Editor's note: The following essay by Michael Grauer was published on May 31, 2012 in Resource Library with permission of the author and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
Texas Impressionism: Branding with Brushstroke and Color, 1885-1935
by Michael Grauer
"The period from about 1885 to 1920 constitutes the years of [Impressionism's] ascendancy [in the United States] and the achievements and innovations of the principal American masters of the movement." William H. Gerdts, The Golden Age of American Impressionism.
In June 1874 Billy Dixon and the other 27 buffalo hunters (and one woman) at Adobe Walls in northwest Texas weren't terribly concerned about the first Impressionist exhibition held in Paris earlier that year. In fact the furor over the newest French art movement paled in comparison to that of 300-600 Southern Plains Indians descending upon the trading post about 4:00 a.m. on 27 June. Impressionism was not on their minds. Esse Forrester-O'Brien put it more succinctly in her Art and Artists of Texas (1935): "Art is especially slow where scalping is in style."
When the first French "Impressionist" exhibition occurred in Paris in April 1874 much of Texas was unsettled. In fact, very few settlements existed west of Fort Worth (save El Paso). Texas art was still in its infancy: Frank Reaugh was still in Illinois, two years removed from Texas; the next year Robert Onderdonk would break away from the National Academy of Design along with several other students to form the Art Students League, but not arrive in Texas for four more years; Emma Richardson Cherry had yet to take her first art lesson at the Art Institute of Chicago and would not get to Texas for over 20 years.
Between 1870 and 1890, Texas took giant leaps forward in terms of its population. For example, the arrival of the railroad in Dallas in the early 1870s, caused a population boom of 600 percent between 1870 and 1880. The railroads also provide a means to get east Texas lumber and cotton to markets in the east. Moreover, the range-cattle industry reached its zenith during this period. Cattle, cotton, and lumber brought newly-gained wealth to the state.
Ironically, the life of the best-known Texas Impressionist, Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922), almost perfectly brackets the rise, practice, and decline of Impressionist painting in the United States. By about 1920, American art scholar William H. Gerdts observes, "Impressionism, once a vital, modern force in American painting, had become both conventionalized and conservative in the light of newer developments in American art." In Texas, Impressionism held on a little longer.
For purposes of this exhibition, this writer has chosen to adhere rigidly to a few Impressionist requirements for a painting to be included; namely: painted between 1885 and 1935; a brighter palette bordering on and including the pastel colors; relatively short, active brushwork with strokes applied quickly over the surface; painted en plein air.
According to Gerdts "The earliest American reaction to French Impressionism was uniformly negative" and four years later sporadic exhibitions of French Impressionist paintings in the United States were "increasingly generating critical controversy." The 1883 showing of 18 French Impressionist paintings at Durand-Ruel's in Boston "drew critical fireworks." But "no exhibition held in the United States ever generated such critical controversy, ranging from total condemnation to tempered enthusiasm" as Durand-Ruel's exhibition of 250 French Impressionist works in New York City in 1886." However, in spite of the overall negativity most critics were consistent in their "approval of the landscapes - primarily those of [Claude] Monet -- and the execration of the figural works of [Edgar] Degas and [Auguste] Renoir." This is critical to the flowering of impressionism in Texas.
The first mention of impressionism relating to art in the Galveston Daily News (which also covered Houston) was on Jan 2, 1884 in an article reprinted from New York describing an exhibition at the National Academy of Design (no specific paintings mentioned). The first mention in the Dallas Morning News was Dec 2, 1888.
Recent scholarship and exhibitions have followed the early Texas art "legend" and given to Julian Onderdonk the mantle of the primary conduit for Impressionism to Texas. The story goes that when Julian returned to Texas in 1909 he was the sole organizer of the art exhibitions at the State Fair of Texas, having succeeded his father in that role in 1906. Unfortunately, the facts don't support this old saw and the hegemony of the Onderdonks over all things Impressionist in Texas.
By 1900, two other main figures in early Texas art -- besides Julian Onderdonk -- had emerged: Emma Richardson Cherry and Frank Reaugh. By this time both had become established artists in Texas, had studied in noted American art schools, studied and traveled in Europe, and had been exposed to French Impressionsim and its offshoots in other parts of the globe. They painted Impressionist pictures and encouraged its tenets in Texas not only through their own work and in the work of their myriad students, but through exhibitions they helped organized years before the "prodigal son" returned.
Emma Richardson Cherry (1859-1954) blazed the trail in Houston beginning in 1895. Following brief studies at the Art Institute of Chicago she taught drawing and painting at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She also studied at the nascent Art Students League in New York from 1879 to 1885 with William Merritt Chase and Julian Alden Weir, both leaders in American Impressionism. Upon completion of her studies in New York in 1885, Cherry moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where she joined the Kansas City Sketch Club. In 1887 she married and went on a European sojourn, studying at the Academie Julian in Paris, and visiting Giverny, by then the famed retreat of Claude Monet. Gerdts writes: "Beginning in 1887, Giverny became the most significant Impressionist art colony in Europe." At Giverny Cherry befriended future Texas artist, Dawson Dawson-Watson, and was among the first female artists in the colony. 
Cherry studied at the Academie Julian from early 1888 until summer 1889 when she traveled to Belgium, The Netherlands, England, and Scotland. Ironically, Cherry was at the Academie Julian in Paris at exactly the same time as Frank Reaugh.
Upon her return to the States in 1889, Cherry joined her husband in Denver. She became an integral part of the Denver art scene and presided over the founding of the Artists' Club of Denver in December 1893. Cherry remained in Denver until 1895 when she moved to Houston.
The following year Cherry gave a talk in Denver in March reviewing the art exhibitions she visited in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore in 1895, which included a Monet exhibition. She had spent much of 1895 working in New York City and traveling to the other cities. In April 1896 she gave a lecture in Houston on the "Impressionist School of Art." In her notes for the Denver lecture -- which were likely the basis for the Houston talk -- she wrote:
Early Texas art scholar Randolph K. Tibbits has unearthed documentation indicating Cherry helped bring to Texas probably the first Impressionist exhibition in the state at the Texas Coast Fair at Dickinson in 1896. Cherry continued with her efforts to educate Texans about art trends around the world by co-founding the Houston Public School Art League about 1900 and helped spearhead the drive to build the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which opened in 1924.
The only artist in the United States to paint the Texas trail-driving industry during its hey-day, Reaugh has been called the "Dean of Texas Painters." A contemporary of Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington, in 1936 Reaugh described how his art took a different trail from theirs: "Remington and Charlie Russell came a few years later. Remington in the '90s, painted the Indian and his pony. He knew little about cows, and was principally interested in the cowboy as a wild man. Russell painted the cowboys of the Northwest." Reaugh felt that during the Texas trail driving years he "was the only artist, it seems, who thought of [trail drives and Texas longhorns] as being a subject to paint." These "three Rs of Western art" all began painting in the West between 1882 and 1883. Likewise, all three enjoyed national recognition as artists of the American West between 1890 and 1915. Ironically, Remington became associated with American Impressionism in the twilight of his career.
After moving to a farm near Terrell, Texas, in 1876, Reaugh had studied at the Saint Louis School of Fine Arts in the winter of 1885-86. However, prior to this he had seen "color paintings" for the first time at Goupil's in New York in 1883; this could have included French Impressionist paintings. From winter 1888 until May 1889 Reaugh studied at the Academie Julian in Paris. He also traveled to Belgium and The Netherlands where he became enamored of paintings by "The Hague School," in many ways a Dutch version of Impressionism with a grayer palette. He also took in the Exposition Universelle in Paris in which a number of French Impressionist paintings were exhibited. Reaugh returned to Texas in May 1889 and immediately set off for "Western Texas."
Reaugh began taking students with him to West Texas in 1890, when Charles Peter Bock and L. O. Griffith accompanied him to the Wichita Breaks. Nearly every year for the next fifty years, Reaugh took students along with him on sketching trips to West Texas and points beyond, including New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Wyoming. His roster of students on these trips reads like a "who's who" of early Texas art. Griffith accompanied Reaugh at least twice more (1906, 1909) and E. G. Eisenlohr went along in 1911 on the "Trans Llano Sketching Expedition." Had he lived longer Reaugh protégé Hale Bolton's swath in Texas art would have been cut much wider.
Reaugh's plein-air pastels, usually done along the Red, Wichita, Brazos, and Concho rivers and on into New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, magnify his drive to "preserve" the region before it was overgrazed or plowed under:
Never a self-promoter, between about 1890 and 1910, Reaugh enjoyed his greatest critical acclaim as an artist and probably had a more prestigious national exhibition record than any artist in Texas history.  He also had solo exhibitions in Chicago in 1895 and in Colorado Springs in 1897. Moreover, Reaugh joined the Society of Western Artists in 1897 and exhibited with them all over the United States. Finally, Reaugh toured his paintings with much success, especially in the upper Midwest.
In Texas, Reaugh exhibited frequently at the State Fair of Texas from about 1890 until 1930 and the Fort Worth annual from 1910 until 1937. The Fort Worth Frontier Centennial Exposition in 1936 featured his work, however the art exhibition at the official Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, his home town, did not. Reaugh did exhibit at the Golden Jubilee Exposition at the State Fair of Texas in 1939.
By the late-1890s Reaugh helped organize the art exhibitions at the State Fair of Texas. Beginning in 1899, he worked alongside Robert Onderdonk and, in later years, Julian, in these efforts. Generally, the Onderdonks focused on securing art from the New York, Boston, and Philadelphia areas, while Reaugh concentrated on the Midwest and New England. Their peers in these areas, all practitioners of the Impressionist aesthetic -- nearly to a man -- firmly entrenched this type painting in the Texas art fabric until the early 1930s.
Reaugh urged Dallas to build the city's first art gallery in 1900 and helped found the Dallas Art Association in 1903, which would eventually become the Dallas Museum of Art. He encouraged the fledgling organization to purchase its first painting, a work by American Impressionist Childe Hassam. 
We cannot underestimate the effects of the Texas Coast Fair and State Fair of Texas exhibitions on the spread of Impressionism in Texas. Nor can we allow the enormous contributions of the Onderdonks to early Texas art to overshadow those of Cherry and Reaugh on Texas Impressionism.
A native Marylander, Robert Onderdonk studied at the National Academy of Design in New York, and was in the first class of the newly-formed Art Students League in 1875. The connection to the nascent Art Students League is not insignificant as it emphasizes his open-mindedness. Robert Onderdonk came to San Antonio in 1879 hoping to paint portraits of wealthy Texans. Portrait commissions were few and he turned to teaching "in order to survive." Yet, by the early 1880s "activity and interest in the art field in San Antonio weregreatly stimulated by [Onderdonk's] presence in the city." Consequently, in 1886 he helped found the Van Dyke Art Club, the first formal art organization in San Antonio. Robert Onderdonk moved to Dallas from 1889 to 1896, where he helped found the Dallas Art Students League. However, Robert's contributions to Texas Impressionism are largely transitional as while he painted en plein air, his palette and brushwork remained somewhat conventional.
Julian Onderdonk began studying under William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) in the Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in 1901. Chase provided the younger Onderdonk with the tools to paint the south-central Texas landscape in the Impressionit manner. Julian Onderdonk's landscapes certainly inspired exhibitions of paintings of Texas wildflowers in San Antonio from 1927 to 1929, and ultimately gave rise to the ubiquitous "Bluebonnet School," prevalent in Texas even today. 
Perhaps the only Texas artist to be clearly identified with American Impressionism during its heyday was not Julian Onderdonk, but Lucien Abrams (1870-1941). A landscape, portrait, and still life painter as well as an architect, Abrams became a member of the Old Lyme art colony at Old Lyme, Connecticut. After Childe Hassam's arrival in 1903, "the artistic identification of Old Lyme turned to Impressionism, and Old Lyme became the "American Giverny." Abrams moved to Old Lyme in 1914.
Born in Lawrence, Kansas, Abrams moved with his family to Dallas in 1873. He studied at the Art Students League in New York and like so many of the Old Lyme group, Abrams later enrolled at the Academie Julian in Paris. Yet years later, Abrams would note that "My art was developed, not in the schools, but by independent study before nature, not trying to copy, but to interpret, to find order in chaos, and put it in plastic form."
Particularly interested in the French Impressionists, Abrams over the years amassed an important collection of paintings by Auguste Renoir. From 1902 to 1914, Abrams exhibited annually in Paris at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Independents and his work shows influences of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Fauvism. During the early 1900s, he also painted in Belgium, Brittany, France, Italy, Spain, New York, and Rockport, Massachusetts, and Texas. He exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago annual in 1899; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual in 1903 and 1911; and the National Academy of Design annual in 1908. In Texas, Abrams exhibited -- as a Texas artist -- in the annual Texas artists exhibition in Fort Worth in 1913, 1914, 1916, and 1917; at the State Fair of Texas in 1908, 1909, and 1923; and at the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936; always sending paintings done in Europe to these "Texas" exhibitions. Abrams also had one-man exhibitions at Pabst Galleries in San Antonio, Texas (1930) and at Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (1934).
In 1914, he and his wife, Charlotte Gina Onillon, a parisienne, had a home at Old Lyme that commanded a fine view of Long Island Sound. They divided their time between his family place in Dallas, a winter home in San Antonio, and a summer home in Old Lyme. During these years, he also painted in the Deep South including New Orleans and Charleston. Abrams was an active member of the Lyme Art Association and exhibited there every year from 1915 until the 1930s.
Two other expatriate Texans contributed to Texas Impressionism: Fort Worth's Murray Percival Bewley and San Augustine's Stephen Seymour Thomas.
Born and reared in Fort Worth, Bewley (1884-1964) studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia with Cecilia Beaux. He studied with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri in New York and in 1906 went to Florence, Italy, with Chase and then to Paris on Chase's advice. Bewley lived in Paris from 1906 to 1913, but returned to Fort Worth until 1916 when he moved back to New York. Bewley often returned to Fort Worth, but lived in Paris, New York, Beverly Hills, California, and died at Lyons, France. He exhibited at the Paris Salons, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Salmagundi Club, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as the Texas annual at Fort Worth and the Cotton Carnival in 1912.
Some consider Bewley one of the leading Texas portrait painters of the 20th century, although he spent much time away from Texas. His depictions of children especially, rendered with an indistinct, gauzy affect such as are reminiscent of similar depictions by French Impressionists Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot.
Born at San Augustine, Thomas (1868-1956) lived in Dallas and San Antonio before studying at the Art Students League in New York and the Academie Julian in Paris. He became an expatriate, living in Paris from 1888 until 1913, but returned to Texas from time to time. Thomas moved to the United States living first at New York then in California. He exhibited at the Paris Salons and several world's fairs. He was commissioned to do a monumental portrait of Sam Houston for the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.
Thomas's plein air paintings such as Untitled [Stock Tank] and Untitled [South Texas Swamp], probably executed during one of his visits "home," exemplify his absorption of Impressionist short-hand brushwork.
In 1927, Luling oil man Edgar B. Davis became enamored of Texas wildflowers and encouraged artists to paint them by offering large monetary prizes for the results. The first competitive exhibition offered $5,000 "to any [accredited] artist in the United States" and $1,000 "to any artists resident in Texas." Changing its name to the San Antonio Competitive Exhibition, the 1928 exhibition added categories for paintings of Texas ranch life and cotton fields and prize money totaled $15,500. The last competitive in 1929, saw prize money increase to $31,500.
Prominent among the entrants were the English-born painter based in Saint Louis Dawson Dawson-Watson, who received the first national award and remained in Texas; the Spaniard and San Antonio resident Jose Arpa who received the first Texas prize; "Philadelphia Ten" painter Isabel Branson Cartwright; former National Academy of Design president Eliot C. Clark; and California's Millard Sheets. Taos artists Oscar Berninghaus, W. Herbert Dunton, Joseph Fleck, and E. Martin Hennings also submitted paintings, with Hennings winning the final grand prize in 1929. Texas artists competing included Edward G. Eisenlohr of Dallas; Jessie Palmer of Amarillo; Ella Koepke Mewhinney of Holland (Texas); and Eloise Polk McGill of San Antonio.
In turn, San Antonio reached its zenith as the center for Texas art during this period as the lucrative prize monies offered by the San Antonio Competitive Exhibitions drew artists from other parts of the United States and native-Texan talent blossomed. The San Antonio Art League sponsored the exhibitions, first called the Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibition, which revealed "the great possibilities of art in Texas."
The San Antonio competitives also gave rise to the now-ubiquitous "Bluebonnet School" in Texas and helped promote the bluebonnet as a Texas symbol. Later, San Antonio painter Porfirio Salinas brought bluebonnet painting to the national stage when President Lyndon B. Johnson hung his works in the White House. Salinas and his mentor Robert Wood helped push central Texas and Hill Country landscapes to their current place at the top of juste milieu painting in Texas today.
Despite Texas artists' envy toward their non-Texan peers who were offered larger prizes, "this jealousy was as kerosene on the sluggish water of Texas art. After the heat of the jealous flame had spent itself the great possibilities of art in Texas were clearly revealed through the awakening of the artists of Texas," wrote Texas art historian Esse Forrester-O'Brien wrote in 1935. The passing of the San Antonio Competitives also marked a shift of Texas's art center from San Antonio to Dallas, as Lone Star Regionalism took the reins.
1 William H. Gerdts, The Golden Age of American Impressionism (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2003): 42.
3 This allows for the time-lapse due to geography as well as to include the San Antonio Competitive exhibitons.
4 William H. Gerdts, The Golden Age of American Impressionism (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2003): 15.
5 Ibid., 16.
6 Gerdts, American Impressionism, 20.
7 William H. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony (New York: Abbeville Press, 1993): 23; as cited in Meredith M. Evans, "Pioneering Spirits: E. Richardson Cherry and the First Women of the Artists' Club of Denver, 1893," Colorado: The Artist's Muse (Denver: Petrie Institute of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum, 2008): 65.
8 I am indepted to Randy Tibbits for bringing these notes to my attention. Cherry refers to a Monet exhibition at Durand-Ruel in New York, 12-27 January 1895. See New York Times 14 January 1895. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007), p. 4.
9 Frank Reaugh, Biographical, 1936.
10 Bolton accompanied Reaugh to the Wichita Breaks in 1916 and 1917; the latter his last trip with his mentor. Tragically, Bolton died three years later at age 40.
11 Frank Reaugh, Biographical, (Dallas, 1936): n.p.
12 The only possible exception could be the San Augustine expatriate painter Seymour Thomas. Reaughexhibited at the Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Academy of Design; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Carnegie; and the Cincinnati Art Museum. Reaugh also showed at the World's Columbian Exposition (1893) and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904). Reaugh even had a two-man show (with Manvel, Texas, artist Charles Peter Bock, who exhibited half the number of Reaughs) at the Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago in 1902 and 1903, respectively.
13 Reaugh's popularity in Chicago culminated in the Armour Meat Packing Company commissioning him to paint a calendar for them in 1904.
14 Because he was not invited to exhibit in the major exhibition at the new Dallas Museum of Fine Arts at the Centennial exposition, at first Reaugh applied for a vendors license along with hawkers of cotton candy and hot dog salesmen. He withdrew his application, probably out of humiliation, and eventually exhibited some paintings in the Texas Ranger Building.
15 Furthermore, he promised to donate fifty percent of his picture sales to an acquisition fund for the DAA.
16 Cecilia Steinfeldt, The Onderdonks: A Family of Texas Painters (San Antonio: Trinity University Press): 19.
17 One wonders if Onderdonk is rolling over in his grave with this development.
18 Gerdts, 27.
19 His work was recently featured in the 1978 exhibition "Three American Impressionists: From Paris to Old Lyme" at A. M. Adler Fine Art, Inc., New York.
20 For a complete discussion of the San Antonio Competitives, see William E. Reaves Jr. Texas Art and a Wildcatter's Dream: Edgar B. Davis and the San Antonio Art League. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1998.
21 The all female "Philadelphia Ten" was a largely Impressionist group. Cartwright married into the Cartwright family of Terrell, Texas.
22 Berninghaus and Dunton both received purchase prizes as well.
About the author
Michael R. Grauer is Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs/Curator of Art at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas
Mr. Grauer holds the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a double major in painting and art history from the University of Kansas and the Master of Arts degree in art history from Southern Methodist University. He worked at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Meadows Museum at SMU, and the Dallas Museum of Art, before becoming curator of art at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in 1987. He has curated numerous exhibitions on Southwestern art, including the nationally-touring "W. Herbert Dunton: A Retrospective," in 1991, "Women Artists of Texas, 1850-1950" in 1993, a year-long series on the Taos Art Colony in 1998, "Neighbors: Texas Artists in New Mexico," in 2003, and a year-long series on the Santa Fe Art Colony in 2004, including "Women Artists of Santa Fe." He has lectured nationally on historic Southwestern art with an emphasis on Texas and New Mexico, including at the University of Oklahoma and New York University. Mr. Grauer has also taught at West Texas A & M University and the Taos Institute of Arts. He is a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists' Historians.
Mr. Grauer is the author of W. Herbert Dunton: A Retrospective, co-author (with his wife, Paula) of the Dictionary of Texas Artists, 1800-1945, and co-author of Frank Paul Sauerwein: The Biography. Mr. Grauer also wrote the essay on Texas patrons of Taos art for Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950, wrote biographies on Dunton and W. R. Leigh for the Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Book and Magazine Illustrators to 1920, and an essay on Dunton for a forthcoming book on the Taos Society of Artists. Mr. Grauer's articles have appeared in American Art Review, Southwest Art, Persimmon Hill, The Pastel Journal, and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review. Currently, Mr. Grauer is working on a Dunton catalogue raisonne and biographies of Texas artists Frank Reaugh and H. D. Bugbee, and an essay for a forthcoming monograph on Austrian/Taos artist Joseph A. Fleck.
He and his wife have three children, Matthew, Hannah, and Sarah.
John Hazeltine, director of TFAO, toured west Texas art museums in April, 2013. While visiting the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum he met Michael R. Grauer, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs/ Curator of Art at the Museum. Mr. Grauer has written several texts published in Resource Library. They are listed in TFAO's Author Study and Index. (left: Michael R. Grauer, 2013. Photo by John Hazeltine)
The Museum's website said of Mr. Grauer as of 2013:
Resource Library editor's note
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on May 31, 2012, with permission of the author and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, which was granted to TFAO on May 29, 2012.
Texas Impressionism: Branding with Brushstroke and Color, 1885-1935 is on exhibit at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum from April 7 through September 3, 2012. The exhibit is curated by Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Art Michael R. Grauer.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Andrea Porter of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum for her help concerning permissions for publishing the above text.
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