Archive for the 'DFW' Category

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.

Reflections with Chris Schanck

Ahead of Chris Schanck’s first major museum presentation, Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck, we asked the artist a few questions about his formative years in Dallas, his artistic practice, and what he hopes visitors will reflect on when experiencing the exhibition. Read what he had to say and see Curbed Vanity, on view February 7 through August 29, 2021.

How was your high school experience at Booker T. formative for you as an artist?

“Good morning and welcome to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the most unique school in Dallas”—that’s how our principal, Dr. Watkins, addressed the student body over the PA system every morning; I can still hear the optimism in his voice. For a student like me, who often managed to find trouble, I am thankful for the patience and persistence that Dr. Watkins gave me—each day was a new day, a new chance. He gave me enough room to be creative and make mistakes, but he also helped me stay on the path.

Booker T. was the most critical educational experience of my life. My teachers offered me a sanctuary of stability and mentorship. Nancy Miller, Patsy Eldridge, Polly Disky, George Mosely, Charlotte Chambliss, Lolly Thompkins, Josephine Jones, and Sylvia Lincoln together gave me a strong fine arts foundation. 

My painting teacher, George Moseley, changed my life forever. Mr. Moseley is a great artist, an inspiring educator, and a trusted mentor. I, along with many of my peers, idealized him for the leadership he showed us in our youth. I know without a doubt that my life and career are forever indebted to him and those handful of teachers who helped me find the confidence to believe in myself.

What does having this show at the Dallas Museum of Art mean to you?

My high school was just down the street from the DMA and I visited countless times in those impressionable years. The Museum always had the familiar feeling of visiting a friend’s home; I felt welcomed and I knew my way around. At the same time, the DMA was my temple. It didn’t matter who I was in the Museum—everyone is equal before art.

The Museum was my gateway to art history. In one afternoon, I could visit with Aztec gods, Jackson Pollock, and Frida Kahlo—and I could start to see the connections and conversations between them all. I didn’t have a lot growing up, but the Museum and my high school gave me exactly what I needed. They showed me from a young age that art gives everything else meaning.

I’m grateful for the support of the Museum and the friends of the Museum. The DMA’s collection is the closest collection to my heart and to be a part of it is the greatest honor.

How does the transformation process of found objects into furniture inspire your artistic practice?

The found objects I work with have very disparate characteristics and I don’t have one specific method for grouping them. For each piece of work, I first build a simple structure and use that as an armature to explore the relationships between the objects and the material. The process of transforming the objects into form is driven by intuition and practical constraints. Many times, I’m following a hunch that two distinct things belong together, while other times I’m exploring rigid dimensional constraints between manufactured generic objects whose original intent is a mystery.

It feels like a collaborative effort between myself and the material—I have a notion of where to begin but the objects bring the project into focus.

William C. Codman, Martelé dressing table and stool, 1899, silver, glass, fabric, and ivory, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Dr. Charles L. Venable, 2000.356.a–b.McD

What was your first encounter with the DMA’s Martelé dressing table like?

Like encountering the sword Excalibur; its presence is magical in form and reflectivity—it’s a formidable piece of work to talk to.

What experience do you want visitors to take away from Curbed Vanity?

I’d like them to know that I find my corner of the world inspiring and beautiful in it’s everyday characteristics. I hope the work inspires viewers to enjoy the subtle and unconventional beauty in their own communities.

Connections Across Collections: Gratitude

With more than 25,000 objects, the DMA’s encyclopedic collection is a treasured source of inspiration. Our curators selected works from across collections to express sentiments of gratitude—read their picks below!

Deborah Roberts, When you see me, 2019, mixed media and collage on canvas, Dallas Museum of art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.20, © Deborah Roberts. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. 

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art 
“I am thankful for the contributions of Texas artists to our collection. One of my favorite recent acquisitions is by Austin-based Deborah Roberts, whose When you see me is a work of heartbreaking beauty that elicits an honest reckoning from the viewer.” 

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1846-1847, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Art Museum League Fund, 1973.5

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art 
“Hicks’s allegory centered around themes of peace and unity resonates at this moment when we at the DMA yearn for companionship and understanding. Hicks’s painting is an ideal and historic model for the possibility of peaceful coexistence and of gratitude for the blessings of community.” 

Ex-voto Dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, 1886, Mexico, oil on tin, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Foundation, 1961.84

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art 
“C. Nicolaz Moralez fell from a tree on October 7, 1886. Carried home in a blanket, he prayed to Saint Martin. After his recovery, he commissioned this small ex-voto to offer his thanks to the saint for healing him.” 

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 

Vivian Crockett, The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art 
“I’m grateful for recent acquisitions that not only highlight the strength of the artists in question, but also make possible meaning dialogues with existing works in the collection. Lorna Simpson’s Blue Turned Temporal (2019) exemplifies her lifelong commitment to interrogating supposedly universalist frameworks and in turn, enriches our understanding of Frederic Edwin Church’s The Icebergs (1861), a beloved work in the DMA’s collection.” 

Qur’an, Damascus, Syria, 1340, ink, gold and colors on paper (modern binding), Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.578, fol.217v. 

Dr. Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman & Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic & Medieval Art 
“A well-known verse in the Qur’an tells us that the expression of gratitude is for the benefit of one’s own soul (Q 31:12). It can be read in the third and fourth lines of this page from a manuscript on view in the Keir Collection gallery.” 

Kazuo Shiraga, Imayo Ranbu (Modern Dance), 2000, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2013.21, ©︎ The Estate of Kazuo Shiraga 

Dr. Vivian Li, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art 
“The bright, explosive colors of Imayo Ranbu evokes the vigorous energy and movements of the artist in creating this foot painting. The title’s reference to the festive dance (ranbu) of the Heian period (794-1185) in Japan further conveys a mood of celebration and joy.” 

Louis Anquetin, Woman at Her Toilette, 1889, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 2020.3.FA 

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art
“I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of Dallas’s own Foundation for the Arts. Through its dedication and sustained support, we are able to add masterpieces to the DMA’s galleries, such as Louis Anquetin’s Woman at Her Toilette. This exquisite recent acquisition by an artist in Van Gogh’s circle debuts in the European galleries this month.” 

Artist once known, Chancay, doll, 1000–1460, cotton and camelid fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, the Nora and John Wise Collection, bequest of John Wise, 1983.W.2181 
Artist once known, Wari (Huari), tunic with profile heads and step frets, 850–950 CE, cotton and camelid fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Carol Robbins’ 40th anniversary with the Dallas Museum of Art, 2004.55.McD 
Artist once known, Maya, Tzutujil, spindle with white cotton, 1970, wood and cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams Collection of Guatemalan Textiles, 1982.274.A-B
Artist once known, Chimayo or Rio Grande, blanket, c. 1900–1920, cotton and wool, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of John Lunsford, 2003.51

Dr. Michelle Rich, Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas 
“Materials used to spin yarn and tools employed to produce cloth may vary across time and space, but weaving in the Americas is a rich tradition that is thousands of years old. Textiles are extremely fragile, and I am grateful the DMA has the opportunity to help preserve a wide range of works: from Andean dolls and tunics to Maya wooden weaving tools to Chimayo and Navajo blankets.” 

David Clarke, Family Matter, 2020, sterling silver, silverplate, pewter, common salt, paint, and sugar, Dallas Museum of Art, Silver Supper Fund, 2019.96 

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design 
“Comprised of heirloom silver contributed by DMA staff, patrons, and trustees, Family Matter embodies the meaning and memory instilled in treasured family objects. With this work, David Clarke created a unified vision of our extended communities reminding us that the past and present continue to be connected, often in new and unexpected ways.” 

Sword ornament in the form of a spider, Ghana, Asante peoples, late 19th century, gold-copper-silver alloy, Dallas Museum of Art, McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.26.1

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art 

“Thanks to the McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, the DMA was able to acquire a 19th century cast gold sword ornament in the form of a spider from Ghana. What I learned about it inspired an awesome exhibition, The Power of Gold, and brought Asante royalty to the Dallas.” 

On the Road: A Public Art Tour

Embark on a tour of the great ARTdoors! This summer, we compiled a list of public artworks around Dallas—from sculptures, to murals, to memorials—that you can see from the comfort of your car. By popular demand, we are pleased to present a second edition. Follow these maps to discover how artists have brought North Texas to life.

Dallas: Art Outdoors (Part Two)

Dallas: Art Outdoors (Part One)

Reopening Excitement!

Our recent reopening has stirred up great excitement, especially among DMA staff, who are thrilled to be able to welcome you back to your city’s museum! We asked a group of DMA curators to tell us what they are most excited about as the Dallas Museum of Art opens its doors. Read what they had to say.

Dr. Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art
One of the joys of working with the Keir Collection is making new discoveries—sitting down with a manuscript or picking up a work in ceramic always feels like an adventure. A scribal note or a design can speak quite directly across geography and time.

Tile, unknown artist, 15th century, red clay with painting in blue and turquoise on a white slip under a transparent glaze, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.893.1

Julien Domercq, The Lillian and James H. Clark Assistant Curator of European Art
I am thrilled to be able to see real works of art again, and for visitors to be able to enjoy them firsthand in the galleries. There’s just nothing like being able to lose yourself in looking closely at brushstrokes of paint.

Frans Hals, Portrait of Pieter Jacobsz. Olycan, 1629–30, oil on panel, Private Collection, Courtesy of David Koetser Gallery, Zurich

Dr. Vivian Li, The Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art
I love seeing once again Miguel Covarrubias’s Genesis, The Gift of Life, an iconic Museum landmark that has become woven into the fabric of Dallas. Countless families, friends, and young ladies in their spectacular quinceañera dresses have captured beautiful memories in front of it.

Miguel Covarrubias, Genesis, The Gift of Life, about 1954, tempera on cardboard laid on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Jorge Baldor, 2019.60

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art
I am excited to return to For a Dreamer of Houses, an exhibition that was installed but never opened to the public before August 14. The Rubber Pencil Devil installation has a three-hour video, so that’s where I hang out during breaks.

Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil, 2018, glass, aluminum, vinyl, velvet, neon, Plexiglas, folding chairs, monitors, high-res digital video, color, and sound, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.59. Photo by John Smith.

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art
Among the things I’ve missed most are seeing and hearing visitors’ excitement as they explore the galleries and linger in front of objects that speak to them. It’s great to see the Museum come back to life.

Plan your visit to enjoy all of these wonderful art experiences and more! Reserve your timed tickets here. We can’t wait to see you back at the Museum!

Making the Mural: Behind the Scenes of “Landscape of a Lifetime”

In fall 2019, Sandra Cinto’s large-scale mural Landscape of a Lifetime was brought to life in the Museum’s Concourse by the artist, along with the help of some DMA staff and a team of artist assistants from around Dallas. The team spent roughly three weeks working on the 153-foot mural, which features 24 shades of blue shifting from night to day, intricate pen drawings of celestial elements such as stars and clouds, and low-level audio of crashing waves, rustling leaves, birds, and crickets.

Sandra Cinto and team working on the mural

To coincide with the recent launch of our virtual tour of the mural, we reached out to some of the participants who helped bring this work of art together and asked them to reflect on their experience. Here’s what they had to say:

“Learning Sandra’s simple drawing vocabulary of dots and lines, which we deployed in the cavernous Concourse in the form of stars, bridges, mountains, and clouds, created a link to an ancient human past of painting cave walls, tombs, temples, canyons, and shelters with an extended family that speaks a common language of art.” —Tino Ward

Sandra Cinto: Landscape of a Lifetime at the Dallas Museum of Art
Cinto working with an artist assistant

“Being an artist is a selfish pursuit. Even when it comes to a mural, helpers are treated as a necessary evil, paycheck players brought in to meet a deadline. Sandra Cinto is a magical exception to that rule. Her mural, Landscape of a Lifetime, allowed us lucky few to feel truly invested as this piece took shape, while Sandra deftly handled the key elements. Rather than keeping us at arm’s length, she built a nest in the clouds and drew us in. I was given the job of drawing stars. Up close, they seemed tedious and mundane, but when taken in from a distance, they shimmer—not unlike Sandra herself. I had the privilege of being part of a project that was communal in the best sense of the word—an enterprise of the spirit. Thank you, Sandra.” —Russell Sublette

“Working on Landscape of a Lifetime was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The opportunity to learn from such a successful artist was an honor. I made many meaningful connections that I am eternally grateful for.” —Meena Valentine

Meena Valentine contributing to the mural

“Sandra Cinto firmly believes that everyone can draw. The elements that you see throughout the mural are composed of simple marks—the stars are lines radiating from a center point, the mountains quick penstrokes—but with many people drawing, they come together in a multitude to form a harmonious whole. That is another component of Sandra’s philosophy: communities of people can be an incredible source of love, care, and creative potential.” —Hilde Nelson

Hilde Nelson drawing delicate penstrokes
Cinto warmly giving an artist assistant a hug

Connections Across Collections: C3 Visiting Artists

The DMA’s C3 Visiting Artist Project offers opportunities for North Texas–based artists to create an interactive installation and facilitate programming around a theme related to the works in the C3 Gallery. Over the years, the project has showcased the talents of artists from many backgrounds and with various creative approaches and missions. We asked five former C3 Visiting Artists to respond to works in the DMA’s collection that resonate with them. Here’s what they had to say:

xtine burrough & Sabrina Starnaman 
Former C3 Visiting Artists, October–December 2017
Find out about their work through their project page and get to know them through their DMA interview.

Eyedazzler textile, Arizona, Navajo (Diné), 1880–90, wool with indigo and aniline dyes, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, anonymous gift, 2016.19.2.FA
 

Why they chose this work: Our artistic practice investigates the importance of work, especially work by women not credited to the maker. Women are the weavers in many cultures. The Navajo culture’s creation myth tells of Spider Woman, who taught people how to construct looms from the elements: sky, earth, sun, lightning, and crystals. We selected the eyedazzler textile to celebrate women’s work in textile technologies. 

Timothy Harding 
Former C3 Visiting Artist, JanuaryApril 2018
Find out about his work through his project page and get to know him through his DMA interview.

Charles Demuth, Buildings, 1930–31, tempera and plumbago on composition board, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase Fund, Deaccession Funds/City of Dallas (by exchange) in honor of Dr. Steven A. Nash, 1988.21

Why he chose this work: I first encountered the work of Charles Demuth during my undergraduate studies in painting. Seeing how he rendered architectural subject matter with collapsed space and reduced elements helped me think differently about working through problems of paint and form.

Lisa Huffaker 
Former C3 Visiting Artist, JulySeptember 2017 
Find out about her work through her project page and get to know her through her DMA interview.

David McManaway, Jomo/Jomo #14, 1992, mixed media, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas Artists Fund, 1992.523

Why she chose this work: David McManaway’s Jomo/Jomo #14 houses talismanic objects in a shrine-like Wunderkammer that resonates with exponential, not just additive, significance. Likewise, I aspire to exceed the “sum of parts” as I bring fragments of the world into my art and writing.

Lauren Cross 
Former C3 Visiting Artist, September–December 2018
Find out about her work through her project page and get to know her through her DMA interview.

Annette Lawrence, Anna Cooper Lawrence, 1997, acrylic on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bryant M. Hanley, Jr., 1998.76, © Annette Lawrence

Why she chose this work: When I was first introduced to the work of Annette Lawrence, I saw so much of the work that I do reflected: the use of brown paper and the connection to personal narrative. Her work Anna Cooper Lawrence is not only related in its use of material but also in her use of family history, a key element in my own practice. My work at the DMA, Assembly, embodies all these qualities with visitors in its use of brown paper and its connection to the familiar among us. 

A Journey Through the Design of “My|gration”

What items would you take with you if you had a few hours to prepare for a weeklong trip? If you’re like me, you might drag your suitcase down from the storage shelf in the garage and lay out a few outfit options with a pair of good walking shoes, the necessary toiletries, phone charger, and books. But let’s imagine for a moment that we didn’t have a few hours to prepare, and our weeklong trip was actually a permanent move. What items would you choose if you were leaving your home forever and you could only take what you could carry? What if your move wasn’t your decision, and it was forced upon you? Or maybe your move was your decision and you are hoping for a better life with more opportunities?

This is the heartbeat of the exhibition My|gration, which is a play on words describing the personal journey of migration experienced by our community and by artists throughout history. As a graphic designer at the Museum, I was very excited to have the opportunity to take the lead in designing the environmental graphics for this exhibition. Working closely with the Interpretation, Education, and Exhibition teams, we wanted to create an exhibition that encouraged the visitor to experience the world from another person’s perspective, and in particular how life and art are affected by immigration or displacement.

As we started designing, we thought about the natural journey of the earth as it travels around the sun, bringing us day and night, dusk and dawn. We mirrored that with the idea that many people take similar journeys throughout their lives, with periods of light and dark, clarity and ambiguity. These thoughts informed our earthy and atmospheric color palette.

I started to create graphic elements that would help tie this metaphorical journey with the physical journey of movement and migration. I illustrated a compass rose that represented the many directions life could take us, both
emotionally and physically. We used suitcases and luggage tags to suggest the idea of items you might journey with. Then I started working with an illustrated map of Dallas, zooming in and making it the color of earth—a rusty, warm bronze. I laid it out at the bottom of the entry walls with a sunset gradient fading into a starry night sky.

As a focal point of the exhibition, DMA Head of Interpretation Dr. Emily Schiller provided facts about Dallas’s immigrant population to highlight the diversity in our own community. I used the illustrated map of Dallas here as well in this bilingual infographic.

The exhibition space was organized into sections featuring artwork that fell into three categories: Arrivals (artists who immigrated to the US), Departures (artists who emigrated from the US), and In Transit (art reflecting our connected world). For these section headers, I designed circular blade signs that mimicked ones you might see on the road or at a train station while traveling.

The circle used for the blade signs repeats itself throughout the graphics in the space. I used it frequently to suggest multiple meanings: (1) the rose compass, (2) the “you are here” icon on a map, and (3) the metaphorical idea that circles are continuous, much like the personal journeys of our lives.

Brittany Lowe is a graphic designer at the DMA.

Black Birders on What Humans Can Learn from Birds

Summer is a popular time for birding. Binoculars optional—all you really need to do is look and listen and you’ll see that birds are everywhere: working, singing, crafting. However, some birders know that they have to consider their own safety and security while viewing birds, not because of the dangers of wildlife but because of racism. With the recent viral video of the false police report made by a white woman against an African American man birding in Central Park, birding has become part of the national dialogue around race. Within 48 hours of the birder’s video post, which took place on the same day that George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, an enterprising group of nature enthusiasts, ecologists, and science educators joined forces to create the first ever Black Birders Week to bring awareness to issues of race and the outdoors. I spoke to three organizers of the group about the video, birds, art, and more.

From left: Nicole Jackson, Kassandra Ford, Ashley Gary

Nicole Jackson, Program Coordinator at The Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, told me that such incidents of racism directed at Black birders and outdoor enthusiasts “is something that happens more often than people realize.” Kassandra Ford, a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, echoed this, saying, “I wish I could say I was surprised by [the video], but I wasn’t at all.” Ashley Gary, a freelance Science Communicator also known as The Wildlife Host, remarked, “It is exhausting to be a Black person because there are so many things you have to worry about.”

Although Black Birders Week was formed to address racial inequities, its aim is also to highlight the positive impacts of African Americans in birding, environmental work, and the STEM fields. I decided to ask these three founding members of Black Birders Week to weigh in on some works in the DMA’s collection depicting birds, since birds’ relationship to human society is nothing new, and in fact goes back millennia.

Pendant: bird-man, Tairona, 1200–1500, Tumbaga, Dallas Museum of Art, the Nora and John Wise Collection, bequest of Nora Wise, 1989.W.474

The first piece, a bird-man gold pendant, would have been worn around the neck by elite men in what is present-day Colombia. The piece may reflect the Tairona belief that religious leaders could temporarily leave their human form to embody animals and gain knowledge from them. This pendant shows a bird of prey in somewhat of a dual human-animal form as the bird wears earrings and perhaps a garment. I asked Kassandra for her insights on birds of prey. “Birds are just,” Kassandra then paused, “excuse my language—but they’re badass. They’re intense, they’re ferocious, especially birds of prey. They have an aura of pride and power in the way that they hold themselves, in the way that they dive-bomb prey. That kind of attitude is like a warrior.” Indeed the piece may very well have been worn with that same aplomb.

Dance headdress, Igbo peoples, mid-20th century, wood, paint, metal, and fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1975.27.McD

This dance headdress by an artist of the Igbo of present-day southeastern Nigeria would have been worn in dynamic display during a masquerade. The carving depicts a seat for the spirits, of which the birds may be indicative as messengers to the spirit world. Ashley found the bird figures in this piece to be observing the activity from all angles, suggesting omniscience. She compared it to Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous Raven, who silently watches and knows all, as the poem goes: “the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core.”

Double-spout strap-handle vessel depicting a falcon, Paracas, 500–400 BCE, ceramic and resin-suspended paint,
Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison, 1976.W.85

The double-spout vessel depicting a falcon is a funerary object from Peru’s Paracas peninsula. Many two-spouted vessels were musical devices that whistled when poured. Bird imagery is common in Paracas art, and music was also a crucial element of life, including in burial rituals, festivals, and ceremonial communications with ancestors. Since birds are among the most magisterial song makers in the animal kingdom, it seems fitting that a culture highly valuing music would also esteem an animal known for impressive sounds.

Bird calls play a major role in how birders learn to locate and learn about a bird’s life. Ashley noted that birds have the unique ability to sing two notes at once, since birds produce sounds from an organ called the syrinx, a two-sided voice box in their chest. According to author David Sibley, birds sing to communicate and mark territory. They can read their audience too, as they sing differently to mates than to rivals, and some species have over 200 songs in their repertoire. To find out more about bird behaviors, tune in to our Arts & Letters Live event with David Sibley, available now through July 28.

All three birders we interviewed spoke of the meditative aspect of birding, how it quiets the mind and fuels the spirit. The vast array of artistic depictions of birds, Nicole speculated, may reflect the dichotomy between the ubiquity of birds in our lives and their simultaneous mystery. “Birds are everywhere,” Nicole observed, “but there’s the dynamic that we don’t know everything about them. It’ll be a lifetime before you’re close to knowing everything about birds.” In a time when many people are aiming for social change, Nicole’s final observation struck me as a potent lesson to learn from the only surviving dinosaurs: “Birds are very resilient and very adaptable.” The intersection of nature and society also struck a note for me in one of Kassandra’s effusions about the pleasures of birding: “Birds can be unapologetically themselves without worrying about being judged.  We as humans can learn from them.”

Dr. Carolee Klimchock is a Program Manager for Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.

Break Bread, Break Borders: A Recipe and Reflection

We reached out to Break Bread, Break Borders, one of our community partners for the My|gration exhibition, and invited them to share a favorite recipe from their kitchen, as well as provide some background on their organization. Follow these steps to learn how to make a Syrian-style chicken kabsa dish, and find out more about this local nonprofit that “caters with a cause” in their message below.

Chicken Kabsa: Syrian Style (feeds 4 people)

Syrian Style Chicken Kabsa

Ingredients:

  1. 2 cups basmati rice
  2. 1 whole chicken cut into pieces or 4 thighs
  3. 1 medium size onion
  4. 5 pieces of minced garlic
  5. 1 green pepper
  6. 2 green chili peppers
  7. 1 cup grated carrots
  8. 1 cup tomato sauce
  9. Handful of raisins (can skip)
  10. Nuts (almonds) for decoration (can skip)

Spices and herbs:

  1. Salt
  2. Black pepper
  3. Juice of 1 lime
  4. 2 cinnamon sticks
  5. 2 bay leaves
  6. 3 cloves
  7. 5 cardamom pods
  8. 1 teaspoon of “7 Spices” mix
  9. 1 teaspoon kabsa spice mix
  10. 1 teaspoon ground ginger powder
  11. Parsley for garnish (optional)
BBBB Community Cooks Khuloud Sultan (image left), and Rania Alahmad (image right)

Preparation:

  1. Chop onions and pepper finely
  2. Add oil in pot
  3. Add onions first; when it turns a bit brown, add garlic
  4. Add the rest of the veggies and mix
  5. Add tomato sauce
  6. Add salt and all spices
  7. Lower heat and let it cook for about 5 minutes
  8. Add washed chicken pieces to the mix
  9. Mix for a little bit and then add water until chicken is covered
  10. Let it cook and boil until chicken is fully cooked
  11. Wash rice very well
  12. Put rice in a pot; add the chicken stock to the rice (for every cup of rice, add a cup and a half of the chicken stock)
  13. Let it boil and then lower heat under it
  14. Add some raisins to the rice 7-10 min before it’s fully cooked
  15. Don’t mix the raisins, only cover the rice and let it cook
  16. Bake chicken in the oven at 275 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown
  17. Roast nuts in pan until golden brown
  18. Before serving the rice, mix it lightly with a bit of ghee
  19. Serve rice in serving tray and add the chicken, nuts and minced parsley on top
  20. Enjoy!

BBBB Community Cook Rania Alahmad, serving her father’s recipe of Chicken Kabsa

June was first declared World Refugee Awareness Month in 2001. Since then, June has been a time to acknowledge the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees who live around the globe. By definition, a refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters. These are the heroic journeys that inspired the show My|gration at the DMA, and our organization, Break Bread, Break Borders, is honored to be a participant in this community project.

Based in Dallas, Texas, Break Bread, Break Borders (BBBB) is a “catering with a cause” social enterprise, economically empowering women from war-torn countries by teaching them how to earn a living by honing their cooking and entrepreneurial skills. Professional chefs, restaurants, caterers, and culinary consultants mentor refugee women apprentices, who earn food service industry licenses and certifications. BBBB’s women also learn to share their powerful stories with diners, creating a unique cultural exchange.

Jin-Ya Huang founded Break Bread, Break Borders in 2017 to honor the legacy of her late mother—chef, restaurateur, and community leader Margaret Huang. Through food, culture, and powerful storytelling, we break bread with the community, breaking down borders at the same time.

BBBB has served more than 10,000 people, catering events for clients including the City of Dallas, Texas Women’s Foundation, George W. Bush Institute, Texas Lyceum, Toyota of North America, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Social Venture Partners-Dallas, and many more. We have been named among Dallas’s Top 50 Most Innovative Social Enterprises by Dallas Innovates. BBBB is part of a cohort of social enterprises at The Hunt Institute at Southern Methodist University. Airbnb International has featured BBBB as a social impact experience partner. Our founder Jin-Ya Huang was selected as a 2019 Food Leader of the Year by Slow Food USA. In 2020 Huang was selected for the prestigious Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, allowing her the chance to work with former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on community projects to create lasting social change.

Standing on the side of freedom, Break Bread, Break Borders proudly educates on the ideas of equity, anti-racism, and eradication of xenophobia. One bite at a time, we will continue to share the taste of hope, compassion, and transformation to the world. Enclosed here is a recipe from one of our BBBB Community Cooks, Rania Alahmad. Please enjoy her Chicken Kabsa Syrian Style with your families, neighbors, and loved ones. Happy cooking, y’all!

Jin-Ya Huang is the founder of Break Bread, Break Borders, a social enterprise developing a culinary training program to help refugee women from war-torn countries find food service job opportunities by sharing their storytelling through food and culture. She is a member of Orchid Giving Circle and a fellow of the 2020/21 Presidential Leadership Scholars Program.


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