A Texas State Common Experience Exhibition
at the Southwestern Writers Collection
SAN MARCOS, Texas — Texas Rivers are environmental wonderlands, sustaining life and nourishing the human spirit on their journeys to the Gulf of Mexico. From the sheer canyons of the Big Bend to the fecund swamplands of the Big Thicket, Texas rivers are as diverse as the state itself. Generations of writers and photographers have chronicled the state’s waterways, most notably John Graves in his Goodbye to a River, perhaps the most beloved book ever published on Texas. Goodbye to a River is the text for this year’s Common Experience at Texas State University-San Marcos, and Graves’s work is central to the newest display at the Wittliff Collections: the Southwestern Writers Collection exhibition, Rivers of Texas.
The exhibition space on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library has been transformed into Texas landscape. Each case, with a full-color photograph as backdrop, is a window onto a specific river. Books, manuscripts, and artifacts highlight writers’ varied responses to the waterways and the lands they run through. Viewers will learn which is considered “the meanest river,” and which is considered “the perfect river.” Among the items on view is the canoe paddle Graves used on his 1957 trip down the Brazos River, Graves’s original snapshots from his journey, and a limited-edition broadside by Barbara Mathews Whitehead commemorating Goodbye to a River.
Rivers of Texas also features Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Cormac McCarthy, marking the first public viewing from his archives, recently acquired by the Southwestern Writers Collection. McCarthy’s 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men, is set in part along the Rio Grande, and a page from one of McCarthy’s original manuscripts is on display.
Additional archives highlight Texas rivers through the eyes of writers Gary Cartwright, Elizabeth Crook, Robert Flynn, Stephen Harrigan, Joe R. Lansdale, Beverly Lowry, Joe Nick Patoski, Jan Reid, and Edwin “Bud” Shrake. The rivers covered by the exhibit include the Rio Grande, Pecos, Nueces, Devils, Guadalupe, San Marcos, Colorado, Brazos, Trinity, Red, Neches, and Sabine. Playing continuously throughout the exhibit is the public television documentary, “The River of Innocence,” about the San Marcos River.
Fine-art prints from the Wittliff Collection of Southwestern & Mexican Photography complement the author materials, with river shots by Keith Carter, James Evans, Dennis Fagan, Rocky Schenck, and Will van Overbeek.
A Rivers of Texas reading guide accompanies the exhibit, listing over 60 books and articles for anyone interested in continuing their explorations. Available as a take-away for visitors, the reading guide is also online.
Rivers of Texas, which opened February 1, will be on view through July 31, 2008. The exhibit was curated by Assistant Curator Steve Davis, with assistance from other staff at The Wittliff Collections. For additional information, contact The Wittliff Collections at (512) 245-2313 or visit our website.