Because of the sheer size of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art’s collection and the nature of objects that can deteriorate with exposure to light, such as artworks on paper, only a small portion of the entire collection can be seen at any given time. In addition to artworks, the museum collections include photographic negatives, historical ephemera, library books, and archive materials—hundreds of thousands of individual items, all of which are cataloged and stored for long-term preservation.
As the senior photographer for the museum, I get to see many items that rarely see the light of day. To bring these “dark collections” to light, I’ve been charged with selecting such artworks from our vaults and presenting them on the museum’s Tumblr page—making them available for all to enjoy. Be sure to tune in to our Tumblr page, where there will be a new work presented each week. Here’s a bit of a primer—a couple of items from deep in the vaults that have a connection to each other.
Ralph R. Doubleday (1881-1958), Yakami [sic] Canutt Bulldogger Deluxe, early twentieth century, photographic postcard
The photographic postcard above by rodeo photographer Ralph R. Doubleday shows Yakima Canutt (1895–1986) posing in the rodeo ring. Canutt was known for bulldogging and bronc riding and won the saddle-bronc competition at the Fort Worth rodeo three years in a row from 1921 to 1923, probably around the time this undated photo was taken. He went on to a career as an actor, stuntman, and action film director.
Canutt was hired to ride and act in Hollywood westerns in 1923 and appeared in several silent films. But when the movies transitioned to sound around 1928, Canutt chose to specialize in action and stunt work. He met actor John Wayne while performing as his stunt double in 1932. The two became friends and worked on techniques for stunts and on-screen fighting. Canutt was the inspiration for Wayne's trademark mannerisms, his drawling enunciation, and hip-rolling walk. John Wayne said, "I spent weeks studying the way Yakima Canutt walked and talked. He was a real cowhand."
Both men worked on John Ford's 1939 film Stagecoach, which features Canutt's daring stunt work running across the horses' rigging to jump astride the lead horse and take control of the runaway team.
Screen shot of Yakima doubling John Wayne doing wagon team stunt from John Ford's Stagecoach, 1939
The museum collection includes this screen-printed poster for Stagecoach.
Unknown, Stagecoach, after 1939, screen print
Although Wayne had been acting in Hollywood for ten years, his performance in Stagecoach proved to be his breakthrough role, leading to a legendary career. Stagecoach is considered one of the most influential films ever made. Orson Welles argued that it was a perfect textbook of film-making and claimed to have watched it more than forty times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane. . . . See you next week on Tumblr!
In my group of closest friends, I count many overachievers in the crafting and project-realization vein. For a still-life themed Halloween party a few years back, one among this crew sewed her own large clam shell out of shimmering fabric and lined it with an opalescent interior so that she could be an oyster on a half shell. I decided to take an easier route by emulating the trompe l’oeil masters of American painting, Harnett and Peto, with my own half-hearted attempt at their signature style of assembling paper goods on a painted wooden backdrop.
Compare the Amon Carter’s John F. Peto, A Closet Door, 1904-06, with my homage. Of course, my friend the oyster received all the congratulatory remarks.
In keeping with their reputations for preparedness, I suspect that most of the people I know have already assembled their Pinterest boards with costume ideas or have planned to make spooky breadsticks with painted almond fingernails as detached finger treats. For those of you more, shall we say, normal folks…we offer this inspirational guide to last minute Halloween costume ideas inspired by the Amon Carter’s collection. They are vetted by the least crafty among our staff.
Karl Struss, [Barbara Struss in costume], 1925
Putting a bag on your head or cutting eye holes in a sheet are the go-to costumes for uninspired people. In this case, you may put a bag on your head and tell people you are evoking the work of master photographer and cinematographer Karl Struss. Voila!
Supplies: paper bag, markers, scissors
Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable, 1939,
There are plenty of costume aficionados out there who will create their own versions of Grant Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic. Dare to be different with your own take on one of Wood’s other iconic works, Parson Weems’ Fable. George Washington’s head here is modeled after Gilbert Stuart’s rendition of the first president. It was once remarked that if George Washington were to come back to life, he better look like Stuart’s painted portrait or else he would go unrecognized!
Supplies: White shirt, blue pants, axe, white hair powder and black ribbon*
*May substitute with handmade George Washington mask using $1 bill and copier
Frederic Remington, The Sergeant, 1904
I personally find those people who paint themselves with metallic paint, stand still in public places, and then scare innocent pedestrians half to death by engaging in sudden movement highly terrifying, so feel free to skip the bronze face paint!
Supplies: floppy hat, neckerchief , fake mustache…if needed
William M. Harnett, Attention Company!, 1878
Though I wouldn’t be able to make an origami crane, I can certainly fold a paper hat. So can you! If you have forgotten how, there are many instructional Youtube videos.
Supplies: newspaper, broom handle, khaki coat, and some origami skills
William J. McCloskey, Wrapped Oranges, 1889
I have been known to call this painted rendition of the tissue paper used to protect oranges as they were shipped across the country “exuberant” for the way the flamboyant crinkled coverings make the oranges festive and celebratory. People will probably assume you are a cross between a pumpkin and a mummy, but you can clarify.
Supplies: orange clothing and tissue paper
If all else fails…might I suggest Thomas Eakins’ Swimming,1885? **
**The costume ideas in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and attitudes of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is not responsible for the legal ramifications of copying dollar bills, nor does it endorse public nudity. This disclaimer is meant with good humor and is in no way legally proper. Happy Halloween!!!
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
When a song that we’ve heard on the radio gets stuck in our heads and we sing it all day long, we call it an ear worm. Sometimes art historians develop fixations on particular works of art that dwell in our psyches—posing riddles and conundrums. Should we call the phenomenon something more glamorous than a brain or eye worm?
I had the honor of fielding questions on Twitter for #AskaCurator day—an occasion in which curators all over the world respond to queries from the Twitterverse. An exchange with Waco’s Dr. Pepper Museum led to their interest in knowing whether we had any works in our collection featuring Dr. Pepper.
Alas, though Coke advertising figures prominently in city scenes by many of our well-known photographers, Dr. Pepper is not represented in our collection.
I did, however, stumble across this gem, which is the current subject of my fixation:
Artist unknown, Cold Soda Water from the Matthews Apparatus, 1800s, 1969.186
This nineteenth-century lithograph in our collection is emblematic of one of the reasons I love being an art historian. The whole thing seems pretty innocuous on first inspection, right? The ad is meant to communicate that the “Matthews Apparatus” can provide the coldest carbonated water in a highly pressurized tank. What happens when we try to put ourselves in the mindset of its original intended audience?
A little digging reveals that John Matthews (1808–1870) was the man heralded for the popularity of carbonated drinks in America. Known as the “Soda Fountain King,” Matthews patented his “apparatus for charging water with carbon dioxide gas” in 1832. Though others had preceded him, their devices were known to explode. Matthews incorporated a pressure valve that ensured his tanks were the safest. He was responsible for countertop dispensers used in pharmacy counters to provide beverages to the general consumer, water carts, room-sized tanks, bottling tables, the soda fountains themselves, and even the first flavorings. The tank was patented in 1872, and it says so in the print, so we can get a better idea of the date of this object. Barely visible in the jet of water coming from the larger canister is the Matthews company insignia of a cherub using a monkey wrench to defend the soda from a marauding bear. Fascinating!
Here’s what sticks in the art historian’s mind, though. I had the great privilege to study shipwreck imagery as a curatorial sidekick for the exhibition "Shipwreck! Winslow Homer and The Life Line" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A little knowledge turns this innocent ad into something quite scandalous.
A nineteenth-century person lived in fear of shipwreck. The seas were unpredictable, and for much of the century, lifesaving brigades were scarce. The biggest killer was hypothermia from being subjected to the frigid Atlantic. Imagery proliferated with frozen maidens in chemises who had perished from exposure. Shipwreck stories in popular periodicals were the major news stories of disaster of their time.
The one saving grace in the event of a wreck could be a rope shot from a canon-like device called a “Lyle gun” from shore to the sinking ship. The rope was used to bear a rescue mechanism that could ferry passengers one at a time to safety, if all went according to plan.
So, with that background information, can we see where the advertiser has gone wrong? Certainly, to herald the freezing nature of the water was in poor taste. Not to mention that in place of a lifeline shot from a shore crew we have a highly ineffectual pressurized stream of water! I suppose the print boldly conveys the distinctiveness of the Matthews apparatus—but yikes!
This is not the end of my pondering, however. The print in question entered our collection in 1969. I wondered what would have prompted its acquisition. Figuring it was part of a batch of prints purchased as a single lot, I wanted to try to ascertain what treasure our past curators were seeking when this print came aboard as a likely stowaway.
I think I have the answer.
This is our marvelous painting by Carl Wimar, showing the dramatic abduction of Daniel Boone’s daughter.
Carl Wimar (1828–1862), The Abduction of Boone's Daughter by the Indians, 1855–56, oil on canvas, 1965.1
In the same batch of purchases that included the Matthews apparatus picture, we find this advertising gem.
The Father of Waters, after 1855, chromolithograph, 1969.191
It’s a chromolithograph produced by Anheuser Busch in which Boone’s daughter is replaced by beer products. My art historical colleague Mark Thistlethwaite teaches a section of a course on inappropriate advertising in which this print plays a starring role. When I mentioned my shock at the impropriety of our Matthews soda ad, he told me about this Wimar riff. How amazing to discover that this was probably the Holy Grail that our curator sought all along, with the Matthews apparatus an unexpected bonus.
The good news is, now that I have shared all of this with you, I am likely finally ready to move on to the next brain worm…but maybe I’ll drink a refreshing beverage first and raise a grateful glass to Matthews!
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
The entry wall to an exhibition can often reveal a curator’s bias. If we are not adhering to a chronological or strict thematic arrangement, the first object you see might simply be a secret personal favorite.
Such is the case with the first wall of Tales from the American West: The Rees-Jones Collection, now on view in the museum’s galleries. The show features a hearty selection of romantic, nostalgic, and virtuosic renditions of artistic imaginings of the mythic West—from bronze wranglers to vibrant oil portraits of Taos denizens.
Maybe it’s because my attempts at watercolor painting look something like this
Maggie Adler, Amateurish Watercolor, 2015
that I have become quite partial to Thomas Moran’s dazzling color combinations in Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1895, which I have placed front and center at the beginning of the exhibition.
Thomas Moran (1837–1926), Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1895, watercolor on paper, Rees-Jones Collection, 2013.15.1
Some passages remain discreet areas of unmixed color, some portions blend and bleed masterfully. Turquoise practically vibrates off the paper, and we have a palpable sense of the sublime vistas that Moran encountered. The scenes he witnessed made it into his sketchbooks as preliminary sketches that he revisited back in his studio, relying on his own sometimes quite poetic color notations as his guide. Nowhere in this work can we find a grungy, muddy soup or over-moistened, rumpled passage of paper—as are always to be found in my own creations.
How is this accomplished? With a great dose of patience. I have recently been educated in the intricacies of making watercolor. Everything plays a role, from the texture of the paper to the brushes used to the manipulation of water to the artist’s instinct to wait for the exact moment in which the paint is just dry enough to apply another layer but not so dry as to prove unmalleable.
While it is true that watercolor can be unforgiving—once the paint is applied it is not easily covered or removed—the virtuoso watercolorist has tricks up a sleeve from sponging to masking to scraping to even using stale bread to absorb excess paint.
As much as Moran intended for us to be in awe of this landscape, I am in awe of the technique that translated his view into the marvelous work on paper we have the privilege to feature in our galleries.
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
Laura Wilson’s photographs have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers, including The New Yorker, GQ, and Vanity Fair. Her work has been the subject of four books, the latest titled Avedon at Work (2003), which documents one of the twentieth century’s great photographers, Richard Avedon, at work on one of the same century’s great projects, In the American West (1985). Her latest exhibition, That Day: Laura Wilson, was organized by John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the museum, and opens September 5 at the Amon Carter. Wilson recently spoke with us...
How did being such a close student of Avedon’s process and work inform your own? I‘m naturally inclined, as Dick was, to be extremely interested in people and being responsive to their condition, their plight, their wonder. I also think I have an almost unreasonable desire to record what is before me. Dick’s creative process was an enormous influence. It wasn’t that we ever spoke of f-stops or shutter speeds, but we constantly talked about the emotion expressed on a person’s face and the way in which they stood or held themselves. A portrait is a collaboration. A strong portrait, a memorable portrait, isn’t necessarily about an individual’s beauty or handsomeness; it is accomplished when the photographer and subject work together, often without words or direction, to make an image that reveals something truthful about the human condition.
Is it possible to photograph in the American West outside its entrenched and overpowering sense of myth? The challenge is to take this entrenched myth and not be overpowered by it, but to be inspired and to expand upon it. Certainly the photographs of the men on the Y-6 Ranch reinforce the myth, but it is my hope that the portrait of the women and my recollection of their conversations expand the conventional view of ranch life. On another subject, perhaps an attempt to expand the myth is what drew me to fighter pilots in Fallon, Nevada. Are they the contemporary extension of the lone hero, the moral gunfighter? Or I may be working to counter the myth, as in the photographs along the Frontera. Dog fighting and cockfighting certainly rebut the myth of frontier righteousness. It seems critical to me for anyone working in the West to have this most American of myths always in your eye line, to constantly work to counter or extend it.
So often a viewer wonders about a subject in a photograph. This is the case for me with your beautiful image Emma. What can you tell us about her and “that day” you photographed her? Emma was a spirited, beautiful girl with a strong personality who lived, and still does live, in the Montana Hutterite colony in which she was born. She was 16 or 17 the summer afternoon this photograph was taken. I had known her for several years. She stood out among all the other young women in the colony because she was so pretty and lively and humorous. She had finished school by then, as Hutterites do after they complete the eighth grade. The evening I photographed her, she had worked during the day along with the other unmarried girls in the colony vegetable garden and helped prepare meals for the seventy or so colony members. After her chores were completed, the evening was cool and we walked up on a hill above the colony. She stood facing the waning light as the wind caught her dress in the breeze. Emma is married now with children of her own, older than she was when I took this photograph. I haven't seen her for fifteen years.
What is the biggest challenge for the documentary photographer? There is, of course, the question of subject matter. What is fresh? That is the challenge. Have you been astute or lucky enough to find something that's never been photographed before? Or can you bring new insight to a more familiar subject? Then, there is the body of work of the greatest of documentary photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson. His photographs stand like a beacon of accomplishment to all photographers. He spent his life walking and looking and photographing with a little Leica camera and made the most brilliant observations of the geometry and the emotion and the wonder of life. It is his work that we must all measure ourselves against.
Can you tell us about a shot you still regret missing? I was in Kansas City seventeen years ago in a small, dingy room off the main waiting area of the Greyhound Bus Station. A middle-aged woman, neatly dressed, sat at the desk of the station manager. She told him she had no more money for the next leg of her journey. She quietly spoke of her need to get home. Her mother was dying, alone with no one to help. I knew the woman was about to cry. I had to turn away. I couldn't bear to hear the click of the shutter against the profound grief of her voice.
What kind of camera do you use? Until two years ago, I shot everything with film. I used Tri-X rated at 320. I used my Hasselblad for portraits and my Nikon F-5 for reportage. Now, I use a Nikon D-800 with a 24, 35, 85, and 105 lens and then 2 zoom lenses: 14-24 and 24-70. This Nikon is a great camera. It's so smart I could stay home in bed, send the camera out on its own, and it would come back to the studio with great photographs.
What is a “salon hang,” and what is its relevance in our art culture today? These are questions raised by our current one-gallery installation of Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre (1831–33). On the opposite wall from Morse’s painting, which measures seven by nine feet, Maggie Adler, the curator of the space, has displayed a number of related works from our collection in a salon-style hang.
Amon Carter curator Maggie Adler did a salon hang from the collection to coincide with the display of Morse’s painting in the same gallery
A salon-style hang places pictures in groups of different sizes where the works are placed alongside, above, and below each other. The historical narrative is that during the late nineteenth century in France, the idea of hanging art differently became the fashion. The salon hang became the established pattern at the annual Paris Salon, and it suggested a hierarchy. Works by artists of importance were hung lower on the wall, while those by less important artists were hung higher.
While the artists known as the Impressionists recognized the importance of being shown in the annual Salon in order to be validated, they chose a different way to display their art. For them, art was not about “reputation” but rather about “seeing,” and so rather than stacking the art to the ceiling, they hung their works along the same linear line, all on the same level, giving each work ample space to be seen and understood.
Many art historians believe that this action and others by Cassatt, Degas, Pissarro, and the rest of the Impressionists changed the modern art world across the globe. It certainly changed the way art is hung institutionally. Still today, rarely do we see works of art hung in a museum as they are displayed in Morse’s painting. But there seems to be a discernible shift taking place; an Internet search of “salon style hang” offers up plenty of evidence of a trend toward salon hanging, which allows individuals and collectors to maximize their wall space for the display of art. I have also noticed a similar shift in the galleries of living artists, particularly those working outside the art world’s heavily networked centers.
Salon-style hanging allows individuals and collectors to maximize their wall space for the display of art
Does the salon-style hang in this day actually invert the historical sense of hierarchy present in the nineteenth century? Where artists in a community might come from multiple backgrounds, trained and untrained, the salon style captures a consciousness that is open and inviting. As an artist friend of mine shared recently: “Stand close to just one piece; step back, and with the works around it, the piece becomes part of a collection; one more step back reveals the collective consciousness of the artists of our times and how they are expressing themselves! The entire wall becomes a piece of art.”
Born in Germany but raised in Texas, Esther Pearl Watson holds an MA from the California Institute of the Arts and teaches at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Her monumental canvas Pasture Cows Crossing Indian Creek is on view in the museum’s Atrium through May 30, 2016. Watson combines memory and imagination in her paintings to tell stories from her childhood. While in Fort Worth for the installation of Pasture Cows, she took time to sit down with us.
Your father spent his life building all manner of spacecraft in the many front yards of your youth, and much of your work includes flying saucers and rockets and other hovering space forms. What compels you to make this aspect of your past such an integral part of your work? Memory painters often paint their memories as ideal. I think it is interesting to disrupt that trope by showing less-than-perfect memories.
The artist speaking with members of the museum inside her studio in L.A.; the painting behind her is Pasture Cows in process
Is your work partly a means for processing through your personal set of childhood memories? No. I’m a skilled painter imitating a de-skilled visual language. I’m more interested in what this painting is doing and not doing. Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills resemble a range of photos from B movies but are completely fictitious. While Sherman is in every image, portraying female characters in film, the work is not about her but about the viewer and what we project onto her image. We never really get to know Cindy Sherman, but hopefully we better understand ourselves.
Pasture Cows may feel emotionally real, but it’s a careful construction. It’s true that elements of my biography are found in the painting; my granddad is from Comanche, for example, and my dad built half-finished flying saucers in his garage. But I have no memory of a pink flying saucer sighting, and I never hunted specifically for the Old Civilian Fort. So why does this painting feel real? Whose childhood memories are we processing when we look at Pasture Cows?
My work looks like outsider art, with its blobby figures and pencil smudges; but I’m not an outsider artist. I’m not trying to be mistaken for one, just as Cindy Sherman is not trying to pass as a Hollywood star. I’m more interested in the terms and definitions we use in the art world. What is this painting exactly? Insider art? Faux folk art?
In addition to painting you write and illustrate graphic novels. Where did the idea for your series Unlovable come from? It’s based on a diary I found in a gas station bathroom. I like that the main character makes the same mistakes we all do, but it’s in hindsight that we can laugh about it.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? Becoming an artist!
Both your husband and daughter are artists. Do you collaborate? Yes. More often, we work side by side. Our home often feels like and artists’ residency.
You often use glitter in your work, including in Pasture Cows. Does it have significance other than an aesthetic one? When my daughter was young she wore a lot of glittery clothing. I use glitter as a reference to her.
Esther in front of her painting shortly after it was installed in the museum's Atrium
Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” Some visitors might look at your painting and think it appears raw or amateurish. What would you say to them? I agree with Picasso. I can paint realistic, but those paintings simply imitate. I’m not interested in reproducing imagery I can capture with my camera. Some people feel a sense of accomplishment when they can render realistic. Some people give up painting when they cannot paint realistic. What I’m doing is purposely making my work look like I can’t paint. It’s not easy to do because if it’s done wrong, then my work will feel insincere. I do leave hints that my work comes from an educated place. You can tell by the content and can see that I’m using balanced compositions and complex color harmonies.
There are several narratives occurring in Pasture Cows. Can you speak to the more significant ones? My granddad working with the fence taught me about the payoff of hard work. The saucer is based on my dad’s dreams of returning to Italy. The pink glitter is a reference to my daughter.
What is the one work of art that everyone should see in person? I’m too humble to assume everyone’s taste is similar to my own. For me, I was wondering around Turin, Italy, with my dad and husband. We walked into the Santuario Basilica La Consolata and found floor-to-ceiling ex-votos [a votive offering to a saint]. They were crudely drawn, life-changing moments in people’s lives: when a mother was hit by a train or a son was shot in war. These were moments when miracles happened. Moments when people felt blessed and watched over.
There’s a dollop of paint in the sky above the flying buzzard in Pasture Cows. It’s intentional, but why? I like what people project onto it. There are lots of blobs in the painting, but when they’re out of place we give them special meaning. That blob shows us that we’re all projecting stories in everything we see.
Summertime means Storytime at the Amon Carter. There are two more opportunities for you and your family to join us as we read stories and make art! Storytime is held every Wednesday through July 29, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
While the museum is under renovation paid parking is available at Will Rogers Memorial Center located on West Lancaster Avenue and Gendy Street. The museum is unable to validate parking fees. Additional parking information may be found here.
Storytime is sponsored in part by Galderma Laboratories, LP. and Terra Foundation for American Art. Snacks provided by GoGo squeeZ.
As I spend time with our distinguished visiting painting Gallery of the Louvre, painted in 1833 by Samuel F. B. Morse and on loan to us from the Terra Foundation, the mean name-calling taunt of “copycat” from the school playground keeps running through my mind. Faced with one of American art’s most celebrated works of copying, Gallery of the Louvre, which includes Morse’s miniaturized replicas of some of the most influential works of European art, I muse about how copying has become something worthy of disdain instead of an homage to the greats, a method of art instruction, or a way of disseminating information across oceans and boundaries.
Bear in mind, I’m not advocating plagiarism here, but it was common practice in days of yore to spend time studying form, color, and composition by replicating illustrious art—whether an original painting or a plaster cast of a notable Roman marble copy of a Greek bronze original. And printed versions of painted artworks were often the only means of exposure to art for many people before the advent of American museums.
We recently acquired a marvelous original painting by Henry Inman (1801–1846) of Shawnee leader Payta-kootha, or “Flying Clouds” as he was commonly known, that is a translation of an oil portrait by the artist Charles Bird King (1785–1862). (The work will be featured in the next issue of the members’ magazine and will go on view in the Main Gallery this fall.) In the 1820s, Thomas L. McKenney, soon to be Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, aspired to create a painting gallery of American Indian leaders for the nation. He enlisted King to paint them, but when it came time to produce lithographic copies of the works, McKenney selected Inman to create oil paintings based on King’s portraits that featured sophisticated rendering of light, shadow, and dimension. Inman’s work became the basis for a three-volume portfolio of hand-colored lithographs, The Indian Tribes of North America, published between 1837–44, considered one of the finest accomplishments of American printing. The Inman commission was a fortunate one, as the majority of King’s portraits were lost in a fire in 1865.
Henry Inman, Payta-kootha (Flying Clouds), 1832-3 and the lithograph based on Inman's painting.
Other examples of copying are numerous. Asher B. Durand (1796–1886) painted a copy of John Vanderlyn’s famously controversial nude Ariadne (1809–14) that he then translated into an exquisite engraving that is one of the highlights of our works-on-paper collection.
Durand's engraving and etching Ariadne, 1835 after his painted copy of Vanderlyn's original.
In copying, Durand did put his own spin on the Vanderlyn original. Other artists, such as Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart, made a cottage industry of painting and repainting their own portraits of George Washington.
Many works in our collection have chromolithographic doppelgangers. Color prints of Bierstadt’s painted views of Yosemite contributed to his great fame, and Martin Johnson Heade’s hummingbird paintings have exquisite printed counterparts.
Martin Johnson Heade's painting Two Hummingbirds Above a White Orchid, ca. 1875-90 and one of the many printed versions in our collection of Heade's Brazillian hummingbirds .
Artists even copied themselves—working on one idea throughout multiple media. A work by Remington could find expression in drawing, painted sketch, and wood engraving—all of which he would have had a hand in creating.
Of course, there’s still such a thing as bad copying in the form of forgery or peeking at someone’s test answers or claiming someone else’s ingenuity as your own innovation. But, as it pertains to the long history of art, it is worth noting that “copycat” is not a dirty word.
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
By Esther Pearl Watson
I first realized that the flying saucers my dad built during my childhood were an art form when I came across Douglas Curran’s book In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space, which exposed me to a wide range of individuals from the United States and Canada who built spaceships that looked like my father’s constructions. Curran’s photographs documented all shapes and sizes of the metal ships and their builders. My father saw his flying saucers as working prototypes for the future of transportation, but to me they were a creative vision. Folk art has always felt like the language of my heritage.
I began working in the vernacular of memory paintings in 2003. My family kept few photos of the saucers my dad built, as we moved often. Painting from memory is challenging because memory is fallible. I would paint the same house in Sachse, Texas, over and over again, using different tints of pink or depicting different arrangements of windows. There was no reference to correct my own distorted memory because that house was torn down to make room for tract homes. My own painting practice helped me understand how the childhood farm paintings by Velox Ward, for example, became idealized versions of a less-than-ideal upbringing.
My paintings are often the opposite of idealistic childhoods found in the memory paintings of artists like Fannie Lou Spelce. Spelce was a retired cardiovascular nurse. Her themes included country fairs, children playing games, and local harvest festivals. Like the demands of her job, her paintings required her to pay careful attention to the smallest details—objects are laid out in an organized fashion at the farm stand, and the viewer can see each figure engaged in specific activities at the country fair.
Not long after I became interested in Spelce’s work, I learned about Texas memory painters through the Webb Gallery in Waxahatchie. I loved looking at the melted taffy Texas landscapes of Reverend Jonnie Swearingen’s oil paintings of farm work. Eddie Arning's oil pastels remind me of quilt appliques. His blocky figures stand on a street corner or work with animals on the farm. Someone once told me my paintings looked like they could be quilted. My great-grandmother and namesake, Pearl, was an accomplished quilter. Inspired by her handiwork, I enlarged a drawing and quilted a scene of my dad’s flying saucer on fire in the cow pasture. When I was done, I didn’t know what to do with the quilt. It felt odd to sit on the couch covered with a quilted memory.
My grandparents and I drove through Blanket, Texas, many times on our way to the roller-skating rink in Brownwood. I recognized the land and the people in H. O. Kelly’s painting of the area. Years later, I would see similar stories in folk art found in Cecilia Steinfeldt’s book, Texas Folk Art: One Hundred Fifty Years of the Southwestern Tradition. There is something electrifying in learning about memory painters from my home state who captured the gray bark of pecan trees and the dried summer grass that is so rooted in my own memory.
My work has always been about telling stories, transporting the viewer through the patchwork fields and neglected small towns of my Texas childhood. Growing up with an eccentric father, whose obsession with building spaceships out of scrap metal in the backyard often led to disastrous results, forced our family to move again and again. We were always one step ahead of trouble—setting the field on fire with the careless use of an acetylene torch or finding that our TV had been pawned for a sheet of aluminum were not uncommon experiences for us. I paint these difficult memories because life is not ideal. The Texas memory painters didn’t always have simple or easy lives, which can be seen if you pay careful attention to the details of their dusty farm scenes and simple gatherings. Memory painters capture more than personal memories—together their work becomes a shared history, a story of Texas and its people.