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The Eyes of Texas - the Lone Star State as Seen by Her Artists
Beginning September 21, 2002, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum will feature The Eyes of Texas - the Lone Star State as Seen by Her Artists. Texas has long been known for its pioneer spirit, and in keeping with this tradition, for the past 20 years Bill and Mary Cheek of Dallas have been among the leaders in the area of collecting artwork created by early Texas artists, technically speaking, those who painted prior to the end of World War II. For many years, interest in work by these regional artists had waned, and much of it either began collecting dust in family attics or was lost entirely. However, this was the style of work that held the most appeal for the Cheeks. Bill relates, "I guess I can trace my own fascination with Texas art back to a painting that my mother purchased when I was about six years old. It was a simple image done by a "Sunday Painter" out in West Texas. I saw that painting all my life, so when I accumulated sufficient means to begin buying art that piece inspired the direction my own collecting would take." (left: Reveau Bassett (1897-1981), End of Day Palo Duro Canyon, oil on canvas, 16 x 30 inches)
Over the two decades since the Cheeks first began to accrue art, they have become advocates and archivists in what has become a growing field of collecting early Texas art. In explaining how these Texas painters fit into the larger perspective of American art, Eleanor Jones Harvey, Curator of American Art at the Dallas Museum of Art relates, "During the years between the World Wars, Texas art flourished as part of the national 'American Scene' mainstream. Nationally recognized artists Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood used their works to promote essential American virtues that we still recognize today." She explains that these same values can be related to the widely recognized Texas pride, a mythical quality born of the frontier traditions that has characterized descriptions of Americans since the colonial era, and she goes on to note that it is this mythic element which is "central to both the making and the collecting of early Texas art."
This concept definitely rings true in the formation of the Cheek's collection. Since both husband and wife were raised in rural settings, Bill on a small ranch near San Angelo and Mary, the daughter of a cotton farmer in central Texas, scenes which remind them of their heritage, which focus on the land or depict people engaged in manual labor, have particular appeal. "What I like about these images is that they convey the values we learned such as the appreciation of nature and the fact that hard work in and of itself has virtue. The subject matter of the paintings is immediately accessible in the art we have chosen," Cheek explains. "You see it, and if you are either a native or an adopted Texan those scenes are familiar, and the work grabs you. You say, yes, that's about Texas." (left: Everett Spruce, Watermelon, 1908, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches)
To date, "The Eyes of Texas" is the most extensive collection of early Texas art to be offered to such a large number of venues across the state. The 68 pieces in the exhibit were carefully selected from among more than 150 paintings and prints, which comprise the Cheek's current collection. Since they first began accruing the works of Texas painters in the early 1980's, the Cheeks have continually added to and honed the contents of their collection in an effort to obtain the widest range of artists painting during this period and the highest quality work available from each artist represented.
Michael Grauer, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Curator of Art, comments that due to their generous nature, individual pieces from the collection are constantly on loan to museums both in Texas and across the nation. "To finally see the individual works as they relate to one another, and to the entire collection, is to gain a glimpse of the enormity and importance, even better, the place early Texas art should hold in (relation) to American and international art."
In commenting on the subject of Early Texas Art, the Cheek's daughter Rebecca emphasizes that the work of these early painters does not take a backseat to art created anywhere else, "This exhibition will be a success if its viewers come to a greater sense of their Texas heritage and an appreciation of those artists who endowed us with their impressions of the state. The recognition of this heritage of determination in the face of the challenge and great love for our land could not be more significant at this time in the light of the tragic events of September 11. Being a good Texan means being a good American." (left: James Buchanan Winn (1905-1979), Haymakers, oil on canvas, 24 x 29 inches)
The exhibit, which opened to a crowd of more than 1,000 in San Angelo in January of 2002, will travel to eight additional venues across the state during the next three years. It is currently on exhibit at the International Museum of Art in El Paso before opening at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. The exhibit will continue through February 17, 2003.
For more on early Texas art see this publication's earlier article on the Texas State Capitol Historical Art Collection.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Resource Library Magazine.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
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