Alchemy

The young man who actually weighed the coin I talked about yesterday was William Moore Craig, who served as an instructor in Rice’s Chemistry Department for only two years, from 1923 to 1925. He grew up in central Texas and graduated from Southwestern in Georgetown in 1906 and then again with an MA in 1907. After teaching for a bit he returned to school, this time entering the University of Texas for a MS in Chemistry. After service in World War I Craig went off to Harvard and began working with Professor T.W. Richards on the atomic weight of gallium, interrupting his studies when he came to teach at Rice in 1923. Craig was lured away in 1926 by some classmates from UT who were among the very first faculty members at the new Texas Technological College in Lubbock and he remained at Tech (with a break to finish his doctorate) until he retired in 1958.

Almost unbelievably, I managed to find a photo of the Rice Chemistry department in 1924. I’m fairly sure that Craig is the fellow in the middle of the front row with the bow tie:

Chem Dept 1924 or 5 coin corrected

So why am I bothering with this guy who taught here for a little while ninety years ago? It’s because he left something big behind.

It was William Moore Craig, working with architect William Ward Watkin, who designed the chemical and alchemical symbols that adorn the Chemistry Building:

Alchemy drawings 045

I was surprised to find a reference in Bud Morehead’s Walking Tour of Rice University to a letter from Craig explaining the origins of those symbols so I went and dug around in Morehead’s papers and sure enough, there it was. It’s too long to post each page here so I’m putting it up as a pdf for anyone who is interested in this sort of thing.

Craig 1 046

And I’m sure none of you will be surprised to hear that Craig and Watkin collaborated again, carving many of the same symbols on the Chemistry Building that Watkin later designed for Texas Tech.

Bonus: The woman standing next to the presumed Mr. Craig in the 1924 photo is Vera Prasilova Scott, the wife of Rice Chemistry Professor Arthur Scott. I know I’ve mentioned her somewhere before but I never tire of her exquisite photographs of Houston’s elite in the 1920s and early ’30s. Here’s a short video about her and her work from Woodson staffer Dara Flynn and Paul Hester:

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5 Responses to Alchemy

  1. Robert Cargill says:

    Melissa

    I can give you some info about the Scott’s. They had athlete daughters. One of them married Robert Autrey. Robert spent 2 years at rice before moving to Reed College where Arthur had moved. I forget which daughter married Autrey. They divorced in the 1970s.

    Autrey graduated from Reed about 1954. He did a PhD in organic chemistry with R B Woodward at Harvard. At Harvard Autrey roomed with Rice alum William Agosta (1954) who also did PhD with Woodward. Agosta is now retired to San Juan Island after a career at Rockefeller U in NYC. I think Autrey, first wife was Nadia Scott.

    If you are interested Agosta and I can find more.

    Yours

    Bob

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Susan Bonner Weir says:

    Vera Prasilove Scott was my aunt; her husband Arthur Scott was a Chemistry professor, not a Physics professor as stated. Thank you for posting the lovely documentary of Vera’s portraits.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Thanks for the correction. I’ll fix it right now.

      And it’s true–I never tire of looking at her work. There’s something quite magical about those portraits.

    • Dara Flinn says:

      The photographs are really magical. Nadja Lilly and Dascha Tursi, the younger of Vera and Arthur’s daughters, came to the Woodson to talk about the collection in 2012- we had such a lovely visit.

  3. marmer01 says:

    Since I have a daughter at Texas Tech, I’ve always been amused at how little notice is taken at Rice of the fact that WWW designed the original buildings at Tech. (I can only imagine what a long, dusty train ride that would have been from Houston.) While they deliberately are in a different style (Spanish rather than Italian) they show similar mastery and proportion, and are beautifully detailed. Did you know that a colloquialism for Texas Tech students is “Sand Aggies?” Also, they have a Dairy Barn as one of their heritage buildings in the middle of campus, where the west Texas farm boys who went off to college could keep their milk cows. And, Mr. Craig: white suit FTW!

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