Closed but Still Caring for Our Collection

The DMA’s doors may be temporarily closed, but our dedicated Art Care Team is still working hard to make sure all the Museum’s treasures stay in good condition! Take a look behind the scenes at what goes on during a typical “art check” by our team of essential staff members from our Conservation, Collections, and Security & Operations departments, and how they are keeping the galleries, the storage areas, and the rest of the building safe.

Pest traps must be set out to ensure we don’t have any small but destructive critters taking up residence in our art areas!
Building Manager John Claire helps collect pest traps in the Reves Galleries.
Paintings Conservator Laura Hartman inspects the pest traps in an art storage area.
Senior Preparator and IPM Coordinator Mary Nicolett uses a microscope to closely inspect the pest traps.
Building Assistant Luke Peterson conducts a temperature and humidity check in an art storage area.
Security Manager Shalamar Jackson and Associate Registrar Katie Cooper examine the painting racks in art storage.
Assistant Objects Conservator Elena Torok performs a modified air exchange in a case with a degrading early plastic⁠—Naum Gabo’s Constructed Head No. 2.
No horsing around here! Associate Registrar Katie Cooper conducts thorough gallery rounds.

All Bow Before the Bow

Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas with Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s L’Alsace

As the checklist was being developed for the recent reinstallation of the European Art Galleries, curator Dr. Nicole Myers consulted with the Objects Conservation Team about the DMA’s terracotta bust L’Alsace by French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. This mid-19th-century sculpture had not been featured in our permanent collection galleries in over 10 years, and the re-envisioned gallery design, featuring recent bequests and a more in-depth narrative of European art history, was just the opportunity to review some of our holdings. When we assessed the sculpture’s condition, we agreed on a few issues that needed to be addressed prior to display. Though structurally sound, this sculpture needed some attention to increase the aesthetic legibility. The curatorial-conservation collaboration is an insightful joint investigation as both subject matter experts work together to best present a work of art to the public.

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, L’Alsace, before 1883, terracotta, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Edmund Pillsbury, Fort Worth, in honor of the opening of the new Dallas Museum of Art, 1983.153

This captivating terracotta sculpture is a symbolic representation of an idealized young woman of the Alsace region—a politically charged cultural and historic area because governance passed back and forth between France and Germany from the Thirty Years’ War to World War II. Though it is unclear exactly when in the 19th century this bust was created, the Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.

The subject’s elaborate hairstyle (crimped bangs and two long braids, also called “plaits” in the 19th century), a section of an embroidered traditional dirndl apron dress, and bunches of flowers at her chest and in her hair are all visual cues to amplify the allegory of femininity and nationality. In the mid-19th century, the societal fashion across the European countries celebrated elaborate and rather complicated hair, and even for a time, these crimped bangs. A woman’s crowning glory was her hair. Keep in mind, hairstyle codes for women differed with age and even marital status. And, in this sculpture, we also get a snapshot of the region.

Charles Spindler, cover of Léon Boll’s “Wines and Coteaux d’Alsace” brochure, 1900

To both increase the legibility of and focus the viewer on the sculpture’s attributes (both in subject matter and material appreciation), the goals were to give it a general cleaning and to minimize stains and discolored old repairs. The minor oily grime discolorations seen around the high-touch areas, such as the underarm area, were reduced mechanically with vinyl erasers. The deep interstices in the terracotta had accumulated layers of dust, darkening the recesses even further. Dust and some minor spots of mold were carefully removed with a selection of tools (soft brushes, swabs, and a HEPA vacuum with micro-attachments).

Notice the minor oily grime discoloration around high-touch areas, such as this underarm area, before conservation.
Before and after reducing discolorations mechanically with vinyl erasers

Unifying the appearance of a previous restoration (a large patched hole on the back of the sculpture) with the surrounding areas was the most time-consuming part of the treatment. This old restoration was still structurally stable but drew unnecessary attention because the old fill materials used did not match the terracotta. So, the areas were toned back with reversible conservation paints.

The old restoration fills did not match the original terracotta.
Fran Baas treating the sculpture
Before and after treatment

She is now on view, under an acrylic case for protection from dust and grimy hands, with each side visible and offering something interesting for the viewer. Please find this work in our virtual gallery and spend time appreciating its craftsmanship and how the terracotta clay was manipulated by the artist before firing. You can see the artist’s fingerprints in the flower petals at her chest, revealing the creative spontaneity during the working process. Notice her exquisite outfit depicting her regional identity but especially appreciate that large bow. She’s gorgeous—even more so now that she’s been cleaned and restored!

Notice the details in the flowers, including the artist’s fingerprints in the flower petals.

Fran Baas is the Interim Chief Conservator at the DMA.

Collecting and Reflecting

The DMA houses art collections from far and wide, and from many different collectors. But collecting isn’t just for artworks to be exhibited in a museum! Many of us are our very own curators of art or objects that hold personal significance and memories. We asked DMA staff members what they collect, and here’s what they shared:

Melissa Brito
Teaching Specialist for Family and Access Programs
One of my current collecting habits consists of gathering disposed remnants of memories, specifically color-positive slide film. I’m drawn to these personal, forgotten-about moments that can be monumental, intimate, or mundane.

Cynthia Calabrese
Chief Development Officer
Exactly 30 years ago, I was given a “condiment fork” as a wedding gift and I was told, “may this be the first unique thing you collect in your married life.” Since then, I’ve added to it and collected everything from cocktail shakers, to large soup spoons, to dessert plates.

Katie Cooper
Associate Registrar for the Permanent Collection
Our small collection is an accumulation of our travels and passions. From this Murakami print found at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to a Frank Lloyd Wright woodcut from his Chicago Robie House, our collection is a warm reminder of memories past. 

Chloë Courtney
McDermott Graduate Intern for Contemporary Art
My mother has an ever-changing collection of natural materials and found objects. It includes Roseville ceramics, seeds, bones, and playful elements such as tiny cows. Both whimsical and morbid, it operates as a memento mori in our home.

Lizz DeLera
Creative Director
Keith Haring—a personal connection. My design degree is from the university in his hometown of Kutztown, PA, and we both lived in NYC. The poster is from the F train on the subway, and he gave me a few of the others.

Heather Ecker
Marguerite S. Hoffman & Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic & Medieval Art
I love this print—a colorized version of a woodcut by Antoine Valérie Bertrand based upon a drawing by illustrator Gustave Doré (1832-83) that was published as part of the weekly travel journal Le Tour du Monde (Around the World) sold in French railway stations—because it is so operatic and perfectly renders 19th-century French stereotypes of Spain.

KC Hurst
Director of Marketing and Communications
Hypebeast sneakerheads won’t be impressed, but this humble collection of 41 pairs is my personal ode to sneaker culture. No sacred, unworn kicks over here—I’m just a girl who loves a good pair of high-tops. 

Danielle Lemi
Evaluator
This oil painting was created in 2019 by Sacramento-based artist Carmen Julie Velasco. After submitting grades, a professor enjoys a Sunday afternoon. Reaching a red light, she listens to Barbara Lewis’s 1963 hit Hello Stranger. She exhales and sees a restaurant where she met a former lover. What places hold memories for you?

Stacey Lizotte
DMA League Director of Adult Programs
I started collecting porcelain Disney figurines when I was in elementary school. I would choose characters from my favorite movies, but Disney stopped making these types of figurines in the early 90s. This made the last additions to my collection Ariel, Flounder, and Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.

Patrick Pelz
Manager of Membership and Onsite Experience
This is a Saturday morning from January, and shows about a third of our plant collection. After some extremely cold and LONG winters in Chicago, we decided to make sure we were constantly surrounded by green year-round.

Emily Schiller
Head of Interpretation
We pick up a 3-D magnet from any new city we visit. We specifically look for ones that have been poorly painted—bonus points for new shapes and gratuitous gemstones. There are also sub-groupings, like the trio of “scrolls” from Jerusalem, Paris, and Sydney.

Queta Moore Watson
Senior Editor
I have more tote bags than I have shoes! When I travel, I always buy a tote bag. They’re not only useful but also a wonderful reminder of my trip. Here are a few from my collection.

A Sneak Peek of “Dalí’s Divine Comedy”

Whimsical. Unsettling. Surreal. These are a few of the adjectives used to describe the look and feel of the exhibition Dalí’s Divine Comedy, coming soon to the DMA. As the 2019-2020 Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art, I was given the opportunity to curate an exhibition of works on paper in a space in the European galleries on Level 2, drawing from the Museum’s rich collection of European prints and drawings. Exhibition planning comes several months (if not years for large exhibitions!) in advance before the works even touch the wall. Thus, I arrived at the DMA at the beginning of my tenure in mid-August last year with my sleeves rolled up and ready to work.

Dali’s Divine Comedy brings together works from prominent Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí’s series illustrating The Divine Comedy. Written by Florentine poet Dante Alighieri in 1320, this long narrative poem charts Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in search of salvation.

In 1950 the Italian government commissioned Dalí to illustrate The Divine Comedy in celebration of Dante’s 700th birthday. Although the request was later revoked, Dalí, likely inspired by the poem’s imaginative qualities and its potential for fantastical illustrations, persisted with this project. From 1951 to 1960 he created 100 watercolors representing each canto (or section) of the poem. The watercolors were later transferred to colored wood engravings. This series, containing 100 prints, came into the DMA’s collection in 1996 as a gift from collectors Lois and Howard B. Wolf.

Following the narrative cycle of its original literary source, Dalí’s Divine Comedy opens with a presentation of Dante’s depictions of Hell. Dalí visually reinterprets this realm as a barren, empty landscape crawling with strange amorphous forms as illustrated in the print Hell: Men Who Devour Each Other (Canto 30). His radical articulation of space demonstrates his unique Surrealist spin on the frightful qualities traditionally ascribed to Hell. Instead of depicting Hell as a fiery inferno, Dalí portrays this region as a vast empty space that conjures comparable feelings of terror.

Salvador Dalí, Hell: Men Who Devour Each Other (Canto 30), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.30
Salvador Dalí, Hell: The Blasphemers (Canto 14), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.14

Echoing the liminality, or state of in-betweenness, that characterizes Purgatory, Dalí recycles visual strategies employed in his renderings of Hell and Heaven to illustrate scenes from this region. In Purgatory: Avarice and Prodigality (Canto 20), sharp lines seen in Hell resurface in Purgatory, mediated by dynamic watercolor forms that distinguish Heaven. Dalí also provides up-close portraits of the realm’s inhabitants, providing a psychoanalytic glimpse into the complex nature of repentance.

Salvador Dalí, Purgatory: Avarice and Prodigality (Canto 20), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.14
Salvador Dalí, Purgatory: The Indolent Ones (Canto 3), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.37

Visitors will find Dalí’s seemingly placid though uncanny representations of Heaven in stark contrast to the scenes presented in the previous two realms. Dalí depicts the celestial cosmos with vibrant, warm watercolors as illustrated in Paradise: The Angel (Canto 2). The loose, fluid brushstrokes that compose the painterly form of the angel resonate with the ethereal properties that Dante ascribes to Heaven.

Perhaps the most visually striking element among these prints is Dalí’s persistent use of tiny geometric forms, which he refers to as rhinoceros horns, to make up the bodies of the angels and spirits that Dante encounters in Heaven. Dalí developed a peculiar interest in these forms during the later phase of his career claiming that they served as his sources of “angelic inspirations.”

Salvador Dalí, Paradise: The Angel (Canto 2), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.69
Salvador Dalí, Paradise: The Sixth Sphere of Jupiter (Canto 20), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.87

Dalí employs different visual aesthetics in his depiction of each realm while also guiding the viewer to consider the timeless paragone, or interaction between word and image, through his illustrations. The DMA’s exhibition Dalí’s Divine Comedy presents these varying perspectives, all while encouraging an endless pursuit of fantasy, play, and imagination.

Chasitie Brown is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art at the DMA.

The Wonder Moments

What do you love to do? Perhaps it’s a favorite hobby or pastime, or perhaps it’s part of your job. Is there a moment that comes to mind when you think back on how you first became interested in that particular passion? We call these moments the “wonder moments”—moments where sparks of curiosity are first ignited. We asked DMA staff members about the “wonder moments” that led to working in a museum or doing the jobs they do now. Here’s what they had to say:

Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Poppy, 1927, Private Collection, Geneva. Invitation to the 1988 exhibition preview, Dallas Museum of Art Archives

Tamara Wootton Forsyth
The Marcus-Rose Family Deputy Director
The moment I knew when I wanted to work in a museum was actually here at the DMA! My high school art teacher made it a requirement that we go on a field trip to a museum. My field trip was to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition here at the DMA. I was dumbfounded by the exhibition and knew I wanted to stay in the arts forever. This was my favorite painting from the show. I even ended up with a small tattoo of the work!

Jacqueline Allen
The Mildred R. and Frederick M. Mayer Director of Libraries
I’ve always loved a good mystery.  In grade school, I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a novel about two children who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and research an art object.  Two decades later, I visited The Met in New York City and knew then that art and museums would be part of my life.  Fast forward to an Arts & Letters Live event on March 26, 2004, where I met the author E. L. Konigsburg, a dream come true.

Brian MacElhose
Collections Information Manager
I discovered when working at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) that I could merge two of my interests: computers and the fine arts. I had decided to return to nonprofit museum work after working in a for-profit gallery for about three years in New York City. When I was tasked with governing MAD’s art information, I realized that data is my jam!

Bernardo Velez Rico
Manager of Off-Site School ProgramsMy “wonder moment” was as an undergraduate at Stanford University.  The first class I took taught the histories of my communities—ones of resistance and resilience—through art; that taught me we all have stories to tell, and that I could help youth share their own.

Jessica Thompson-Castillo
Manager of Teen Programs
My “a-ha” moment was when I was working alongside teen volunteers in my first museum internship at Thinkery in Austin. Young people taught me what it means to listen and act with empathy—because sometimes that’s hard for adults to remember. Their passion and leadership inspire me to be a positive force for change in my community.

Accessible Art Making

The DMA has been a nationally recognized leader for more than a decade in the development of accessible programming for visitors with disabilities to connect with art. From our Sensory Days for visitors with autism, to our Meaningful Moments program for visitors with dementia, to Art Beyond Sight for visitors with vision impairment, our access programs foster creativity and learning, improve mood, and dramatically enhance quality of life. During this time when we’re all staying in, we asked our Manager of Access Programs, Emily Wiskera, to demonstrate an accessible, sensory-friendly art activity that you can do from home.

Sensory Ice Cube Painting

Materials needed:
Food coloring 
Water 
Ice cube tray 
Paper 

Optional materials:
Popsicle sticks or wooden dowels 
Aluminum foil or plastic wrap 
Newspaper or wax paper 
Old shirt or painting smock to protect clothes from staining 

Art projects are a great way to encourage learning through play. When kids are engaged in art making, they are also developing and practicing fine-motor, visual motor, and sensory motor skills. For some children, their level of engagement and participation improves when there is a sensory component to the activity. Children with autism demonstrate a range of sensory preferences and aversions. The activity of painting with ice cubes engages the senses and can be adapted to your child’s individual needs, whether they are a sensory seeker or sensory avoider. And it’s the perfect skill-building opportunity for a hot summer day! 

Directions:

Add 2 to 8 drops of food coloring to each ice cube cup. Fewer drops will result in lighter colors. Encourage children to explore mixing primary colors together to make secondary colors: Red + Blue = Purple, Red + Yellow = Orange, Yellow + Blue = Green.

Fill each ice cube cup with water, allowing some space for the ice to expand.

For children who dislike getting messy or who avoid tactile stimuli, cover your ice cube tray with a sheet of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Adults can use a knife to pierce a hole over each ice cube cup. Then, insert popsicle sticks through the holes in the foil and place in the freezer. Allow to freeze overnight. 

Remove the ice cube tray from the freezer and allow it to sit on the counter for a few minutes before removing the ice cubes. 

Place newspaper or wax paper over your painting surface, whether that is the kitchen table or outside on the sidewalk. Place the paper your child will paint on top of the protective paper. If taking this activity outside, children will have to paint quickly as ice cubes will melt faster. 

Tips: 

To keep children engaged, challenge them with achievable goals. Can they use all of the different colors? Can they draw three different shapes? Can they cover their entire paper with color? 

For extended learning opportunities, involve your child throughout the process. Ask them to help you gather materials, squeeze the food coloring bottles, count the number of drops of food color squeezed into each cup, mix new colors, or count popsicle sticks. 

Remember that the process of exploring materials and techniques is more important than the final product. If your child tends to feel too much pressure when making art, treat this activity as a science experiment. 

Emily Wiskera is the Manager of Access Programs at the DMA.

Empathy in Museum Design and Interpretation

Wow, what a weird world we are living in!

I want to start by saying how much we miss our visitors. We can’t wait to be able to return to the Museum so that we can continue to create the exhibitions and experiences we’ve all been dreaming about. In the meantime, I want to tell you a little bit about how the Design and Interpretation team at the DMA uses empathy to center our processes and thinking around you, our visitors.

Historically, museum design teams were trained to use an object-centered aesthetic approach, which prioritized object safety and making exhibitions pretty. Over the past 10 to 15 years, however, the way we think about design in a museum has changed. DMA designers place visitors at the center of our thinking and apply an experience- and needs-based approach.

Design and Interpretation is a visitor-centered department that cultivates meaningful communication and compelling experiences. Photo taken from a recent departmental retreat.

The DMA put this idea into practice by creating the department of Design and Interpretation in 2018. The idea was to create a collaborative creative team that places content and the visitor at the center of our processes of creating exhibitions and museum experiences. Our goal is to create rich, dynamic, and engaging experiences that our visitors can explore in deep and meaningful ways. Throughout our planning process, we consider how visitors will use, navigate, and interact with our spaces. Through visitor studies and evaluation, we research and learn about human behavior. We study subjects like environmental psychology, multiple learning types, and how people perceive and process information. We discuss differences in mobility and sensory sensitivity as we strive to be welcoming and accessible for all. We plan for families and groups of various sizes and types. And we have worked very hard toward our goal of providing inclusive experiences for broad audiences, such as creating bilingual and more accessible exhibition content, and working with our education team to expand our offerings that address special needs audiences. A recent example of this is when we provided noise-canceling headphones, “doodle” instructional signage, and braille booklets developed for the exhibition speechless: different by design.

Noise-canceling headphones and braille booklets were offered at the entrance of speechless: different by design.

Now, more than ever, this visitor-centered approach to design and interpretation is extremely important in how we are thinking about upcoming museum experiences. We are researching, learning, and planning for the evolving needs and behaviors of our visitors in the post-pandemic world. We are thinking about how we can address fears and how we can hold a space for complex feelings; we want to ensure that our facilities are prepared and our content remains relevant, relatable, and meaningful.

We understand that humans need ways to express, connect, and process the myriad of emotions elicited by the world in which we find ourselves, and we at the DMA are uniquely equipped to provide our visitors with tools and experiences that can help. Whether it is giving visitors encouragement to express ideas, feelings, and fears through independent activities, or creating experiences that allow our visitors to connect deeply and meaningfully with artists and artwork, we hope to meet the wide range of needs exposed by this global health crisis.

Jessica Harden is the Director of Design and Content Strategy at the DMA.

Home Poem

As Manager of Off-Site School Programs at the DMA, my job is to develop programming that brings the Museum into the classroom. This includes our long-standing Go van Gogh programs and our Middle School Outreach Pilot, a multi-session partnership program with L.V. Stockard Middle School and W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy.

Drawing inspiration from the DMA’s exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses, earlier this year students in our Middle School Outreach Pilot were asked to explore the concept of home through poetry, which they would later interpret through sculpture. While recent circumstances prevented students from completing their sculptures, their writing—which describes the spaces, people, feelings, sounds, tastes, and dreams that constitute home—gives us a collection of stories that tell us all we need to know.

Below, I’ve compiled lines written by students into one collaborative poem that tells a complex, expansive, conflicting, beautiful, honest, and hopeful account of what home means to youth in Dallas. I’ve paired their writing with images of works of art completed by students who participated in our Go van Gogh program A City of My Own, which is rooted in similar themes. Here, students were prompted to create cityscapes representative of their definition of Dallas—the landmarks, buildings, and places that make it their own.

During this time, when home can feel like a place we have to be, these students’ writing and works of art remind me of the beauty in all that something like home is and can be.

A student participates in Go van Gogh’s program “A City of My Own”

Home is when I’m with the people I love
Home is a place I feel loved
Home is where I feel safe
Home is when I’m with my family
Home is somewhere filled with laughter
Home is where I can be accepted and be myself 
Home is the memory of friends, family, and vecinas jugando loteria los domingos 
Home is the feeling you get when you eat raspas on a hot summer day 
Home is the sound of the Spanish language everywhere 
Home is hearing the radio play norteñas 
Home is the color of happiness, calm like gray 

Home wouldn’t be the same without Saturday cleaning and loud music 
Home wouldn’t be the same without hearing dogs barking in the middle of the night 
Home wouldn’t feel the same without my grandma and my grandpa 
Home wouldn’t be the same without my mom 

Home feels like el canto de los pájaros 
Home feels like warmth 
Home feels like love 

Home sounds like thirty kids talking all at once 
Home sounds like my mom singing everyday 
Home sounds like a bunch of laughter when my tios, tias, and cousins come over 
Home sounds like musica mexicana every morning 
Home sounds like people always being up at two in the morning looking for something to eat
 
Home tastes like comida recien hecha 
Home tastes like frijoles, caldo, and maruchan, and sometimes my mom attempting to be a baker 
Home tastes like eggs and bacon and pan dulce 
Home tastes like sopes, flautas, tacos, macheteadas 
Home tastes like carne asada every saturday 
Home tastes like tamales, barbacoa, birria, menudo, and donuts on sundays 
Home tastes like enchiladas todos los sabados, y un restaurante los domingos 

On the outside, home is a house made out of peach bricks and two strong trees 
On the outside, home is amigas y vecinas jugando and chismeando 
On the outside, people say that it is just a building 
But on the inside, it feels very special to you 
On the inside of home, I feel protected from anything 

I dream of a home with my parents and sibling always by my side 
I dream of a home that is big and can fit my whole family 
I dream of a two-story home, brand new, and never broken 
I dream of a home that is loud, warm, and funny 
I dream of a home that is my own 
I dream of a home that will never change

Bernardo Velez Rico is the Manager of Off-Site School Programs at the DMA.

Art Runs in the Family

Creativity is all around us in Dallas, and we love highlighting and honoring our local creative community at the Museum. This year, we have the special opportunity to celebrate the work of two relatives: Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson, whose drawings are in For a Dreamer of Houses, and his nephew Stephen McGee, whose painting is featured in We Are ARTISTS: The Stewpot Art Program.   

Willard Watson, affectionately known as “The Texas Kid,” was raised in Dallas and wore many hats—literally and figuratively—over his lifetime. He served as a solider in the South Pacific  in World War II, and was also a tailor, a cook, a carpenter, an upholsterer, a shade-tree mechanic, a handyman, and an actor. Around town, he was best known for his creative homemade outfits, customized cars, and front yard sculpture garden.

Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson’s customized car
Photograph of Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson seated outside of his home and posing in front of the sculptures placed in his yard for his portrait. Creator: Unknown, 1993–01. This photograph is part of the collection entitled The Black Academy of Arts and Letters Records and was provided by UNT Libraries Special Collections.

His artworks often included found objects and everyday materials. Using colored markers, pencil, and paper, Watson created a series of Life Cycle drawings that showed scenes from his home and family life and were narrated with vivid captions. Thinking back on his childhood in Dallas, he wrote:

My middle sister, Mable, had taken sick and I to go down to Elm Street to Otis drug store to pick up some medicine, But first I had to get some money from Daddy, who worked at S&S grocery store. I had to walk a mile down Central tracks and a mile back. And when I got Back my mother was drinking Buttermilk, I will never forget it. Tears were in her eyes, and it made me feel very Bad. She was depressed. She Loved her children so much that when one got sick she’d show it By tears. She say she Be praying But she always had tears. I kind cheered her up. The other Children were out Playing.

Willard Watson, “The Texas Kid,” born 1921 in Caddo Parish, LA; died 1995 in Dallas, TX; Untitled, 1985. Colored marker and pencil. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Friends of Willard Watson, 1985.181.8

Watson shared his love of art with his nephew Stephen McGee. McGee relished working in acrylic paint, pastels, colored pencils, and charcoal mediums. He particularly enjoyed portraiture, and he completed art projects for the nonprofit organization CitySquare that involved creating drawings of former talk show host Jay Leno, Lyle Lovett, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Dallas Cowboy Tyron Smith. McGee had loved art since he was a small child, and next to his love for God, art was his life.

Stephen McGee working on a portrait of Robert Johnson
Retrieved April 10, 2020, from FPCDallas
Fast Cheetah by Stephen McGee

McGee became a member of the Stewpot Art Program community in 2010. The Stewpot offers a safe haven for people experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness in Dallas, and the Art Program provides class time and art supplies for individuals looking to express themselves creatively, grow as artists, and support themselves through the sale of their work. You can learn more about The Stewpot and how to support their work here.

The Art Program helped McGee take his artistic practice to a higher level, form lasting friendships, and make his life more positive. McGee passed away on August 8, 2019, leaving a host of family and friends who love and remember Stephen “The Artist” McGee for his tremendous resilience, kindness, and creativity.

How are you spending time with loved ones right now? How are Willard’s scenes similar or different from your home life? Have you ever shared a special legacy with an important person in your life or passed down something you care about to a younger generation? These artworks make us think of home, family, and the ways that we can support one another during these uncertain times. 

We hope the artwork and life stories of Willard Watson and Stephen McGee inspire you to create, share joy with your loved ones, and continue to explore our city’s rich creative communities in For a Dreamer of Houses and We Are ARTISTS: The Stewpot Art Program.

Stephen McGee with his Stewpot Art Program class on a visit to the DMA. Stephen is third from the right in the white shirt.

Mary Ann Bonet is the Director of Community Engagement and Lindsay O’Connor is the Manager of School Programs at the DMA.

The House and the Dream of the Poetic Image

For a Dreamer of Houses takes Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 book The Poetics of Space as its conceptual framework. In this work, the French philosopher posits the house as the formative structure by which we develop a relationship with the exterior world through the emotive qualities of our daydreams and memories. These experiences then become the stuff from which writers and poets spin the threads of meaning, conjuring images forth from where we formed our first world: the house.

Clementine Hunter, Saturday Nite, 1971, oil on canvas board, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ryan, 1984.220

The Poetics of Space is, fundamentally, a love letter to poetry, to the ways in which poets shape language into an evocation of lived experiences, of half-forgotten memories. Yet there is a porous boundary between the literary and visual arts, with their shared interest in the conjuring of images. Visual art has a language all its own—one of light captured on silver-coated paper, pixels in digital space, etched impressions. As the resulting weaving of this visual language, art is a way of imagining—and imaging—potential ways of being in the world. In Bachelard’s telling, the questions of being human that art seeks to interrogate and crystallize are forged through the home, the nest from which we learn to become social beings.  

LaToya Ruby Frazier, Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, 2007, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family
Acquisition Fund, 2018.37

For Bachelard, this outward-looking view springs from our sense of the house as a universe in and of itself. In the 2007 photograph Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, LaToya Ruby Frazier portrays the home as the encapsulation of a/the world, with the ties of familial relationships proudly displayed in an orderly grid on her grandmother’s fridge. The kitchen—a space of gathering, of shared meals and the tenderness of cooking and providing for one another—becomes the site in which the matriarch orders her world. Here, the home is a place of comfort and love from which her family can fundamentally ground themselves as they venture outside of its sheltering embrace.

Literal depictions of the home are not the only forms of art to which Bachelard’s theories may be applied. Ian Cheng’s BOB (Bag of Beliefs) is an artificial lifeform composed of multiple driving personalities that react to each other and to external stimuli. While BOB lives in a cavernous simulated den in the space of the gallery, viewers contribute to BOB’s development through the BOB Shrine, a phone-based app in which viewers introduce patterns of stimuli to BOB and thereby shape its behavior in a parental fashion. As surprise and upheaval force BOB to update its beliefs, Cheng seeks to explore what constitutes the human experience of change and encounter through artificial life.

Ian Cheng, BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2018-19, artificial lifeform, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.81

BOB exists solely in digital space, an amorphous realm of data that seems almost immaterial in the context of human life. It is through the notion of inhabitation that we ground our relationship to BOB. BOB is not “real” per se, but we are able to conceive of it as a being with drives and needs and to visualize its experience through the framework of the home: its home in the gallery monitors is the place from which it nourishes itself, from which it develops a code of beliefs, from which it interacts with the world on a truly global scale. As Bachelard notes, “Whenever life seeks to shelter, protect, cover or hide itself, the imagination sympathizes with the being that inhabits the protected space.”

It is this ability of the house to foster imagination that Bachelard finds so compelling. He argues that intimate spaces, like those of the home, give rise to the daydreams in which our material, immediate world becomes infinite, and we achieve that grandeur that is only to be found in the depths of thought. The expanse of the cosmos becomes tangible and known, a cherished friend to our imaginings. Bachelard muses, “The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

Vija Celmins, Strata, 1983, mezzotint, Dallas Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon Fund, 1984.24, © Vija Celmins

Perhaps no artist captures the longing and the tender intimacy of the immense better than Vija Celmins, whose lovingly hand-drawn seascapes, rock fields, and starscapes render these seemingly boundless landscapes as human and knowable. Strata, with its soft, luminous stars pulsing through the black field of space, imparts a sense of belonging in a vast universe. In Celmins’s work, we are stardust; “immensity is within ourselves.” Her creation, itself visual poetry, brings the cosmos within our reach, the stuff of daydreams drawn forth from the embrace of the known universe of our homes.

Hilde Nelson is the Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art at the DMA.


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