Quietly removed from the building’s industrious study spaces and stacks, the seventh floor of Texas State University’s Alkek Library has a palpable spirit of place. This is the home of The Wittliff Collections. A place where a plaque near the entrance sums it up perfectly with a quotation from the father of Texas letters, J. Frank Dobie: “Great literature transcends its native land, but none that I know of ignores its soil.”
Founded by screenwriter and photographer Bill Wittliff and his wife Sally in 1986, the Collections encompass both the literary and photographic archives of the Southwestern Writers Collection and the Southwestern & Mexican Photography Collection.
Not just a resource for academic researchers, The Wittliff Collections hosts temporary exhibitions in four galleries year-round as well as readings, lectures, symposia and other special events.
On a recent visit, we admired two neatly paired photography shows: “Ansel Adams: A Southwest Legacy” and “Rocky Schenck: The Recurring Dream.” Adams’ show, on view through Dec. 4, features 21 of the legendary landscape photographer’s most famous images rendered in the dramatic, high-contrast prints he favored late in his career.
Next door you will find the stylistically polar images of contemporary fine art photographer Rocky Schenck, whose signature style is dreamy and diffused. While Adams’ images make nature look hyper-real, Schenck evokes powerful mysteries, blurring and toning his photographs to create psychological, metaphysical and emotional worlds. Nearly 70 of his prints are on display through Dec. 16.
When we inquired about the “Lonesome Dove” room, a student attendant led us to a must-see gallery in the back containing costumes and props from the Emmy-winning 1989 TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. (Bill Wittliff was the show’s co-executive producer and wrote the screenplay, which was adapted from Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about two retired Texas Rangers who drive cattle from Texas to Montana in 1876.)
It felt as though we were experiencing more than a fictional history. One case held hats that looked like they’d traveled many miles on horseback. Mannequins wore authentic-looking 19th century costumes, and Wittliff’s romantic photographs brought scenes vividly back to life.
Admission to the Wittliff Collections is free. Hours vary, but the galleries are open year-round.