Edna Collins Collection

Edna Collins:

An Inventory of the Edna Collins Collection at the Texas State Archives, 1940s, 1955, bulk 1943-1944

Arrangement History Scope and Contents Restrictions Related Materials

Overview

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German POW cemetery at Camp Swift

Creator: Collins, Edna Gertrude, 1885-1968
Title: Edna Collins collection
Dates: 1940s, 1955
Dates: bulk 1943-1944
Abstract: Edna Gertrude Collins (1885-1968) was an Austin-area painter and educator. The Edna Collins collection consists of 40 photographs, watercolors, and pencil drawings that primarily document the decoration of several theaters and recreation halls on the grounds of Camp Swift. Texas during the Second World War by Collins and a team of civilians and German prisoners of war (POWs). Also prominent in the collection are five commemorative Christmas cards hand-illustrated by the POWs and presented to Collins in 1943. Dates covered are 1940s, 1955, with the bulk dating 1943-1944. Subjects covered include depictions of rural culture in both west Texas and northern Mexico, as well as life as a POW at Camp Swift.
Quantity: 40 items
Language: English and German
Repository: Texas State Archives
Sponsor: The preparation and digitization of this collection for online public access was funded in full or in part with a Library Services and Technology Act (20 U.S.C. ยง 9121) grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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Other Finding Aids

A description of non-electronic records described in this finding aid is available at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/60009/tsl-60009.html.


Arrangement of the records

The physical arrangement of these records is of unclear origin. The collection may be arranged as received, or a clerk of the Texas State Library may have re-arranged the items according to a criteria that does not correspond to a known archival standard. Items are not grouped by subject, creator, or format, and are separated into differing locations without regard to item number sequence. Archives staff elected to retain arrangement due to small size of collection and need to maintain link with previous citations. The records are in two groups: photographs, and watercolor and pencil works.

Please see the finding aid on TARO (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/60009/tsl-60009.html) for details on how to access paper-based materials.


Biographical Sketch

Cottage at the Pease place done during the time I lived there

Cottage at the Pease place done during the time I lived there

Edna Gertrude Collins (1885-1968) was an Austin-area painter and educator. Born in Toronto, Canada on April 9, 1885, Collins spent her early childhood in Canada and Germany. In 1901, she immigrated to the United States, settling in Austin to study art at the studio of artist Robert Jerome Hill. Over the next few years, she would also study with the Art Students League of New York City as well as at the Sophie Newcomb College of New Orleans. After two years in Europe, Collins returned to Austin, where she painted and taught for the remainder of her career, save for a brief period in Dallas (1927-1929). Collins was involved in the larger art community, serving as secretary of the Austin Art League and writing articles for Art Digest and Texas Outlook. Her murals in particular were prominently displayed in locations across Austin, including the State Capitol, the Paramount Theatre, the Engineers Club, and the Pioneer Drive-In.

In 1943, Collins was commissioned to decorate a recreation hall at Camp Swift in Bastrop County by Colonel Lawrence A. Kurtz, the post’s commanding officer. Camp Swift was a temporary training and transshipment post built in 1942 with 2,750 buildings designed to accommodate 44,000 troops, the largest of its kind in Texas. The camp also housed approximately 3,865 German prisoners of war (POWs). Collins designed the various murals and illustrations for the recreation room and was assisted in the painting by local artist and art teacher Ann Stubbs (1904-1991) and Ernest R. Hardin (1902-1987), a University of Texas professor of speech and artist. Kurtz was pleased enough with the finished room that he then commissioned Collins to decorate one of the Camp’s six theaters. Realizing that she and Stubbs would be unable to complete the work on their own, Collins contacted Kurtz and requested the assistance of a unit of POWs, preferably those with applicable art experience. Kurtz initially detailed five POWs to help: Hans Halecker, Walter Hoffmeister, George Schindler (former teacher at the Leipzig Academy of Art), Hans Volkmar, and Ludwig von Urhan (former architect and painter). All five POWs worked with Collins during the remainder of her work on Camp Swift, save for Volkmar, who was quickly replaced by Warner Kirshes for unknown reasons. The principal theme of the theater murals was a stylized depiction of Mexican village life, complete with outdoor markets, milling villagers, and a cantina. Work on the theater neared completion by Christmas 1943, when the POWs presented a set of handmade Christmas cards to Collins.

Work on a second theater began thereafter. Collins planned a series of murals depicting everyday life along the West Texas frontier, and enlisted the help of George Brown, an art class pupil and native West Texan, to bring authenticity to the design. As she worked on Theater 2, Collins delegated the design of a second recreation hall to George Schindler, with the assistance of Stubbs and the remainder of the POWs. Both projects were completed in 1944, and Schindler began design plans for a third theater under Collins’ supervision. The conclusion of the war put a stop to further work, however, and Camp Swift was gradually closed down beginning in 1945.

Following her work at Camp Swift, Collins continued to remain active in the Austin-area artist community, and had a one-woman exhibition in 1952. In 1968, Collins died while visiting her sister, Rosina Guest West, in Berkeley, California.


Scope and Content of the Records

Smoking room of Theater 1, taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps

Smoking room of Theater 1, taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps

Edna Gertrude Collins (1885-1968) was an Austin-area painter and educator. This collection consists of 40 watercolors, pencil drawings and photographs, the bulk of which document the decoration of entertainment facilities in Camp Swift, Texas by Austin artist Edna Collins and her assistants. Dates covered are 1940s, 1955, with the bulk dating 1943-1944. The pencil drawings and bulk of the watercolors are preparatory and detail studies outlining plans for murals and other assorted ornamentation for two theatres and two recreation rooms decorated by Collins and her varying team of civilians and German prisoners of war (POWs). The bulk of the designs concern murals and assorted decorative flourishes for Theater 1 (scenes of Mexican village life) and Theater 2 (scenes of West Texas ranch life). Also included are three watercolor designs for a potential third theater most likely created by POW George Schindler, the plans for which were never initiated due to the end of the war in Europe. Additionally, there are five commemorative watercolor Christmas cards created and given to Collins in 1943 by the five POWs most involved in the project: Hans Halecker, Walter Hoffmeister, Warner Kirshes, George Schindler, and Ludwig von Urhan. The final watercolor is a picture painted by Collins in 1955 of a cottage on the grounds of Austin’s Pease Mansion (also known as Woodlawn), which was Collins’ home at the time. The bulk of the photographs are images of the decorated theaters and recreation rooms taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Also included are two pictures of Camp Swift’s POW cemetery, designed by the POWs themselves, and a small portrait of Hans Halecker.


Restrictions and Requirements

Restrictions on Use
The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).

Technical Requirements
For physical materials: researchers are required to wear gloves provided by the Archives when reviewing photographic materials.


The following materials are offered as possible sources of further information on the agencies and subjects covered by the records. The listing is not exhaustive.

Texas State Archives
Edna Collins Literary Effort, 1943-1944, 1 item. [Contains the narrative manuscript, Decorating Theaters at Camp Swift, Texas, During 1943-1944]
Austin History Center
Collins Family Papers, 1842-1963, undated, 3.5 linear ft.
Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin
Camp Swift Oral History Project Records, 2004-2006, 1.5 ft.
A Guide to the Council of Texas Archeologists Archive of Texas Archeology, Part 3, 77 ft. [Contains An Archaeological Inventory of Camp Swift, Bastrop County, Texas]

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation
(Identify the item and cite the series), Edna Collins collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Accession Information
Accession number: 1961/029

These records were donated to the Archives Division of the Texas State Library by Edna Collins on February 23, 1962.

Processing Information
Preliminary inventory and notes by John Anderson, January 1985
EAD finding aid prepared by Jonathan King, May 2013