“The two cities are totally different. In Dallas, they call it sushi. In Fort Worth, they call it bait,” said Royd Riddell, a Dallas dealer in maps and fine prints at the art sale from the Collectors of Fort Worth last Friday.
The sale was held at Fort Worth Community Arts Center (the old Modern Art Museum). Recently relocated to DFW, we are eager to learn about the art of American west. We have also heard about the masculine character of Fort Worth, yet before the show, our knowledge about Fort Worth artists or Texan art in general was almost zero. A western art expert encouraged us not to hesitate to engage the sellers. Some of them are collectors, some are dealers and gallery owners; but they are all knowledgeable about the artworks they brought in.
We first met Ken Jackson, the founder of the group who sought out to find common interests in local arts. “This is the 10th show. It’s such a nice place. The first one was 10 years ago, in my back yard. It was 100 degrees out. You know, it was not great for…” There was a circle of collectors at that time who championed Fort Worth modernism. The group grew, with more collectors bringing in more diverse interests. Today, the sale showcases not only Fort Worth artists, but also national and regional artists and even early Texas Americana.
Larry Boettigheimer, the owner of Frontiers Texas Gallery, brought two small paintings by Julian Onderdonk. Unlike his later works of Blue Bonnet series, these two feature New England woodlands and the Long Island Sound, probably from his early career when he studied with William Merritt Chase. Mr. Boettigheimer told us his antiques roadshow-worth story. They were found from the estate in Canada. The previous owner, who inherited them long time ago, had left them in the box they came in and had never thought pondered the potential of twenty thousand dollars under the dust. Even though the two paintings were dated in Onderdonk’s Northeast period, Mr. Boettigheimer decided it is in Onderdonk’s native Texas and his final resting place where the paintings would attract the most interest.
Regarding the tonal quality of the two works, Boettigheimer said the two were probably painted around the turn of the century when tonalism was the most popular style. “People always said it was Texas that changed his pallet. And since he moved back his paintings became more colorful, brighter. I wish that’s true, but it was not. He just kept up with the trend. Impressionism didn’t come in full swing until 1907. “
Larry told us that Dallas Museum of Art had a retrospective exhibition of Onderdonk two years ago. The catalog “Field Of Texas Bluebonnets And Prickly P by Julian Onderdonk. Size 10.01 inches width by 8.00 inches height. High Quality Art Poster Print” can be found in Amazon. As if being afraid of us not aware of his importance, he added, “He was THE painter that invented the blue bonnet landscape.” For me, the subdued seascape has an unfailing appeal to those who know Northeast. As a landscape painter in Texas who did not choose cactus or rustic desert, the unique color of blue bonnets stretching out of morning fog makes up the lack of picturesqueness of the vast land. But in that small painting of Long Island Sound, he found a true vehicle of his artistic expression in the curvy seashore under looming cloud that shrouded ships dotting along the horizon. A recent sale at Heritage Auction testified the popularity of his signature blue bonnet series (while the other barbizon-looking painting merely fetched the minimum bid). But I would not hesitate to choose this Long Island Sound (had I had $12,500 to spend) even when a blue bonnet painting is available. Hopefully there are some Texan collectors there who would agree with me.
Royd Riddell brought some regional antiques maps and prints which attracted constant crowd. He commented that Texan Americana slowly picked up interest in recent years. Roughly Texan Americana is lagging one century behind that in New England. A 1780 Philadelphia print, which is not that rare in the market, would surely got immediately attention in a show, but a 1900 Texas print may not, because collectors tend to use the same timeline to measure the collectibility, but he pointed out it is in fact very hard to find early prints of Texas, especially related to Dallas metro area.
A fine example was a pen drawing by an anonymous artist from the Metropolitan Business College. It is probably used as an example to showcase the school’s excellence in teaching penmanship. The size (approximately size of a poster), the unusual subject (a rooster and a hen), the all-original condition (including the frame and the glass) and the regional interest (the school was founded in 1887 as the first major business school in Dallas and went out of business in 1960’s) make it a rare Texas Americana example in the sale. The asking price is $3800.
Mr. Riddel also brought three pastel paintings by a student of Frank Reagh. Not surprisingly, we found a pastel painting by Charles Franklin Reaugh (known as Frank Reagh) in the sale offered by Valley House Gallery. Called the “Dean of Texas Painters”, he did many small plain air pastel sketches, especially the Texas Longhorn. The small pastel features an elongated composition which simplifies the pastoral scenes into stripes of fresh colors. Toward a lonely tree, a group of Texas longhorns were reduced to a line of distinct dots of alternating colors. Another painter who was a friend of Reagh, Louis Oscar Griffith was also featured by the same gallery. His impressionistic oil paintings are less of Texas scenes than of careful balance of shadows and lights.
Perhaps because of personal interests, we paid more attention to the small group of artworks from the 19th century. However, the trunk part of the sale brought in familiar western motifs from cattle drive to cow boys. The vibe of cowtown is evident in those energetic modern and contemporary works. In particular, we learned that there would be an exhibition featuring Fort Worth artist Josephine Mahaffey, right after the sale. (In fact, some of her works have been brought into the show by Mr. Boettigheimer. ) We are looking forward to learning more from the upcoming shows.