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Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s

February 16 - May 11, 2008


On February 16, 2008, nearly 100 paintings, watercolors and prints generated by a diverse group of creative individuals known as the Fort Worth Circle will be on view at the Amon Carter Museum in the special exhibition "Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s." The exhibition presents an outstanding visual narrative of Texas' first colony of artists to practice an advanced aesthetic. More than 20 years have passed since a major body of work by the Fort Worth Circle has been on view in one place. (right: Lia Cuilty (1908-1978), Arrested Flight, ca. 1943, Watercolor on paper, Heirs of Lia Cuilty: Caroline M. Dulle, Susan M. Pritchett, Steve Murrin Jr.)

"Many of the works in the exhibition will be making their first public appearance in more than 50 years," said Jane Myers, senior curator of prints and drawings and organizing curator of the show. "Together, the works will reveal a fascinating story of vibrant and vitalized collaborations and friendships, and they will tell the tale of how progressive art came to Texas."

The origin of the Fort Worth Circle can be defined as a nucleus of four locals in their mid-20s who met as art students at the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts: Lia Cuilty, Veronica Helfensteller, Marjorie Johnson and Bror Utter. Just prior to America's involvement in World War II, Dickson Reeder, a high school classmate of Utter's, assumed leadership of the group. Reeder and his New York-born wife, Flora Blanc, provided the social glue that bonded the group together. Also in the sphere were Sara Shannon and William P. (Bill) Bomar Jr. Reeder, Bomar, and Helfensteller all received private art instruction as teenagers from the same teacher. Kelly Fearing was assimilated into the group after moving to Fort Worth during the war. In 1945, Cynthia Brants became the youngest female member of the Circle, and the following year George Grammer, the youngest of the artists, was the last to join when Fearing and the Reeders, who had followed his work, looped him into their network.

Drawn together by a shared interest in art, dance, music, theater, and myth, the artists of the Fort Worth Circle sought new avenues of artistic expression to counter the prevailing preference for regionalism and other more conservative artistic styles. They also shared a fascination for the fantastic, often employing enigmatic imagery. Members of the Circle responded to modern art by creating a unique aesthetic based on contemporary surrealism and abstraction, and they did so by drawing from their own fertile imaginations. (left: Sara Shannon (Steel), Ballet on the Stairs, 1943, Oil on canvas)

The determination with which the group ascended in the city and the dominance they established in the public mind became the driving forces of Fort Worth's art world throughout the years of World War II and the decade beyond. Among the legends and legendary figures of Fort Worth -- and there are many -- the artists of the Fort Worth Circle occupy a special place as pioneers of modern art in the Lone Star State.

The decade of the Fort Worth Circle's rise to prominence is a little-known highpoint in the artistic legacy of Fort Worth and the State of Texas. Largely apolitical in an era rife with global upheaval, the Circle remained ideologically charged by their unyielding belief in the transformative power of art. By the mid-1950s, the group's aesthetic was pushed aside by newer ideas, but their legacy of change and openness to the unlimited boundaries of art was firmly entrenched. They later became influential teachers and artists and played a critical role in the region's growing arts community, which continues to thrive today and encourage the careers of emerging artists. Works by artists of the Fort Worth Circle now reside throughout the state in museums and private collections, so the exhibition presents a unique opportunity to view the works together.

"Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s" is accompanied by a catalogue of the same name. With more than 140 full-color reproductions, the publication will remain the definitive source on their art and history for years to come. It chronicles the Circle's distinctive output during the 1940s and includes succinct biographies, accompanied by photographs, of each of the 11 artists.

"Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s" is organized by the Amon Carter Museum. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue are made possible in part by RBC Dain Rauscher, Humanities Texas, Texas Commission on the Arts, Mrs. W. K. Gordon Jr., Quicksilver Resources, Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden, and numerous individuals and organizations who remember and value these Fort Worth artists.


(above: Kelly Fearing (born 1918), The Collector, 1946, Oil and wax on panel. Private Collection, Dallas, Texas ©Kelly Fearing/Licensed by VAGA, NY)


(above: Dickson Reeder (1912-1970), Portrait of Bill Bomar, 1946, Oil on canvas. Old Jail Art Center, Albany Texas, gift of Bill Bomar)


(above: Cynthia Brants (1924-2006), The Cocktail Party, 1947, Oil on canvas. Mitch and Kimbell Wynne, Fort Worth, Texas)


(above: Veronica Helfensteller (1910-1964), Doorway Aviary, 1948, Watercolor and gouache on paper. Courtesy of the Old Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas. Gift of Reilly Nail)


Public Programs:

Saturday, February 16, 11 a.m.
Scott Grant Barker, cultural historian, and Jane Myers, senior curator of prints and drawings, Amon Carter Museum: "Continuity and Change: Collecting the Fort Worth Circle"
Discover the captivating story of the Fort Worth Circle and how their works have been collected by both private individuals and institutions over the years.
Saturday, March 8, 11 a.m.
Quentin McGown, Fort Worth historian: "Architectural History Preserved Through the Artist's Eye: A Study of Bror Utter's 1957 Fort Worth Landmarks Suite"
Enjoy a discussion of the sixteen works by Bror Utter (1913-1993) that were commissioned by pioneering Fort Worth preservationist Sam Cantey III during the 1950s to chronicle the rapidly disappearing early architecture of the city. These watercolors are on view through June 15 in a separate exhibition in the Works on Paper Galleries entitled "Fort Worth Landmarks in the 1950s: Watercolors by Bror Utter."
Sunday, March 9, 1 - 4 p.m.
Target Family Fun Day
"Make a Scene!"
Create a costume and participate in a museum performance activity. Tour the galleries, and create your own modern artwork based on the special exhibition. Family Fun Days are generously supported by Target.
Saturday, March 29, 11 a.m.
Dave Hickey, Schaeffer professor of modern letters, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: "Fort Worth: How Cowtown Became a Center for Art in the West"
Nationally renowned art critic Dave Hickey will explore the Fort Worth art scene during this time and how it intersected with what was happening in the American West in general.
Sunday, April 5, 7 p.m.
Sunday, April 6, 2 p.m.
Friday, April 11, 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 12, 7 p.m.
Performance: "Tempest in a Dream"
Adapted and directed by Diane Simons, Hip Pocket Theater
Presented in the Back Gallery at the Fort Worth Community Art Center
Experience an interactive, family friendly tribute to Dickson and Flora Reeder and their Reeder School of Theater and Design for Children, which during the 1940s and 1950s had a tremendous impact on the Fort Worth community and whose influence is still seen today at the Hip Pocket Theater. Works by the Reeders are on view in "Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s."

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy

and from other websites:

The Fort Worth School from The Handbook of Texas Online

KERA's Think is a topic-driven interview program hosted by Krys Boyd covering a wide variety of topics ranging from history, politics, current events, science, technology and emerging trends to food and wine, travel, adventure, and entertainment. The Think video podcasts page lists videos available for download, including a 26 minute Feb. 15, 2008 video podcast which features Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., who joins host Krys Boyd to discuss the future of energy. Also, in the "Scene" segment of the podcast, Jane Myers, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Amon Carter Museum, joins host Krys Boyd. KERA says: "Fort Worth is known the world over for its beautiful art museums and vibrant art scene. A new exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum pays particular attention to a group of influential artists who helped create the scene. Jane Myers, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Amon Carter, will join us during the Scene segment to preview "Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s" which opens this weekend."


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