Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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We first met, Aunt Dicy and I, in the fall of 1992. A curator from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Alvia Wardlaw, had requested the loan of a drawing from the Ransom Center’s Art Collection for her upcoming retrospective “The Art of John Biggers: A View from the Upper Room.” The fact that we had any Biggers drawings at all took me by surprise, but then again, it was not unusual for me find something in the Center’s huge collections that I hadn’t known was there. At the time I had been curator of that collection for barely a year, and with over 80,000 works on paper, drawers of possibilities unfolded daily. Yet these drawings were special - at first glance cartoon-like but on examination a fully-realized character - a woman at once smart and sly, and strong as well. As requested, we sent one piece out on loan. Two years later, in the spring of 1995, I visited the completed exhibition in Houston and was held rapt.

I was eight years old and living in Houston when Aunt Dicy was born not two miles away in black crayon on white illustration boards. But I didn’t get to know her until a cool sunny day in February of 1998, when I traveled with a box of all sixteen Aunt Dicy drawings to a pleasant, tree-lined street in the Third Ward of Houston to visit the man who had birthed this character. Reserved but friendly at first, it wasn’t until John Biggers realized he stood before the actual drawings and not reproductions, that I saw the famous light brim up in his eyes and the smile finally form wide. He had last seen these drawings when he handed them to his friend J. Mason Brewer in 1955. Now, over forty years later, he traced from scene to scene with evident pleasure. Aunt Dicy, it seemed,was both martyr and everywoman to him. That afternoon we became accomplices, partners in an unfolding - his in seeing old friends and I in seeing those glorious images through his eyes. That’s how I began to know Dicy.

Despite the wonderful text, the production values in Brewer’s edition of Tales of Aunt Dicy cannot begin to convey the strength of Dr. Biggers’ drawings. It is our hope that this publication, by presenting high-quality reproductions of these images for the first time, will convey at least in part the clarity and power of Aunt Dicy as the artist saw her when he first delivered her to us nearly half a century ago.

Sue Murphy, Associate Director
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

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