Posts Tagged 'Dallas Museum of Art'

Hitting Close to Home

As the closing date for the exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses approaches, I can’t help but reflect on how timely, vibrant, and meaningful the show has been to those who have experienced it. The exhibition was originally set to open in March 2020, an opening that was never realized due to the pandemic. The timing was poignant and somewhat surreal—here we have a show about the significance of one’s home coming to fruition during a time of socially distanced shutdown, when all of us were becoming significantly more familiar with the spaces we inhabit. During that time, we launched a virtual tour of the exhibition, which allowed audiences from near and far to explore the contents of the show and think about how they relate to our present experiences, how our spaces reflect ourselves, and what our spaces and the everyday objects within them mean to us. The themes hit close to home, so to speak.

The exhibition finally opened in person along with the rest of the DMA in August 2020. We welcomed you home to your city’s museum—home to this special exhibition of contemporary art—after all of us spent months in our own homes. With fresh perspectives, you, our visitors, made magic happen as you ventured out and became part of the art. Here’s a look back at what you experienced.

The colorful energy of Alex Da Corte’s unmissable Rubber Pencil Devil:

The whimsy of the Drawers, Chests, and Wardrobes section, featuring works by Olivia Erlanger, Robert Pruitt, and Sarah Lucas:

The awe-inspiring immersion of Francisco Moreno’s Chapel:

The intimate materials of Janine Antoni’s Grope:

The delicate beauty of Do Ho Suh’s Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea:

. . . and much more.

There’s still a bit of time left for you to visit For a Dreamer of Houses before the exhibition closes on July 4, 2021. Be sure to book your visit soon and make yourself at home.

Hayley Caldwell is the Social Media and Content Manager at the DMA.

Connections Across Collections: Fatherhood

With Father’s Day just around the corner, we asked DMA staff to highlight their favorite works across our collections that connect to the art of fatherhood. See what they selected, and celebrate your own father or father figure with a visit to the DMA on June 20!

Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art

One of the things I love most about this grand self-portrait by Carpentier is that it celebrates his role as a father and husband as much as it does his profession as painter. By tightly grouping the figures, the women’s arms lovingly intertwined, Carpentier places familial love and support at the center of his studio practice.

Listen to Laura Eva Hartman, Paintings Conservator at the DMA, discuss this painting here.

Paul Claude-Michel Carpentier, Self-Portrait with Family in the Artist’s Studio, 1833, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 2014.38.FA

Stacey Lizotte, DMA League Director of Adult Programs

Julian Onderdonk was one of the greatest early Texas artists known for his paintings of bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas. Julian was originally trained by his father, Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, an artist and art teacher in San Antonio and Dallas who was known as the “Dean of Texas’s Artists” for his contributions to the arts in Texas.

Julian Onderdonk, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets), 1918–1920, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Margaret M. Ferris, 1990.153

Mark Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art

In the Americas, Saint Joseph is depicted as youthful and strong, often carrying the child Christ in his arms, like in this New Mexican bulto currently on view in Devoted: Art and Spirituality in Mexico and New Mexico. This reinforced his role as Christ’s earthly father and the protector of the Holy Family.

José Benito Ortega, Saint Joseph, Late 19th–Early 20th century, wood, gesso, and paint, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, 1961.51.A-C

Leah Hanson, Director of Family, Youth, and School Programs

This might seem an unusual choice to celebrate fathers, but what you can’t see behind the scenes is a father who supported his daughter in becoming an artist. This love even extended to a menagerie of animals he brought to the family studio for Rosa to study and paint!

Rosa Bonheur, A Sheep at Rest, second half of the 19th century, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Alessandra Comini in honor of Charlotte Whaley, 2018.44

Martha MacLeod, Senior Curatorial Administrator and Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts/Design, Latin American Art, and American Art

Chase was one of America’s leading painters and teachers. He completed about a dozen portraits of his daughter Dieudonnée. Here she is in her early teens. Also, one of her father’s students, she was an accomplished still life and landscape painter.

William Merritt Chase, Dieudonnée, c. 1899, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1922.2

Printmaking: A Process

Modern technology makes creating multiples easy. With a click of a button, we can print full-color images and entire articles of text in seconds. Making copies wasn’t always so quick and simple—entire books were scribed by hand, and artists and their studios would labor over multiple versions of a painting or sculpture for their clientele.

Today’s electronic printers can trace their origins to the early printmaking innovators in East Asia. In China, engraved blocks of wood were used to create copies of written text as early as the 8th century. Korean printmakers took woodblock printing a step further by creating the earliest form of metal movable type in the early 13th century, nearly two centuries before Gutenberg brought movable type to Europe.

While printmaking facilitated a wider distribution of text and knowledge, how did it impact artwork and images? Innovations in the 17th century gave artists the ability to create multicolored prints on a single sheet. Engravers would create multiple carved blocks for a design, with each block carrying a different color. Previously, an outline had been printed in one color, and artists would hand paint in the rest of the design.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Hara: Mount Fuji in the Morning, 1834, woodblock print, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, 1984.202.14

The addition of multiple blocks in the printing process meant that artists and publishers could speed up production, to the great benefit of everyday people. In Japan, Utagawa Hiroshige produced a series of 53 prints representing the stops along the Tokaido Road, which linked Edo and Tokyo. Hiroshige’s series was extremely popular; it was printed thousands of times and sold as a souvenir or keepsake for display in homes, indicating that prints were priced cheaply enough to make them accessible to travelers for purchase.

After spending time with Japanese woodblock prints, it’s easy to understand their popularity. In Hiroshige’s Tokaido Road series, as well as later works created by Hiroshi Yoshida, prints transport the viewer to new places and captured with spectacular detail and color how people interacted with their environments .

Hiroshi Yoshida, A Glimpse of Ueno Park, 1935, polychrome woodblock print, Dallas Museum of Art, the Abram C. Joseph and Ruth F. Ring Collection, gift of Miss Ruth F. Ring, 1985.44

Curious about what it takes to make a print? While woodblock printing does require some special equipment, you can get a taste of the process using everyday materials you might already have at home. Here’s what you need:

  • 1–2 flat sheets of styrofoam, cut from a take-out container or paper plate 
  • Scissors or exacto knife  
  • Flat paintbrush 
  • Watercolor or acrylic paint 
  • Cup of water 
  • Rag or small towel  
  • A large metal spoon  
  • Watercolor paper 

1. Cut a design out of the styrofoam sheet using a pair of scissors or an exacto knife. The styrofoam will act as a stamp that will carry the color to the paper.  

2. Using paint and paintbrush, apply a thin layer of color to the styrofoam. It’s helpful to thin the paint down slightly with water so the layer is even.  

3. With the rag, dampen the watercolor paper slightly. This will help the paper receive the color from the paint.  

4. Place your styrofoam sheet paint-side down onto the watercolor paper, like a stamp. Use the metal spoon to press down on the paper.  

5. Gently peel the styrofoam away from the paper to reveal your design.  

6. Wipe off the leftover paint from the styrofoam and reapply color to print another edition of your print! Each print will look different, but that’s also a part of the process that’s lost when we turn over the work to machines. When something is handmade, there will always be a degree of human error that reveals the presence of an artist behind the artwork.  

Jessica Thompson-Castillo is the Manager of Teen Programs at the DMA.

Japanese Printmaking Family Visits the DMFA

Fujio, Hodaka, and Chizuko Yoshida

For three generations, the Yoshida family has produced woodblock print artists integral to major 20th-century Japanese print movements. Fujio, Hodaka, and Chizuko Yoshida arrived in Dallas on April 25, 1957. Hodaka; his wife, Chizuko; and his mother, Fujio, represent two generations of the Yoshida family of artists and printmakers active from the 19th century to the present. The trio’s Dallas engagement included lecture demonstrations of woodblock printmaking at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Club of McKinney, the Fort Worth Art Center, and TSCW in Denton.

A small exhibition of 30 prints by the Yoshida family were also on view and for sale during their visit. In the top right of the photo, you can see one of Hodaka Yoshida’s prints that was acquired by the DMFA from the exhibition.

Hodaka Yoshida, Ancient People B, 1956, woodcut, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1957.17

Hodaka Yoshida’s work was completely abstract. He first worked in oils but didn’t start making prints until 1950, though he was steeped in the technique since he was a child. He carved his own blocks and printed his own works from the beginning. Hodaka’s focus on abstraction was a great departure from the style of his father, Hiroshi, a prominent figure in modern Japanese prints who is well known for his landscapes. The DMA’s collection includes 64 prints by Hiroshi Yoshida.

Photo from Dallas Morning News article

The Dallas Morning News article on the trio’s Dallas engagement describes Hodaka (1926-1995) as teaching at the University of Oregon, having previously taught at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Hawaii. Though not noted in the article, Fujio and Chizuko were also accomplished artists and printmakers.

Fujio (1887–1987) was the first female artist in the Yoshida family. Like many of the artists in the family, she began in watercolors and oils, exhibiting with her husband, Hiroshi, on their travels to the United States in the early 20th century. After her husband died, she became more influenced by Hodaka’s abstract art and was creating woodblock prints of abstract flowers by 1953.

Chizuko (1924–2017) began studying art at a young age. She met Hodaka through the Taiheyio artist group and shifted away from painting to printmaking after they were married. World travels with Hodaka and Fujio provided inspiration for her prints, which ranged from geometric abstraction to natural forms.

Toshi Yoshida, Shinjuku, date unknown, polychrome woodblock print, Dallas Museum of Art, the Abram C. Joseph and Ruth F. Ring Collection, gift of Miss Ruth F. Ring, 1985.86; Toshi Yoshida, Ishiyama Temple, date unknown, polychrome woodblock print, Dallas Museum of Art, the Abram C. Joseph and Ruth F. Ring Collection, gift of Miss Ruth F. Ring, 1985.87

Hodaka, Chizuko, and Fujio’s visit wasn’t the first introduction Dallas audiences had to the Yoshida family. Hodaka’s older brother Toshi also lectured on woodblock print techniques four years earlier, in 1953. During this trip to the United States, Mexico, London, and the Near East, Toshi gave lectures at 30 museums and galleries in 18 states. 

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the DMA.

“Slip Zone”: East Asian Artist Spotlights

The upcoming fall exhibition Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia looks to tell an expansive story of abstract art after 1945. Highlighting the work of artists working in places such as Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, Tokyo, and beyond, Slip Zone seeks to help visitors understand how artists in various global centers revolutionized new forms, materials, and techniques in the decades following World War II.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s especially important that we bring attention to the impressive selection of works by East Asian artists featured in this exhibition. Artists such as Jiro Yoshihara, leader of the Gutai group (the first radical Japanese postwar art collective, founded in 1954 in Osaka), and Lee Ufan, leader of Mono-ha (a movement that emerged in Tokyo and included artists who experimented with natural and raw materials in response to the ruthless industrialization in 1960s Japan), made their mark by pushing artistic boundaries in both their process and presentation, which also resonated with prominent abstract art practices happening around the world. Many of these artists have had their names recognized only at the margins of postwar Euro-American art historical discourse today; however, it was important in the planning of Slip Zone that they are centered in the postwar discourse.

Lee Ufan, Relatum, 1968/1969/2011, steel, glass, and stone, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2012.20.4.a–c, © Lee Ufan

Jiro Yoshihara’s position as one of the lead artists in the Gutai group was undoubtedly informed by the meticulous nature of his practice as a painter. In Yoshihara’s Work, which will be featured prominently at the beginning of the exhibition, the artist laboriously coats multiple layers of red and blue oil paint to create the ensō, a calligraphic circular form synonymous with Zen art and philosophy. Yoshihara’s filling of the negative space surrounding the ensō though subverts the symbol’s usual gestural immediacy. We see this contrasted in Sam Francis’s approach to negative space in his 1959 work Emblem, which will hang in the exhibition next to Yoshihara’s Work. Emblem was created soon after Francis’s first trip to Japan in 1957. Inspired by the Zen art principles that can be found in the work of the Gutai collective and other artists he was exposed to while living in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, Francis painted over colorful areas with white and incorporated white drips into his work, revealing the artist’s conscious shaping of negative space in his works.

Jiro Yoshihara, Work, 1965, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection
Sam Francis, Emblem, 1959, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, 1981.117, © Estate of Sam Francis / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This kind of transnational dialogue takes place throughout the exhibition to illustrate how the connections present in the exhibition are both formal and personal. Slip Zone presents a new and exciting take on modern abstraction that breaks down how artists were engaging with new materials, new approaches, and new techniques in similar ways and at similar times because of the personal dialogues and exchanges taking place between artists and artist communities around the world.

Ashleigh Smith is the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Connections Across Collections: Motherhood

Motherhood is an art! We’re celebrating Mother’s Day by spotlighting artworks and objects in our collection that illustrate the theme of motherly love and strength. Read below to find out about what our curators from different departments selected.

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas

Curator Michelle Rich selected this 100 BCE–250 CE ceramic sculpture made by the people of Jalisco. The object depicts the bond between a mother nursing her infant child.

Woman nursing child, 100 BCE–250 CE, Jalisco peoples, ceramic, paint, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, The Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Collection of Fertility Figures, 1982.387.FA

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art

In this drawing, Guillermo Meza draws a reddish line from the mother’s head and down her spine. The same color as the blanket that holds the child on her back, together they evoke the physical ties that bind mother and child together.

Guillermo Meza, Mother and Child, 1953, crayon and colored chalk, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard K. Weil, 1959.27

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art

Mary Cassatt is known for images of a mother and child that also recall Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. Typically, her models were neighbors rather than family. This is one of the last works she devoted to this theme.

Mary Cassatt, Sleepy Baby, c. 1910, pastel on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, Munger Fund, 1952.38.M

The Many Lives of a Still Life

When you walk past a painting in a museum, do you ever wonder what the back side looks like?

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, 1879–80, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.10
Back side of the frame of Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange

For curators and researchers, the verso, or B-side, of a painting can be a mine of information about its past life. Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, currently featured in the Reves Spotlight rotation gallery on the DMA’s third level, is a case in point: the back of the frame was once filled with stamps and labels applied over many years by the painting’s former owners and their shippers. Those historical records have subsequently been transferred to a backing board to guarantee their preservation and that of the precious information they carry. As a result, this backing board is now reminiscent of an avid traveler’s passport stamp page.

Backing board for Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange

In the top right, a rectangular piece of cardboard reads “about 1880-2 / Venturi” in faint handwritten pencil. This Italian art historian was the author of the first catalogue raisonné of Cézanne’s works, which is perhaps why his dating of this painting was carefully recorded.

Even before arriving in the US, Cézanne’s Still Life had traveled internationally. From Paris, where the artist likely sold it to a dealer, it entered a private collection in Amsterdam before returning to the French capital in the early 1920s, where it was acquired by Marius de Zaya, an artist and dealer based in New York City who offered it in his newly founded gallery among “drawings, paintings and sculptures of the very best artists of the modern movement.”[1] There, a founder of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Lillie P. Bliss, purchased it, and upon her death she bequeathed it to that institution, which eventually deaccessioned the work in 1944.

As recorded by two large labels on the left side of the panel, at MoMA the painting was known as The Water Can, based on the metal vessel at its center. In 1985 the enigmatic nature of that element was discussed in a letter exchange between then DMA director Steven Nash and Columbia University professor Theodore Reff, who concluded: “The picture is quite wonderful, charming, fresh, simple, almost naïve, and will grace your collections, regardless of the identity of the objects in it.”[2]

Shortly after Wendy and Emery Reves acquired it in 1955, the picture was referred to as simply Nature Morte (still life) or Nature Morte en bleu (still life in blue) in two French exhibitions that were likely the occasion in which the painting received the two transportation labels seen on the right side of the backing board. After entering the DMA’s collection in 1985, the painting’s current title was first formulated in 1998 and slightly revised in 2003 (the term “coffee” referring to the bowl was dropped) in an effort to describe the subject matter as accurately as possible. While we must agree with Reff that the charm of this picture remains unchanged no matter what we call it, by recording the painting’s previous titles and where it traveled, these labels have been essential to the work of art historians to reconstruct the history of the ownership, exhibition, criticism, and scholarship of this object over its 140-plus years of existence.

Stop by to see this work in the Reves Spotlight rotation gallery now through September 27 and admire more still lifes at the DMA in an exhibition focusing on the work of Cubist painter Juan Gris, an avid admirer of Paul Cézanne. In Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris, the labels and inscriptions on the back of Guitar and Pipe are on full display.

Gloria de Liberali is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art at the DMA.


[1] John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne. A Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 1:288.

[2] Their correspondence is preserved in the painting’s object file at the DMA.

The Life and Work of Kazuya Sakai

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re spotlighting a unique Latin American artist of Asian descent whose painting we are proud to welcome into the DMA’s collection this spring: Kazuya Sakai.

Kazuya Sakai (1927-2001) was an artist, as well as a translator, professor, magazine editor, critic, and jazz and new music expert. His impressive biography spans three continents. He was born in Buenos Aires and immigrated to Japan as a child, where he completed his formal education. As a young adult, he returned to Argentina and began a long career that would take him to New York City, Mexico City, Austin, San Antonio, and, finally, Dallas. 

Sakai was recognized among the leading Latin American abstract artists of his time, and his work often drew upon both contemporary trends and Japanese artistic traditions. The brushstrokes in early gestural paintings from his time in Argentina make allusions to Japanese calligraphy. The undulating bands seen in his colorful geometric paintings that he started in the 1970s in Mexico were partially inspired by the bold colors and striking patterns of 17th century Japanese Rinpa artist Ogata Kōrin. His Genroku series of works, created after he moved to Texas, was named after the culturally rich period of Japanese history from 1688 to 1704.

This September, the DMA presents Expressive Abstractions, an exhibition of works from our own collection that reexamines the history of abstract art during the mid-20th century, and the significant innovations of Black, East Asian, Latin American, and women artists. Sakai’s painting Integrales II (Edgard Varèse) (1979), acquired by the DMA this spring, will be featured in the exhibition.

Kazuya Sakai, Integrales II (Edgard Varèse), 1979, acrylic on canvas. Copyright Kazuya Sakai’s estate, courtesy of Galería Vasari, Buenos Aires
Kazuya Sakai, The University of Texas at Dallas Office of Communications Collections

Sakai is an important figure to include in this history of postwar abstraction, and even more so for us given his connections to Texas and Dallas. He was an influential figure in Argentina, which he represented at the São Paulo Biennial in 1961 and at the Venice Biennale in 1962. He also participated in the seminal DMA exhibition, South American Art Today, in 1959. After a short stint in New York, he lived for more than a decade in Mexico, where he was an acclaimed artist of geometric abstraction. But his time in the U.S. has not received quite as much attention, although he spent the final two decades of his life here in Texas. He was selected to be a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in 1976; in fall 1977 he became a visiting professor at UT San Antonio; and in 1980 he was hired as a permanent professor at UT Dallas, where he taught until he retired in 1997. In addition to mentoring countless students, Sakai had solo exhibitions at the Blanton Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum in the 1970s, as well as co-organized the show 12 Latin American Artists Today and its related influential symposium, “Speak Out! Charla! Bate-Papo!” at the Blanton.

South American Art Today, 1959, Dallas Museum of Art

The DMA is thrilled to have Kazuya Sakai represented in our collection. His rich artistic career is an excellent example of the layered stories about diasporas and international cultural exchange we strive to tell, and the multicultural histories we celebrate about our home city and its artists.

Dr. Vivian Li, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art
Lillian Michel, Media and Communications Specialist

Connections Across Collections: Art and Nature

We’re celebrating Earth Month with art from across our collections that connects to the natural world. Read below to find out about the artworks and objects our curators selected.

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art
In this landscape painted near Waxahachie, Florence McClung emphasizes the rounded forms of the earth, juxtaposing them against the vertical shocks of wheat. She investigates the geometry of the cultivated fields while also emphasizing the richness and bounty of nature.

Florence E. McClung, Squaw Creek Valley, 1937, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Florence E. McClung, 1985.12

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas
This Olmec tablet portrays the cosmos arranged in three dimensions. Three dots signify the place of creation and anchor a stepped mountain-pyramid to the earthly realm. Above this, a World Tree reaches to a scaffold structure marked by “crossed bands” associated with the sky.

Tablet with incised symbols, 900–500 BCE, Olmec peoples, greenstone and red pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association purchase, 1968.33
Drawings courtesy of Dr. F. Kent Reilly, Texas State University.

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design
Faye Toogood explores pure geometric form by using cobb, a material consisting of clay, sand, straw, water, and earth as her media. By focusing on design and material expressiveness rather than functionality, this work pushes into the realm of pure sculpture.

Faye Toogood, Cup/Earth, 2016, cobb composite (acrylic polymer and natural materials), Dallas Museum of Art, Discretionary Decorative Arts Fund, 2018.34.2

Panamanian Molas: Made For and By Women

This past December, the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation donated the Reverend Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection to the DMA. The collection is composed of some 70 molas: hand-stitched textiles that form part of Guna women’s clothing in the Republic of Panama. The Guna occupy a territory called the Gunayala Comarca (Gunaland Province), formed by hundreds of tiny islands, as well as by the adjacent coastline. This attire was adapted from the ancient practice of women painting their bodies with complex geometric designs, later translated to textiles following the adoption of new fabrics and tools introduced by European settlers. Over the decades, molas have become the single most recognizable material element of Guna cultural identity.

Molas: Two aquatic birds (T44205.43); Terrestrial birds, fish, and mammal (T44205.46); Aquatic bird and fish with spiny dorsal fin (T44205.15), Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, mid-20th century, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection, gift of The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation; Man and woman wearing hats, mid-twentieth century, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Dozier Foundation, DS.1990.303

The arts in Guna society are strictly gendered, with men engaged in basket weaving and public oratory, reciting poems and stories. Women, including men who identify as women, design and fabricate molas. The molas are created using a complex reverse appliqué process. Two or three pieces of fabric are first basted together and then a design is hand cut into the top layer, with multiple layers of colorful, contrasting fabrics and appliques then sewn between the top and bottom layers. This elaborate technique is intensive, typically taking a maker three to five weeks to complete the 15 by 17-inch textile.

Care is taken to match the thread to the cloth and layer the fabrics in a way that gives the impression of a seamless and uniform composition. Mola designs incorporate elements such as flowers, birds, animals, and mythical creatures, but geometric patterning remains a crucial element.

The mola has deep ties to Guna identity. In 1918 the Panamanian government began a campaign to subjugate and assimilate the Guna, which included banning traditional dress. The Guna resisted, and making and wearing molas became an act of political protest. In 1925 the two parties reached an agreement granting the Guna autonomy to govern their own affairs and sovereignty over their Indigenous identity and culture. To this day, Guna women still produce beautifully executed molas for their own use in clothing, as well as versions for tourist consumption.

Blouse incorporating National Liberal Party mola, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, 1962, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Carolyn Williams Marks, Harriet Williams Peavy, and Suzanne Williams Nash, 2016.68.19

Reverend Isaac V. Pérez, his wife, Alicia, and their daughter, Elva, moved to Panama in 1953 when Reverend Isaac accepted employment with a denomination-affiliated organization. Among his responsibilities was working with local Guna to create a new church. On one of his first visits to the islands, he was gifted a mola as a gesture of friendship. Alicia and Elva were fascinated by the complex and unusual qualities of the design, heightened by its vibrant colors.

Mola: Ground cuckoo, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, mid-20th century, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection, gift of The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, T44205.25

The Pérezes remained in Panama for 22 years and amassed a stunning collection of molas. The family treasured them for their creativity, design, and imagery—but even more so as a reminder of the graciousness of the Guna people. Their collection joins 10 molas already stewarded by the DMA, and together they offer a testament to the creativity and resilience of the Guna people, and the critical role of women in preserving and adapting Guna culture.

Mola: Two terrestrial birds perched in trees, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, mid-20th century, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection, gift of The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, T44205.16

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art
Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas
Alyssa Wood, Curatorial Assistant


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