“Stories to Tell” at the Ransom Center

Courtesy of the Ransom Center

Federal Bureau of Investigation records on Arthur Miller, 1985. Arthur Miller Papers, Harry Ransom Center.

Time to check in with the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at the University of Texas at Austin and take a peek at what’s on display in the rotating Stories to Tell exhibition.

Over 150 boxes of Arthur Miller’s papers have sat uncatalogued storage at the HRC since the 1960s. Now, after the purchase of another 8,000 items from the playwright’s estate (and a public tug-of-war between Yale and Texas for those pieces), a teasingly tiny selection from Miller’s massive archive are on view. One item hails from Miller’s three-volume FBI file, which Miller received after filing a FOIA request in 1985. The dossier reveals that the government had a tail on the author of Death of a Salesman for at least twenty years, starting in the mid-1940s. One of the redacted forms indicates that in November 1942 “the subject was employed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a ship fitter trainee. However, by letter dated February 28, 1943, the subject advised his Local Board that he was again engaged in playwriting.”

Courtesy of the Ransom Center

Jindřich Eckert (Czech, 1833–1905) Humoreske 1887 Albumen print Gernsheim Collection, purchase, 964:0579:0001.

On a related note: in June, the entire Miller collection will be processed and catalogued for scholarly use, and will be reopened in November 2019. Interestingly, some unredacted documents will not be available for research until December 31, 2047.

Back to the show. In a section titled “Photography’s Fabricated Truths,” pictures taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries highlight how manipulating photos has been common practice long before the Kardashians started nipping and tucking their selfies on Instagram. One image shows a poodle smoking a pipe and another a young girl posing as Little Red Riding Hood. The trickery in the first photo is clear--the smoke wafting from the pipe is the added element--while the color added to the albumen print after it was shot is downright quaint.

This iteration of Stories to Tell will remain on display until August 18, when another selection of materials will reveal some of the forms the creative process takes.