Photo of the Week: Welcoming Spring

I stumbled across this image a while back and have been looking for a reason to post it ever since. Spring's late arrival in North Texas seems like a good enough reason to me! How better to welcome sunshine and warm weather than by throwing on your favorite toga and running around barefoot in the woods?

(This is actually a portrait of German opera singer Johannes Sembach (1881-1944) in costume, probably taken during his tenure at the Metropolitan Opera.)

Karl Struss, [Johannes Sembach in costume standing beside lake], autochrome, ca. 1918

Public Program Alert

I am very excited to announce our upcoming program Pacesetters in American Art and Culture on March 25. This program was inspired by the special exhibition American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art on display through May 30.

To fully understand the inspiration for this program, we must look to A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr. He was a dynamic man who became director of the Wadsworth Atheneum (from which this exhibition hails) in 1927 at the young age of 26. From there he threw lavish parties, helped introduce America to modern art, and energized all who came in contact with him–a true pacesetter in American art. His legacy for collecting new and cutting-edge work continues at the Wadsworth. Last week we held a book club to learn more about Chick Austin (and four others)with the book Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who opened America to a New Art, 1928–1943.

We thought it would be great to showcase individuals who we feel are pacesetters today in the arts and humanities and bring them together to speak about what drives their creativity and how they continue to make innovative and energetic contributions to the arts and humanities as their careers progress.

Leading up to the program on March 25, I will offer a brief introduction to each panelist and explain why we chose them. Our panelists are Kimberly Davenport, Tyler Green, and Sedrick Huckaby.

I first came across Kimberly Davenport about four years ago while visiting a friend in Houston. I heard of the innovative exhibitions at the Rice Gallery (where she is Director) and learned that it is strictly a site specific installation gallery where artists come and create, celebrate, and then tear it all down. This is not the norm for university galleries! Many university galleries house local and some nationally-known artists, a faculty exhibition, senior exhibitions, and then start the rotation over again the next school year. It seems to be the mold that works, and quite well in many places. But, when Davenport became Director of Rice Gallery, she broke the mold. She believed in her dream for Rice Gallery, and the powers that be believed in her. Since starting in 1994, she not only developed the vision and artistic direction for Rice Gallery, but also serves as its curator.

As we began brainstorming potential pacesetters for this upcoming program, Davenport immediately came to mind. Some internet searching revealed that she has had a very interesting career path prior to starting at Rice Gallery. She has also worked as a muralist in Baltimore, was curator of contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum (where our current exhibition is from), and earned a graduate degree in divinity from Yale University. While at Yale, she worked as a graduate assistant for the Department of European and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery and was hired on as staff after graduation.

Today, in addition to her duties at Rice Gallery, Davenport is a National Peer of the Design Excellence Program of the United States General Services Administration, and in 2007 served as a member of the GSA’s national Design Awards jury. She is a member of the University of Houston Public Art Committee, as well as the Houston Museum District Association, where she serves as vice president of the board. She holds degrees from the Maryland Institute College of Art and Yale University.

Come and hear more about Kimberly Davenport during our free public program Pacesetters in American Art and Culture and learn about what gets her motivated, how she handles obstacles, and how she continues to grow and change with the arts.

Stay tuned to learn more about our other two panelists!

Admission is free, but because seating is limited, reservations are required. Call 817.989.5030 or e-mail to register.


Kimberly Davenport and El Anatsui in front of his site-specific installation Gli, 2010, Photo: Nash Baker

It Works on Paper: Behind the Scenes in the Carter's Photo Lab

With the immediacy of camera phones that send multimedia messages and post photos directly to Flickr and Facebook, it’s easy to take digital images for granted these days. When you see images of artworks on a museum’s website, you don’t necessarily think about all the work that went into getting that image (and the accompanying metadata) out there for you to see.

We’ve just passed the halfway point in our NEA grant-funded works on paper digitization project and have thousands of images to show for all of our hard work, which is remarkable because each artwork must be very carefully moved out of storage, shot by the Carter’s photography assistant, and returned to storage. The images are processed and metadata is embedded in each file”¦and all of this happens after the works have been thoroughly cataloged and measured.

Our photography assistant, Rachel, has been trained to handle artworks and makes the day-to-day decisions about the best ways to shoot works on paper whose medium, dimensions, and other needs vary widely across the collection.

Here, Rachel is shooting a Civil War mezzotint from the Carter’s prints collection. She’s using a special camera and studio setup for larger objects in the collection.

Photography assistant Rachel shoots a large print

And here is the fruit of her labor, an accurate reproduction of the print. Not only will this image end up on the Carter’s website, it will also be used internally by staff from several departments and made available for educational programs and museum publications.

 Pickett's Charge, mezzotint, 1872
John Sartain (1808-1897), after Peter Rothermel (1812 or 1817-1895), The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge, mezzotint, 1872, Gift of Edward L. Mattil

Know Before You Go: Modern Art

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “modern art?” Multi-colored Marilyns? Blocks of color? These are wonderful examples of the ism that is modern, but our recent special exhibition (and the Carter’s great collection of modern paintings and sculptures) has broadened my horizons. Here are some ideas on how to learn more about modern art before you visit the Carter.

For an informative read on the modern movement, try Why a Painting is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art, by Nancy Heller. This easy-to-digest book helps you use analytical skills you already have to “read” modern art and enjoy it. This book is available from the Fort Worth Public Library or through your local book retailer.

Here are some links to sites about artists in this exhibition and in our permanent collection:
Alexander Calder Foundation
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Edward Hopper Scrapbook from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Stuart Davis

Robert McChesney, Variations, 1946, Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite on paper, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Electra Carlin
Robert McChesney (1913-2008)
Variations, 1946
Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite on paper
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Electra Carlin

American Moderns on Paper review

Star-Telegram art critic Gaile Robinson writes of the Carter's new special exhibition: "Museumgoers are rarely treated to works on paper shows, and this is an opportunity to see more than 100 pieces by a who's who of America's most famous artists of the past century."

Read what else she had to say about American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

Inside American Moderns on Paper

This Week in the Arts has posted a great podcast interview with Elizabeth Kornhauser, curator of the exhibition American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, which is now open at the Carter. She provides a lot of great background information about the artists in the show, how exhibitions are organized, and why these works are rarely seen by the public.

American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art will be on view in the Carter's special exhibition galleries February 27-May 30, after which it travels to the Portland Museum of Art in Maine and back home to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.

Edited to add: you can also read a great review of this exhibition in the Star-Telegram.

Photo of the Week (with bonus drawing!): Texas Independence

Today is Texas Independence Day, which celebrates the signing of Texas's declaration of independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. While a convention was gathered in Washington-on-the-Brazos to write the declaration of independence, the two-week long Battle of the Alamo was taking place in San Antonio. Although the battle was a victory for Mexico, it rallied a tremendous amount of support for the Texian army and "Remember the Alamo!" became its battle cry.

This week we have two images of the Alamo, created a century apart. You'll notice the Alamo building, which was partially demolished after the battle, is in really bad shape in the drawing by Edward Everett, who came to Texas in the 1840s to fight in the U.S.-Mexican War. It was then renovated by the time Laura Gilpin took the photo below, a hundred years later.

Edward Everett (1818-1903), Ruins of the Church of the Alamo, San Antonio de Béxar, transparent and opaque watercolor and ink on paper, 1847
Gift of Mrs. Anne Burnett Tandy in memory of her father Thomas Lloyd Burnett, 1870-1938

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979), The Alamo, Source of Texas History, gelatin silver print, 1947
© 1979 Amon Carter Museum, Bequest of the artist

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 February 2010 went out today, and you can access it here.

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