Instructing • Illuminating • Inspiring
Founded in 1986, the Wittliff Collections are devoted to collecting and preserving the creative legacy of the Southwest and to fostering “the spirit of place” in the wider world through the acquisition of significant archives and works of the Southwest’s literature, film and music, as well as the photography of the Southwest and Mexico. The Wittliff Collections welcome visitors, tours, and classes, host lectures, readings, and symposia, assist researchers, and present major exhibitions year-round from their archival repositories in over 6,600 square feet of viewing space.
The Southwestern Writers Collection
Bill and Sally Wittliff founded the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University in 1986 with the first of many gifts: papers from author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie which included diaries, journals, manuscripts for published and unpublished books, personal correspondence, candid snapshots, and memorabilia.
The Writers Collection moved into its permanent quarters at the Albert B. Alkek Library when the new building opened in 1990. A keystone rescued by J. Frank Dobie from the old Bee County Courthouse was set into the stucco of the main wall in the new exhibition room, and this supportive limestone block incised with a Texas star has been the symbol of the collections ever since.
The dedication of the Southwestern Writers Collection was celebrated during a week of activities in October 1991. The Dedication Exhibition opened October 1 and featured a selection of historical and literary manuscripts, books, artifacts, photographs, and works of art from the archives. Highlights of the dedication ceremony on October 5 included Jerry Supple awarding the Wittliffs with the university’s highest honor, the Presidential Excellence Award.
In the years since, the Writers Collection archives have grown tremendously — thanks to the gifts of hundreds of individual donors, university support, and the work of staff members — resulting in a rich assemblage that commands international attention.
The Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection
The Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection—originally known as the Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican Photography—was established in 1996, ten years after the Writers Collection. To showcase the growing print holdings, the original physical spaces at the library were expanded to include two exhibition galleries. Bill Wittliff and Connie Todd curated and Mara Levy arranged the inaugural show, which featured 80 images by artists represented in the photography collection. The very first photograph to be hung on the new walls was Cosmos by Keith Carter. Two to three exhibitions were mounted each year; some were thematically inspired by the significant Mexican photography archive, others were single-artist shows of work in the collection by major photographers, such as Kate Breakey, Keith Carter, Russell Lee, Josephine Sacabo, and Rocky Schenck.
The Wittliff Collections
Although sharing facilities and operating as one organization within the university, the literary and photographic collections continued to function separately for the most part in terms of archival activities, exhibitions, and public programming. However, it became increasingly complicated to explain how each repository was separate, but not separate in terms of Southwest focus, administration, and origin.
As a result, in order to convey the composite nature of the collections, unite them under a common name, and acknowledge the great and generous contributions of the founding donors, the Southwestern Writers Collection and Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection were joined as the Wittliff Collections late in the fall of 2007.
In October of 2007, the permanent exhibition room for the Lonesome Dove Collection opened and was dedicated in a special ceremony during the publication launch party for of A Book of Photographs from Lonesome Dove by Bill Wittliff. Several members of the miniseries’ cast and crew attended, to the delight of more than 600 guests.
On October 17, 2009, after a year of construction, the Wittliff Collections marked a major expansion of the exhibition spaces, reading room, and office areas with another grand celebration. Bill and Sally Wittliff, Curator Connie Todd, and Texas State President Denise Trauth cut a silver ribbon to open the new spaces, then the 500-plus crowd enjoyed remarks by Todd and Trauth, a special video prepared for the occasion, and a brief talk by photographer Keith Carter, whose photographs were once again featured in the gallery spaces, with Cosmos, fittingly, in a prominent spot.
The expanded spaces nearly tripled the exhibition areas. Counting the two original galleries, as many as 150 prints can be on view at any given time, with six to ten exhibitions mounted each year. Receptions, readings, panel discussions, and other special events are now being held in a large main gallery — which includes two smaller galleries nested within — and a moveable wall opens to accommodate events with larger audiences. The Lonesome Dove room also received a new wall, to display a grouping of Bill Wittliff’s photographs taken during the filming of the miniseries. The reading room doubled in size and features handmade longleaf pine tables and stained cabinetry. Relocation of the Wittliff Collections office and creation of new work and storage areas complete the expansion and provide much needed space for continued growth and support of our mission and our goals to instruct, illuminate, and inspire.