Blogs

Honoring Our Volunteers

Docent Emeritus Vivian Spraberry and friends
2015 Docent and Library Volunteers Lunch

2015 Docent and Library Volunteers Lunch
2015 Docent and Library Volunteers Lunch

The Amon Carter is fortunate to have some great volunteers who enthusiastically share our mission: to connect people to great American art. Hundreds of hours are spent each year by library volunteers and members of our docent corps on preparing and providing information that benefits all of our visitors. It was a pleasure to honor our most recent Docent Emeritus, Vivian Spraberry, for 25 years of service to the museum.

Come to the museum and share in the fun! Tours featuring highlights from the permanent collection take place Thursday through Sunday at 2 p.m. and begin at the Information Desk. No reservations are required.

Complementing the museum’s art collection, the research library offers an extensive range of materials on American art, photography, and history from the early nineteenth century to the present. The library is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays through May.

Admission to the museum and library is always free.

Julian Feild Account Book

One of the earliest businessmen in Fort Worth, Julian Feild [sic] opened the first gristmill on the Trinity in 1856. He was also the first postmaster in the city. After this first gristmill floundered, he later opened a more successful mill near what was to become Mansfield. The research library preserves and makes available an early accounting book kept by Feild, with the first entry dated January 1, 1856. It would appear that most of the entries date from that year, though there are entries as late as 1869. As you handle this book, you're instantly taken you back in time, and you find yourself imagining what it must have been like sitting in front of this document, recording what were the mundane transactions of the day, not realizing their captivating power over 150 years later. This document preserves some of the earliest commercial activity in Fort Worth and establishes the importance of Feild as an influential entrepreneur. Read more about Julian Feild in the Handbook of Texas Online and in the Fort Worth History document available on the city's website.

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Landscape Truisms: One Curator’s Working List

Last week, I found myself challenged with the task of speaking to our astute docents on the subject of American landscape. The prospect of saying anything overarching was daunting, as the story of landscape and the American painting tradition is as broad and vast as the mountain vistas depicted by American artists.

I had just finished writing and speaking about contemporary artist Jenny Holzer and the aphorisms, or truisms as she calls them, that she broadcasts via giant walls of light on the surfaces of great buildings, carves indelibly into granite, or silk-screens onto large canvases. Perhaps I was influenced by my study of Holzer to share with the docents short, digestible truths of my own invention that seem to reasonably summarize the American landscape artist’s approach.

I began the formulation of my truism list by revisiting William Cullen Bryant’s poetic advice to his buddy Thomas Cole, the symbolic forefather of the Hudson River School of American landscape painting. In his 1829 sonnet To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe, Bryant characterizes Europe as having “everywhere the trace of men.” He directs Cole’s attention to the American landscape, our untouched wilderness, as the defining characteristic of our fledgling nation, reminding the artist to revel in European scenes while keeping “that earlier, wilder image bright.” Put another way: Unspoiled nature was an expression of cultural and national identity.

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Thomas Cole (1801-1848), The Hunter's Return, 1845, oil on canvas

What America had to offer in those days that seemed unique was the sublimity of pristine nature, and landscape painting provided one manner of expressing that identity. And so, a little bit inspired by Holzer’s truisms, I showed the docents a slide of my own proclamations based on aspects of the landscape works in our collection:

OUR LANDSCAPE DEFINES US

CAPTURE IT BEFORE IT’S GONE—or if there have been intrusions, eliminate the traces of human intervention.

ART LEADS TO PRESERVATION

WHEN CIVILIZATION INTRUDES, GO FARTHER AFIELD—WITHIN AND BEYOND THE CONTINENT

If you are a landscape artist and your subject matter is disappearing to industry and the march of civilization, show it as it was, with a foreboding sense of what’s to come. Go farther west to find the limits of so-called progress. If technology and tourism have already gotten there, paint them out. See if you can aid in preservation by alluding to the future destruction. Capture it all before it disappears. And, when you have run out of American exotic locales, travel abroad.

This week, when I move forward chronologically, my plan is to add the following to the truism list:

SEEK REFUGE FROM THE STRAINS OF MODERN LIFE. GO TO THE SHORE. HAVE A PICNIC. SEEK ARTIST COLONIES. GO WEST.

A LANDSCAPE PAINTING CAN BE ABOUT MORE THAN NATURAL SPLENDOR, IT CAN BE AN URBAN LANDSCAPE OR AN INDUSTRIAL ONE. THERE’S BEAUTY IN THOSE, TOO.

TURN TO ABSTRACTION

CHRONICLE OUR OWN DESTRUCTION

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Skeet McAuley (b. 1951), Untitled, from the Native America Series, 1984-86, dye destruction print

Though the proclamations may not prove accurate in all cases, putting them in front of our docents seems as good a way as any to connect to the rich holdings of American views we have here at the Amon Carter.

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator

Sharing the Fun

Amon Carter Docents at the Spring Fling

The Amon Carter is fortunate to have a wonderful corps of docents who work with visitors to the museum by giving regularly scheduled tours, sharing information at the Art Carts, and facilitating special tours. Several of our docents were in fine form Friday night as the museum celebrated the first day of spring with our members at the Spring Fling.

Come on by and take a tour of our permanent collection. Public tours take place at 2:00 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and begin at the Information Desk. No reservations are required; admission is free.

Pre-Schoolers Love Art Too

Our pre-school friends from Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine came to visit today. It's hard to tell who has the most fun on these tours - the kids or the gallery teachers. Tours are available for students of all ages, and all of them are free.

People of all ages are always welcome. Are you bringing young people? Pick up an Art Activity Kit at the desk and have some fun in the galleries. Most afternoons you can find an Art Cart with a knowledgeable volunteer ready to talk to you about what's on the walls. Or just sit on a bench and enjoy the view!

Holy Trinity Catholic School

ACMAA + Google

The museum recently celebrated its first anniversary as part of the Google Art Project. We commemorated the occasion with our first online exhibition featuring Parson Weems' Fable by Grant Wood, plus other artists who captured this famous couple in their works. We will be posting more of these projects in the coming months.

Parson Weems' Fable on Google Art Project

You can find our Google Art Project page by clicking here or by using the menu bar and clicking on our Collections page. It’s your opportunity to browse our collection at your pace in your space.

Alexander Wilson's The Foresters

Wilson is mainly known as illustrator of his monumental bird book American Ornithology, published in nine volumes from 1809–14, which is in the library’s holdings. Before starting American Ornithology, Wilson made a visit to Niagara Falls with two companions and wrote a long poem, The Foresters, based on the journey. The poem first appeared serially in The Port Folio before being published in book form in 1818. The poem provides one of the earliest descriptions of the American wilderness. This modern edition published by Bird & Bull Press on view now in the library reading room features original wood engravings by Wesley Bates that depict several scenes from the poem.

Alexander Wilson (1766–1813)
Wood engravings by Wesley W. Bates (b. 1952)
The Foresters: A Poetic Account of a Walking Journey to the Falls of Niagara in the Autumn of 1804
Newtown, Pa.: Bird & Bull Press, 2000

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Cynthia Brants Artist Book in Library Reading Room

Late last year the research library acquired a unique artist book by Cynthia Brants, a member of the Fort Worth Circle. The pages fold out in accordion fashion and provide a moving-image-style recounting of a sometimes traumatic riding lesson. Though it appears she intended to make several of them, ours is the only known copy in existence. Yesterday library staff installed the book and accompanying printing blocks—a rarity to have both. This side-by-side arrangement gives visitors a chance to study the relationship of printing surface and resulting print. We invite you to come take a closer look in the library reading room during our public hours.

Cynthia Brants (1924–2006)
The Riding Lesson, or, The Nonzen of Riding a Moving Picture
Fort Worth, TX: The Mangle Press, 1959
Color woodcuts and accompanying wood printing blocks

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Dust-to-Digital

The first Dust-to-Digital title to enter the research library's collection was Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950: Photographs from the Collection of Jim Linderman, published in 2009. We recently got the publisher's latest title, Lead Kindly Light: Pre-war Music and Photographs from the American South. With the other Dust-to-Digital titles in our collection, I Listen to the Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music in Vernacular Photographs, 1880-1955 and Never a Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs & Photographs of the One Who’s Always True, we're clearly making a statement that we're a fan of the publisher's approach of marrying vintage photographs and music. Founded by Lance Ledbetter in 2003, Dust-to-Digital is currently operated by him and his wife April in Atlanta, Georgia. Though a strong impetus in their mission is preserving and making available rare recordings, we've chosen titles from their catalog that have strong photography content. The combination of period music and images really creates an immersive and magical experience. I encourage you to drop by the research library during our public hours to see (and hear) them--we're the only library in Fort Worth to offer these publications to the public.

You Oughta Be in Pictures

It’s time for a confession: The thought of being without my various technological devices when something new and exciting happens sends a shiver down my spine. If a great event occurs and someone does not snap a shot for group consumption on social media, did it really happen at all? If an occasion of worldwide significance transpires, photographs proliferate, memes flourish, and we can all see the images in an instant.

I’ve been thinking about the inevitability of images in today’s society in relation to the periodical illustrations of Frederic Remington (1861–1909)—a leading visual recorder of the newsworthy events of his time. If Remington wanted to share with a wide audience a scene of cowboys on the range, a nasty skirmish between warring factions, or even a bicyclist passing a stagecoach on a dusty road, he had to engage in several modes of creation to ready his rendering for mass dissemination.

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Frederic Remington, The Right of the Road-- A Hazardous Encounter on a Rocky Mountain Trail, 1900, 1961.246

He often captured what he witnessed in a one-of-a-kind grisaille (or, as we’d call it today, grayscale) oil painting, intentionally created without color so that it could be translated into print media. Imagine going to all that trouble! To take advantage of modes of reproduction, he might also do a drawing of the scene. The drawing would then be transferred by any number of skilled wood engravers in reverse onto the end grain of multiple wooden blocks, which were then inked and used to reproduce the image in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribners, or Collier’s.

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Printing block and special conservation housing

Jodie Utter, the museum’s conservator of works on paper, recently collaborated with me on an installation of wood blocks used by periodical publishers to make several of Remington’s illustrations. Such blocks were typically destroyed after printing or were sanded down and reused to make other newsworthy images, so it is rare to see them intact. We invite you to take a look in the special drawers in our Mezzanine Galleries to see them and better appreciate the labor-intensive process of yesteryear image making.

When you take your next selfie and post it to Instagram, think of the road Remington’s images needed to travel for anyone to see them. Of course, this begs the question, “Were we better off when it was more difficult to spread an image far and wide?” After all, if my friends had to carve their photos of me into wood blocks in order to share them, I bet many an unflattering image would be lost in thin air!

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator

And now this from Jodie Utter:

What's In Our Drawers?

The Amon Carter has a varied and vast collection of masterworks; our largest collections, works on paper and photographs, are also the most sensitive to light. As the museum’s paper conservator, I spend a lot of my time documenting light-exposure histories for each paper object before it goes on display. Besides controlling temperature, air quality, and relative humidity, light gets most of my management attention. That said, the drawers in our Mezzanine Galleries are a paper conservator’s dream.

Why? Most of our art on paper collection is kept in dark storage with a fraction put on display each year. This is partly due to changing exhibitions, a finite display area, and most importantly to the history of display of individual objects—in other words, exposure to light. I will now put on my conservation hat –don’t leave—stay with me: Light damage is irreversible—and cumulative—therefore it’s of great importance to limit the display of light-sensitive works. This is why we keep close record of exactly how long a work has been on display since its arrival at the museum.

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Inspecting the drawers in our Mezzanine Galleries

Okay, still with me? That’s why I love those drawers! If a work is displayed on the wall for four months (our typical length of exhibition) it would receive approximately 1000 hours of light exposure; however, in one of these drawers for one year, the work receives less than sixty hours (or approximately one week) of exposure. I love it. Of course, not everything can be displayed in a drawer, nor would I suggest such craziness. But it’s pretty great that when a work on paper is not being viewed, it’s in the dark! See why I love these drawers?

Jodie Utter, Conservator of Works of Art on Paper