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Miguel Covarrubias

An Inventory of the Adriana and Tom Williams Collection of Miguel Covarrubias in the Art Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Covarrubias, Miguel, 1904-1957
Title: Adriana and Tom Williams Collection of Miguel Covarrubias
Dates: 1917-2006, undated
Extent: 6 boxes, 12 flat file folders, 1 oversize print (183 items)
Abstract: The Ransom Center's Adriana and Tom Williams Collection of Miguel Covarrubias art is part of a larger collection of research material compiled by Covarrubias' biographer, Adriana Williams, and her husband Tom and is comprised of 168 original works and 15 posters.
Language: English and Spanish
Access: Open for research. A minimum of twenty-four hours is required to pull art materials to the Reading Room.

Acquisition: Purchases (R15445, R16503), 2006, 2007
Processed by: Helen Young, 2007

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Miguel Covarrubias was best known as an illustrator, writer, and anthropologist. He was born November 22, 1904, in Mexico City, into an upper-middle-class family. His father, José Covarrubias Acosta, was a civil engineer who held various prominent positions in the government, and his mother, Elena Duclaud, was from a family that included Spanish aristocracy.
Covarrubias left school at age fourteen and began work at the Secretaría de Comunicaciones as a draughtsman of maps and street plans. In his free time he would take his sketchbook to theaters and cafés and draw caricatures. His caricatures were first published in 1920 in a National University student magazine, Policromías. From 1921 to 1923 his illustrations appeared in large circulation newspapers such as El Heraldo, El Mundo, and the Universal Ilustrado.
Covarrubias' caricatures brought him notice among the artistic circle of Mexico City, and he became acquainted with its members, including the poet José Juan Tablada, who helped arrange for a travel grant from the Mexican government to pay for Covarrubias' move to New York in 1923. A friend of Tablada arranged for him to meet Carl Van Vechten, who in turn introduced Covarrubias to his celebrity acquaintances. Van Vechten also sent Covarrubias to Vanity Fair, and in January 1924 his drawings were first published in the magazine. The following year his drawings appeared in The New Yorker; his work would later appear in Vogue, Fortune, and other magazines. His first book, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, was published in 1925 by Alfred A. Knopf.
In 1930 Covarrubias married Rosa Rolanda (born Rosamonde Cowen), a stage dancer, and the two traveled to Bali for a lengthy honeymoon. Covarrubias returned to Bali in 1933 with a Guggenheim Fellowship to research the culture, resulting in his book Island of Bali (1937).
After his father's death in 1936, Covarrubias bought his parents' house -- the house in which he had grown up -- in Tizapán, outside of Mexico City. Here he and Rosa entertained a wide assortment of international celebrity guests, such as Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe, Orson Welles, Merce Cunningham, Luis Buñuel, John Huston, Amelia Earhart, Nelson Rockefeller, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
During the 1930s, when there was less magazine illustration work to be had (Vanity Fair ceased publication in 1937), Covarrubias devoted more time to the research of indigenous cultures, particularly those of Mexico. In 1937 he began working on a book for Knopf, Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a project that would take years of research before it was finally published in 1946.
In 1938 Covarrubias was invited to paint a series of pictorial maps for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. He provided Pageant of the Pacific, six murals mapping the countries of the Pacific Rim. With pictorial elements Covarrubias considered most "characteristic and representative," each panel presents a different theme: peoples, fauna and flora, art forms, economy, native dwellings, and native means of transportation.
In the 1940s and 1950s Covarrubias' activities branched out to include museum work and dance production, among other things. He participated in the organization of several museum exhibitions in the United States and Mexico. He received the first museology teaching appointment in Mexico and taught anthropology and art history courses at the Museo Nacional de Antropología and the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Composer Carlos Chávez, director of the new Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, appointed Covarrubias as director of the Institute's dance academy in 1950. Covarrubias mounted thirty-four ballets with the INBA and provided sets for many of the productions. He also continued providing book illustrations, mainly for works on anthropological subjects.
Covarrubias died February 4, 1957, in Mexico City.

Acevedo, Esther. "Covarrubias, Miguel." Grove Art Online, (accessed 8 November 2006).
Williams, Adriana. Covarrubias. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

The Ransom Center's Adriana and Tom Williams collection of Miguel Covarrubias art is part of a larger collection of research material compiled by Covarrubias' biographer, Adriana Williams, and her husband Tom. The art collection is comprised of 183 items, including 168 original works and 15 posters. These are organized into three series: I. Works by Miguel Covarrubias, II. Works by Other Artists, and III. Posters. Titles of works are transcribed either from the works themselves, or from the published works in which they appeared. Cataloger's titles appear in brackets.
Series I. encompasses 157 works. These are divided into two subseries: A. Published Illustrations, and B. Other Works. Subseries A. includes illustrations for his Island of Bali (1937), Marc Chadourne's China (1931), Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men (1935), and a 1950s brochure about Indonesia. The works in Subseries B. are divided into seven subject groups: Africa, Bali, China, France, Mexico, Polynesia, and Miscellaneous. The bulk of these are of Balinese subjects and include many rough sketches on small scraps of paper or hotel note paper. Several of the Bali works were used as illustrations in Adriana Williams' Covarrubias in Bali (2005). The China group is comprised of drawings used in Rosa Covarrubias' The China I Knew (edited by Adriana Williams, 2005).
Series II., Works by Other Artists, includes four drawings by Eduardo García Benito for Vanity Fair, a lithographic portrait of Vicente Escudero by Kees van Dongen, a carved leather work by Winfred Rembert based on two Covarrubias designs, an etching by Juan Manuel Salazar based on Covarrubias' mural Una tarde en Xochimilco, and three drawings (two on beer coasters) by Saul Steinberg.
Series III., Posters, includes fifteen works. Among these are Covarrubias' 1933 poster depicting the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and several event posters with Covarrubias illustrations.

The Ransom Center's Art Collection has a large group of works by Covarrubias in its Nickolas Muray Collection. Other collections with Covarrubias art include Thomas Mabry Cranfill, Spud Johnson, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., George Macy Companies, Inc., and Edward Larocque Tinker.
The Ransom Center also has related materials from the Adriana and Tom Williams Collection of Miguel Covarrubias in the Manuscript Collection, the Book Collection, and the Personal Effects Collection. Among the Manuscript Collection's holdings is a scrapbook of material related to Covarrubias' Pageant of the Pacific murals created for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, comprising correspondence, notes, photographs, clippings, outline maps with Covarrubias' annotations, as well as twenty-six original sketches of costumed figures, abodes, art work, symbols, and patterns.