Magazine article Southwest Art

Texas Pride

Magazine article Southwest Art

Texas Pride

Article excerpt

PEER THROUGH THE GLASS DOORS of the Washburne residence in Dallas, and your eyes are drawn immediately to a landscape painting hanging alone on a graceful curved wall. To the left, a staircase sweeps upward from a black-and-ivory slate and limestone floor. No other artwork is visible, and the painting is the star of the dramatic entry into this two-story Southern Colonial-style home in the fashionable Highland Park neighborhood.

Once inside, collector Ray Washburne explains that TEXAS SPRING, a 1929 work by Jose Arpa, is his wife Heather's favorite piece. Currently it holds the place of honor as the first painting to greet family and visitors. On this particular day Washburne, an entrepreneur, takes time from his busy schedule to pose for a photograph next to the Arpa piece. "His paintings are rare," Washburne points out proudly. "And this is one of the finest examples of his work."

Arpa, originally from Spain, moved to San Antonio in 1923 and became known for his depictions of the scenic central Texas Hill Country-its rivers, wildflowers, and deep blue sides. "Many European painters came to paint the Hill Country because of its unique beauty and flowers like the Indian paintbrush," Washburne explains. The Arpa work is one of about 45 paintings sprinkled throughout the residence, nearly all by Texas artists who painted in the state between 1878 and 1945.

Most of the artists in the collection, including Alexandre Hogue, Jerry Bywaters, Otis Dozier, William Lewis Lester, and Marie Haines Burt, are referred to as Texas Regionalists. While art history books give plenty of space to Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, both Regionalists hailing from the Midwest, Texas artists who painted in similar styles during the early 20th century have received less attention on the national art scene over the years.

However, that may soon change. These days collectors in the Lone Star State such as the Washburnes are going a long way to spread the word about their home-grown artists-sharing their paintings with the public in a number of exhibits being held at Texas museums [see sidebar] this year and in the future. The Washburnes are members of the Texas Art Collectors Organization (TACO), a 150-member group that meets monthly at private homes to view collections and discuss early Texas art with guest experts in the field like Michael Grauer, curator of art at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, TX. Topics vary from a focus on a single painter to the cadre of prominent Regionalists known as the Dallas Nine.

AS ANY TACO MEMBER CAN TELL YOU, the Texas Regionalists painted a wide variety of subject matter. Their work is similar to that of their counterparts in the Midwest-scenes depicting rural and small towns in America's heartland-but captures a Texas sense of place. During Bywaters' career, for example, the artist portrayed Victorian gingerbread houses, false-front main streets, abandoned railroad stations, ornate courthouses, common weeds, and Mexican funeral processions, according to Jerry Bywaters: A Life in Art, a 1994 biography by Francine Carraro.

That the Washburne collection captures this bygone era in the Lone Star State is only natural-husband and wife were both born and raised in Texas. Ray, 42, graduated from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas in 1983 with a degree in history. During his studies, he took several art history courses-an interest that he says stemmed from frequent trips with his family to museums in Dallas and Fort Worth as well as in cities they visited on vacations.

But it wasn't until 15 years ago that Washburne's passion for Texas art was fully unleashed. At a banquet in 1989 he found himself in discussion with Dallas gallery owner David Dike about the specifics of style among early Texas artists. Intrigued, he visited the gallery the next day and bought a lithograph on the spot-Hogue's CAP ROCK RANCH.

For the next four years he collected more lithographs and now owns more than 25, including WEST TEXAS, a 1952 piece by Benton, created while the artist spent a year teaching at Washburne's alma mater. …

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