The Harry Ransom Center’s new exhibit takes visitors through the lives and works of the artists who made up the “Beat Generation” through more than 250 items drawn from across the Ransom Center’s collections.
What they won’t see is the hard work and attention to detail that was put in behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to the unveiling of “On the Road with the Beats.”
The exhibition, which runs through Aug. 3, takes visitors on a journey through the cities, landscapes and communities that fostered and shaped the most important works of the Beat Generation, from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s.
Exhibition conservator Ken Grant leads the team behind the construction of the Ransom Center’s exhibits. His group includes chief preparator John Wright, senior preparator Sonja Reid, and preparators Bryan Garcia and Justin Goldwater.
“On the Road with the Beats” is complemented by a traveling exhibition “Jess: To and From the Printed Page” on view from Feb. 12 – April 6.
It took exhibition services five weeks to install both, which included collecting and preparing new materials, painting and moving walls around in the gallery to fit the new pieces, figuring out the best lighting for the space, preparing labels and text panels for the items and finally installing everything.
Grant works hand in hand with the curator of each new exhibit to help showcase the items the best way possible.
“The curators choose the items to tell the story they are trying to get across and we help them tell it through the presentation,” he said.
Ransom Center Curator of British and American Literature Molly Schwartzburg curated “On the Road with the Beats.”
“From the first stages of preparing this exhibition, it was clear that place, travel and motion were a natural way to frame the Ransom Center’s Beat holdings,” she said.
If preparing hundreds of items for the exhibition wasn’t enough, in the midst of this project the group was also trying to gather and ready items from the Ransom Center’s film collection that will be sent to a Neiman Marcus store in Dallas for a film festival.
Exhibition services prepares and ships materials all across the United States and the world for the Ransom Center’s loan program, which is a large part of what the team does.
“Right now we are sending materials related to motion pictures, such as film stills, scenic paintings and costumes,” Grant said.
Some of the films that will be featured in the two-week film exhibit are “Gone With the Wind,” “Spellbound” and “North by Northwest.” About 100 items are being prepared and someone from the Ransom Center will travel to Dallas to help set up the installation.
Some of the greatest challenges Grant faces are related to preparing and shipping loan materials. One of the most difficult he has ever faced is in the group that is being sent to Dallas. It is a train model from the 1946 Western “Duel in the Sun.”
The filmmakers made several model trains to destroy for the scene and one of those ended up at the Ransom Center. The model was not intended to last and is now very fragile.
“We have to stabilize the train and want to return it to pristine condition the best we can,” Grant said.
“On the Road with the Beats” can be seen at the Ransom Center Galleries on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays.