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Seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting bluebonnets...?

Not having grown up in Texas, when I first joined the Carter team I did not realize the significance of Julian Onderdonk’s painting A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas. A reproduction of it was hanging in my office when I arrived, and I was not impressed. It was only after the Gallery Teachers and I decided to use it on a tour that I began to appreciate the painting’s aesthetic qualities as well as its importance to the state of Texas.

Julian Onderdonk, A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, 1918, Oil on canvas, Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, In honor of Lady Bird Johnson

Julian Onderdonk (1882–1922)
A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, 1918
Oil on canvas
Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, In honor of Lady Bird Johnson

Students from Texas are so familiar with these little blue flowers that most of the time they don’t even need to look at the label to figure out what we are looking at. In fact, when we situate students in front of this painting they can hardly wait to start talking! I apprise students of my non-Texas-native status and they are thrilled to tell me why this flower is so important to the state (for those of you who don’t know bluebonnets are the official state flower of Texas. A springtime Texas tradition is to take photographs of kids and pets nestled among the bluebonnets.). They also warn me not to pick bluebonnets in the wild (a commonly held belief is that it is illegal to pick wild bluebonnets in the state of Texas). Once we establish what we are looking at (field of bluebonnets), where we are (just outside of San Antonio, Texas), what season it is (bluebonnets bloom in the spring), we begin our multi-sensory approach to experiencing this work of art.

As the students and I begin our imaginary trek on the path that cuts through this field of bluebonnets, I ask them to stop and take look around to tell me what they see. The value in stopping and just looking is apparent when students begin to describe their bluebonnet surroundings. They notice (of course) the bluebonnets, but then they take in the tall, gangly trees on the left with the green tufts of leaves and contrast them with the delicate, wispy trees on the right that are just starting to blossom with the slimmest white buds. They explore the scene a little more and discover the hills in the background as their eyes begin to look upward to the sky. Students often remark that in a painting so full of blue that it’s hard to tell where the bluebonnets end and the sky begins.

We move on to our next sense as we are standing on the path. I ask the students to close their eyes, inhale deeply, and tell me what they think they would smell. Fresh air, rain, dirt, and the country are all frequent answers. My favorite has to be “it would smell like when you pull towels out of the dryer and stick your face in them.” Yes, this field of bluebonnets would smell exactly like a face-full of clean towels.

This seemingly silent scene seems to spring to life when I ask students to listen for sounds. We frequently hear birds chirping and tweeting high up in the trees. As soon as one student mentions that we might hear a bee, one by one each student begins to buzz until we have a gallery that would make a beekeeper smile. Every once in a while we encounter a snake on our walk. Slowly the students start hissing and suddenly one snake becomes a nest of snakes as we talk about all of them slithering through the bluebonnets. Students like to point out that we probably wouldn’t see the snakes in the tall bluebonnets, but we would hear them.

We stop again on the path and this time I ask the students to pretend to take off their shoes. As we take a few barefoot steps I want them to describe what they feel underneath their feet. This is their chance to practice using texture words: hard, rough, gritty, bumpy, course, dusty, rocky, and dry. Next I ask them to imagine that it had rained earlier in the day and to take a few steps. Now the fun texture words enter into our conversation: squishy, soggy, muddy, sticky, gooey, jelly-like, and slippery.

As we near the end of our walk through the bluebonnets I can always tell that they students are wondering what I am going to have them taste. Rather than having them eat a bluebonnet, I tell them that we are going to have a picnic and they get to pick what they would like to pack in their picnic baskets. After a little encouragement, students are very excited to talk about their food choices. Sometimes their lunches are inspired by the bluebonnets and include grape jelly sandwiches, purple Gatorade, blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers candy, blueberry pie, red grapes, berry Fruit Roll Ups, and grape soda. Other times students are truly thinking with their stomachs and say they would pack chocolate cake, hamburgers, nachos (with jalapenos), sandwiches, fruit, cookies, Happy Meals, and their mom’s meatballs. One of my favorite taste-related responses was from a student who requested to have a pizza delivered to our field of bluebonnets. I don’t think pizza would taste quite as good anywhere else.

As you look at and think about A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, I invite you to use the same multi-sensory approach as we use with students. Where do your eyes take you in this work of art? What does the country-side smell like to you? If you listen closely, what do you hear? Run your fingers along the delicate tops of the flowers; how does it feel? Finally, what meal would you eat in this glorious field of bluebonnets?

Photo of the Week: Presidential Portrait (in Snow!)

Since George Washington died several years before the first photograph was taken, we obviously have no photographic images of our first president. But here we have the next best thing: a unique portrait in a medium we here in Fort Worth have become rather familiar with lately.

unknown artist, George Washington, 1913, autochrome
Unknown artist, Geo. Washington 12/10/13, autochrome, 1913

Photo of the Week: Civil Rights in 1960

This past Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins and the opening of the new International Civil Rights Center & Museum at the site of the sit-ins, a former Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro.

The Greensboro sit-ins quickly launched similar non-violent protests across North Carolina and a number of student civil rights groups, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC, whose first leader was future Washington D.C. mayor Marion Berry, organized voter registration drives all over the rural South and played an important role in the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr’s "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered.

This photograph shows SNCC members training to respond to the physical dangers of their work. The photographer, James Karales, was a photojournalist originally from Ohio who worked for Look magazine and shot many key events in the Civil Rights Movement.

James Karales, Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, gelatin silver print, 1960
James Karales (1930-2002), Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, gelatin silver print, 1960, ©2002 Monica Karales

New Program Alert!

The Carter offers a new program, Crafting from the Collection, this evening from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Associate Registrar Jana Hill (one of the many creative artisans on our staff and a regular contributor to the Carter's blog) will lead a stimulating evening of dialogue and inspiration amidst great examples of American art. Who knows where the evening will lead you!

It Works on Paper: The Fanciful Buffalo

Last spring, the Carter was awarded a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to catalog and digitize the entire works on paper collection, which is comprised of over 7000 drawings, watercolors, and prints of all kinds. We are well into the project now, and ready to start sharing some of the great stuff that we’ve been working with all year.

I’m kicking off this series of blog posts with a group of some of the oldest prints in the Carter’s collection. You’ll notice that these are unusually whimsical images, most likely drawn by Europeans who had not seen the American bison (or his friend, the deer) in person.

Johann Holzhalb, Americanischer Aur-Ochs. Bos Bison., etching
Johann Rudolf Holzhalb (Swiss, 1723-1806), Americanischer Aur-Ochs. Bos Bison, etching, ca. 1790

unknown artist, The American Bison. The Cape Buffalo, engraving
Unknown artist, The American Bison. The Cape Buffalo., engraving with applied watercolor, 1799

Bramati and Raineri, [Bison], aquatint and etching with applied watercolor
Bramati and Raineri, [Bison], aquatint and etching with applied watercolor, ca. 1753-1825
So this buffalo looks pretty normal, but check out that deer's antlers!

Unknown artist, Lopez Yucati and the Bison. (North America), lithograph with applied watercolor
Unknown artist, Lopez Yucati and the Bison. (North America), lithograph with applied watercolor, ca. 1830-1860

Unknown artist, Buffle, lithograph with applied watercolor, ca. 1820-1850
Unknown artist, Buffle., lithograph with applied watercolor, ca. 1820-1850

Library New Books!

Each month the library posts a report listing all the books we have cataloged in the previous month. These reports constitute mainly new items entering the library's collection. The report for January 2010 went out today, and you can access it here.

Links I Like

Isn’t the Internet great? There is so much good information at your fingertips and, sadly, so much bad information too. The Teaching Resource Center offers an online tool that helps you find classroom-worthy content. Look for grade level appropriate Web links on the Teaching Resource Center's del.icio.us bookmark page. Here at the Carter we talk about a wide variety of subjects and this is reflected in the tags used to describe the selected Web sites. Look for Highly Recommended and TRC-Materials-Available tags for Web pages that directly support art on the walls and ongoing conversations in the galleries.

Check out these helpful links for classroom activities in February ”¦

African Americans Seen Through the Eyes of Newsreel Cameramen

This small digital collection from the libraries of the University of South Carolina features newsreels of African Americans selected from the period of 1919 to 1963 when "Fox News and Fox Movietone News camera crews covered the people and events of the country and, indeed, the world." Some of the clips include the third anniversary of Tuskegee Army Airfield, Josephine Baker in the Netherlands, and Jack Johnson's Jazz Band.

A Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials Library of Congress

Examples by African-American artists of writing, music, and art during the 1920s and 1930s are well represented in the vast collections of the Library of Congress. This guide presents the Library's resources as well as links to external Web sites.

Images of African Americans from the 19th Century

This site offers thematically categorized selection of images from the New York Public Library and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Topics covered range from the Civil War to Social Life and Customs.

George Bellows, Sixteen East Gay Street, Lithograph, ca.1923-1924

Geoge Bellows, Sixteen East Gay Street, Lithograph, ca. 1923-924

Getting to Know: Thomas Cole

Did you know that the artist known as the father of American landscape painting was born in England? Born in the industrial center of Bolton-le-Moors in 1801, Thomas Cole immigrated to America in 1818. His masterpiece The Hunter’s Return (1845) visually demonstrates the principles of landscape painting he put forth in his artist manifesto “Essay on American Scenery” penned just nine years earlier.

Thomas Cole, The Hunter's Return, Oil on canvas, 1845

Cole challenged his fellow artists to look around their own backyard and capture the unique beauty of the United States, rather than the European scenes and styles he felt many American artists were then using. He believed that American landscapes should include five crucial elements: wildness, mountains, water, forests, and sky. Can you find them all in The Hunter’s Return?

Besides championing a uniquely American style, Cole also was forward thinking in terms of the environment. After describing the beauty of the American landscape, toward the end of his Essay he remarked

Yet I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away---the ravages of the axe are daily increasing---the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation. The wayside is becoming shadeless, and another generation will behold spots, now rife with beauty, desecrated by what is called improvement; which, as yet, generally destroys Nature’s beauty without substituting that of Art. This is a regret rather than a complaint; such is the road society has to travel; it may lead to refinement in the end, but the traveller who sees the place of rest close at hand, dislikes the road that has so many unnecessary windings.

Look again at The Hunter’s Return. What visual evidence do you think Cole has included to express his concern about westward movement?

Over 150 years later, American artists are still grappling with how the environment is changing. Next time that you’re at the Carter, make sure to visit Cole’s work and tip your hat to this American painting pioneer!

Photo of the Week: Glaciers & Global Warming

Our Photo of the Week is drawn from the Carter’s collection of over 100 works by 19th century photographer Carleton Watkins. This albumen silver print, Commencement of the Whitney Glacier, Summit of Mt. Shasta, is currently on loan to the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California, for their exhibition The Art of Mount Shasta.

Carleton Watkins, Commencement of the Whitney Glacier, Summit of Mt. Shasta, 1870, albument silver print
Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), Commencement of the Whitney Glacier, Summit of Mt. Shasta, 1870, albumen silver print ca. 1876

The Whitney Glacier is one of seven glaciers found on Mount Shasta, which is located in northern California near the Oregon border. While 90% of the world’s glacier’s are shrinking, the Whitney Glacier is of special interest today because it is one of very few glaciers in the world actually growing as a result of global warming. Apparently warming of the Pacific Ocean has caused increased snowfall in northern California, accounting for 30% growth of the Whitney Glacier in the past 50 years.

Commencement of the Whitney Glacier, Summit of Mt. Shasta is on view at Turtle Bay Exploration Park through May 3, 2010.

Another sighting!

I saw the city bus decorated with the Carter's painting, Wrapped Oranges again this morning on my way to work. I snapped a quick shot of it with my phone as it came through the Camp Bowie/Montgomery intersection right by the museum:

Amon Carter Museum bus