TABLE OF CONTENTS
Jessen and Collett Family Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
Janet Collett was born in Austin, Texas, on June 3, 1898, to Guy and Ellen Collett. Her given name was Jeanette, but she most often went by the shorter name “Janet”. Her father, Guy A. Collett, was involved in Austin real estate and insurance in the early 20th century and also made a name for himself as a civic leader. He was a president of the Rotary Club of Austin, a representative to Austin City Council for the Chamber of Commerce, and was a regularly featured public speaker at various functions in the city. He died in 1932.
Janet attended the University of Texas where she was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority and the Curtain Club. After graduating in 1919, she went to New York City for a year to study dancing. She then returned to the University of Texas and studied dance under Susie Fisher in the Department of Physical Training for Women. From there, she moved to California to study under Perry Mansfield and went back to New York to work with Russian choreographer and dancer Mikhail Fokine. She later joined the Pavlova Company and was featured in productions including Cherry Pie and The Vagabond King in New York and Chicago. She left stage productions to study in Paris, but ultimately returned to Austin to live and work. She opened a dance studio called the Janet Collett School of Dancing in the early 1930s. She also appeared in, directed, and produced several dance productions, including several University of Texas Round-Up Revues. In 1948 she married Wolf Jessen.
Wolf Ernst Jessen was born January 2, 1915 in Austin, Texas, to Wolfgang and Ella Ilse Jessen. He had three brothers: Frank, Harold “Bubi”, and Werner. Wolf obtained a degree in architecture from the University of Texas in 1936. As an architect he worked in partnership with his brother Harold in the firm Jessen, Jessen, Milhouse, Greenen and Crume and the firm Jessen Associates, Inc. Examples of his career in architecture include the design of Austin’s Municipal Auditorium, the University of Texas’ Academic Center, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Bauer House, Beauford Jester Center, Saint Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church, Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church, Crockett Senior High School, Travis High School, and the Jessen residence at 2311 Shoal Creek Boulevard, where he and Janet lived.
Wolf served in World War II as a Signal Corps Officer, and eventually a Major. He was stationed in Europe, fighting in battles at Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, and the Central European Campaigns. He was honorably discharged in December 1945. In 1946, he accepted a position as an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Texas and together with his brother Harold, formed their architecture firm with Charles Millhouse and Alton Greeven.
Wolf retired in 1974 to devote more time to travel but returned to assist on certain projects at Jessen Associates, Inc. He helped on renovations of the U.T. Student Union building and the U.T. Law Library.
Wolf Jessen died unexpectedly of a heart attack at their home in 1977. When Janet Collett passed away in 1982, their entire estate was endowed to the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Symphony Society, except for a few individual bequests of arts and furnishings to friends and family. The immense slide collection of travel photographs was given to the U.T. School of Architecture.
The collection is arranged into four series. The first series contains materials which document Janet Collett Jessen’s life from 1909 to 1982 and is divided into personal and professional materials. The personal materials consist of correspondence, a school notebook, grade reports from the University of Texas, a University of Texas Ex-Student Association certificate, Open Forum meeting notes, and a scrapbook.
It is unclear who created the scrapbook, but it may have been Janet’s mother, Ellen Holt Collett, as there are various notes and telegrams that are addressed to her. Most of the materials contained within the scrapbook are newspaper articles about Janet Collet’s dance-related ventures that were clipped from various Texas newspapers. There are also five black-and-white photographs of Collett and programs from her performances, mainly Cherry Pie and The Vagabond King on Broadway at the Casino Theatre. A few of the telegrams are sent from Janet to her mother while she was studying and performing in New York and Chicago. One letter is written from an admiring fan to Janet, asking for her photograph. The scrapbook is in poor condition, with no front or back cover, and with some severe water/mold damage on certain pages. The materials in the scrapbook date from 1924 to 1932.
The professional materials consist of news clippings, dance programs, rosters and schedules for the Janet Collett School of Dance, and several photographs dating from the 1920s to the 1940s which document dance costumes and performances. Many of the photographs are professional studio headshots and dance portraits. Christianson-Leberman Studio and University Studio are noted Austin photography studios represented in this collection. Also of note are several autographed portraits, including one of Sarah Bernhardt. There are also several Ballet Russe photographs of Flora Revalles dressed for productions of Scheherazade and Cleopatra in the 1920s.
The materials of Guy and Ellen Collett include correspondence, certificates, Rotary Club materials written by Guy A. Holt, news clippings, and photographs. The photographs are primarily of Guy A. Collett and his family and date back to the 1870s, though there are also some which document members of the Holt family.
Wolf Ernst Jessen’s materials consist of correspondence, birth and baptismal records, genealogical materials, news clippings, legal documents, military records, architectural materials, childhood photographs, his mother Ella Jessen’s memorial materials, and two small wood carvings.
The materials in the Wolf and Janet Jessen series date from 1937 to 1982 and document their life together, including joint correspondence, assorted photographs, travel materials, address books, wedding invitations, drawings and sketches, literary materials, and their death and memorial materials. The travel materials make up a bulk of this series and contain passports, itineraries, slide presentation notes, and travel diaries.
Open to all users
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
The Janet Collett scrapbook which dates from 1924 to 1932 was donated separately and added to this collection.
Jessen and Collett Family Papers (AR.U.002). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1970/007
Donation Date: 1970 February, 1982 November, 1983 January, 1984 October
Donor #: DO/1987/004
Donation Date: 1987 January
Initial inventory by Suzi Williams, 1985. Final processing and finding aid by Kelly Hanus, 2017.