Within its collection of more than 200,000 objects, the Amon Carter Museum houses over 300 nineteenth- and early twentieth-century “bird’s-eye views” of cities throughout the United States. Texas Bird’s-Eye Views is a Web site dedicated to the study and appreciation of the Texas city views in the museum’s collection, along with a number of additional Texas views from private lenders and outside institutions.
Created by the Carter and written by Dr. Ron Tyler, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and former director of the Texas State Historical Association, Texas Bird’s-Eye Views reflects Tyler’s years of research into the subject. Along with the views are interpretive materials and links to other related sites, including the Library of Congress’ American Memory site, The Center for American History, and the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online.
Bird’s-eye views, many of which are more than three feet wide, appear as something between a panoramic view and a map, as though they were drawn by the artist while he was suspended in a hot-air balloon. In fact, they were drawn by hand using, most often, two-point perspective to produce a three-dimensional rendering. The city views are surprisingly accurate (even to the point of documenting the presence of a tree in the middle of Gonzales Street in Cuero) and represent a much neglected source for understanding the history of Texas.
This site showcases fifty-nine Texas views, documenting forty-four different cities. Some of the cities are represented by a series of images executed over a number of years; presented together, these multiple views open a fascinating window onto the early development of these cities. The zoom-in capability of the site enables Web visitors to enjoy fascinating details in the views, as though the objects were being seen through a powerful magnifying glass. Each view is accompanied by a brief essay, pertinent links, and supporting illustrations. Those cities for which there are multiple views receive more in-depth information and interpretation.
Much of what we know today about bird’s-eye views and the artists who created them resulted from the study of John W. Reps, professor emeritus of city and regional planning at Cornell University. A renowned authority on the history of American urban planning, Reps has written numerous books on the topic, including his landmark study of urban development Cities of the American West (1979), a project funded by the Amon Carter Museum and conceived by its first director, Mitchell A. Wilder. Reps was among the first scholars to recognize the merit of city views as invaluable historical documents. His publication Cities on Stone (also underwritten and published by the Carter in 1976) addressed the historical origins of the bird’s-eye city view as an artistic form and its relationship to the early development of lithography.
In addition to its work with John Reps, the Carter has for many years partnered with the Library of Congress to exhibit and support the study of bird’s-eye views of the United States. The library was a lender to the Carter’s exhibitions The Artist/Planner Sees the City (1963); Cities on Stone (1976); Crossroads of Empire: Early Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513–1900 (1981); and Western City Views: Prints and Photographs (1988). To date, the library’s American Memory Web site has catalogued some 1,700 bird’s-eye views and other maps.
The Amon Carter Museum’s Texas Bird’s-Eye Views site presents the fine city views in its collection with unparalleled rapid access to the highest-resolution details available with today’s technology. Never before have these fascinating works of art been so effectively accessible, and it is the museum’s hope that the study of Texas history will be enhanced accordingly.