Tracing the shape of Texas
Thousands view maps from UTA collection at Bullock museum exhibit
All the big names in mapmaking were there: Abraham Ortelius, Michael Mercator, Girolamo Ruscelli, Guillaume Delisle, Alexander von Humboldt, Zebulon Pike, John Arrowsmith, Stephen F. Austin, Jacob de Cordova, David Burr and William H. Emory.
Their beautiful maps, some hand drawn, many produced from copper engraving and lithographic processes, appeared alongside modern counterparts of holographic depictions and views from space. Dating from 1507 to 2000, the maps were displayed together at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin for a look at Texas over time in the exhibition “Drawn from Experience: Landmark Maps of Texas.”
The exhibit, which ran through early June, was two years in the making and involved staff from the Bullock museum and faculty and staff from UTA. Approximately 90 percent of the materials came from the UTA Libraries’ Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library in Special Collections.
In spring 2003, UTA Libraries Director Gerald Saxon and I contacted Bullock Director Lynn Denton about compiling an exhibition on the maps of Texas using the University’s extensive collections. Denton agreed and a joint curatorial team was formed.
Other UTA team members were Richard Francaviglia, director of the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and the History of Cartography; Dennis Reinhartz, professor of history; and J.C. Martin, former director of Special Collections and now the interim director for the Texas State Historical Association. In addition to Denton, the Bullock staff included David Denney, director of public programming; Sarita Rodriguez, head of education; Pony Allen, head of exhibits; and Shoshanna Lansberg, exhibit content coordinator.
“The UTA curators brought to the planning deep knowledge about historical maps and cartographic history, while the Bullock staff brought a keen sense of design, their audience and what works in exhibitions,” Dr. Saxon said.
Over the next year and a half, the group met frequently in Austin, Waco and Arlington to discuss the best way to depict the long and diverse history of the cartographic development of Texas. In addition to selecting maps, writing content and determining how the maps and text would be presented, the group focused on the educational and entertaining aspects of the exhibit.
The Bullock museum hosts more than 200,000 people a year, and the February to June exhibition dates guaranteed half that number in attendance. Approximately 55,000 of those would be children on field trips as well as visitors from across the state and nation.
The benefit to UTA is considerable, Saxon noted. “The general public touring the museum had an opportunity to see some of the important historical maps in the Virginia Garrett collection.”
By opening day, the museum had produced several programs to accompany the display, including one for students, “Explore the Story Station.” The museum set up an area where students could test cartography equipment and see for themselves how Texas maps were drawn from many experiences. Afterward, the students could draw a map of the museum from their own experience.
“Drawn from Experience” traced the evolution of the shape of Texas through 500 years of mapmaking, from the 16th century to the present. It brought together more than 60 historic maps, several of which had never been on display, as well as modern maps created through cutting-edge technology like holography and satellite imaging. These maps reflect the advancement of scientific knowledge, the power and conquest of nations, the skill and artistry of famous mapmakers, and the technical mapping innovations that unfolded over the centuries.
“This has been one of the museum’s most popular exhibits with both adults and students. The artistry and rich imagery found in the maps attract old and young alike,” said Denton, the Bullock director. “The museum is fortunate to have been able to include some of the incredibly important maps that have been pivotal to the state’s history and to feature maps that have never been seen outside research institutions.”
— Katherine R. Goodwin