Archive for February, 2021

From the Page to the Painting: Literary Connections

Glenn Ligon, Untitled, 2002, coal dust, printing ink, oil stick, glue, acrylic paint, and gesso on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2004.29, © 2002 Glenn Ligon

This work features the opening lines of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “A Stranger in the Village.” The story traces Baldwin’s time in a Swiss village where the majority of residents had never encountered a person of African descent. 

As a fellow gay Black man, Glenn Ligon incorporated Baldwin’s words in hundreds of his works. (Learn more about the artist’s interpretation of this essay and his choice of materials here.)

Glittering coal dust glued to a black surface makes the words nearly impossible to decipher. Similarly, the author and artist share their experiences of being seen but not understood.

Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, 1952, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift via Charles Wylie to honor Catherine and Will Rose, 2007.62.2, © Estate of Gordon Parks

As a staff photographer for Life magazine, Gordon Parks created the photo-essay “A Man Becomes Invisible” in conjunction with the publication of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. Parks and Ellison were friends and shared an interest in raising the visibility of Black lives in postwar United States.

Ellison’s unnamed, Black protagonist lives in an underground room. He is protected from a racist society only by remaining invisible—hidden below ground.

Parks imagines Ellison’s protagonist warily emerging from his subterranean sanctuary, an event only hinted at in the book’s epilogue.

Lorna Simpson, Blue Turned Temporal, 2019, ink, watercolor, and screenprint on gessoed fiberglass, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.16, © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: James Wang

This work was first shown in “Darkening,” a 2019 exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York City. The exhibition opened with an excerpt from Robin Coste Lewis’s poem “Using Black to Paint Light: Walking Through a Matisse Exhibit, Thinking About the Arctic and Matthew Henson.”

The poem points to one of the many layers of meaning behind Lorna Simpson’s choice of subject. Matthew Henson was an African American explorer who made seven trips to the Arctic between 1891 and 1912.

The brilliant color of Blue Turned Temporal resonates with lines from Lewis’s poem that note the absence of white and whiteness in the frozen northern environment. “The unanticipated shock: so much believed to be white is actually—strikingly—blue.” (Read Lewis’s full poem.)

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

Thurmond Townsend: A Dallas Artist to Know

In early 1938, 26-year-old Thurmond Townsend was appraising his backyard and became intrigued by the now malleable mud, which had the consistency of clay. Though he had never tried modeling before, Townsend started working with the mud to create busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from pictures. The two sculptures were going well… except for the ears. On his way home from work as a bus boy, Townsend stopped into the Dallas Art Institute and asked instructor Harry Lee Gibson how to sculpt ears.

Taking Gibson’s advice that he try modeling from life, Townsend created a bust of his wife Marie. He entered this sculpture in the 9th Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition (March 20-April 17, 1938). The Dallas Art Association, now DMA, started holding juried exhibitions for artists residing in Dallas and Dallas County in 1928 and did so annually through 1964.

Townsend’s mud Marie Townsend was not only accepted to the exhibition’s Sculpture and Crafts section, but was awarded a $25 prize sponsored by Karl Hoblitzelle, a DMFA Board member. Townsend’s sculpture was the first work by a Black artist accepted to the Dallas Allied Arts exhibition. This was notable enough at the time that TIME magazine reported on Townsend and his sculpture in the April 4, 1938 issue.

“Art: Marie in Mud,” TIME, April 4, 1938

It should be stated that the eligibility rules in the exhibition prospectus did not limit entries by race and identification of race was not part of the information on the entry card required with each submission.

Entry Form for 9th Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition

An interesting side note, the other sculpture award at the 1938 Allied Arts Exhibition went to Harry Lee Gibson, the Dallas Art Institute instructor who helped Townsend with his “ears” problem.

As the mud sculpture would crumble as it dried, Gibson made a plaster cast of the bust for the Townsends. The plaster cast would go on to be displayed at the Paul Laurence Dunbar branch of the Dallas Public Library.

The Dallas Morning News featured an image of Marie Townsend in its March 6, 1938 issue.

1938 continued to be a successful year for Townsend’s sculptures. His Self Portrait, a second mud sculpture, was selected for the juried Texas Section of the Golden Jubilee Exhibition for the 1938 State Fair of Texas. In her review of the DMFA State Fair exhibition, the Dallas Morning News’ Elisabeth Crocker calls Self Portrait “…amazing…” and goes on to describe the sculpture as an “…even more sensitively executed, life-size bust of himself” discounting any who thought his Allied Arts prize-winning Marie Townsend was a “flash in the pan.”

The Texas Section of the 1939 State Fair Art Exhibition was an invitational exhibition and Townsend was invited to submit a piece due to his selection for the 1938 Allied Arts exhibition. He submitted a sculpture titled Dog, that Crocker described as a “cunning dog’s head,” in her review of the show.

“Head of Dog,” Dallas Morning News, October 8, 1939

Townsend was awarded his second Allied Arts sculpture section win, a $25 prize sponsored by the Rush Company, for Girl Friend at the 12th Annual Allied Arts Exhibition in 1941.

The artist does not appear in any of the DMFA’s juried exhibitions after the early 1940s. The current location of the works mentioned here, or any other of his artworks is unknown. If you have any information on Townsend or his body of work, please let us know.

Thanks to former McDermott Intern Melinda Narro whose extensive research brought Thurmond Townsend’s story to our attention. Thanks also to Communications staff Jill Bernstein and Lillian Michel for additional research.

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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