texas counties before writing several books on Texas history. In the mid-1860s, Governor James S. Hogg worked his first job as a typesetter for The Texas Observer, and it is Governor Hogg’s own collection from which this selection of printed material was chosen.