Bill and Sally Wittliff, co-founders of the Wittliff Collections, received honorary doctoral degrees from the College of Liberal Arts Saturday at the 10 a.m. commencement ceremony.
The degrees, both Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, were awarded to the Wittliffs because of their significant and continuing contributions to creating and maintaining the collections. The Wittliffs became the 14th and 15th individuals to be honored in this way by the university.
Sally Wittliff said that receiving this honor is really an expression of the university appreciates their donors, and that they cannot be more appreciative for how much support they’ve received.
“We saw Texas State as the greatest possibility where the administration really got what we were trying to do,” Bill Wittliff said.
The Wittliffs said they made the joint decision to found the collections together primarily to provide a resource that would inspire creativity from its viewers.
The collections have existed under three different administrations. Past president Robert Hardesty was the one, Sally Wittliff said, who really encouraged the establishment of the collections. And now under President Denise Trauth, the Wittliff’s both agree the collections are getting just the kind of respect and attention they deserve.
“We ultimately knew that they would be in a secure place where they would be available not just to students but to serve as inspiration for anyone,” Bill Wittliff said.
The Wittliffs founded the collections in 1986 and chose to focus its theme on southwestern culture because of the museum’s geographical location. They specifically chose Texas State University as the collections’ permanent home because it felt like “a natural fit,” Sally Wittliff said. Now residents of Austin, Sally and Bill Wittliff said they both felt a strong connection to the school.
The couple raised half of the funding and personally provided the other half that permitted Texas State to acquire a 1555 edition of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s “La relación y comentarios,” one of the rarest books in the world and possibly the single most prized possession of the university’s Albert B. Alkek Library.
In addition to funding, the Wittliffs provided a majority of the physical artifacts available for viewing in the archive including photographic prints and literary papers from leading Texas and southwestern artists.
The collections themselves are split into three categories: The Southwestern Writers Collection, Southwestern and Mexican Photography Collection and Bill Wittliff’s own Lonesome Dove Collection.
Bill Wittliff shared that the main goal of the collection is to provide a place that can reflect storytelling and help people with an “itch for writing” harness their passion. He said the larger vision in the future is to just continue providing preservation and inspiration for the art.
Sally Wittliff loves how the collections have attracted people from all over the world to come and appreciate the beauty that is Texas State. She hopes it will intrigue young artists to become interested in the Hispanic culture that’s available in their own backyards.
“It’s hard to know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been,” Sally Wittliff said.