While doing post-graduate work at Harvard University, Elton M. Hyder, Jr. was inspired to begin building his own legal related art collection. On a trip to Europe in 1949, he began purchasing pieces. By 1961, he had acquired over 100 items. After visiting Tarlton Law Library, at the time located in Townes Hall, Mr. Hyder made an offer to Dean Keeton to loan items from his collection to the law school in order to make the space more aesthetically pleasing.
When Tarlton was remodeled in 1981, the law school looked to Mr. Hyder and his wife, Martha Rowan Hyder, to add warmth and personality to the space. Mrs. Hyder saw the potential for grandeur and, with a team of designers and assistants, worked to build the collection to accentuate the space. The Hyders traveled throughout the world and items were purchased with an eye towards specific locations within the law school and library.
As the collection grew, items were not restricted to being specifically legal in nature. In addition to the portraiture and legal manuscripts that Mr. Hyder originally envisioned, Mrs. Hyder added decorative elements to enhance the overall collection. The Hyders intended that the collection be not merely attractive, but also accessible. Students and visitors are invited to sit on the chairs and settles that decorate the library. In addition to law students, students from interior design and art history courses often visit the law library to study pieces of the Hyder Collection. Tours are offered of the works and visitors are welcome.
In order to ensure that future generations of law students would be able to enjoy the Hyder Collection, roughly 1,000 pieces of the collection were given by the Hyder family to the Law School Foundation when Tarlton Law Library was renovated in 2011. Although Mr. Hyder passed away in 1995 and Mrs. Hyder was unable to participate in the reinstallation of the collection after the recent remodel of the law library, Tarlton has endeavored to maintain the vision of the Hyders when placing the collection. In reference to the history of the items, Mrs. Hyder once stated, "I like to think that the ghosts of all these people are walking around the library." The Hyder Collection captures the spirit of the law and brings to the physical space of the library the history and majesty of the study of law.
Additional images from the Hyder Collection may be viewed in the Library's digital collection of Hyder photographs.
Elton M. Hyder, Jr. obtained his LL.B. degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1943. Mr. Hyder joined the Navy and served as an ensign aboard a landing ship, tank (LST) in Panama until malaria ended his naval career. He became an Assistant Attorney General of Texas in the Oil and Gas Division in 1944. He took a leave of absence from this position in 1945 when Tom Clark, then Attorney General of the United States, appointed him Associate Counsel for the United States prosecution team during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trials or Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. The youngest attorney to prosecute war crimes for the United States, Mr. Hyder supervised the Manchurian invasion portion of the case against Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. During his preparation, Mr. Hyder personally interviewed Tojo, who was executed in 1948, in his prison cell. In 1950, Mr. Hyder opened the firm of Tilley, Hyder, and Law in Fort Worth with Rice M. Tilley and Thomas H. Law. Mr. Hyder was a life member-trustee of the UT Law School Foundation, served on the State Bar Committee on Administrative Procedure in 1953, and was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Martha Rowan Hyder received her B.A. from the University of Texas in 1949. A great supporter of the arts, she was one of the founders of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and is a national trustee of the National Symphony Association. Mrs. Hyder has also been active in San Miguel, Mexico, where the couple's second home is located. She provided support for El Centro de los Adolescentes de San Miguel de Allende and was instrumental in establishing a maternity hospital through the help of medical donations from the United States.
Elton Hyder and Martha Rowan, daughter of Rowan Oil Company founder Charles Rowan, met over dinner after an introduction by Mr. Hyder's future law partner in the 1940s. The couple married in September 1946 and had three children, Brent, Whitney, and Elton, III.