Enchanted by New Mexico

Article excerpt

Enchanted: Taos Art from Texas Collections, is on view at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX, September 5November 15.

When Taos founder W. Herbert Dunton exhibited 25 works at the Herring Hotel in Amarillo, TX, in February 1930, the Amarillo Daily News hailed the exhibition as more successful "than any other art project brought to Amarillo." Dunton's popularity in Amarillo underscored an overwhelming interest in and support of Taos art that was prevalent in Texas during the first half of the 20th century and continues to this day. The proliferation of historic Taos art in both public and private collections across Texas is an interesting chapter in American art patronage.

In terms of breadth, depth, and quality, H.J. Lutcher Stark of Orange, TX, amassed the most important Taos art collection anywhere, now housed at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange. The collection is so significant that it easily deserves its own article, so our discussion here focuses on other collections across the state.

The blend of Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American cultures that drew artists to New Mexico also struck a chord with Texas collectors in the first half of this century. Vacationing or maintaining second homes in places such as Ruidoso, Santa Fe, and Taos, Texans often returned to the Lone Star State with artworks to remind them of the Land of Enchantment just to the west. In addition, a number of Texas artists studied with Taos artists and collected their works during this period, and arts leaders in Texas encouraged exhibitions and collecting of Taos art.

Dunton was among the Taos artists with strong Texas connections. He had solo exhibitions in the 1920s and '30s in most of the major cities in Texas including Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio. Dunton may have seen his own interests in cowboy life as particularly appealing to Texans and geared works such as THE TEXAN, OLD TEXAS, and TEXAS OF OLD accordingly.

Joseph Fleck, too, exhibited frequently in Texas. When the Great Depression decreased tourist traffic to Taos, Fleck resolved to "go to the clients," beginning in 1934. According to his son, Joseph Fleck Jr., going to the clients "usually meant Oklahoma and Texas, where oil was still putting money in people's pockets." Fleck's wife had family connections in Fort Worth, which helped the artist make contacts. Says his son: "He would load paintings into the back seat and trunk of his unheated `blue baby,' head down the narrow, deeply furrowed dirt road through the Rio Grande canyon to Santa Fe, and from there travel over frozen unpaved roads to Tucumcari and across the Texas Panhandle."

Another Taos artist touring Texas in the 1930s was E. Martin Hennings. Hennings first brought his paintings to the state in 1938 and for the next few years spent three months each year painting portraits in Houston.

The history of Texans' patronage of Taos artists spans the state from the Panhandle to San Antonio and from Orange to El Paso. West Texas turned its aesthetic eye toward Taos early in this century. Typically, West Texans acquired directly from the artists' studios or from exhibitions of Taos art in their home state rather than from Taos dealers.

Victor Higgins' solo exhibition in Amarillo in 1922 under the newly founded Amarillo Art Association was the first exhibition by a Taos artist in the Texas Panhandle. The association purchased Higgins' major painting THE WHITE GATEWAY from the exhibition. In addition, Amarillo civic leaders commissioned Higgins' PALO DURO CANYON, which Higgins authority Dean A. Porter calls one of the artist's finest pure landscapes. Unfortunately for Texas, PALO DURO CANYON now hangs in the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, IN.

Later the Amarillo Art Association sponsored Dunton's 1930 exhibition in Amarillo. The artist praised the association for "doing much to make West Texas `art minded. …