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Before and After: A set of Sicilian marionettes

The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes before custom housing was built.
The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes before custom housing was built.
The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes in their custom-built housing.
The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes in their custom-built housing.

The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes, constructed between 1850 and 1960, consists of 60 marionettes and a backdrop curtain. The marionettes, which were originally purchased by entrepreneur Stanley Marcus in 1960, form a troupe of characters from the religious allegorical poem “Orlando Furioso.”

The figures, which are made of painted wood and metal components, stand about four feet tall and are dressed in fur, leather, cloth, and metal armor. The human marionettes have wooden heads, torsos, hands, and legs. Their arms are made out of folded cloth. A few figures have glass eyes, and some even have human hair adhered to their heads. Protecting the marionettes posed a particular challenge for the Ransom Center’s conservation and preservation team. Read the full article about the preservation efforts relating to the marionettes.

Xeriscaped plaza helps conserve water

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This past summer, the Harry Ransom Center underwent a sustainable landscape makeover, replacing two plots of Asian jasmine, holly, and nandina bushes in front of the building with handsome rock gardens filled with plants especially suited for the Austin climate. The project is part of campus-wide efforts to promote xeriscaping, or landscaping that saves water by reducing the need for irrigation.

Two seniors working on their Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, Tim Eischen and Hank Star, spearheaded the project by submitting a proposal to the University’s Green Fee Committee, which agreed to fund the project. The new gardens feature drought-resistant plant species and are expected to conserve 72,000 gallons of water a year.

To maximize water conservation, the landscape features a new irrigation system specifically designed to meet sustainable watering requirements. In addition to facilitating dramatic reductions in irrigation, the landscape is also contoured to maintain its role as a local drainage basin. Central to the goal of xeriscaping is using native plant life, which drains far less water than the invasive Asian jasmine that previously filled the planters. The new drought-resistant plant species featured include rosemary, Mexican heather, soft leaf yucca, barrel cactus, cholla, red yucca, sedum, Easter cactus, Texas mountain laurel, prickly pear, Mexican bush sage, pride of Barbados, purple fountain grass, agave, and Texas sotol. Eischen’s father also donated an olive tree.

More than being aesthetically attractive, the new landscape will reduce another of the Asian jasmine’s undesirable qualities: bugs. Crickets and other insects laid eggs in the jasmine beds, posing a concern for Ransom Center collections. The rock gardens are also cleaner and more resilient, which diminishes the risk that the new plots will succumb to diseases that afflict Asian jasmine.

The final plot on the plaza has yet to be renovated, but plans for upgrades are in the works. The Ransom Center is exploring the possibility of a more interactive space, where events could take place and visitors could enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Newly xeriscaped plot in front of the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Newly xeriscaped plot in front of the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.