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.
Most people understand the editing and proofreading part of making books. But what about the illustrations in a book, including the art on the jacket?
Many readers of art books will never see the actual objects in the pages they turn, or they’ll see them once and buy the catalogue so they can see them again whenever they wish. For this reason, at the Amon Carter our paramount goal in reproducing art is to hew as closely as possible to the object itself, warts and all.
Enter Steve Watson, senior photographer at the Amon Carter. Whether he photographs art objects himself or receives files for reproduction from other institutions, it is Steve’s task to make certain a native file will generate a reproduction as true as possible to the art it represents.
In this photo, Steve is working his way through the stack of 492 image proofs for our monumental book Charles M. Russell, Watercolors: 1887−1926. At this stage, he’s already deep into the process of making sure the art is printed accurately. He’s spent many hours photographing objects and calibrating files to get to this point.
To accurately assess the colors on a printed proof, Steve is working in the museum’s color-viewing booth, which emits full-spectrum light in a viewing environment that is standard in the printing industry. The exact same lighting conditions will be used when the book is on press to compare approved color proofs with printed sheets coming off the press. If the printed reproductions match the approved proof, then all is good. If not, then adjustments are made on press, or new plates are made that can achieve what the proof shows.
In the photograph, Steve is either approving proofs or marking them with corrections; when he’s done, all the proofs will be returned to the proofing company, called a “color separator.” Any proofs Steve has marked for correction will be revisited and fine-tuned with color, contrast, or lightness corrections as noted, then a second round of proofs will be produced to show the updated state of the image. This continues until every proof is approved. All the approved files will then be used by the printing company to make the plates for the press, and as printed sheets come off the press, the approved proofs will be used by the pressman as a standard to match.
I’m posting about every two weeks on the process, so come back to Booktalk for the latest updates. You can follow the project on #CMRussellBook as well.
Don’t wait too late to preorder your copy—only a total of 750 are being produced, and only 250 of those will be hand-assembled with leather binding, signed and numbered by the authors. If you have any questions about the book or its production, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to preorder, contact Melody Caban at email@example.com.
“Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.” –John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Anyone who’s into reading can relate to Steinbeck’s character Tom Hamilton. I recently became so immersed in East of Eden, where Tom exists, that daylight dimmed into evening every day without my realizing it, things needing done piled up around me. Hours after I had set the book aside, I carried its narrative around under my skin.
Reading is how most of us get books all over ourselves. But here at the museum, we get covered in books by making them as much as by reading them. We’re into production now, in fact, on a beauty that is big enough to cover us all, Charles M. Russell: Watercolors, 1887−1926 by Dr. Rick Stewart and Jodie Utter.
The editing has long been done on the book—months of parsing through the prose, making sure it reads clearly, that facts square up from chapter to chapter, that references are accurate. This exercise in molding the words of a book hinges on an intimate working relationship, built on trust, between editor and author, both of whom tunnel together like moles through page after page of manuscript.
Now, though, we’re just finishing proofreading the typeset pages, all 496 of them! These marked pages, all designed and laid out as they will appear in the finished publication, go back to Seattle this week, where Marquand Editions is designing the tome. Marquand’s team will key our changes and corrections into the master files and issue us a new, clean set of pages to review again, making certain all the changes were input correctly. Proofreading a book of this size involves a lot of crawling and groveling for sure, even if the pages aren’t yet between covers!
The books in the image are mockups and subject to change.
The long-anticipated book on the Cowboy Artist’s expansive body of watercolors is in production! More than four dozen of you have already preordered your copies. If you’re not among them, no worries. The museum is publishing two editions: a Limited Edition of 500 copies; and a hand-assembled, leather-bound Collector’s Edition of 250 copies.
You may not know that Charles M. Russell (1864–1926) always considered himself a better watercolorist than a painter in oils, and some of his family members and friends agreed with him. Even today, experts who have studied his art in detail believe that his watercolors represent some of his finest efforts.
Dr. Rick Stewart is among these experts. Many of you know him as the longtime curator of western art at the Amon Carter, and its director for a decade. Rick, who retired in 2010, has published too many books to detail here; but if you follow Russell, you know Rick authored the definitive book on the artist’s sculpture (Charles M. Russell, Sculptor: Abrams, 1995). You know, too, how accessible his writing is.
Rick’s essay is accompanied by one on Russell’s technique and materials, written by Jodie Utter, conservator at the Amon Carter. To date, this is the only scientific study of this sort executed on these objects. Utter reveals some amazing insights, and her illustrations are unprecedented in Russell studies.
These two editions are being closely managed by the museum’s Publications Department. We’ve partnered with Marquand Books in Seattle to design and package both editions. The Collector’s Edition will be assembled by Marquand Editions in Tieton, Washington.
Where are we? We are near to finishing proofreading of the typeset pages, which will go back to our book packager in Seattle this month. This month, too, the first round of color proofs for the more than 400 illustrations will arrive at the museum for our review.
I’ll be posting pictures and updates from now until the book delivers in January 2016! Follow the production here, and on social media at #CMRussellBook.
The Roman Bronze Works of New York was the premier art bronze foundry in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1991, the Amon Carter bought business records of the foundry, recognizing them as key to documenting the work of American sculptors.
Several public sculptures in Fort Worth were cast by the Roman Bronze Works, including the monumental equestrian statue located off Lancaster Avenue in front of the Will Rogers Memorial Center. The statue of Will Rogers sitting on top of his horse was commissioned by Amon G. Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and longtime friend of Rogers. Rogers was killed in a plane crash in 1935, and when the complex was completed in 1936, Carter named it after him. Carter chose for the commission an artist with a long Texas pedigree, Electra Waggoner Biggs of the Waggoner Ranch family (who were also owners of Fort Worth’s W. T. Waggoner Building).
With the museum’s acquisition of the Roman Bronze Works archive, the story of the statue’s casting can be fully documented. The Amon G. Carter Papers and the Roman Bronze Archive provide both sides of the correspondence and planning of the sculpture from its inception in 1942 to its official unveiling in 1947 (as well as two further copies erected at Texas Tech, Lubbock, and the Will Rogers Memorial Museums, Claremore, Oklahoma).
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.
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.
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.