Art in America: Fort Worth, Texas Edition

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Cynthia Brants, Horse and Rider, 1952 Painting
Perhaps the best place to begin our study is right here in Fort Worth. Fort Worth is my hometown and I can't pretend to be objective. It's a great place to live. Fort Worth was established as a frontier fort in 1849 and was incorporated in 1874. The town "where the west begins" has a colorful history. It became a major stop on the Chisholm Trail and in 1876, when the Texas and Pacific Railway was completed, Fort Worth became a bustling (if somewhat rowdy) center complete with stockyards, meat packing plants, saloons, saloon girls, drinking, gambling, outlaws, in-laws, et cetera. The Earp brothers, Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy, and others were  regular visitors. 

Despite (or maybe because of) Fort Worth's beginnings, the town also became a rather progressive art hub. The Fort Worth Circle was a group of young, enthusiastic, multidisciplinary (and also somewhat rowdy) artists that emerged during the 1930's. Composed of an almost equal number of men and women, many of the group had been students at The Fort Worth School of Fine Arts. A free association culture of collaboration emerged with artists working together on projects that included painting, sculpture, printmaking, performance, and even song and dance. Members openly embraced influences from New York and Paris as well as exposure to European modernism brought back to Texas by artists that had been serving abroad during World War II. Like so many other things Texas, this particular combination of ingredients produced a uniquely Texan result: a communal progressive art movement with Texan roots fertilized with elements of European surrealism and abstraction.
Dickson Reeder, Untitled Portrait painting

Not all of the accolades were awarded to the group, however. Many Fort Worth Circle artists enjoyed significant individual recognition and success. In 1944 the Erhard Weyhe Gallery in New York presented a month long exhibition of “Six Texas Painters.” Five of the six artists were from Fort Worth: Cofounder Dickson Reeder and his wife, Flora Blanc Reeder, Bill Bomar, Veronica Helfensteller and Bror Utter. Bror Utter was included in the 1953 Whitney Museum of American Art’s annual exhibition. Veronica Helfensteller’s is in the permanent collections of both the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Dallas Museum of Art. One of the more colorful members of the group, sculptor Charles T. Williams, currently has a retrospective of his work on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. If you’re local (or even sort of close) you should go see it! It will be up through May 7, 2023.

The Fort Worth Circle embodied so much of what makes Texas great and what makes Fort Worth great. It was a group of rugged individuals that worked together to learn from each other, help each other, and support each other. The result being timeless Texas art to share first among themselves and then with the world… and have a pretty good time doing it.

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