“Eye-opening” best describes my experience as curator of Celebrating Early Texas Art: Treasures from Dallas-Fort Worth Private Collections. The great quantity, high quality, and tremendous range of art I saw in some 40 private collections caught me by surprise, even though I have been aware for several years of the rising interest in Texas art. Leading the efforts to promote Texas art have been the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art, Collectors of Fort Worth Art, and the Texas Art Collectors Organization of Dallas—all of whom have partnered to sponsor this exhibition. The hardest part for me as curator was to contain my excitement and limit myself to a body of artworks that would fit comfortably into the gallery space.
A few ground rules for the selection process were established early on. The show was to include 50 to 60 artworks (55 are on view). The medium was restricted to painting (oil, tempera, gouache, and watercolor). Because of how I envisioned the exhibition’s installation, I decided to limit the number of small paintings (no painting of less than 12 inches in any dimension). Selections were to be made from collections in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with no more than three artworks being borrowed from any single collection. The show was to survey the years 1900 to 1960 (actually, the exhibition’s earliest painting dates from 1909 and the latest, 1962). Initially, I had difficulty reconciling modernist, abstract paintings from the 1940s through the early 1960s with the notion of “early” Texas art. I learned, however, that the term has been adopted by the three sponsoring organizations to refer to work produced by artists who were born in and/or lived/worked in Texas from 1820 to 40 years before the present date. Finally, my fundamental selection criterion centered on aesthetics. My concern was less with including paintings that are historically important (because of who painted them, when they were painted, where they were exhibited, and what their subjects are) and more with choosing artworks that are beautiful, compelling, provocative, and visually powerful. Eye-opening, in other words.
As I began my rounds of Dallas-Fort Worth collections, I quickly realized that my vision of early Texas art was going to expand. Of course, I saw the expected renderings of bluebonnets and cowboys, but not nearly as many as anticipated and of a much higher quality than imagined. As the exhibition makes clear, an impressively wide range of subject matter and styles characterizes early Texas art. Subjects include portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, while styles vary from realism to expressionism to abstraction.
It is evident that Texas artists have been shaped as much by their time, place, and history as they have by their awareness of the traditions of art and their response to the modernist call for innovation. My hope is that Celebrating Early Texas Art: Treasures from Dallas-Fort Worth Private Collections will provide viewers—particularly those unfamiliar with the richness of Texas art—the same eye-opening experience I had when selecting these works of art.
UNTITLED (SARA WITH THE ACE OF SPADES),
C. 1942, OIL, 40 X 30.
Fort Worth native Reeder [1912-1970] studied art under Sallie Blyth Mummert and Sallie Gillespie before attending the Art Students League of New York and traveling to study in Europe. In Paris, he was a student of Stanley William Hayter at Atelier 17. After returning to Fort Worth, Reeder and his wife, Flora Blanc, established and directed the Reeder School of Theater and Design for children from 1946 to 1958.
FRUIT, FIDDLE, AND FAN, C. 1948, OIL, 17 X 22 1/2.
Maples [1912-1999] graduated from Baylor University, received an M.A. degree from Columbia University, and took classes at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. For many years, she taught art in Dallas public schools, the art school of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and Southern Methodist University, where she headed the art education program from 1965 to 1978.
THE ROAD OUT, C. 1933-34, OIL, 14 X 16.
Douglass [1905-1969] studied with Frank Reaugh before taking classes in Santa Fe, Taos, and New York at the Art Students League, where his teachers included Boardman Robinson and Thomas Hart Benton. Douglass, a member of the original Dallas Nine, assisted in the mural and sculptural decoration for buildings erected in Dallas’ Fair Park for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.
ON THE BEACH AT GALVESTON,
C. 1941, OIL/TEMPERA, 21 X 25.
Bywaters [1906-1989] was a major presence and force in the 20th-century Texas art world, and a member of the original Dallas Nine (an important group of Regionalist artists). Not only a successful artist, who had studied at the Dallas Art Institute and the Art Students League of New York, Bywaters was also a teacher (notably, at Southern Methodist University), art critic for the Dallas Morning News, art editor for the Southwest Review, and from 1943 to 1964, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.
THE WORKMAN, C. 1930, OIL, 36 X 30.
Dallas-born Travis [1888-1975] attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied with Kenyon Cox and Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida. In 1926, he, along with his wife, Kathryne Hail Travis, and James Wadden, founded the Dallas Art Institute, which Travis directed for the first 15 years. Travis was a prolific painter, whose works were widely exhibited.
CHASTITY, C. 1929, OIL, 19 1/2 X 17 1/2.
After studying with Frank Reaugh, Hogue [1898-1994] enrolled in the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He worked for a few years in St. Paul and New York as a commercial artist. After returning to Dallas around 1925, Hogue enjoyed a long career as a highly regarded artist and an influential teacher. He was associated with the Dallas Nine and best known for his images of the Dust Bowl era.
RUTH PERSHING UHLER
DECORATION: RED HAW TREES, NOVEMBER,
C. 1929-30, OIL, 40 X 52.
Uhler [1895-1967] left Houston after high school to attend the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. After further study in Paris, she returned to teach at the Philadelphia School and the University of Pennsylvania Museum, where she specialized in Persian and Egyptian designs. Later, she taught at the Museum School of Art, Houston, where she worked for 30 years, not only as a teacher but also as registrar and curator of education.
THOMAS STELL JR.
TEXAS MURAL, C. 1937, OIL, 20 X 50.
Known for his murals, Stell [1898-1981] also designed stage sets for Broadway plays and titles for Hollywood movies. He studied at the Art Students League, under George Luks and Charles Hawthorne, and at the National Academy of Design. In 1938, Stell moved to San Antonio after being named the state director for the WPA-funded American Index of Design.
MISSION CONCEPCION, OIL, 28 X 28.
Klepper [1890-1952] was born in Plano and attended Dallas’ Aunspaugh Art School before enrolling in the Art Institute of Chicago. He stayed in France to study art after serving in World War I. In 1927, Klepper, along with David Guian, founded the Southwestern School of Fine Arts in Dallas. Three years later, he started the Klepper Sketch Club. Klepper gained recognition for his paintings, as well as for his murals, ceramics, and teaching.
MEXICAN SERENADER, C. 1940, OIL, 36 X 29.
As a child in Austin, Brunet [1871-1965] took art lessons from Janet Downie. After graduation from the University of Texas, she was on her way to France when World War I began. The ship stopped in Havana, then Boston. Brunet settled in New York, where she studied at the Art Students League. Before eventually returning to Dallas in 1928, Brunet also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Featured in March 2005