On behalf of the heir to the Marjorie Johnson Lee estate, one of the dealers who is working with FAE recently facilitated the gift of seven works on paper from the Lee Estate to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Six works were by Lee herself and the other was a work from Lee’s collection by the Austin artist Kelly Fearing. Spencer Wigmore, Assistant Curator at the Amon Carter Museum said of the gift: We’re quite happy with the selection, which should give us some flexibility to acknowledge her various contributions when we show works by Fort Worth School artists in the galleries….
During the earliest conceptual discussions of FAE’s long term goals, the idea of using the platform to facilitate the gifting of artwork to museums and other public institutions seemed practical and mutually beneficial. There are many cases were an institution, because of budget issues and priorities, would not necessarily purchase an artwork from an artist they considered worthy of adding to their collection, but would be very happy to add a representative example if it was gifted.
Since many of the artworks offered on FAE come from artists or their heirs who are thinking about issues of legacy or making sure that the artworks in their care are well placed, FAE and the dealers who participate have an opportunity to help facilitate their wishes.
Although there are several other estates that have shown interest, this is the first gift of artworks to a museum that came about because of FAE and an associated dealer’s direct involvement with an artist’s estate. We are hopeful that this act of generosity will inspire even more artists, or their heirs, to consider making works available for gifting. As interest in this informal gifting program expands, FAE and the dealers we work with will be reaching out to let institutions know what is being offered.
If you would like more information on Marjorie Johnson Lee and her work, there is a blog postlisted on the postings menu at left and a link to currently available works by her here.
Valley House Gallery is pleased to offer a selection of early works by San Antonio artist, Jim Stoker.
Jim Stoker was born in 1935 in Nash, Texas, and reared in Atlanta, a rural town in East Texas. He received a BFA in Applied Art from The University of Texas at Austin in 1957, and an MA in painting, drawing, and printmaking from New Mexico Highlands University in 1962 where he studied with Elmer Schooley. Stoker painted throughout a teaching career which culminated in a 30-year tenure at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Most of the Stoker works we are offering range from the early 1970’s to the early 1980’s, when he was teaching at Trinity University in San Antonio. Stylistically, in the early 70’s Stoker’s oil paintings tended towards representational landscapes with figures at work. His compositions often incorporated incongruous animals milling around the workers or the tools they used.
In the mid-70’s the subjects and style of his work changed to flat colorful interiors, resembling paper cut out collages more than paintings.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, he and his wife would spend the Summers in Santa Fe, NM where he painted a series of paintings focusing on the architecture and its relationship to the natural occurring and the planted flora.
He later said of that time, you used to see Hollyhocks everywhere in Santa Fe in the late 80’s. You would think it was the state flower there were so many. Now, you hardly see any when traveling around that area.
His work became more representational in style and focused more on nature and the environment.
Jim and his wife Elouise are both naturalists who helped form the San Antonio, Texas chapter of the Sierra Club. Stoker’s efforts to protect the natural fauna and flora around San Antonio led to a series of paintings he titled No Place to Live:… The theme of this series pointed to the animals’ plight when humans are taking over their natural living spaces.
Jim’s current paintings primarily focus on the riparian zone of the Guadalupe river near a cabin that has been in his wife’s family for generations. He has created a unique technique he calls Confetti Splatter that he uses to create a multicolored dot matrix as an underpainting for his naturalistic landscape compositions.
FAE is excited to have a selection of drawings available from the estate of Texas’ most celebrated mid-century modernist painter, Everett Franklin Spruce, consigned from one of his four children, Henry Spruce. Spurce is primarily known for his contributions to the formation of a unique Regional moment that started in Dallas, Texas in 1932.
Unlike the Regionalist movement that began in the upper Midwest and focused on the bucolic rural farmlands and farm life that embodied that region, the Texas version took a different approach, focusing on the effects of improper land management that ultimately caused the dust bowl. It was also a broadly based movement that was taken up by many Texas novelists, playwrights, choreographers, and most all other artistic disciplines.
Everett Franklin Spruce was born in Holland, Arkansas on December 25, 1907. When Spruce was 4 years old his father moved the family to Adams Mountain in Pope County and then later to Mulberry, Arkansas, where Spruce attended high school. Spruce showed artistic talent during these early years, primarily in the drawings he did of the Arkansas landscape. His abilities were called to the attention of noted Dallas painters Olin and Katherine Travis. The Travises had established the Dallas Art Institute in Dallas and had summer painting camps in Arkansas’ Ozark mountains. Hearing about this young prodigy and recognizing a burgeoning talent, they offered him a scholarship at the Dallas Art Institute. Spruce moved to Dallas and studied at the DAI from 1926 – 1929 with Travis and another Texas artist, Thomas M. Stell, Jr. In 1934 Spruce married Alice Virginia Kramer, a young woman who was also taking classes at the art institute.
In 1931 Spruce took a position as gallery assistant at the Free Public Art Gallery, renamed the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1933, and was promoted to registrar in 1936 when the museum opened its doors at its new location in Fair Park as part of the Texas Centennial Celebration.
In the early 1930’s, Spruce became one of Texas’s premier Regionalist artists. He quickly developed a national reputation. He was invited to show his paintings in exhibitions across the nation including the Kansas City Art Institute (Kansas City, Missouri); the Rockefeller Center (New York, New York); the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, New York); the Palace of Fine Arts (San Francisco, California); and the New York World’s Fair Exhibition (New York, New York).
His Years Teaching Art:
In 1940 Spruce, with only a high school education, joined the art faculty at the University of Texas at Austin where he began as an instructor in life drawing and creative design. From 1949 – 1951 Spruce served as Chairman of the Department of Art, and in 1954 he was promoted to the position of Professor of Art. In 1958 Spruce was the first artist featured in the Blaffer Series on Texas Art, published by the University of Texas Press. The portfolio, titled A Portfolio of Eight Paintings, includes the essay “Everett Spruce: An Appreciation” by Jerry Bywaters, then director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Spruce was also honored by the American Federation of the Arts’ offer to sponsor a traveling exhibition of his paintings in many venues throughout the Midwest and Southeast, starting at the McNay Museum in San Antonio.
In 1974 Spruce retired from the Art Department as Professor Emeritus, yet continued to paint until he was 88 years old. Spruce died in Austin in 2002 at the age of 94, survived by his twin daughters and two sons. Spruce’s paintings were collected by many of America’s major museums including the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Dallas Museum of Art; M.H. DeYoung Museum in San Francisco; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Phillips Gallery, Washington D.C.; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, to name a few.
Spruce’s drawings were rarely used as studies for paintings. The vastness and majesty evoked in his paintings serve as a counterpoint to the drawings’ tighter, more detail-oriented focus. He drew inspiration and subject matter for his expressionist landscapes from numerous weekend outings with his family into West Texas, and South to the Texas Gulf Coast. He would pull over to the side of the road whenever something in the landscape caught his attention and, to his family’s distress, memorize every aspect of the scene for 15 minutes or longer. From these memories of place, he would create paintings or drawings of these inspiration points in his studio, often months later. He did not work from photographs or sketchbook, letting his memory serve as reference.
Spruce’s drawing style became freer as his career evolved, producing increasingly abstract and expressionist works. Even Spruce’s latest drawings show an absurdness of hand and a confidence of purpose. His evocative depictions of Texas landscape have cemented his Lone Star Regionalist status, and stand as a testament to his love of the land.
The exhibition is thoroughly documented with a fully illustrated catalog co-published by Texas A&M Press and the Amon Carter. The primary essay is authored by the exhibition’s curator, Shirley Reece-Hughes.
Part II – Our Introduction to the Photographs of John Albok (1894-1982)
Our first introduction to the photography of John Albok was a life changing experience. It was an unforgettable day twenty-six years ago. A well-dressed woman walked into our gallery on Lovers Lane in Dallas with an acid-free box full of black and white photographs. She gave us the impression of a woman from another era, and definitely not a Texan.
That box contained thirty or forty Depression era 8×10 photographs, a mixture of Central Park scenes, children playing in the streets, storefronts and immigrant street vendors, political themes and more, all dating to the 1930’s and ‘40’s in New York, and all in excellent vintage condition. They were historical gems. I immediately recognized museum quality work.
And that woman was John Albok’s sixty-five-year-old daughter, Ilona Albok Vitarius, who was in fact not a Texas native, but rather a transplant from New York City. Our photography gallery had been open for five years at that time and Ilona was looking for a local venue to exhibit her father’s work. Our reputation for photographic preservation and historical photography must have piqued her curiosity to pay us a visit.
Beckie and I immediately fell in love with the work and the opportunity to introduce Dallas to John Albok. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and working relationship for the next twenty years until Ilona’s death in 2013. Her passion for her father’s work and the desire to share his life and art with others never waned.
Ilona had so many stories to tell about her father. John Albok was a Hungarian immigrant who, in 1923, established himself on upper Madison Avenue as a master tailor. But his true passion and avocation was photographing his newly adopted city. Beckie remembers the countless evenings we spent in Ilona’s living room drinking Chambord or Tokaji and discussing her father’s photographs. She was extremely knowledgeable about the backstory of every image and she was very literate in photography. Every visit was different. She would surprise us with a new selection of prints that she wanted us to see. It ran the gamut from pictorial, soft focus work reminiscent of Alfred Steiglitz to gritty documentary scenes on the order of Farm Security Administration photography, and studio portraiture that her father turned to when the Depression struck.
According to Ilona, a day in the life of John Albok would start with an early morning of greeting customers in his one-man shop, taking measurements for gentlemen’s suits and sitting behind the sewing machine. Lunch was spent hunting the streets and parks with his Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera, then back to tailoring. At the end of the day he would draw the curtains, climb the stairs for supper with his family, then back downstairs to convert his small tailor shop into a darkroom to develop the days’ film and print photographs. Other evenings Albok would invite musicians, artists and writers to gather and discuss art and culture, and on occasion to view his latest self-made 16mm film documentaries.
Albok rotated a photography display in his storefront window, and that is how he caught the attention of Grace Mayer who curated his first one-man exhibit of photographs at the Museum of the City of New York in 1938. Gordon Hyatt, a CBS television writer and producer, also discovered John Albok in the mid-1960’s after seeing his tailor shop photo gallery. That relationship turned into an hour-long Emmy nominated documentary film entitled ‘John Albok’s New York’, which essentially exposed the world to John Albok photography. Art galleries and museums took notice and began to collect and exhibit his work.
Highlights of working with the Albok collection were co-curating with Ilona two major exhibits for our gallery, John Albok, An American Legacy in 1994, and For The Children in 1995. American Legacy featured sixty-five photographs and four original artworks by Albok. We enlisted Tom Southall, Curator of Photographs of the Amon Carter Museum to deliver a gallery talk after the opening. And on a subsequent evening we converted the gallery into a theater for a screening of “John Albok’s New York”.
Working with Ilona on the exhibition catalogue ‘For the Children’ was a special treat. It took months of editing and re-design because she would continually surprise me with new items that I found irresistible to include in the catalogue. Items such as hand-written diary entries, a speech he made to the New York Camera Club at Rockefeller Center in 1939, letters from museum directors and curators as well as news clips and international reviews and publications of his photography which were all invaluable in assembling his curriculum vitae.
Over the years, we assembled a collection of John Albok photographs representing the major themes that concerned him. Our private collection includes 100 large scale, exhibition quality photographs taken between the years 1919-1977, plus an equal number of smaller uncatalogued prints; color photographs made in Albok’s later years; the twin lens reflex camera that he used during the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40; a pair of hand-made kid skin gloves; some of his sketches and artwork; and a small clutch of original negatives gifted to us by Ilona.
What was even more remarkable about the first encounter with John Albok photography, and his daughter Ilona, was the fact that we lived just three blocks away from her home in north Dallas for eight years and we never knew it! What a time we would have had if the introduction was made earlier. Had we been aware of such a vast historical treasure in the neighborhood we very well may have launched our gallery years earlier than we did.
On May 31, 1911, Marjorie Evelin Johnson was born in Upland, Texas, a small town that no longer exists, in Upton County. Her father, a country doctor who worked for Humble Oil, constantly moved his family around West Texas to wherever Humble oil workers needed his services. Most likely from the stress of being in almost constant motion, Marjorie’s parents divorced in 1924 and her grandmother moved the family to Fort Worth where they lived in rental housing until 1938. Marjorie graduated Paschal High School in 1925 and that next year, at age 15, started working for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. That same year, pursuing her childhood interest in drawing, Marjorie started studying art with Fort Worth artist, Mrs. G.W. Greathouse.
In 1934, while still working with the phone company, Marjorie decided to attended Texas Christian University. After taking classes at TCU for two years, she dropped out when Blanche McVeigh, a respected artist and printmaker who was a principal of the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts along with Evaline Sellors and Wade Jolly, was impressed enough with her artistic talent to invite her to enroll in their school. Under Jolly’s tutelage, she became a skilled landscape watercolorist. In the late 30’s and early 40’s she exhibited often with other prominent Fort Worth artists like Bror Utter and Veronica Helfensteller. As with many serious artists in the Dallas and Fort area during that time, she traveled to Colorado Springs to take classes at the Colorado Art Center in 1942.
In the latter part of 42, to do her part, Marjorie joined the WAVES and was sent to Norman Oklahoma for training in radio communication and celestial navigation. In 1943, she was assigned to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida for the next three years where she taught young airmen these skills and painted and drew whenever she had time off.
After WWII, she moved to New York City to attend the Art Students League under the GI Bill. In 1947, to be sure she could stay in the city, she took a job with New York Telephone and continued to take classes at the League through 48.
She vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard in 1950 and chose to capture her impressions of the island in pastel. She returned in 52, and this time chose watercolor, possibly more suited to the Island atmosphere.
She continued the artistic life in NYC and in 1950, met and married an experimental filmmaker and educator named Francis Lee. Marjorie’s artwork documents their vacations and trips out of NYC over the next 14 years with works from Minnewaska, New Rochelle, Carmel, East Hampton, and Woodstock in NY, Colorado, Glacier Park in Montana, and New Jersey.
After working for the phone company in NYC for 27 years, in 1974, she moved back to Fort Worth. Although while living in New York, she continued to show in important Texas and regional shows, retirement provided the opportunity to focus on her art. She started exhibiting with the Evelyn Siegel Gallery in Fort Worth and entering competitive shows all over Texas.
About the time Marjorie entered the Art Students League in NYC, she fell in love with color and was won over by Modernist art. During her vacations she filled drawing books with plein-air, almost fauve like, pastels and watercolors of ebullient trees, fast flowing rivers, and assemblages of hyper-colored rocks. Upon her return to the city, her favorite pastels and watercolors would often evolve into studies for oil paintings.
After she returned to live in Fort Worth, she started creating brightly colored collages, cut from home-made and commercial colored papers, repurposed watercolors, and often combined with watercolor washes, ink, and sometimes pastel. They were always bright in color and evolved over time from representational to totally non-objective.
Marjorie gave up entering competitive shows in 1984 and her last one-person show was held at Evelyn Siegal Gallery in 1994. She died in a Fort Worth nursing home on February 1, 1997.
FAE is now representing the photography collection of Andy and Beckie Reisberg, whose Photographic Archives Gallery was a fixture in Dallas, Texas from its opening in 1989 through 2006. In their time as art dealers, Andy and Beckie befriended many of the artists they exhibited and promoted, often acquiring hundreds of an artist’s photographs for their personal collection.
The Reisbergs graciously granted an interview with us to discuss their memories of these artists, who are the focus of this blog series. In this first installment of four, the Reisbergs share with us their background as art dealers and gallery owners. The following three posts will focus on the friendships they had with the photographers John Albok, Myron Wood, and Andy Hanson.
Before they were art dealers the Reisbergs spent most of their time in their darkroom on Lovers Lane in North Dallas, building a specialty photographic negative printing and print restoration service. As the quality of their work became known and their reputation grew, they established ongoing relationships with Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas at Arlington, The Dallas Historical Society, and the Dallas Public Library.
“We were darkroom subcontractors for the main library for over 25 years. At that same time the DeGolyer Library was fulfilling orders from the public, from their permanent collection,” Andy explains. “I would be the one to make a copy negative of a historical print, or printing from the historical negative. That was a wonderful relationship for about 20 years.” When the Reisbergs decided to expand their location to open an exhibition space, their ties with these institutions provided a vast resource to draw from.
The Reisbergs decided to begin hosting exhibits in 1989, “for the sheer joy of photography. Our livelihood was still in the restoration and conservation of photographs, but the gallery became a gathering place for photographers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, in particular, photography classes from high school to college level.” In an effort to share their excitement about everything photographic, the Reisbergs “hosted many group shows for area educators and their classes. Our calling card for the gallery read, ‘Specializing in Regional and Historical Photograph Collections.’”
“In 1991 we occupied the remainder of our 3,000 square foot building and formalized the gallery. From 1991 to 2006 it was a regular feature in Dallas: The Photographic Archives Gallery. I curated over 200 shows and brought together photographers, focusing on the Southwest from Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.”
When asked about any particularly memorable exhibitions, Andy’s first thought was an exhibition he co-curated with a friend on contemporary pinhole photography they called Gleaning Light. He recalls, “We organized a group show, with a call for entries around the country and the world. We had artists from Mexico and Canada participate. It turned out to be over 100 photographs from nearly 75 photographers. This was the first time I’d been involved in organizing such a show. It took about a year to put that show together.”
The Reisbergs coordinated gallery talks and workshops, as well as hosting travelling shows by the Texas Photographic Society. They often produced catalogues to accompany their exhibitions, some of which are included on FAE’s artist pages, such as Andy Hanson: Another Side and John Albok’sFor the Children.
Works from The Photographic Archives Gallery Collection are available on FAE here. Check back for our next blog post in the series, about the Hungarian-American photographer John Albok. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to stay updated about FAE and new blog posts.
AN INTERVIEW WITH LIFELONG COLLECTOR DOROTHY GARLAND
FineArtEstates.com is pleased to present artworks from the Dorothy and Mat Garland Collection. While Moving into a smaller space to enjoy retirement, Mrs. Garland realized she had reached the juncture faced by many a Collector: She now needed to de-access works from her collection. To accompany the 2015 exhibit of works from Garland’s collection at Valley House Gallery, Garland wrote the essay for the catalogue “A Collector’s Story of Collecting Early Texas Art,” in which she gave an account of her lifetime of art collecting and shared some lessons she learned along the way. With some of the remaining pieces now listed on FAE, Garland graciously expounded on her perspective on collecting in an interview.
The Early Texas Art Collector’s Organization
Dorothy Garland has been a member of the Dallas based Texas Art Collector’s Organization (TACO), since 1990 and most recently a board member. She described the sense of community that is fostered by members’ shared love of Early Texas Art. The board meets twice a year to plan their Spring and Fall schedule. They arrange viewings of Early Texas Art in a fellow collectors’ home, museums, galleries, or artists’ studios.
As she described the organization, she remarked on the kind of kinship that occurs between members. During one TACO visit to a collector’s home, the man showed her where he had displayed two paintings purchased from her collection. He kindly offered that she could come visit the paintings whenever she wanted. This is the bond that can form over a shared love for art.
That enthusiasm and open exchange of ideas between TACO members is not dissimilar to the setting which fostered the very artistic movement they study. She described the artist meetups that would take place in a Dallas couple’s home during the Great Depression. “They hosted weekly meetups for artists to enjoy a homecooked meal and engage in discourse.” She said Speakers such as Herbert Marcus (of Nieman Marcus) and O’Neil Ford were invited, and any information that could help these artists was shared. With no jobs to be had, any money earned from selling an artwork could go a long way. “They were able to pursue what they loved, and although they may have been competitors they gathered as friends in their shared passion.”
One of these artists was Jerry Bywaters, who went on to become the Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. The watercolor “White Cliffs,” was created by a friend of Bywaters from the same circle, Charles T. Bowling. Created in 1964, this piece beautifully exemplifies Bowling’s preferred palette of grey, ochre, rust, and cool blue-green. It was likely inspired by one of his lithographs from the 1930s. Twenty-six of Bowling’s lithographs were donated by his family to the Jerry Bywaters Collection of Art of the Southwest at Southern Methodist University. An exhibition of his work, The Lithographs of Charles T. Bowling (1891–1985), was organized in 1991 at the Meadows Museum in Dallas.
Bowling also studied with Olin Herman Travis at the Dallas Art Institute, who frequently lead painting trips to the Ozarks in the 1920s. The plein air painting “Red Barn with Wagon” is a rare example of a rural Texas subject, a departure from the Ozarks landscapes that Travis tended toward.
Art is Personal
Perhaps the most important lesson expressed in her essay and in her interview, is finding out as much as possible about the artists. Her belief is that “personal details can only enhance the enjoyment of an artwork.”
Whenever she acquires a new artwork, Garland makes a practice of contacting the artist if possible, or their remaining family. She explained that to learn more about the artist’s life, she will ask the spouse or children about their experience of living with an artist. She recalled a visit with the daughter of Texas artist Everett Spruce, who shared an intimate memory of her father’s habits in the studio. She said that he would always paint with classical music playing. “When he was working in the studio with the door closed and the music playing, the children knew that they were not to disturb him under any circumstance.” To Garland, these kinds of stories about the artist as a spouse or parent make the painting more personal and valuable.
It was during a visit to Paris with her husband Mat, that Garland said she first got the idea to visit artists in their homes. She recalled visiting Sacre-Coeur and purchasing a painting from one of the artists there. The artist offered to pack up the piece for shipment, and so they followed him to his apartment. She found it fascinating to see where he worked and lived, and now advises any collector to make a home visit if ever possible.
Another painting acquired in France, “Waterlilies, Giverny,” involves a personal interaction with the artist Claude Cambour. Garland and her husband encountered the artist while exploring Giverny, the gardens made immortalized by Cambour’s favorite painter Monet. Cambour started giving workshops in Giverny in 1985, and at the time of this encounter was preparing for an exhibition of his paintings in California. Needing American dollars to take with him to California, the Garlands worked out a cash deal for the painting. It hung over their fireplace for many years. To Garland, this kind of participation in an artist’s career enhances her enjoyment of the artwork.
Decisions of a Collector
The Garlands’ entry into art collecting started out of necessity, as she described their home with “a large wall that needed a large painting to fill it.” She explained that there really is no guiding theme to the collection, simply artworks that she and her husband liked.
The decision to purchase an artwork is fairly simple, by Garland’s metric. She has found that like herself, many collectors’ deciding factor in acquiring an artwork is purely that they like it and can afford it. Once the purchase has been made, she advises, “forget what you paid and just enjoy the artwork.” She explained that while an investment in the stock market could leave you with nothing, a piece of art that you love will always provide enjoyment. “There will be a market if the time comes to sell the piece,” she remarked, “and FAE is way to make that possible.”
Garland gave her thoughts on the scarcity of Early Texas Art in the current art market, noting that most of it is currently in the hands of collectors. The decision to part with some pieces is a bittersweet one, but she looks forward to the next chapter of these artworks’ stories in the homes of other collectors at heart. Garland hopes that her story will inspire new collectors to continue in this shared love of art.