Accidental Collections by Joe Lewis PDF  | Print |  E-mail


Curry and Olive

Ira Olive Price Holden and William Curry Holden are the parents of Jane Kelly the holder of the collections described here in the Adobe pueblo-inspired house that Olive designed, 1934. The two Navaho rugs are in need of repair/ conservation but survive as part of this collection.

 When the concept of accidental collections became part of the editorial concept behind this issue, a particular bunch of quilts, rugs, pottery, furniture, books, photographs and stuff came to mind. Four generations of objects accumulated by the joining of two families that have survived through the neglect rather then the care they to which they have been subjected. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Professors Jane Holden Kelley and David Humiston Kelley were transplanted Americans  teaching in the Archaeology department at the University of Calgary when I met them, and their  home has become much like an archaeological dig to me in the years since. Jane, an only child, and Dave, one of two who became just one with the passing of his brother, both inherited [or were shackled with] the domestic detritus of their mothers; Jane’s mother passed  away when she was young, while Dave’s lived  a long life. When Ira Olive Price Holden passed away in 1937 her life was put into storage and it is from that storage the main objects of this story, a collection of dolls purchased during a European trip in 1936, come from.

Both come  from families rooted in certain aspects of American history: Dave is a direct descendent of the U.S. Civil War Union soldier Sergeant Amos Humiston (April 26, 1830 – July 1, 1863) who was the "unknown soldier" killed at the Battle of Gettysburg.[1] He died with an ambrotype /photograph of three children ‘clutched’ in his hand. Frank Humiston who was one of those three children became a doctor and settled in Jaffrey New Hampshire. He was the father of six children -- one of which Helen Ensworth Kelley (nee Humiston) is David Kelley’s mother. Jane’s family history includes two paternal great grandfathers who served in the Confederate army.  After the Civil War, " The saga of the Holden family nicely illustrates one pattern in the late 19th and early 20th century settlement of Texas:   in this case, related families moved across the southern states to Arkansas and thence to East Texas.  Within Texas, they headed mostly west and southwest in clusters that broke up and reformed in different places." [2]

3generations of Holdens
Three generations of the Holden Family: In the front row are Isaac Calloway Holden (1836-1925) and Nancy Emiline Robinson (1840-1926) around them are their children and grandchildren including, Robert Lee Holden (1867-1939) and his wife Grace Elenor Davis (1870-1951) there son William Curry (1896-1993) is in the middle row to the right of his grand mother Nancy Emiline Robinson (1840-1926) and in front of his mother. 

As with any such accumulation, provenance can become blurred and just keeping track of which family a piece has come from is the most that can be achieved. In Textile writing much is said on textiles ability to speak in esoteric terms and too often at the expense of basic technical information as to fibre content, dye stuffs and construction methods and if the name of the maker with or with out their biography can be added to the technical information this can give voice to the piece. In the case of the Kelley’s collection, David Kelley’s passion for genealogy is a major asset to keeping the family lines attached. The letters, journals and photographs reaching back to their invention there is a large pool of names with a limited number of locales in which to situate the objects. Even though both Jane and David are archaeologists, they have never catalogued these possessions -- not that anyone generally. My recent attempts to do a cursory inventory have run into family “Myths” and unfounded generational sexist assumptions.

tq detail

Mexican Rose pattern (new edit 02/08? 2016) Appliquéd quilt thought to have travelled from Arkansas to Texas  

A case in point would be two quilts -- one from each side of the family: an appliquéd on whole clothe quilt from the Holden side of the family considered to be a family piece that may have been brought to Texas from Arkansas, and a pieced Log Cabin quilt from the Kelley side in New Hampshire. When I was first shown the Texas appliquéd quilt it was presented with a certain amount of pride. I had already been pulling other quilts out of cupboards and boxes they where languishing after a lifetime of hard use. There was a note attached to the quilt it said something about it coming through the civil war and the back being hand woven homespun (it is muslin, a readily available store bought “Dry Good”) and something about natural dyes. As the note has since become detached from the quilt I can’t be precise. When I found the Log Cabin quilt which is made from men’s silk ties I had to ask its origins and Dave said it was from New Hampshire and he assumed that his mother or aunts had made it. Their daughter Rebecca Kelley who spent time with her grandmother Helen has no recollection of her every doing needle work other then sewing a button on. There is another quilt with the same backing fabric and both are 4 foot square in size and are in very good condition.   A definite makers name is at this point in time unknown, but it could well have been David's grandmother Humiston.

log cabin quilt

Log Cabin 

In Canadian Art Summer 2010 issue Elizabeth Legg profiled Heidi Overhill’s Museum of Me (MoMe)[3.] project which is based on applying museum protocols to the cataloguing of the entire contents of her home which numbered over 100.000 objects. Heidi Overhill (who is an industrial designer by training, an award winning exhibition designer who is a professor in Sheridan's School of Animation, Arts & Design) is one of the people with whom I discussed the concept of the accidental collection.  Does a pile of stuff become a collection when it is catalogued, and does cataloguing make the collection useful or does it merely make it  secure because the catalogue itself becomes the point of reference rather then the artifacts? The catalogues usefulness lies in its use of a universal standard of category and naming. Overhill suggested creating acquisition records based on “The Robert Chenhall Nomenclature for Classifying Man Made Objects” a book issued by the Smithsonian and used  by small historical house museums. Its usage has assured consistency across museums so that they can search each other's databases for cataloguing. In the Canadian Art article she points out that the Chenhall Nomenclature which doesn't really allow much space for artifacts in Domestic environments, which is where a lot of textiles come from, needs to be expanded. Since this story is about a collection of “folk dolls” I have also spoken with a doll collector who says her knowledge and the focus of doll collecting is based on construction and the material the different elements are made of: heads and forearms of Porcelain, Composition, and Plastic will assist in dating and that the value comes from the markings. She doesn’t know much about costumes or textiles which becomes important because these are “Folk Dolls”.


doll with baby




Hugary all cloth doll



Point of Purchase, unknown, country of manufacture: assumed Mexico,

Date of manufacture: unknown

Date of purchase: unknown  

Height: 13”

Head: cloth with embroidered features,

Material: Head Torso and Arms are stuffed cloth on straw bound wooden slats legs

Costume: blue Blouse, woven vest, woven skirt.

muslin wrap / papoose with baby 


Point of purchase: Hungary, country of manufacture; unknown

Date of manufacture: unknown

Date of purchase: 1936   

Height: 9”

Head: cloth with painted features,

Material: entire doll stuffed cloth

Costume: Cloth toque with pompoms, White cotton blouse with pleated raglan sleeves with ribbon and lace, printed cotton skirt with ribbon band and attached to hem vest knotted wool tassels, apron 1: rectangle of embroider black cloth extended, apron 2: Triangle of cotton with lace edge, leather boots

Olive Prince Holden and Her Dolls

Olive Price Holden was trained as a librarian; she had a passionate interest in fine art, music , world and aboriginal culture/   She was widely read in the anthropological literature of the 1920s and 1930s, being especially fascinated by Southwestern groups and what she regarded as the beautiful poetry of translated Navajo myths and rituals. She had taken two courses on Pueblo culture in the new anthropology department of the University of Texas where she met Curry Holden where he was entrenched in Texan social or ranch history. After their marriage they honeymooned in New Mexico where she quickly “indoctrinated” him into Pueblo Indians culture -- something he knew nothing about. This led to this professors’ addiction to the study of ethnography and archaeology as well as the subsequent construction of an adobe house in Lubbock Texas ca1930-31. Upon its completion, the Avalanche-Journal ran a story entitled, “Indian Lore of the South West Given Exemplification in Home being erected by Dr. W.C. Holden.” [4.] It is in this home known as “Casa Grande” that Olive and Curry created an atmosphere that welcomed countless students and faculty from Texas Tech as well as some of the nation’s leading scholars… “Olive seemed to have a real empathy for people, and maintained social contacts across the community and campus where she was considered bright and was highly respected” [5.]

It is in this house that Olive organized the 1936 trip to Europe. To be continued…

casa grande

"Casa Grande" on Adobe row in Lubbock Texas

See the more of the dolls read The Shopping Trip: Europe In 1936 By Tom Holden



1. The Legacy of William Curry Holden; A TAS Founder and Texas Tech Renaissance Man by Jane Holden Kelley, Paper to be delivered as the Banquet Address of the Texas Archaeological Society annual meeting, October 25, 2008, in Lubbock, Texas.

Jane Kelley is Professor Emeritus, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

2. Whose Father Was He? (Part One), By Errol Morris,  Opinionator: exclusive Online community from the New York Times, March 29, 2009, accessed 2010-20 - 11 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/whose-father-was-he-part-one/

3.Heidi Overhill: the Museum of Me by Elizabeth Legg,  http://www.canadianart.ca/art/features/2010/06/01/heidi-overhill/ accessed 2010-11-05

4.Lubbock Avalanche-Journal http://lubbockonline.com/

5.“Adobe 101” p 38-39 Techsan/ TEXASTECHALUMNI.ORG by Stephen Dean Bogener, PhD,. Archivist and Coordinator of Exhibits and Outreach Southwest Collection/ Special Collections Library http://www.texastechalumni.org/olc/pub/TTAA/cpages/news/techsan.jsp

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