Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2003 Newsletter

Hommage à M. Lake


Carlton Lake. Photo by Stan Kearl.Carlton Lake.
Photo by Stan Kearl.

Carlton Lake, whose exceptional collection of modern French materials forms the basis of the Center's French Collection, is retiring from his position at the Ransom Center.

Lake and his collection first came to the attention of Harry Ransom in the late 1960s through family friend Hartley Grattan, whose papers also reside at the Center. Ransom convinced Lake that Texas was where he and his papers ought to be, and by the end of 1968, a large portion of what is now the Carlton Lake Collection was making its way to the University of Texas at Austin from Paris and Boston -- the two places Lake called home. In 1969 Ransom brought Lake aboard as a consultant and offered him the position of "lifetime curator." While he mulled the offer over, he worked on the Baudelaire to Beckett exhibition, the Center's first blockbuster show, mounted in 1976, which put Austin on the map as the leading institution outside France for the study of French Modernism. In that same year Lake accepted appointments as Curator of the Center's French Collection and adjunct professor in the Department of Art and the Department of French and Italian.

Lake came to his new roles not only as an active collector but also as an accomplished writer, having served as Paris art critic for The Christian Science Monitor and written articles, stories, essays, and extended interviews (Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Henry Moore, Giacometti, and others) in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other American and European periodicals. Among his book publications are A Dictionary of Modern Painting, In Quest of Dali, and Life With Picasso (co-authored with Françoise Gilot). While at the Ransom Center, Lake added to the list three book-length exhibition catalogues (Baudelaire to Beckett, No Symbols Where None Intended, and Henri-Pierre Roché: An Introduction) and a collecting memoir, Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist (Chers Papiers, in its French translation).

In his 34-year association with the Ransom Center, Carlton Lake has served as Curator of the French Collection, Acting Director (1978-1980), and Executive Curator (1980-2003). He has continued to make gifts to the collection and is responsible for bringing to the Center other major collections, such as the Edward Weeks Atlantic Monthly papers, Anne Sexton's archive, Ezra Pound's library, Robert Lowell's papers, Nina Matheson's Vladimir Nabokov collection, many Beckett correspondences, Maurice Saillet's James Joyce and Alfred Jarry collections, Edouard Dujardin's archive, Edgard Varèse's library, and the Durand modern-music manuscript collection. Having been a neighbor of Stuart Gilbert on the Isle Saint-Louis for many years, he laid the groundwork for the Center's acquisition of that very important Joyce-related archive.

In 1985, Carlton Lake was decorated by the French government for his collecting achievements; in 1987, he was awarded the Sir Thomas More Medal for book-collecting. And in 2003, in recognition of his distinguished career and invaluable service to The University of Texas at Austin, the Ransom Center honors him at retirement with the title of Executive Curator Emeritus -- a change, he would be quick to point out, in name only. For whereas most retirees go off somewhere to retire, Lake will maintain (on his own time schedule now) a presence at the Center. As Lake is so fond of saying, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  

-Linda Ashton

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