How a Great Artist Sees: Charles T. Williams

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J. Peeler Howell, Editor

Artist paintbrushes

Before we resume our travels, we’re going to take a quick detour and talk about how the mind of a great artist sees. One example, anyway. The best artists learn to see so that they can share with the rest of us what we’re looking at. The Fort Worth Circle did this extraordinarily well. We all make casual observations about this or that and move on. Artists like Charles T. Williams linger, watch, and absorb. They document experiences. They capture moments and movements. They articulate change. In Fort Worth in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, during the time the Circle was working, these experiences, moments, and changes

included adventure and adaptation, death and disillusion, energy and excitement, and healing and hope, among myriad others. What’s so valuable about the work these artists produced during this period is that it becomes much more than the  records of a journalist or historian, not to diminish the importance of both. The artist, unlike these (ideally) objective observers, makes a completely subjective, unique observation, and cultivates and creates and presents a profoundly personal record of his or her life for the rest of us to enjoy. It’s moving to see this work in a way that a newspaper article or an historical description is not capable of capturing.

Howell quote about artist Charles T. Williams

Charles T. Williams’s wife died in 1947 shortly after he returned from the war. He moved with his son back to his parent’s house in Fort Worth. He set up a studio in their garage and scrounged junkyards and scrapyards to pursue his love of sculpting. One of his sculptures, Cowboy, 1949, is currently being displayed at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art here in Fort Worth. It is a sculpture of a life-size copper cattleman’s hat perched perfectly on top of what could be a carved wooden bedpost. It is 22 ½” tall. There’s a solidity and permanence to the materials. But the sculpture doesn’t appear heavy. It’s friendly and fun, but sturdy and strong.

From the correct perspective, a whimsical face with a wry smile begins to emerge from the bedpost under the hat. But that’s not the only perspective. The brim of the hat is not solid, so light and shape change as you walk around it. The crown is a flat piece of copper that spans from “ear” to “ear” and when viewed from the side creates a simple vertical line. From each different perspective, the whole sculpture dramatically changes as it conveys its emotions and expressions. It’s extraordinary that in his capable hands, the copper and wood could be so proficiently handled as to capture, store, and convey so much. Williams took these most likely found materials and arranged them in such a way as to encapsulate how he was feeling in the circumstances that accompanied his life at this time. He saw a cowboy with a hat on, and we see that, too, but he’s showing us that what we’re looking at is so much more. So much more about the artist, so much more about his town. So much more about his life, so much more about our own. So simple. So difficult.

My grandfather traded cattle for a time in Fort Worth right when this sculpture was built. He wore a hat like the figure in Cowboy. It’s a profoundly moving work of art for me. It feels so familiar. It looks like Fort Worth. It feels like Fort Worth. I’m not trying to be objective, but great art isn’t, either.

“If you can’t see, then you don’t know what you’re looking at.”
- Frank Caliendo

See Charles T. Williams, Cowboy, 1949 on exhibit now through May 7, 2023. Details below.


This exhibition examines the Fort Worth mid-century art scene through the presentation of more than 30 works by Fort Worth artist Charles Truett Williams and the artistic community drawn to his studio salon. Accompanying the works on paper and sculptures are ephemera from the recently acquired archives of Williams.  Dark grey horizontal line



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