Nearly 200 people made it to the Witte Museum in San Antonio for the Annual CASETA conference. If you’re not familiar, CASETA stands for the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art.
Before you start, there are two things to know about Early Texas Art. First, if you spend time hanging around say Boston, you may not think much of what’s here is “early.” Much of it touches on modernism, abstraction and the like, and it may be from as recent times as the 1970s. CASETA uses the idea of up to 40 years ago in the past.
The second thing you should know is that it’s not locals painting cactus and cowboys. Early Texas Art may have some ties to Texas- and that is what it has in common- but the subjects are diverse as are the artists. They are not one day wondering out of doors and picking up a brush as much as they are well-traveled, professionally trained and exposed to the art world, with emphasis on world.
I was mistaken, however, there is a third thing you need to know. If you have no ties to Texas, it doesn’t matter. Attendees came from at least several states, some far from the Lone Star. Texas Art is collected far and wide, and is increasing in popularity.
One reason for that may be that the economy is booming here and some new residents may have a desire to become connected. But, if comments revealed during a panel discussion are accurate, contemporary artists from Texas who have gained national prominence are instigating interest in their teachers, and teachers teachers and their circles.
These factors about Texas art and artists seem to have held true from the beginning. Hermann Lungkwitz (1813–1891), as one example, was born and trained in Germany. Born in San Antonio Julian Onderdonk went to New York to study with William Merritt Chase. Members of the Fort Worth Circle were certainly looking to Europe.
Sure, there are cows and bluebonnets, just as there would be bridges in New York or smoke stacks in Pittsburgh. But the art is as diverse as the people and landscape. And if you’ve been here, most likely it isn’t quite what you thought it was. The same is probably true for Early Texas Art.
The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth will present an installation of Texas paintings that curators say captures a pivotal moment in the state’s cultural history. In the 1930s, a group of young artists—including Jerry Bywaters, Alexandre Hogue, William Lester, Thomas Stell, Harry Carnohan and Coreen Spellman, among others—gained national recognition for their scenic and ideological interpretations of the local environment. Although they depicted the people and landscapes of Texas in identifiable and representational manners, each artist possessed their own style, often combining realism with modernist influences ranging from Cubism to Surrealism. These evocative paintings provide a poignant glimpse of life and art in Texas during the era of the Great Depression. The exhibit opensApril 30.
About three years ago, I attended my first antiques show after moving to Texas — the Dolly Johnson Show. Although the show had gone more mid-century and industrial than in previous years, the show stopper then was the Susanna Fuller White trunk, from the Mayflower. Americana was still the heart and soul of the show.
The current owner, Jan Orr-Harter, had the vision of broadening the scope and appeal when she bought the show from JJ Frambes in 2009. Only three years into the show, she has successfully transformed the show into an eclectic market that goes beyond antiques and art. That is prominently reflected by the change in the show’s name: Fort Worth Show of Antiques and Art. Its website is even simpler: FortWorthShow.com.
Broadening the scope and appeal has been a trend among antiques shows. The Philadelphia Antiques Show has adopted a more flexible standard by setting different time windows for different types of objects. For artwork, modernism is welcome as long as the artist is deceased. The Metro Show, which replaced the former American Antiques Show two years ago, took a totally different turn by dropping off its pursuit of patina to incorporate a wider range of objects- the name itself doesn’t convey “antique” at all.
To some extent, the current Fort Worth Show has some characteristics of its predecessor – a penchant for folk art and country craftsmanship. Yet through mixing objects of anti-urbane, un-common or untamed by unconventional training, it has achieved an eccentric sophistication that may shock some long-time patrons but can excite a younger crowd. When we were there on Friday afternoon, the traffic was steady.
This year Ken Weber of Vintage Martini, a clothing retailer, participated in the show for the first time. Together with another first timer, Adrienne Astrologo of Ladybag International from Philadelphia, they represent a desired demographic shift from the show promoter. Risking being called a sexiest, I would argue more or less that men collect, women shop. Collecting American furniture or art is methodological and fastidious. You would trust the voice of Wendell Garrett or the hand-touch of Leigh Keno. Shopping vintage on the other hand is fun, impromptu, and spontaneous. In that case, you would be happy to tag along with Martha Stewart, who visited the Brooklyn Flea a few years ago.
Of course clothing, jewelry and accessories can be collectible but first and foremost on the consumers mind is whether it fits and looks good.
Thus it is the emphasis on the shopping experience (mostly targeted to a female audience) that these vendors would contribute. Given the long history of the Dolly Johnson Show, a more complete transformation, if there is to be one, may not happen this year or next. But the equilibrium will be matched once more vintage dealers settle in.
Yet, even within the spacious Will Rogers Memorial Center, the show is not as big as those super markets such as Scott Market, Brimfield or Marburger. The great advantage of “there is something for everyone” also means that, after dividing the limited space by the extraordinary range of selection, a die-hard collector could find fewer items of interest. Variety vs. homogeneity has always been a conundrum for show promoters. The smaller the show (and while not the largest in the region, this one is on the large side), the bigger the problem.
Dealers have taken the cue themselves in anticipating the shifting interests of patrons. Gordon Harrison of Harrison Gallery, who also exhibited at the Heart of the Country show in Nashville, seemed to bring more affordable art here with modern and regionalism-looking works. They offer unique decorative value without depleting one’s wallet.
In contrast Jane Christian of Art, brought paintings of Dallas Nine and Fort Worth Circle. Otis Dozier’s work has been recently sold at David Dike Auction for more than $30,000. Although not everyone can afford a large painting by Dozier, the presence of paintings with local interest helps educate Martha Stewart followers who may just browse between vintage Coke signs or Fort Worth hotel memorabilia, and perhaps ignite their interest for, in the words of Amon Carter who founded the museum not far away from the show, higher attributes of life.
A table at the Old Jail Arts Center in Albany, Texas caught my eye. It’s always nice when museums feature decorative arts, but its especially nice when museums of this size include furniture.
The round inlaid center table with a classical form features prominently our first president. I assumed being in this small town Texas museum the George Washington table could be Texas-made. A docent confirmed it probably was, but there remains a chance we could find out it isn’t.
With that in mind, I found it curious George Washington would be featured on a table made in Texas. Of course Texas is as much a part of America as anywhere else, but if the table was made circa 1876 as the label suggests, it wasn’t so long ago that the Lone Star State was a Republic. It became the Republic of Texas in 1836 and was admitted to the Union in 1845.
Reading a little about Texas history (and admittedly a little can be dangerous), it doesn’t seem the state had the independent spirit like it had today (thinking of the petition for succession that followed Barack Obama’s election). It looks like Texas entered the Union by request.
Then there was the matter of the Civil War. After Confederate defeat, Texas was readmitted to the Union in 1870.
So here just a half dozen years later we arrive at 1876, the United States Centennial. There was a big exhibition in Philadelphia, but I imagine wounds from the hard-fought war would have been pretty deep. The Texas State Capitol, completed in 1888, includes the words “Republic of Texas” ingrained into the floor of the rotunda.
It’s fair to ask just how much reverence there would have been in Texas, circa 1876, for George Washington. With a little history in mind, did someone in Texas create this table with the image of George Washington positioned prominently in the center?
One thing I recall is learning at a furniture forum at Winterthur that much early furniture featuring American eagles was actually made outside of Philadelphia. The eagles were most often placed on the furniture by craftsmen and their customers wanting to show allegiance to the new nation. They are rarely found on Philadelphia pieces.
Perhaps George Washington’s prominence on the table was to show Texas’s allegiance to the U.S. Or they could have just gotten caught up in the Centennial celebrations.
But it doesn’t appear Texas was represented at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, which makes this well-crafted table all the more puzzling. Maybe it’s one skilled craftsman’s wish that the Lone Star State had been there.
There are still more questions than answers here. I look forward to finding out more.
Albany is one of those small towns of Texas- by the time you read its name from a road sign, it’s almost behind you. Its museum has an unassuming name – the Old Jail Art Center. You would expect to be surrounded by bluebonnets or longhorns paintings, and be ready to associate with it the quirkiness and idiosyncrasy of all things Texas, until you walk in. The wonderful art treasure trove should not be a secret kept by the two thousand local residents, but to be known and enjoyed in Texas and beyond.
The museum was founded in 1980 by Reilly Nail and his cousin Texas artist Bill Bomar, who combined their collections with their mothers ( on Asian Art) to form the core collection. Through years, it has been expanded through key donations such as William O. Gross, Jr. Collection of pre-Columbia art, furnishings from Watt Matthew’s Lambshead Ranch, Marshall Young Jr’s fund for the outdoor sculpture garden and European art, and most recently a gift from DMA/MFA Houston‘s Barrett Collection.
Often, smaller museums that grow out of individual collections more or less reflect eccentric and peculiar tastes of its founders. In the case of the Old Jail Art Center, Bill Bomer, who was the leading artist of the Fort Worth Circle, left the collection a penchant for abstract and simplified forms, bridging archaic and Oriental objects with European and American modernism. Bomar, born in a wealthy family, was an avid collector throughout his life. In 2011, the museum mounted an exhibition featuring the extensive cross collection of the artist.
I was told by many collector friends that the museum’s holdings in Fort Worth Circle is strong. Yet even with the greatly expanded gallery space (added in 2009) besides the original two-story stone-walled jail building, the breadth of the collection makes it hard to showcase its deep root in Texas homegrown abstract and surrealist art. A few can be found in the works-on-paper gallery. “The Entertainers” by Bror Utter abstracted figurative movement into distinct angular shapes of playful colors. A landscape water -color by Bill Bomar flattens the distance with weighty repetitive patterns of emerald green.
Unlike Bror Utter who carried a distinctive artistic style through his life, Bomar had worked in many modes, often taking the risk of venturing into directions untrecked.
Thus it is an extremely rare opportunity to learn about the artist through his gifts displayed in the permanent collection. It is not only interesting to see what the artist had collected during his life time, but also tempting to ponder how those personal collections are related to various styles of his own.
The elongated feature can be found both at Modigliani’s Young Girl with Braids and some small Asian and African statuettes. They echo some of Bomar’s early abstract works. For example, The Virgin Future, sold at Heritage Auctions last year, has attenuated anthropomorphic forms with distinct sculptural mass. Paul Klee’s Der Weg ins Blaue, another master piece from his collection, gives a special dull sheen through the use of hot wax mixed with dry pigments. Its naïve simplistic forms recall many of his 50’s paintings, such as Squares Gathered by the Sea, which inject two-dimensional elements like squares and lines, through dry brush strokes, into pictorial space.
At the first floor of the Jail building, I was surprised to see Asian art display, mostly from the collection of Jewel Nail Bomar, the artist’s mother. (Like any other works of art on display, their labels lack the details about when Bomar family acquired them.) It would be interesting to know what motivated her to collect tomb figurines from Wei, Sui and Tang Dynasty. The figurines created in this period have unprecedented liveliness. The sinuous forms with swaying arms or tilted toes capture dynamic moments in happy afterlife. Yet Chinese art is mostly strung by its restrained emotions — Despite some degree of exaggeration in favor of sensual expressiveness, all these figurines keep a sense of balance and fluidity. Considering the varieties of the collection and many heritages from which Bomar could draw inspiration, it occurr to me that the collection manifests Bomar’s openness to the unlimited boundaries of art and his astute readiness in pushing new ideas. What is unchanged is his unyielding belief in the transformative power of art.
At the Sculpture Courtyard, Texas sculptor Jesús Moroles’ Granite Sun greets visitors with its grand gesture. Bill Bomar recognized his talent early on and commissioned him to make this monumental sculpture for the museum. Alternating between unhewed raw surface and the polished one with warm sheen, it stuns viewers with its glorious sun disk, up in the air. The consummate craftsmanship is magnified by the fact that despite of its proportion, it was cut, hewed and sanded on one piece of pink granite. Given the tendency that Bomar often dramatized subjects with basic elements, it could be that he saw in Morole’s sculpture, a medium he could not command, luminosity, texture and abstraction folded in larger-than-life ambition, like his own.
“In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is.”
Hardly ever there will be an exhibition more suitable to manifest Gertrude Stein’s famous quote than Sarah Williams’ current exhibition — Remote America. Yet America has changed since then. What Stein saw as quintessential America more than seven decades ago, would be unfamiliar to GenY and Millennials, raised in the cradles of urban sprawl. (The artist, only at 30, is a Millennial) Williams’ “Remote America” instead shows parcels of a rich land, transformed and lost in its physical isolation among vastness, and recollected as part of our subconsciousness under the car culture.
Stunningly beautiful, it is distillation of our collective memory of sharpened sense of places, when we were dislocated and lost in the anonymous, vast rural land. Growing up in the heartland, Williams drives around Missouri to take pictures for inspiration. The night scenes are ubiquitous. They help wipe out elements unnecessary for compelling compositions. Although it is tempting to ravish viewers with that brute force gravity of a dark background, Williams seeks beyond: Exquisite and extreme colors under artificial light.
That engenders ordinary objects, while still being instantly recognizable, to assume an uncommon appearance. Williams’ daring courage and acute sensibility in color exploration are rewarding. It is visually appeasing (with sort of a shock) to see warm orange on the snow or emerald green on a shed. For example, “Glenstone Ave” is a power-house to showcase the extreme brightness of yellow street light with subdued halos. One has to look close (not through any publication or website photos) to apprehend purples of varied shades in the background. The foreground, in contrast, echoes with lively lavender.
Have we all been there – some unknown parking lot? Perhaps. It gives you chills to see the extraordinary beauty and nuances out of places we deem as monotonous and forgettable.
Most paintings can fall into one of the two categories. Large paintings with distinct rural architecture elements often evoke a staged narrative. In them, empty and impersonal industrial and commercial buildings, engulfed under dark sky, loom large. Their geometry is imposing, the light surreal. We observe them from afar, as if to assume an air of objectivity. In return, they project a sense of stately formality.
That incongruence makes one uneasy. Or at least it would make Gertrude Stein so – how could such a place of “nowhere” so orderly yet at the same time so out of place? In “Campbell,” the blazing spot light sifts through a row of awnings, under which all windows are closed. It is mesmerizing to examine eerie patterns of light and shadow. The patterns get all our undivided attention first, until one notices the patronless business itself, receding as the mundane backdrop. In both “Paint Booth” and “East Monroe Street,” the foreground is tilted to create an emotional suspense for a rather unappealing scene: back corner of a warehouse complex. The suspense is further enhanced with intrinsic diagonal elements such as parking lot markings or car tracks in the snow. Both carry, to some extent, mannerism of contrived tension. What save them from being ostensible is the sense of becoming. They serve as a prelude of the storytelling, leaving viewers as sole interpolators of a plot forthcoming.
A series of pavement paintings, all in a square format and numbered based on the sequence, feature a different aesthetic. The penetrating third-person narrative angle in larger imageries is traded in for an intimate first-person narrative. Introvert in nature, these paintings often have only the closest part of pavement brighten up, as if lit from the viewer’s own pickup truck. The later ones in the series, in particular, shed light in the new direction of Williams’ interests in departing from realism of rectilinear nature of industrial architecture. Flattened up from the downward gaze, the pavement dissolves into abstract organic shapes of restrained colors, intersecting or interlocking. Edges are soft and fuzzy, as if while looking down, we are so devoured by the visual riddle itself that momentarily are lost in our own thought.
If time and place are exacted as potent omens of becoming in the previous case, the pavement series are moody essays of our self-absorption of being. A few paintings seem to derive from both categories as the self-conscious pavement patterns are jested against middle ground architecture.
My favorite is “Route 380.” It exuberates a wry wit on beauty, out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere. The tiny building is overshadowed by its exotic mural painting, featuring a massive building hybrid of Gothic and Byzantine style, against azure blue sky. The palm trees in the painting feel almost vulnerable on the frigid night, when pavement is covered with frosted cracks and black ice. One cannot help but following those intricate laced patterns which lead to the wall. It is through that short journey – from the dark concrete at foot, in the heartland of America, to bright-lit mural imagery, palpable with tropical balminess and ocean breeze – that one is treated with a surprise – a formidable range of colors that stretch and bridge the surreal and real.
“Remote America” is now on view at Art Museum of Southeast Texas until April 7, 2013.
Works of art depicting scenes around Dallas line the walls of the historic Turner House in Oak Cliff. Largely depicting areas on the urban fringe in the late 20th Century, the paintings make up an exhibition titled North Texas Recalled: The Painterly Chronicles of Jack Erwin.
The paintings are a treat. Erwin painted plein-air and executed hundreds of paintings during a decade spanning roughly 1973 to 1983. Curated by Houston gallerist William Reaves, the week-long exhibit provides opportunity to take a fresh look at Texas regionalism that traces its North Texas roots to a group of painters known as the Dallas Nine.
Reaves wasn’t about to drive up from Houston to tell Dallas art fans about the painters their city knows so well, however. Rather he used a Thursday night lecture titled The Regionalist Legacy in Contemporary Texas Art to provide an overview of the characteristics of the art and draw a line forward as the legacy is carried later and today by contemporary artists painting in the realistic style of regional art.
These contemporary Texas regionalists include artists like Jeri Salter who we met previously exhibiting at the Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival. Salter, like Erwin, often depicts the man-made environment. Others like Robert Harrison depict the natural world, in this case the well known subject of hill country Bluebonnets.
Bluebonnets may be timeless, but the Texas landscape isn’t. This fact makes the works by artists like Erwin particularly engaging. Still some painterly impressions, like Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, look much the same today. You can likely still identify a view of downtown from what was likely in East Dallas somewhere. Paintings of landscapes and buildings in Addison and Grapevine may be less identifiable.
A lecture on Saturday will give further insight into the life, times and works of Jack Erwin followed by a reception. The exhibit remains on view through February 28.
A preview of Early Texas Art being offered in David Dike’s Texas Art Auction is on view this week in the Dallas Design District. The walls of the Wildman Art Framing building are filled with works by Otis Dozier, Everett Spruce, Dawson Dawson-Watson, Ed Bearden and others.
Not to be missed lots include Cactus in Bloom by Dawson Dawson-Watson (1939) estimated to fetch as much as $25,000. Several gentle pastels by prominent Texas artist Frank Reaugh are up for show and sale, some expected to bring as much as $10,000.In the regionalist category, a harsh landscape by Fort Worth Circle painter Kelly Fearing completed in 1941, the year he finished his education at the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, could bring $15,000 or more. Railroad Yard in Snow by Ed Bearden (1951) presents an engaging work by one of the founding members if the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts. William Lester’s Alley (1947) is given a prominent place in the catalog, and for good reason. This Dallas Nine artist was included in the Exhibition of Young Dallas Artists at the Dallas Public Art Gallery in Fair Park way back in 1932. His paintings are held in the permanent collections of half a dozen museums including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Dallas Museum of Art.
There are of course no shortage of landscapes, including bluebonnets by Robert Wood, Eloise Polk McGill, Don Parks, Porfirio Salinas, Jesse Don Rasberry and Altie Slimp. Particularly stunning is the light captured in Grand Canyon by Dawson Dawson-Watson.
From still-life to abstracts this includes but a small sampling of the works of Early Texas Art available for show and sale in a wide-range of prices. It’s a great opportunity to stop and learn about Early texas Art and artists, as well as start or enhance a collection.
The preview is open through Friday with the auction being held at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The Show and Sale of Early Texas Art will be back at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center in 2013. Vintage Promotions, LLC has taken on the show following more than a decade of production by the Collectors of Fort Worth Art.
“After several years enjoying the show as an art collector, I offered to take on the project,” says Eric Miller, co-owner of Vintage Promotions, LLC. “Local art collectors are enthusiastic about the show continuing.”
The show has been held for the past decade and was often followed by an exhibit that would continue for the remainder of the month. The show includes a dozen or more dealers displaying oil and watercolor paintings, prints, drawings, and other works by early Fort Worth and Texas artists.
“The term ‘Early Texas Art’ can be a little misleading,” Miller says explaining that works from as late as the 1970s can be included. “It’s not only landscapes and western scenes, but includes abstract and modern work.
“Early Texas Art includes a wealth of variety and style.”
Held August 9-10, 2013, promoters say the aim of the show will continue the quality, atmosphere and affordability of the show while at the same time expanding promotion and growing the size.
A rare writing desk and examples of early Texas pottery are included in a recent donation of early Texas decorative art items to the Bayou Bend Collection in Houston. That’s according to the Houston Chronicle, Maine Antiques Digest and other sources. The gifts were donated by Houston-born sixth generation Texan William J. Hill.
Created by Austin cabinetmaker Adolph Kempen, the Houston Chronicle called the circa-1975 desk the most significant portion of the donation. It is one of only few such desks documented by Kempen, who migrated to that city from Germany via Galveston a few years before crafting the desk. It appeared on Antiques Roadshow on July 2, 2012 where it was appraised at as much as $12,000.
Bayou Bend Curator Michael K. Brown told reporters the pottery gift dramatically expands the museum’s early Texas pottery collection.
The desk is featured about six minutes into the program. Click to watch.