Archive for September, 2019

Building Community Through Art

Growing up in a Puerto Rican-Panamanian household in Austin, the arts were one of the primary ways that my sister and I learned about our family’s cultural heritage. Our bedtime stories were folktales, vejigante masks and molas—not unlike the one currently on view in the Center for Creative Connections—hung on the walls, and in the evenings, Papi would teach us merengue while Mami would fry tostones

After my interview at the DMA last summer, I spent time in the Arts of the Americas Galleries, where I stumbled upon a case of golden pendants from Panamá. Despite being miles away from family, it felt like a piece of my mother and the generations that came before her were with me. It felt like a glittering sign that said, I see you, and you belong here

During national Welcoming Week, an annual event where communities “bring together immigrants and those born within their countries in a spirit of unity,” the DMA is proud to reaffirm our commitment to making the Museum a place where everyone feels valued and welcomed. 

Indeed, a core tenet of the DMA’s mission is placing art and diverse communities at the center from which everything radiates. Yet what does that look like in practice? Here are some of the ways: 

  • By recognizing that while museums are spaces of learning and engagement, they are also rooted in colonial structures and are complicated spaces. The Museum’s cross-departmental committee focusing on linguistic and cultural equity is grappling with this tension in earnest. How do we reckon with our institution’s past? What contributes to a sense of belonging? What kinds of internal and external transformations need to occur? What does that mean for our spaces, staff, programming, and exhibitions?
  • By inviting community members and leaders to help shape the 2020 My/gration C3 exhibition, which highlights the contributions of artists who immigrated to the United States, examines how the movement of people is expressed through art, and illuminates ways cross-cultural connections inform artistic production.
  • By introducing Estampas de la Memoria, a Go van Gogh® program designed by Teaching Specialist Bernardo Velez Rico and former C3 Visiting Artist Karla García to activate Spanish-speaking elementary students’ voices and experiences through collaborative story writing, theater, and art making inspired by retablos. Learn more about the program’s teaching approach, which reflects a desire to uplift and center the knowledge of immigrant communities.
Teaching Specialist Bernardo Velez Rico facilitates a Go van Gogh® program.
Heart House youth engage in an art-making activity during an after-school program.
  • By highlighting the creative bridging of cultures through programs like author Sri Rao’s September 20 Late Night talk about his book Bollywood Kitchen, a reflection on food, film, and his experience as a second generation Indian American.
A Dallas Public Library adult English language learning class explores the galleries.

As a museum of Dallas, we strive to celebrate and reflect the diversity of our city. As of 2017, approximately 611,400 of Dallas’s 2.5 million residents were immigrants. Until 2017 Dallas was a major resettlement location, with close to 2,500 refugees arriving annually. 

With an art collection that spans time and the globe, the Museum provides windows into other worlds and perspectives, which can promote connection, empathy, and cross-cultural understanding. But perhaps art is most powerful when it functions as a mirror, reflecting our own experiences back to us, saying I see you, and you belong here. On behalf of my colleagues, I extend to you all a warm invitation and welcome, and I hope to see you soon.

Mary Ann Bonet is the Director of Community Engagement at the DMA.

Examining “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness”

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness by Herri met de Bles after conservation treatment

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, a fantastical landscape by Herri met de Bles, is hanging in the newly reinstalled European art galleries after years in storage. Before it could be displayed, the 16th-century painting required careful conservation treatment in the DMA’s Paintings Conservation Studio. Treatment revealed a remarkably complex scene, with many tiny figures, hidden creatures, and microscopic details.

Little is known of Herri met de Bles, who was born around 1510 and died after 1550. Regardless of his life being shrouded in mystery, Bles was an important Flemish Mannerist landscape painter, known for knitting together realistic landscape scenes with fantastic imaginary elements. In Italy, where his art was popular, Bles was known as “Civetta” (“owl” in Italian), because he liked to paint little owls into his works, acting as a sort of playfully hidden signature. If you look closely in the tree behind St. Jerome, you will see the beak and eyes of a tiny owl peeking through a tree hollow.

Saint Jerome before treatment

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, although striking, arrived at the conservation studio in need of treatment. Bles applied colorful, thin layers of paint over a prepared wooden support. The wood warped over time, causing cracks in the support and paint simultaneously. A darkened varnish further obscured the beautiful and precise details. Paint applied in a previous restoration campaign, which was likely undertaken in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, had also discolored, creating dissonance in the surface of the work and obscuring the overall harmony evoked by the artist in the landscape.

The painting was examined using various techniques—including microscopes, ultraviolet light radiation, infrared reflectography (IR), and x-radiography—to gain insight into the condition of the work and the artist’s techniques. Armed with this information, treatment began in preparation for the reinstallation of the European Galleries.

Saint Jerome during treatment

First, the dark and discolored varnish and areas of overpaint were removed. Cleaning revealed a world of detail previously unknown. Photomicrographs show details hardly perceptible without the aid of a microscope. Tiny creatures emerged in the wooded forest scene to the right of the central figure and in the mountains to the left, including a bear and cub family, stags, tiny figures hiking with a dog, and mountain goats. St. Jerome centers the composition and is accompanied by precisely painted attributes, including the skull and lion. He is surrounded by tiny, lively creatures such as squirrels, snails, lizards, mushrooms, and frogs. Bles also renders architectural features beautifully and goes so far as to depict not only microscopic decorative sculpture and architectural features but also decorative friezes noticeable only with magnification.

The IR images revealed especially interesting technical information. An elaborate underdrawing emerged when IR images were captured. Carbon-based materials absorb the infrared radiation and will appear black in IR images, while other materials that do not absorb the radiation will look transparent. Using this technique, underdrawing materials that contain carbon such as black inks, charcoal, and other carbon-containing black pigments become visible underneath overlying paint layers. Transfer marks, appearing as tiny black dots, were visible throughout the underdrawing, suggesting the use of prepared cartoon drawings. More free underdrawing was also observed, and can also be seen in the detail image. This type of underdrawing has been observed in other paintings attributed to Bles and serves as a fingerprint, in a way, of his working method.

After years of being stored away, this gorgeous painting by a mysterious artist is now on view for visitors to explore as part of free general admission. The landscape’s abundance of details will reward close looking, and the work serves as a dynamic addition to the newly reinstalled European Galleries.

Laura Hartman is the Associate Conservator at the DMA.

Image: Herri met de Bles, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, 16th century, oil on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.21

Globalization, Collaboration, and the Arts: Why PNC Proudly Presents Museum Exhibitions

In recent years, there has been an increased appetite for museum partnerships across the world. This unexpected effect of globalization has led to museums moving beyond loaning timeless pieces of art to museums loaning their staff, time, and resources to institutions halfway around the world. It has also resulted in more diverse, unique, and awe-inspiring art exhibitions and provided rich opportunities for the communities these institutions serve.

The Dallas Museum of Art’s current exhibition Dior: From Paris to the World is the perfect example of global partnership and close collaboration between institutions. The exhibition brought together three powerful organizations—the House of Dior, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Denver Art Museum—to share resources and best practices and, ultimately, build the iconic exhibition.

The exhibition features more than a hundred haute couture dresses, as well as accessories, photographs, original sketches, runway videos, and other archival material that trace the history of the iconic fashion house. And without global collaboration, this iconic exhibition would not be bringing thousands of visitors together in Dallas to see Dior designs that have rarely been seen outside of Europe.

At PNC, we have a national legacy of strategically supporting arts and culture organizations where we live and work because we understand the significant contributions they offer a successful economy. We’re thrilled to support this exhibition as the presenting sponsor and help expand worldviews by bringing “Paris to the World.”

©2019 The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved


Brendan McGuire is Regional President and Head of Corporate Banking for North Texas at PNC.


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