Posts Tagged 'Texas Art'

Get to Know an Artist: Helen Brooks, “Profile”

Helen Brooks, Profile, about 1935, charcoal, Dallas Art League Purchase Prize, Seventh Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition, 1935.13

Eighty-five years ago, on March 24, 1935, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts opened its seventh annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition. That same day, an illustrated spread in the Dallas Morning News announced the show’s 12 first-prize winners, all but two of which are now in the DMA’s collection. Helen Brooks’s Profile, the only self-portrait of the bunch, appears at bottom center, adding a touch of humanity to a roster of mostly landscapes and still lifes. Reviewing Dallas’s 1934-1935 art season for the Dallas Morning News a few months later, artist, critic, and future Museum Director Jerry Bywaters called Brooks’s work “one of the best drawings of the season.”

Clip from Dallas Morning News, “The Prize Winners,” March 24, 1935; clip from Dallas Morning News, January 5, 1936

When a show of self-portraits by 27 local artists opened at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in January 1936, Bywaters again had nothing but praise for Brooks’s contribution, declaring in the News, “It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly convincing likeness or better drawing than the small work by Helen Brooks.” One can imagine Brooks appreciating Bywaters’ complimentary words; however, she may have raised an eyebrow at an earlier section of the 1936 article, where Bywaters applauded what he saw as the exhibition artists’ lack of vanity: “In most cases,” he wrote, the self-portraits on display “attempt to make a good rendering of a person who may be considered detachedly as a personality or a lemon [something substandard, disappointing].” Ouch, Jerry.  
Bywaters’ mixed messaging aside, Profile and the later, three-quarters-view portrait reveal Brooks to be both a talented artist and a woman with a keen sense of style. She skillfully captures distinctive facial features like her sharp cheekbones; bow-shaped, downturned lips; and receding chin. Her glossy black bob with short, blunt bangs and finger waves, as well as her thinly plucked, arched brows, wouldn’t look out of place on a 1920s movie starlet—a photograph that accompanied news of Brooks’s recent wedding in October 1936 could practically double as a Golden Age Hollywood headshot. #HaircutGoals 

Clip from Dallas Morning News, “Back from Wedding Trip,” October 18, 1936

Melinda Narro is the McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Ruth Pershing Uhler: A Texas Woman Artist to Know

Why do some women artists become famous while others become footnotes in art history textbooks? That is the topic of discussion in The O’Keeffe Sisters and Women of American Modernism, a series of short talks at the DMA on February 2. Few art history scholars knew Georgia O’Keeffe had a younger sister named Ida who was also an artist, and whose work is now exhibited in Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow. Ahead of the talks, we thought we would take a look at another woman modernist in the DMA collection you probably haven’t heard of: Ruth Pershing Uhler.

Ruth Pershing Uhler was born in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1895. Uhler and her family moved to Houston in 1909, but she returned to Pennsylvania to study art. Receiving the proper training was the first hurdle women had to clear to become artists. Women were often encouraged to study “lesser” mediums like watercolor instead of oil, and art was seen as part of a woman’s aesthetic training to create a beautiful home rather than as a career. Uhler didn’t settle for these expectations. She studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (and did learn to work in oil), and after graduating she obtained a fellowship that provided her with her own studio and the ability to paint and exhibit art in Philadelphia. She worked in Philadelphia for 11 years before returning to Houston in 1925 and exhibiting across Texas in the 1920s and 30s.

Ruth Pershing Uhler, Earth Rhythms, c. 1935, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas Artists Fund, 2018.10, © Estate of Ruth Pershing Uhler

In 1935 Uhler went to Santa Fe with friend and fellow Texas artist Grace Spaulding John. The landscape of New Mexico inspired a series of nine paintings that Uhler completed after returning to Houston the next year. Earth Rhythms (c. 1935), recently acquired by the DMA, belongs to this series. While it is possible Uhler saw and responded to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, Uhler’s paintings—with undulating forms that glow with an almost spiritual quality—are also reminiscent of Transcendentalists like Raymond Johnson and Agnes Pelton, who were working in New Mexico during the same period. Uhler’s series was exhibited in 1936 at the Twelfth Annual Exhibition of Houston Artists.

Uhler teaching in the MFAH galleries c. 1950. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Archives.

At the time, it was impossible for a woman to support herself as a full-time painter without a gallery to represent her and sell her art, so most women artists took second jobs. Uhler became a teacher at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in 1937, and in 1941 she became the MFAH’s first curator of education, a position she held until just before her death in 1967. In the same way that Ida O’Keeffe held nursing and teaching jobs on and off her entire life, being an art educator provided Uhler with financial stability, independence, and creative fulfillment. She was hugely influential in the growth of the MFAH’s education programs, but the demands of her job led her to abandon painting.

Curiously, one day in 1940 Uhler intentionally destroyed many of her paintings in a fire. She built the bonfire in the backyard of Grace Spaulding John’s house, which she had been house-sitting. John’s daughter saw her and asked what she was doing. Uhler officially ended her career as a painter that day, remarking, “Well, I only want my best work to survive.” Consequently, her works are few and difficult to find today.

As art historians reconsider the influence of women artists in modernist movements, and as Texas artists are given more serious attention, artists like Uhler will become more popular. It takes time and a conscious effort on the part of curators to shine a light on under-recognized women artists, but we get a fuller and more realistic view of art history when women’s work is recovered from the margins.

Lillian Michel is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the DMA.

Bluebonnets in Bloom

With spring upon us, we can anticipate the sprouting of bluebonnets along Texas roads and highways. Bluebonnets can also be found in the DMA’s permanent collection. One of the best places to look is in the work of Julian Onderdonk, a San Antonio–born artist. Onderdonk is recognized for his portrayal of his home state’s landscape, in particular the Texas State Flower, the bluebonnet. Onderdonk so perfected the portrayal of bluebonnets that to this day his name is immediately linked to scenes of these blue and violet flowers carpeting expansive landscapes.

Onkerdonk in action. Image source

After studying in New York at the Art Students League and William Merritt Chase’s Shinnecock Summer School, Onderdonk returned to Texas in 1909. Back in his home state, he found that he could combine the techniques he learned in New York with his environment in Texas. The bluebonnets were the perfect subject in which to manifest his interests. Appearing initially as subtle parts of his compositions, they dominated the artist’s work by the mid-1910s.

Field of Bluebonnets

Julian Onderdonk, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets), 1918–20, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Margaret M. Ferris, 1990.153

Although the bluebonnet became the state flower in 1901 and was represented by other artists prior to Onderdonk’s embracing them as a subject, his depictions of the flower increased their popularity and distinctive connection to the state of Texas. The bluebonnets also brought fame to the artist while defining Texas art as a regional school that paralleled other schools of regionalist art in America. The appeal of these paintings was twofold; on one hand, they played into Texas pride by giving importance to the state flower, and on the other hand, they highlighted Onderdonk’s painterly talents and ability to render nature.

Blue Bonnets

Bluebonnets in bloom.

For Onderdonk, these flowers were more than simply bluebonnets. They allowed him to find a balance between what he saw and a subject he knew well: in other words, a blending of his East Coast training and his connection to the Hill Country of Texas. Painted around 1918-1920, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets) is an example of Onderdonk’s dedication to the flower. Onderdonk learned from Chase the importance of painting outdoors because it allowed a closer observation of the light and shadows. Here Onderdonk responded to Chase’s emphasis on painting en plein air (outdoors before the motif) and capturing the changing effects of light and shadow in a field covered with the vividly colored blossoms. He paints the bluebonnets in rich blues and greens, making each bloom in the foreground individuated and then progressing into broad strokes of color to portray the pool of flowers.

Francesca Soriano is the McDermott Intern for American Art at the DMA. 

Wednesday in the Park with Olivier

Yesterday our McDermott Interns enjoyed a lovely fall walk through Fair Park with Olivier Meslay, the Museum’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs. We took some time to appreciate the Art Deco architecture and art sans the busy fair crowds and learned more about the origins of the DMA.


The preparations for the celebration of the Texas Centennial involved the work of artists from around the state and across the globe, using Six Flags over Texas as an overarching theme.

With the opening of the Texas Centennial Exposition just around the corner, the then Dallas Museum of Fine Arts moved into its new building in Fair Park on May 31, 1936. Although the Museum would be renamed and moved to its current location in the Dallas Arts District, the DMFA building remains in Fair Park, where its Art Deco details can still be appreciated.

In front of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Building

In front of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Building

Whitney Sirois
McDermott Graduate Intern for Gallery and Community Teaching

Sarah Coffey
Education Coordinator

Texas Flora

With Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse closing this weekend, you only have a few days left to enjoy the blossoming canvases in the exhibition. The tradition of recreating bundles of blooms in art as still-life is longstanding. Many of the floral arrangements you’ll see are bright, plush tableaus with numerous species represented. They demonstrate the prowess of French master artists who nestled cultural symbols throughout the canvas.

In contrast, neither silk ribbon nor glittering vase contain the artworks celebrating iconic Texas flora from the Museum’s permanent collection. They are rendered on paper or hardboard in print or with brush. Realistically portrayed in muted tones, a single species is the subject of each work. These plants thrive in the unique climate of our rugged state and have been cultivated by humans for centuries for medicine, sustenance and beauty.

Merritt Mauzey’s print Cotton Stalk and Florence McClung’s print Castor Beans resemble naturalist studies from early botanical books. The plants are highly detailed and placed against a void background to isolate their physical attributes. You can also see similarities to Art Nouveau motifs in Mauzey’s print. The cotton stalks are frontal and flattened with sinuous stems. Cotton has been a leading cash crop in Texas for generations. Every part of the plant can be put to use, especially the tuft of fibers which is removed and spun into thread. Castor-beans, on the other hand, have highly toxic seeds containing ricin and are hazardous to most livestock.

Otis Dozier, on the other hand, places Texas staple crops in a portrait style composition with their respective farm settings as the backdrop. In Cotton Boll, Dozier depicts the sequence of growth as we are reminded that flora has a brief but bountiful life cycle. Some art scholars believe Maize and Windmill resembles millet as the size and shape of the plant look somewhat like Red Millet or Sorghum. Maize has been cultivated and prepared as food in numerous ways since ancient times in North America. The shape or color of the seeds can be an indicator of their diverse genes.

Charles T. Bowling, Meadow Wind, 1942, Dallas Museum of Art, Ted Dealey Purchase Prize, Fourteenth Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition, 1943.

Charles T. Bowling, Meadow Wind, 1942, Dallas Museum of Art, Ted Dealey Purchase Prize, Fourteenth Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition, 1943.

Sunflowers have long been used by indigenous North Americans for many reasons, like treating snake bites or making oils. In some parts of Texas they can grow up to eight feet tall, with flower heads one foot in diameter! Charles T. Bowling captures the strength of the sunflower in its natural setting in his watercolor Meadow Wind.

Throughout the pages of many sketchbooks by Otis Dozier are studies of sunflower heads. It is interesting to see an artist working through his observations of nature. He uses the blank pages to examine the texture and form of the sunflower at various angles.

Imagine all the unique decorative arrangements that could be made with the regional flora of Texas. And there are many other examples of Texas flora in the collection to explore. Try searching for ‘jimson weed,’ ‘coxcomb,’ or ‘cactus’ in the DMA’s online collection database. And when you stop by for your last peek at Bouquets, see what other blooms you can find in our galleries!

Rae Pleasant
Research Associate for Early Texas Art

End of the Trail

mozley sign

We are in the final days of the Loren Mozley: Structural Integrity exhibition. It is rare to see these works by the Texas modernist on view together, so don’t miss your opportunity to visit this free exhibition, on view through Sunday, June 30.

Texas Art in a Texas Museum

I first joined the DMA team in July 2010 as an intern for the Curatorial Department of European and American art. In May 2011 I was hired as the research project coordinator for early Texas art, a two-summer position sponsored by the Texas Fund for Curatorial Research. As an art history graduate student specializing in 18th-century British art, I enjoy switching gears when I am in Dallas for the summer and learning about the history of the local art scene in my hometown. The culmination of my research is an addition to the DMA website that includes both a timeline of all Texas-related exhibitions and a historical text about the evolution of the Dallas art community over the years.

The most valuable resource for my project has been the DMA Archives. When I first started researching the relationship between Dallas art clubs, local artists, and the Museum, I spent many hours perusing exhibition catalogues and photographs from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. I was surprised to learn that women played a central role in the early history of the Museum, and that support for local artists was strong and consistent throughout the decades. I quickly realized that most of my attention would be devoted to the period spanning the 1930s to the 1960s. During this time, the Museum sponsored between five and twenty exhibitions each year that exclusively showcased the work of Texas artists.

Most of these exhibitions were sponsored by local art clubs and were held annually. Examples include the Dallas Allied Arts exhibitions, the Dallas Print and Drawing Society exhibitions, and the Texas Watercolor Society exhibitions. For each exhibition, local artists submitted works for entry, which were then judged by a three-person jury prior to the opening of the show. Top works of art were awarded purchase prizes, which were monetary awards provided by art clubs, private donors, and local businesses. All works that received purchase prizes automatically entered the Museum’s permanent collection.

Here are some of my favorites:

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What surprised me most as I was researching the Museum’s collection of Texas art, and specifically the purchase prizes, is the variety of subject matter, techniques, and artistic styles. As you can see, Texas art is not restricted to panoramic views of the desert or scenes of cowboys at work on the ranch. There is much to be learned about the Museum’s vast and incredibly varied collection of regional art. I think it’s time we all took a closer look. Explore the Texas Art section of the Dallas Museum of Art’s website for additional images and information.

Alexandra Wellington is the former Research Project Coordinator for Early Texas Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Seldom Scene: A Fond Farewell to Dorothy Austin

Texas sculptor Dorothy Austin passed away last week at the age of 100. Her work Slow Shuffle was featured in the 2009 Dallas Museum of Art exhibition All the World’s a Stage: Celebrating Performance in the Visual Arts, and this past year her sculptures Noggin and Male Torso were included in the exhibition Texas Sculpture. We were fortunate to have Dorothy Austin visit us in October 2009 with her family and wanted to share those memories with you.

Sculptor Dorothy Austin with her family on a visit to the DMA in October 2009.

Dorothy Austin and DMA Senior Curator Olivier Meslay

Dorothy Austin, Noggin, 1933, white pine, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of an anonymous friend

Dorothy Austin, Male Torso, late 1930s-early 1940s, white pine, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert W. Webb

Dorothy Austin, Slow Shuffle, 1939, carved plaster, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas Art Fund and Early Texas Art Fund

Gather Round Ya'll…

My colleague, Holly Harrison, Administrative Assistant for European and American Art, recently reinstalled the 4th floor Texas landing, bringing together artworks about cowpokes, gunslingers, and a cowgirl or two for Cowboys: On the Range Between Art and Life. The installation, which includes paintings, photographs, and works on paper, invites us to imagine life on the range and to consider our often-romantic ideas about cowboys.  Featured are photographs by Geoff Winningham, Laura Wilson, and Erwin E. Smith, and paintings by Frank Reaugh and Perry Nichols.

Erwin E. Smith, Four Cowpunchers Shooting Craps on a Saddle Blanket in Roundup Camp, JA Ranch, Texas, 1908

Bank Langmore, Portrait of Old Cowboy Vern Torrance, Padlocks Ranch, Montana, 1974

One of my favorite works is Clara McDonald Williamson’s Get Along Little Dogies.  Williamson’s painting is a childhood memory of growing up in Iredell, Texas—a stopover on the Chisholm Trail.  The artist, in a white dress and blue bonnet, watches from a distance as cowboys drive a herd of longhorns across the Bosque River, heading north to Kansas.   

Clara McDonald Williamson, Get Along Little Dogies, 1945

Get Along Little Dogies is one of four paintings featured in the Go van Gogh outreach program for 4th graders, Art of the Lone Star State.  The program highlights the diverse landscape of Texas and key events in its history— from the devastation of a Dust Bowl-ravaged Panhandle in the 1930s to the lush beauty of fields of Hill Country bluebonnets.  After discussing these places, students create mixed media collages of their favorite Texas place. 

Below is a collage example I made, inspired by a favorite Texas memory–the week I spent on ranchland just outside Mexia, Texas with some real cowboys.  I didn’t quite earn my spurs on that trip (cows are a tough bunch to reason with!), but I did appreciate the hard-work and beauty of life on the range—something you definitely take away from the new installation…

Make a resolution to come see it, and have a Happy New Year, ya’ll!

Amy Copeland
Coordinator of Learning Partnerships with Schools and the Community

on the range!

Artist is the New Astronaut

During the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to visit classrooms throughout the Dallas Independent School District, teaching 1st-6th graders about works of art in the DMA’s collection.  Educational outreach programs like Go van Gogh and the museum’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program reach hundreds of kids each month, and so far I’ve met some great kids with some great art insights.  Here are a few stories from my first months at the museum:
Last week I was out in the community visiting David G. Burnet Elementary School.  I was teaching a Go van Gogh program called Art of the Lone Star State to a group of excited fourth graders.  We had just finished looking at four works of art by Texas artists.  To wrap up, I asked, “What was your favorite work of art that you saw today?”  One student raised his hand, looked out the window, and pointed to the Go van Gogh van parked in the school parking lot—“THAT!” he said.  Is the van art?  This budding artist seemed to think so.

"Get Along Little Dogies," from Art of the Lone Star State

Art with Four Legs

The Go van Gogh van

Art with Four Wheels

A few days ago I was walking through the hallways of Felix Botello Elementary carrying my Go van Gogh bag, and I heard a student whisper to his friend, “It’s the museum man!”  As I passed by, he slapped me a high-five.  Walking into the classroom, another student excitedly shouted, “It’s an artist!”  As it turns out, they were the artists that day; they made extraordinary model chairs out of ordinary materials like straws and tin foil.

Yesterday I visited James B. Bonham Elementary, teaching a Go van Gogh program called Creative Connections: Ordinary to Extraordinary.  I asked one student how his art project was coming along— “This is the best day of my life!” he said.  Another student said, “When I grow up, I want to be an artist!”  I’m glad to see that artist is the new astronaut.

If you’re a teacher or a parent and I’ve mentioned your school, let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.  As more stories come in, I’ll keep you updated.

Justin Greenlee

Learning Partnerships Intern


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