CHARLES M RUSSELL,
THE BUFFALO HUNT NO 39, OIL 30 1/8 X 48 1/8
By Gussie Fauntleroy
Amon Carter Museum Fort Worth, TX
A consummate salesman, Amon Giles Carter Sr. [1879-1955] had the ear of U.S. presidents and could talk investors into almost any venture. But he never forgot his roots in a one-room log cabin in Crafton, TX, and he remained a lifelong champion of the little people. In his will, for example, which called for the creation of a museum to house his collection of western art, Carter stipulated that the museum always have free admission. Carter’s love of western art took hold through his longtime friendship with the great populist and humorist, Will Rogers. The two friends shared many interests including a fascination with early aviation and Rogers is credited with introducing Carter to the art of Charles Russell.
Along with that of Frederic Remington, Russell’s work is the centerpiece of the original Amon Carter collection.
Carter began his business career in 1900 as a traveling salesman for a company specializing in oil-colored portrait photographs. By the following year he was the firm’s national sales manager. In 1905 he moved to Fort Worth and
soon was in the newspaper and radio business, eventually becoming president and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and estab-lishing WBAP, the city’s first radio station. In the 1920s Carter became involved in the oil business in northern Texas and New Mexico, establishing the strong financial base that would support his philanthropy and art collecting.
Carter was unusual as a collector in that he had the explicit aim of establishing a museum early on, notes Rick Stewart, director of the Amon Carter Museum and the institution’s curator of western art. As a result, he was generous in what he was willing pay and purchased only the highest quality work. When he died in 1955, his collection contained more than 500 works by Russell and Reming-ton, including the only known complete set of Russell bronzes. The Amon Carter Museum opened in 1961, with the founder’s daughter, Ruth Carter Stevenson, as presi-dent of the museum’s board of trustees, a position she continues to hold. Today the museum contains masterworks by American artists from the 19th century to the present.
BERT GEER PHILLIPS,
SONG OF THE ASPEN [C. 1926-28], OIL, 40 X 27
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Harrison Eiteljorg is remembered as an “Old World gentleman,” a
dapper dresser, quiet and reserved yet social, generous, and exceptionally loyal
to his friends. He is also known as a “largely self-taught and brilliant”
art collector, with a special passion for western and Native American culture
and art. Of German and Scandinavian ancestry, he was an industrialist in the
coal business and was devoted to his hometown of Indianapolis. But his heart
and his business travels also took him frequently to the Southwest and West.
Eiteljorg began collecting in the 1920s; his first acquisition was a painting,
Cutting Horse, by Olaf Weighorst. Over the years he spent as much time as he
could in the Southwest, especially Taos. There he developed friendships with
many dealers and with members of the Taos Society of Artists as well as with
other important artists such as Nicolai Fechin and Leon Gaspard. Today the Eiteljorg Museum contains what is considered one of the strongest private collections of Taos Society art in the country. Eiteljorg himself once described his taste in western and Native American art as romantic. “In those paintings,” he said, “there is very little evidence of the violence which marked the settling of the West. But the Indians and their culture, the cattle drives, wagon trains, and other themes we associate with the Old West are represented.”
A philanthropist and art patron, Eiteljorg decided in the late 1980s to share his collections with the public. With an ardent personal interest in the aesthetic of the Southwest, he worked closely with architect Jonathan Hess of Browning
Day Mullins Dierdorf to design the museum building. The 73,000-square-foot facility was constructed of Minnesota dolomite and German sandstone in a southwestern Pueblo style. Eiteljorg “wanted to take the form, color, and texture of
traditional Pueblo architecture and create a thoroughly modern building,” notes John Vanausdall, the museum’s current president, director, and CEO. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art opened in June 1989
in the heart of Indianapolis.
The museum today has approximately 3,500 pieces in its permanent collection. The Taos Society collection includes works by Joseph Henry Sharp, E.I. Couse, Ernest Blumenschein, and Victor Higgins. The Native American collection spans cultures from across the continent, and contains pottery, basketry, wood carvings, beadwork, apparel, and other objects of art and culture. Harrison Eiteljorg was actively involved in the affairs of the museum until his death, at age 93, in 1997.
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Frye Art Museum
As collectors, Charles and Emma Frye were not exactly in line with popular American taste in art in the early years of the 20th century. They both came from German immigrant families and were passionate about German painting, particularly from the Munich School. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the prom-inent Seattle businessman and his wife purchased their first paint-ing, Little Girl With Pigs by the German artist Edmund Loyout. They continued collec-ting until a few years before Emma’s death in 1934. Mean-while, wealthy Americans on the East Coast were enthralled with the French Impressionists and American painters. World War I, as well, put a damper on the collection of German art at the time.
But time has shone a dif-ferent, and far more favorable, light on the Fryes’ taste in art. Time also has revealed the wisdom and generosity of Charles Frye’s dying wish: that his entire estate be placed in trust to establish and run a museum, with free public ad-mission, to house the couple’s collection and share it with the people of Seattle and beyond. Although the museum did not open until 1952, 12 years after Frye’s death, it has been true to his dream—and greatly expanded on it. Charles and Emma Frye were married in 1885 and set-tled in Seattle in 1888.
There, with extraordinary business acumen, Charles began what would become the largest independently owned meat-packing business west of the Mississippi River. He also developed Seattle’s warehouse district and expanded into cattle raising, retail meat sales, lettuce farming, and other ventures. “Emma Frye was charming; Charles was a bluff, forthright chap, with a keen eye for the feminine form, I understand,” says Frye Art Museum director Richard West. The couple contributed anonymously to musical, cultural, religious, and educational organizations in Seattle. They delighted in displaying much of their art collection in their home.
When it opened, the Frye Art Museum was devoted exclusively to Charles and Emma’s collection of more than 230 artworks. Soon, however, the institution began a series of expansions, both in physical space and artistic scope. Today,
along with the original col-lection, the museum maintains a special focus on American art as well as traditional and contem-porary representational painting and sculpture. Included in the permanent collection are works by Ludwig Knaus and Franz von Stuck of the Munich School, and by American artists such as Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt, John Singer Sargeant, and Mary Cassatt. Admission remains free.
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National Museum of Wildlife Art
Jackson Hole, WY
The National Museum of Wildlife Art has its roots in one painting and in one
couple’s love of wildlife art and commitment to the con-servation of natural
habitat. The painting—of a sunfish—was a gift from Joffa Kerr to her husband, Bill, upon his grad-uation from law school in the mid-1960s. A few years later the Kerrs began visiting Jackson Hole, WY, where they bought a cabin and became involved in the community. Bill recalls that in the mid-1980s,
he and Joffa were part of a group of friends who pondered the lack of an art
museum in Jackson Hole. Friends were aware of the Kerr’s trove of wildlife
art, and from this was born the idea of featuring the collection as the core
of a wildlife art museum. One of the founders’ goals was to educate the
public about wildlife and the importance of conservation. “Wildlife art is the perfect vehicle to increase awareness of our country’s unique natural heritage,” Bill says.
An artist herself, Joffa Kerr creates whimsical bronze animals that are represented by galleries in New York, California, and a number of other western states. When she and Bill began collecting wildlife art, it was simply an expression
of their personal passion for the art. “We bought things that we liked and felt were important to preserve in some way,” she says. In 1987, through a steering committee that included the Kerrs and other Jackson citizens, the National Museum of Wildlife Art was opened on a site north of Jackson overlooking the National Elk Refuge. From the original 250 works, the permanent collection has grown over the years to include more than 2,300 pieces in all mediums, from the early 19th century to the present. Among the many renowned artists represented are John J. Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, Charles Russell, Karl Bod-mer, Albrecht Dürer, and Bob Kuhn.
The Kerrs have remained actively involved in the museum since its inception, with Joffa serving as a trustee and Bill as chairman of the board. Bill also served as acting director for much of 1997 during the museum’s search for a new director. For their contributions to art and western culture, the Kerrs have been honored with the Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award as well as a number of other awards. But the real satisfaction, Bill says, comes from “the perceptions of wildlife that visitors gain though their experience in the museum.”
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The oldest of 14 children born in Oklahoma to a Scottish-Irish father and a
mother of Creek Indian heritage, Thomas Gilcrease [1890-1962] might have seemed an unlikely candidate to become an oil baron, arts patron, and museum founder. His mother’s Native ancestry, however, became a key factor in her son’s future accomplishments. Soon after Thomas’ birth, the Gilcrease family moved to Creek Indian territory, where he grew up. Then, when the U.S. government distributed tribal lands to private ownership, Gilcrease received a 160-acre allotment just south of Tulsa. As it turned out, his land was part of a major oil field. Gilcrease proved to be an astute businessman, founding the Gilcrease Oil Company in 1922 and developing it into a successful operation that allowed him to pursue his love of art. In the 1920s and ’30s he traveled extensively in Europe, where visits to museums may have sparked the idea of creating his own collection.
Gilcrease purchased art throughout the mid-century years, acquiring individual pieces and entire private collections—including 60 cases of artwork, some of it sight unseen, from a single collector. Always, he was guided by the vision of a collection that would embody the history of discovery and the history of art in the Americas. Along with works by renowned western painters such as Thomas Moran, George Catlin, Frederic Remington, and Charles Russell, he collected
Native American art and artifacts and was a patron of many Native artists. He also expressed his ardent interest in the history of the western hemisphere by collecting archival materials. Among these: the oldest existing letter from the New World, dictated and signed in 1512 by Diego Columbus, and the only known certified copy of the Declaration of Independence, signed by Benjamin Franklin. “The legacy of his collection is staggering in its depth and scope,” notes Gilcrease Museum director Hilary Kitz. “It really is the art of the Americas.”
Despite his material success, Gilcrease lived modestly in a house built of native sandstone, located on what are now the museum grounds. Rather than a lavish lifestyle, his time and energy were devoted to art collection and patronage. In 1949 he opened a gallery on the grounds to allow the public to view his collection. A few years later he deeded the collection to the City of Tulsa and committed oil revenues to its maintenance. Since then the Gilcrease Museum has grown to become one of the world’s premier institutions featuring fine art, artifacts, and archives that tell the story of prehistory and history in the western hemisphere.
KACHINA DOLL [C. EARLY 1900S]
Chicago in the 1890s was a bustling city with a cultural life rich in art, architecture, literature, music, and museums. Phoenix, meanwhile, was little more than a dusty cow town, population 4,000. Yet something about the small Arizona town was attractive to a Chicago couple of comfortable background. Married in 1893, Dwight and Maie Heard were traveling through the Southwest in search of a warm, dry climate to improve Dwight’s health when they stopped in Phoenix. They settled there in 1895. Almost immediately, they began an active civic, cultural, and business involvement that would make them one of the most influential couples in Phoenix history. “They wanted to help re-create some of the cultural advantages from which they had benefitted, and from which they saw the public benefit, in Chicago,” says Heard Museum director Frank Goodyear Jr.
A savvy businessman, Dwight Heard soon established interests in real estate,
cattle, alfalfa, citrus trees, and cotton and was highly influential in water
development and irrigation in the Salt River Valley. He became owner of the
Arizona Republic newspaper in 1912. Heard also developed an exclusive residential area in what at the time was north Phoenix, where he and Maie lived. Their large, Spanish-style home became a frequent stop for guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Mar-shall Field, and Harvey S. Firestone. At the same time, the Heards were collecting Native Amer-ican artifacts and art and educating themselves about the ancient cultures of the Southwest. Many of the artifacts in their original collection came from a Hohokam Indian site on property they purchased and excavated.
The Heards believed an important part of their role as collectors was the preservation of native history and cultural objects as well as the sharing of their collection with the public. To that end, they had a Spanish Colonial Revival-style museum built on the grounds of their home. Dwight Heard died of a heart attack just months before it was to open. His wife, however, opened the museum in June 1929, and in the early days contributed in a variety of roles, from curator to tour guide to maintenance worker. Today, the Heard Museum’s greatly expanded facilities house more than 32,000 works of art and ethnographic objects, making it one of the preeminent collections of its kind.
TROUVILLE  OIL, 21 ¼ X 29 ¼
McNay Art Museum
San Antonio, TX
Described by one observer as “one of the richest women in Texas, but
real simple and real nice,” Marion Koogler McNay [1883-1950] left a strong
and varied impression on those who met or saw her at her elegant San Antonio estate. She is said to have been articulate, bright, and jolly, with a nice laugh and a deep voice. She struck one observer as a “peculiar looking
woman” in a Mexican dress and hat, with a cigarette hanging out of her
mouth. And one acquaintance described her as a “generous, sweet, strange,
and lonely lady.” However she was perceived during her lifetime, though,
there is unanimous agreement about her gifts as a collector and her enduring contributions to the world of culture and art.
Born Jessie Marion Koogler, she was the only child of Dr. and Mrs. Marion Koogler of Ohio. Her father, a physician for the Santa Fe Railroad, purchased several thousand acres of land in Kansas. When oil was discovered there, the family’s fortune was secured. Marion, as she later chose to be called, displayed an aptitude for art, and as a young woman attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where she became extremely interested in modern art. She was married in 1917 to Don Denton McNay but lost him to influenza less than a year later. It was the first of four short-lived marriages and the one whose name she reclaimed in later years. Beginning in the 1920s, Marion became serious about collecting, with a special emphasis on modern art of Europe and America. The collection graced her Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion, completed in San Antonio in 1929. By the late 1930s she also was a patron of artists in the Taos Society and collected Spanish Colonial folk art from northern New Mexico. When she died in 1950, her residence became a museum for her collection of some 700 works, making it the first museum of modern art in Texas. “Because she was an artist herself, she had a wonderful eye for form and color. She really loved works that show the artist’s touch and hand, and she loved simplicity, and that taste informs the collection,” says McNay Art Museum direc-tor William Chiego. “It was very avant-garde for Texas in the 1920s and ’30s.” Today the McNay’s permanent collection comprises 14,000 works and features such artists as Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Cassatt, and Hopper.
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Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Los Angeles, CA
Gene Autry was “America’s favorite singing cowboy,” with a celebrated career in radio, recording, movies, and television that spanned more than 60 years. He is the only entertainer to have been honored with five stars on Holly-wood’s Walk of Fame. But one of the accomplishments of which Autry was most proud was not in the field of entertainment. It was the opening,
in 1988, of a museum dedicated to western history, culture, and art.
“Gene was always a student of western history—he loved it. Whenever he traveled around the United States, he collected things with the idea of establishing a history museum,” recalls Joanne Hale, president of the museum’s board of directors. Hale was co-founder of the museum, along with her husband, cowboy actor and singer Monte Hale, and Autry’s wife, Jackie.
Autry was born in Tioga, TX, in 1907. As a young man in the late 1920s he was playing guitar and singing one night in the telegraph office where he worked when the great cowboy humorist Will Rogers stopped by and suggested Autry try
getting on radio. A career full of gold records, feature films, and beloved television shows began. Over the years, the dream of a museum simmered in the performer’s thoughts as his collection of western items and art grew in storage at his Melody Ranch outside Los Angeles. Then, as the Autrys and Hales were having dinner together one night in the early 1980s, Monte brought up the idea of planning a building to house the collection. Soon, Jackie and Joanne were surveying the items in storage and beginning to work with architects.
Among the pieces in Autry’s original collection were bronze sculptures by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, as well as objects used in western movies and television shows, including Autry’s costumes, guns, holsters, and guitars. The permanent collection now contains more than 63,000 objects. The fine-art collection features works by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran as well as Russell and Remington, while the western artifact collection is a major component of Autry’s vision of the museum as a place of education for children and adults. The research center contains thousands of rare books, maps, photographs, journals, recordings, movies, and film posters.
“Gene was a very humble man,” Hale says. “The museum was never intended to be about Gene. It was always his vision to have it be a full western history museum.” Autry died in 1998.
Featured in October 2002