Photographs, interviews featured in Enduring Women exhibition

From El Paso to DeKalb, 21 St. Edward’s University students traveled across the state of Texas last semester to photograph and document the lives of 14 women for a special class entitled Enduring Women.

The class was offered to junior and senior history students and photocommunications students as a creative research course on the principles of documentary photography, oral history and exhibition design.

Each student had a teammate from the other major and collaborated on a semester long project.

The project, which was developed by St. Edward’s and the Bullock Texas State History Museum, is now part of the Bullock’s 2013 “Enduring Women” exhibition.

The exhibit focuses on 14 real women across the state whose lives revolve around the land and their struggles to preserve that heritage. “Enduring Women” is in conjunction with the exhibit “Women Shaping Texas in the 20th Century.”

“This was an unusually rich opportunity for undergraduate creative research,” Mary Brantl, an associate professor of art history and co-instructor of the Enduring Women class, said.

Brantl and fellow co-instructor Charles Porter, an instructor of history, reviewed photocommunications students’ portfolios and interviewed history students before allowing them to register for the course.

“As we looked at portfolios and interviewed history students we were looking for ‘Can you deliver?’—and they did,” Brantl said. Porter assembled the women the students studied and documented.

“He did an amazing amount of prep work. I can’t overweigh the credit he deserves for that,” Brantl said about her colleague and co-instructor.

Bill Kennedy, a professor of photocommunications, assisted both professors in advising and coordinating with the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Brian John, a senior photocommunications student, partnered with Michael Vecchio, a senior history student. John and Vecchio documented the story of a woman named Shirley Shumake from DeKalb, Texas, a small town near Texarkana.

Shumake has been successfully fighting the construction of a reservoir that would be built on the Sulphur River near her home for years. The reservoir would service the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and would flood her land as well as her neighbors’ land.

“She was incredibly hospitable,” John said.

The exhibit’s opening night was Feb. 19 and all 14 women attended with friends and family.

“The recognition was amazing for them,” Brantl said.  

St. Edward’s and the Bullock Texas State History Museum have collaborated on two projects to date, “Enduring Women” and “Fridays in Focus” in the fall of 2011, an exhibit that explored the culture of high school football in Texas.

“The PHCO program is committed to providing our students with the best, most complete, educational experience possible. The Bullock projects are just examples of that,” Kennedy said. “[‘Enduring Women’ is] a stunning exhibition. The students worked very hard and I’m proud of what they accomplished.”

The students’ work will be on display in the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Hall of Special Exhibitions at the Bullock Texas State History Museum until May 19.