This week in “Texas Titles,” we take a very long road trip, scan Depression-era murals at Texas post offices, seek answers to the Yogurt Shop Murders, take in — oh, yes — more football and dive into a museum’s loaned artifacts.
“Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department.” Carol Dawson, with Roger Allen Polson. Texas A&M University Press.
What a great and necessary book! So much Texana focuses on the state’s preindustrial past. Yet Texas is a place of cities and suburbs connected across vast expanses by an intricate modern network of interstates, federal highways, state highways, farm and ranch roads, county roads and city streets. Austin-based writer Carol Dawson and former TxDOT leader Roger Polson put together this well-written centennial history — including outrageous early scandals — which relies in part on the agency’s priceless photo collection, edited by Geoff Appold. We promise to dig deeper into this fine volume to produce a broader story in early 2017. Meanwhile, it makes a terrific coffee table book, with as much to read as to see.
“The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People.” Philip Parisi. Texas A&M University Press.
If ever a regional book demanded a second printing in paperback, this is one. The New Deal sparked an unprecedented diffusion of public art in styles readily accessible to the general public. And where else to place them during the 1930s than at government gathering places that every community patronized? Parisi, formerly of the Texas Historical Commission, first produced this marvelous guide in 2004. It provides 127 images from the 106 artworks — some gone — commissioned for 69 post offices across the state. The images celebrate Texas life and history, with an emphasis on everyday labors. On a side note, Parisi does not mention contemporaneous artist Paul Cadmus, but several of the images are rendered in his unmistakable homophile style.
“Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.” Beverly Lowry. Knopf.
Here is something to contemplate: The Austin Police Department is still working on the Yogurt Shop Murders case. Yes, still. The four girls were found naked, bound and gagged on Dec. 6, 1991. The late Corey Mitchell’s 2005 “Murdered Innocents” raked up all those terrible memories. Now, distinguished Austin journalist and fiction writer Lowry tells the ongoing tale of crime, punishment, reversal and frustration.
“Pigskin Rapture: Four Days in the Life of Texas Football.” Mac Engel and Ron Jenkins. Lone Star Books.
Recently, we wrote about Nick Eatman’s “Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Seems like an idea that is going around. Engel, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Ron Jenkins, a DFW-based contract photographer, teamed up on this chronicle of a four-day period in the autumn of 2015. The granddaddy of this form is H.G. Bissinger’s groundbreaking “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream,” later adapted into a movie and one of the best TV series ever. This volume maintains a playful tone to go along with the lively photographs, which often capture what is happening off the field as well as before and after the games.
“Seeing Texas History: The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.” Edited by Victoria Ramirez. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
What a matched pair: Two handsome books tied to the state’s history museum, which, to once again make clear, is not a collecting institution but rather an excellent presenting one. The first volume lays out the artifacts borrowed and displayed by the Bullock. The texts are minimal but essential and exacting. Everything is organized by periods such as “Empires,” “Struggle for Independence” and “Modern Texas.” The second book goes with an extremely powerful Bullock exhibition that includes local contributions from Austin’s Phillipson family collection of Nazi propaganda.