Editor's note: The essay excerpt was reprinted on November 24, 2007 in Resource Library with permission of the author and The Old Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas. Images accompanying the text in the exhibition catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the catalogue, please contact The Old Jail Art Center at either this web address or phone number:


Cynthia Brants: Beyond the Circle

September 29 - December 30, 2007


In 1986, the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas curated and presented a ground-breaking exhibition entitled Beyond Regionalism: The Fort Worth School (1945-1955). As the first major museum exhibition to explore the work of a remarkable group of artists who worked for a decade not in a common style but from like intellectual interests, it included five works by Cynthia Brants, who was one of the younger members of the clan. Brants herself later championed changing the designation of the group from "School" to "Circle" to denote a circle of influences, not an artistic movement. With a career that lasted 50 years past the group's collective end-date, Brants went beyond the Circle in exploration and aspiration.

Cynthia Brants (1924-2006) was born and reared in Fort Worth, Texas. Determined to major in art in college, she and her family researched options and discovered that Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York was one of the few colleges at the time to offer a fine arts degree, so off to the East Coast she went in 1941.

After graduating from college in 1945, Brants was able to establish a studio in Fort Worth and she began to mix into the local art scene, working with venerable Circle mentors Blanche McVeigh and Evaline Sellors, exhibiting with Bror Utter, Bill Bomar, Kelly Fearing, Dickson and Flora Blanc Reeder, and socializing with all the Circle artists, as well as local, influential patrons such as Sam and Betsy Cantey.

In 1948, Brants took a life-changing six-month trip to Europe with a friend from Sarah Lawrence. Their first stop was Oxford, where they were able to stay with another Sarah Lawrence chum who was enrolled as a graduate student. While there, they heard lectures by Arnold Toynbee and Sir Kenneth Clark, among others. They spent time on the Continent and especially enjoyed Florence and Paris, where Brants met Nicholas de Staël, Francis Picabia, and, on what she termed "a red-letter day," Georges Braque. After meeting this icon of Cubism, Brants bought a book on Braque, noting in her trip journal that it was expensive but that she "would rather have two such books than a French dress any day."

With few exceptions, Cynthia Brants sketched, drew, painted, sculpted, or did print- or set-making each day of her life for sixty-plus years. It's a good bet that on the days when she couldn't at least make a sketch, she was thinking about something she wished to try, or was recording a thought about an aspect of her work. Although she worked hard at carving out a career as an artist (teaching for a spell at Sarah Lawrence College and Texas Woman's University), hers was in truth a LIFE in art.

As a painter, Brants squared off time and again against the intrinsic space of a canvas-the actual surface of the canvas as bounded by its edges. It was undoubtedly a lonely battle. She devoted pages and pages to a description of the struggle, rarely admitting achievement according to her own high standards, but also never admitting defeat-only, perhaps, ceding a skirmish.

Stylistically, Cynthia Brants engaged in a lifelong dialogue with Cubism. What a goal! Imagine setting oneself the task of taking to the next level Braque's and Picasso's contribution to the history or art. Most definitely not for the faint of art. She remained focused and self-assured in the face of changing fashion. Her goal stimulated her, drove her, pushed-and-pulled her, but never let her down.

Thirty-four years after meeting Braque, Brants was still consumed by the fundamental principles of Cubism, writing in her journal, "This effort to bring an unplanned, natural organization into an order which relates to the geometric/arithmetic ingredients of the flat rectangle is, of course, the old Cubist idea -- which I still believe is more interesting, more real, and more pertinent than all the surrealism (which seems to flourish as a perspective over a longer period than Cubism)."

Later in 1984, she pens this thought after having read "a 'manifesto' by Rothko":

The Big Boys admit to struggling with the Eternal Verities -- the icons and myths and symbols of history -- the soul and the psyche -- whereas I concern myself with the light, forms, and planes observed in nature and the problems of expressing them on canvas. My "statement" looks trite by comparison with theirs, I guess -- no sturm und drang except the smaller (maybe) excitement of color and composition, space & light on the flat plane of the canvas. Juan Gris, Braque, Cezanne, Feininger, Mondrian -- earlier: Corot set the precedent for me. They are too visual for the writers -- so one reads less about them, and always this has been so -- and probably will be so.

This exhibition is drawn from the works still in Brants's possession when she died. They span each decade of her career and so make a type of retrospective look at her entire body of work. Cynthia Brants saw herself occupying a place in the long line of artists who struggled with various classic means of art to render perceived reality in an interesting way on a canvas. It is still too early to make out time's judgments on the art of our day, but the surfacing of Cynthia Brants's body of work has brought us a lovely surprise. Whether or not the curators, critics, and collectors will judge her work to be that next step in Cubism's development for which Brants so fervently worked all those decades, we are still in possession of that most rare of pursuits -- a serious dialogue with a major stylistic development in the history of art. A life's work doesn't get any more profound than that.

Margaret Blagg, Curator of the Exhibition
Executive Director
The Old Jail Art Center
Albany, Texas

The above text was excerpted from the exhibition catalogue.

Copyright © The Old Jail Art Center, 2007



(above: Cynthia Brants, Interior II, 1986, oil on canvas, Courtesy of Cynthia Brants Trust)


(above: Cynthia Brants, Canadian Landscape, 1950, oil on canvas, Courtesy of Cynthia Brants Trust)


(above: Cynthia Brants, Morning at the Lake, 1982, oil on canvas, Courtesy of Cynthia Brants Trust)


(above: Cynthia Brants, Iris in Glasses, 1982, oil on canvas, Courtesy of Cynthia Brants Trust)



About The Old Jail Art Center

The Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas, has grown considerably since its humble beginnings in 1980. Starting with the donation of four private collections, the permanent collection has expanded to include over 1,900 works that span important periods in Asian, European, American, and ancient art. Successful capital campaigns in 1984 and 1996 added an important education wing, as well as additional exhibition and operations space. The museum facilities now occupy over 14,000 square feet. In August, 2007 the Trustees of the Old Jail Art Center launched the public phase of another major capital campaign for the museum. The Reilly Nail Legacy Campaign honors the founding director of the museum by aiming to add substantially to the institution's endowment while refurbishing the physical plant. (right: Exterior, the Old Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas)

)The collection is strong in a number of areas, with most works dating from the 20th Century. The collection includes pieces from well-known artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, John Marin, Charles Demuth, and Alexander Calder. In addition the museum has strong representation of the Fort Worth Circle (active 1945-55), the regional Taos Modernists (active 1948-1979), a small, impressive Asian Collection, and the W. O. Gross, Jr. Collection of Pre-Columbian art. The outdoor sculpture collection is installed throughout the grounds, with key pieces placed inside the Marshall R. Young Courtyard, including Jesus Bautista Moroles' granite Sun Symbol, Pericle Fazzini's Conversation, and several other post-World War II Italian figurative bronze works.

The Old Jail Art Center is one of only 5% of the nation's museums to be nationally accredited. With a focus on education, exhibitions and art programs are scheduled year-round to serve an audience of children, youth, adults, and visitors from around the globe.

The Old Jail Art Center is located on Highway 6, two blocks east of Highway 180 in Albany, Texas. For hours and admission fees please see The Old Jail Art Center's website.


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