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Interview with Larry McMurtry

The West courses through Larry McMurtry's heartland, and drawing from its river of stories, he has written thirty novels in a career spanning fifty-three years. His epic, Lonesome Dove, was awarded the 1986 Pulitzer Prize. His newest, The Last Kind Words Saloon, tells the story of the closing of the American frontier through two of its most famous figures, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

"I had the great director John Ford in mind when I wrote this book," McMurtry writes on the back jacket. "He famously said that when you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend. And so I've done."

To illustrate the legend, McMurtry identified a special art work for the book jacket. He spoke with us recently about this and other images of the American West.

Did you or your publisher select Frederic Remington’s Fall of the Cowboy for the cover?
I chose it. I've known about this painting for a long time, and I've come to see it many times. I knew it was the perfect painting for this story. I've been arguing for years and years that the cattle industry was fatally flawed; the winters were too severe. People didn't start talking about the death of the cowboy, though, until the 1920s, but Remington’s painting demonstrated it in 1895. It obviously occurred to him that the end had come.

So the museum has been a destination for you over the years.
I've visited the Amon Carter a lot of times. It's a lovely museum. It's one of the reasons to come to Fort Worth. I like the city very much, lived there for a while, my son was born there. I've been in and out of there a lot and have always followed its art scene.

Why does the myth of the American West endure?
Because the imagery is so intrinsically powerful—the cowboys, the galloping horses, the vistas. My town of Archer City is really an oil-patch town, has been for well over 100 years. It's not a cattle town at all. And yet its own myth as a traditional western town persists because nobody wants to see pictures of roughnecks or drilling rigs.

I think of the imagery of Richard Avedon’s In the American West, which this museum commissioned. He made sure to photograph oilfield workers.
I go back to that work. It's my native imagery. It de-poeticized the landscapes of Timothy O'Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, Ansel Adams. The most poetic image of all is Adams’s Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico [1941]. Avedon's book showed what the lives of the people who lived under that moon were actually like—it’s not mythic to them. Avedon’s book marks the beginning of the turning away from the pastoral that always characterized photography about the West. The moonrise is just as beautiful, but the book debunked the myth.

You have long been both a dealer and collector of books. Like the myth of the American West, will the printed book endure?
It's hard to say. Maybe, maybe not. The digital revolution isn't very old, but it's very powerful. I think book culture is necessary for a civilized society. I hope it will survive, because the kind of culture that books promote is a well-informed one, one that educates, not just intellectual education, but emotional education.

Purchase your copy today.

Two Rare Botanical Books Featured in Library Reading Room

Dear readers,

The library recently installed two very special books in the reading room. Though both offer botanical subjects, they represent divergent views of nature from two different time periods.

First up is Jim Dine’s exquisite set of drypoint engravings in book form modeled on the classic Temple of Flora first published in the very early nineteenth century by Dr. Robert John Thornton that combined images, poetry, philosophy, and botanical information. We’re also showing Dine’s bonded bronze sculptural box (bas-relief) made to hold the book, along with a single print on chine collé taken from the second state of the book’s frontispiece. We’re pleased to show this book as a tribute to longtime museum board president Ruth Carter Stevenson’s gardening interests and generosity to the museum. This copy came to the museum from Mrs. Stevenson in 2008.

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Jim Dine (b. 1935)
The Temple of Flora: Twenty-eight Drypoint-engravings
Botanical notes compiled and poetry selected by Glenn Todd and Nancy Dine
Intaglio printing by R. (Robert) E. Townsend, Inc.
Bas-relief sculpture on lid: Flora’s Temple Gate cast in bonded bronze by Jim Dine

San Francisco: Arion Press, 1984
Edition of 150
Gift of Ruth Carter Stevenson
2008.29

Next we have a very rare volume produced by Edward Vischer in 1862 of lithograph views documenting what was thought to be a singular grove of Sequoias in California in an area near Yosemite (the images in this book relate to the small exhibition on the second floor of the museum featuring Yosemite images). Many consider this collection of lithographs to be among the rarest pictorial records of early California. Vischer, a German-born artist, spent a good deal of his career in the commercial trade business in Mexico and Peru before turning his artistic focus to California. The museum’s copy has a distinguished provenance: it once belonged to Thomas Streeter, a famous bibliographer and collector of Americana and Texana.

This passage from the introduction which expresses the spiritual power of viewing these trees:

To the spirit bowed with affliction, or harrowed with cares, a pilgrimage to these shadowy shrines offords most soothing consolation. Behold the evergreen summits of trees that have withstood the storms of more than three thousand years! Gaze on the ponderous and almost imperishable remains of their sires. While lost in wonder and admiration, the turmoil of earthly strife seems to vanish; and the true harbinger of Peace, the olive branch of Hope, returns to the mind, in the comparison of Time with Eternity.

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Edward Vischer (1809–1878)
Vischer's Views of California: the Mammoth Tree Grove, Calaveras County, California, and its Avenues
Twelve lithographs by C. (Charles) C. Kuchel (1820–1866) after drawings by Vischer; printed by L.
(Louis) Nagel (b. 1817)
San Francisco: Edward Vischer, [1862]
1981.64

Exploring the Library

During the last three months over 1,000 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students from schools in Palo Pinto County visited the museum as part of an education program generously funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Before their visits, students read the book Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein as the catalyst to explore the museum’s library and collections. The students toured through the art collection with our gallery teachers, and at each stop they solved challenges and puzzles that advanced them to the next stop, with the ultimate destination being the museum library—paralleling the action of the book. Once in the library they learned about the library’s collections, how a library functions within a museum, and how books can be works of art. We had such a surprising array of questions from the students that kept us on our toes and showed that a specialized library such as ours can touch a range of age groups and inspire curiosity about art.

Come explore our research library and school library and take part in our education programs.

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The First Lithograph Printed in the United States

The museum's research library has in its holdings a copy of the first lithograph printed in the United States. Printed in 1819 by Bass Otis, an artist famous as a portrait painter, the lithograph appears in the July 1819 issue of The Analectic Magazine. This print is on display in the library's reading room for a short time.

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The lithographic process—a technique of drawing on stone and applying water and ink that permits multiple copies of an image to be printed—originated in Europe in the early nineteenth century. The article accompanying Otis’s lithograph gives detailed instructions for the preparation of the printing stone (the stone used to print Otis's image was from Munich), crayon, and ink, reflecting the relative novelty of the technique in this country. It also pronounces the advantages of the technique, especially referencing its superiority over engraving:

  • It is a perfect fac simile: there can be no mistake or mis-copy.
  • It supersedes all kinds of engraving: when the drawings is finished, it is now sent to the engravers, and no impression can be taken till the engraving is finished: in lithography, impressions can be taken the instant the drawing is dry, more perfect than any engraving can possibly produce.
  • It can imitate not only drawings in crayon and Indian ink, but etching, mezzotinto, and aqua tinta.
  • The plate is never worn out as in copper-plate engraving …
  • All works of science, may now be freed from the prodigious expense attending numerous engravings.
  • Any man who can draw, can take off any number of impressions of his own design, without trusting to any other artist.

Classic Film in the Cultural District

Cover of program for screening of *Sunrise* in 1927 Cover of program for screening of Sunrise in 1927

It is great to find new venues to show the museum’s archival holdings and collaborate with our sister institutions in the Fort Worth Cultural District. The Kimbell Art Museum, in association with the Lone Star Film Society, will be showing the seminal classic film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans in their beautiful new auditorium on February 16, 2:00. Sunrise won the first academy award in 1929 for cinematography, and the Amon Carter Museum is fortunate to hold the archive of the cinematographer, Karl Struss. We have made selections from the Struss archive relating to the academy award and behind the scenes views from the making of the film. We will be showing them in the Renzo Piano Pavilion atrium immediately following the screening of the movie. Come join us.

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Portrait of Karl Struss by Edward Weston, 1923. ©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

More Than Meets the Eye

Studies have shown that medical students who spend time looking at art develop more acute observation skills, a key advantage in their careers. I cannot claim that looking at works of art has improved my scientific acumen, but I can certainly say that spending time with a work of art sets off my curator’s stream of consciousness. My brain builds associations based on personal experience and a sort of mental Rolodex of images forges connections unique to my idiosyncratic way of thinking.

All of which leads me to a somewhat unlikely pairing of two great paintings in our collection: Thomas Eakins’s Swimming (1885) and Frederic Remington’s A Dash for the Timber (1889).

1990-19-1_s.jpg1961-381_s.jpgThomas Eakins, Swimming, 1885 and Frederic Remington, A Dash for the Timber, 1889

More than just a chronological convergence or the fact that one work depicts human nudes and the other equine nudes, I’d argue a sort of commonality of influence in these two paintings in the application of photography to the process of depicting bodies—horses or otherwise. The 1880s saw the rise in popularity of the photographic motion studies of the eccentric Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), whose landmark scientific experiments at the University of Pennsylvania captured aspects of sequential movements theretofore invisible to the naked eye but recorded by the lenses.

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Eadweard Muybridge, Annie G. with Jockey, ca. 1887

Eakins spent time in 1884 at Muybridge’s laboratory-studio, only to devise his own photographic techniques for recording motion. We know that he took several photographs in the process of preparing to paint Swimming, though the final outcome is an artistic statement all his own. Even though he has depicted several individuals, I can’t help but see it as reminiscent of photographic studies of one nude in motion.

Paintings of horses were never the same after Muybridge’s studies. Suddenly, rather than legs splayed out horizontally to indicate a horse at full gallop, Remington and others (including Eakins) showed a variety of seemingly implausible horsey poses inspired by what the human eye could not possibly perceive, but the camera could. When I look at A Dash for the Timber, I see the effects of Muybridge and his photographic contemporaries written all over it. This is partially because I had the occasion to look at both paintings closely with a photographic historian friend, and partially because I have devoted time in the past to understanding the juncture of art and science in Muybridge’s day and what was considered acceptable behavior in the laboratory but not the artist’s classroom.

Making connections between paintings is not a science. It’s okay to form your own associations. If our paintings make sense to you because of a sunset you once observed or because of a story about your family, I say go for it. And, for all you aspiring medical professionals out there, come to the Amon Carter and stay a while. It will only help your career!

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator

Celebrating Two New Photobooks

A frequent question I ask myself is what makes a book presentation of photographs different than viewing them in a gallery setting or on a computer screen. What is it about the book that continues to capture photographers' attention as a means to convey their images? The history of the photobook could easily be told from the library's collection. Over the years, we've collected "traditional" photobooks with straight forward sequences of images to recent works that push at the format's limits, testing how a book can function as a communicator of images and information and more self consciously as an object (art or otherwise) and sometimes simultaneously functioning on all levels.

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George Tice's new book, Seldom Seen, which the library recently acquired, continues Tice's longtime relationship with the book. Published by Brilliant Press, its quadtone images reveal such depth that, as Tice discusses in a recent video, you might mistake them for silver-based prints, ie "real" photographs. Tice also reveals that when he's engaged in a photo project, the work is intrinsically tied up with thinking about how his images will play out in book form.

Bryan Schutmaat's new book, Grays the Mountain Sends, also new in the library, features the familiar territory of somber portraits and landscapes of small-town American West, especially mining towns. Yet the book offers a few surprises that tease it into the realm of an art object. Its metal binding suggests ore or perhaps the rails of a mining car, and its tightness makes the reader flip the pages rather than linger on a spread (the book will not lie flat). The book requires that you handle it in order to take in its contents. Alternating landscapes and portraits are interspersed with coal-colored sheets that seem to force a retinal reset, serving as a pause between sections. These features married with the images give the viewer a multidimensional experience.

Each takes a different approach to the book format, yet both communicate with equal power. You can experience both in the reading room starting next month.

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Samuel Duncan, Library Director

Fort Worth Stock Show

The 118th annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo starts January 17, bringing numerous visitors into Fort Worth’s cultural district. Amon G. Carter had a long history of association with the Stock Show going back to at least 1924 and every year during the show the museum library displays his collection of badges supplemented through the current year. Come by the library and see the badges and a selection of photos and publications on the history of the Stock Show and cattle industry in Fort Worth.

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Erwin E. Smith, Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show Rodeo, Fort Worth, Texas - ca. 1925-1926. P1986.41.264

Felice natal e eon anno nove

One of our loveliest portraits is of a young Alice Vanderbilt Shepard by John Singer Sargent. Alice was a well known beauty, but she was involved in a childhood mishap that led to a life of enforced inactivity. During one period of convalescence she became interested in the idea of a neutral auxiliary language that could facilitate communication among diverse groups of people. Alice and her husband David Morris founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA). Not too long after her death the Interlingua-English Dictionary was published, presenting to the world her life's work, Interlingua, a language for the world to use. All of us here at the Amon Carter wish you a "Felice natal e eon anno nove," which is "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in Interlingua.

John Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888, oil on canvas

John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888
Oil on canvas
1999.20

A Bird of Courage

Before you extract your roasting pan, baster, and meat thermometer from their storage places to cook your holiday bird, I ask that you pause for a moment to honor the nobly awkward fowl that is Thanksgiving’s most famous participant—the turkey.

Benjamin Franklin, purveyor of early American wisdom, is said to have remarked that, in comparison to the badly behaved bald eagle, the turkey was “though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

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John James Audubon, VULGO (WILD TURKEY) Meleagris Gallapavo, Engraving with watercolor on wove, off-white paper, 1826

It’s no wonder, then, that in 1826, American ornithologist John James Audubon chose the wild turkey, or Meleagris gallapavo for the first plate of his monumental publication, The Birds of America (1827–38). Audubon’s grand project to record all the birds of North America was not merely a scientific pursuit but an artistic accomplishment of great ambition. Audubon’s life-sized rendition of the wild turkey is not your grandmother’s frozen Butterball but a resplendent creature with a full beard and intricately articulated copper, yellow, and blue feathers. He stands in a pose designed to show off all the colorful assets belonging to the male of the species. The successful outcome of Audubon’s now-famous project was not simply that he reproduced the birds to scale in a setting that allowed them to appear their most lifelike, but also that he sought the best collaborators to bring his project to life.

Audubon initially relied on the Scottish engraver William Home Lizars to translate his large watercolors into colored engravings, and the first ten plates in the series are the result of Lizars’s efforts. This print in the Amon Carter’s collection was possibly one of the first Audubon works to make its way to America from Edinburgh where it was printed.

If you happen to encounter a wild turkey this season, take care to check out his every attribute. Then, as the Meleagris gallapavo gobbles along his merry way, tip your hat to the prowess of John James Audubon.

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator