Katie Robinson Edwards, Curator of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden &
Museum in Austin, has
produced this splendid book, which is deeply researched, clearly
written, and lavishly and beautifully illustrated. Prior to serving
at the Umlauf, Dr. Edwards taught at Baylor University's Allbritton
Art Institute; she has written on such artists as Andrew Wyeth,
Robert Rauschenberg, and Jackson Pollock. Art enthusiasts will relish
this impressive volume, which won the Award of Merit for Non-Fiction
from The Philosophical Society of Texas in 2015.
Dr. Edwards divides her study, roughly spanning the period 1930-1960,
into nine chapters and a Postscript, "What Happened to Earnest Modernism?"
Her topics include The Modernist Impulse and Texas Art; The 1930s
and the Texas Centennial; Houston and the Foundations of Early Texas
Modernism; Early Practitioners of Abstraction and Nonobjectivity;
The Fort Worth Circle; The University of Texas at Austin in the
1940s and 1950s; The 1950s and Houston; Sculpture in and around
the Studio of Charles Williams; and Are Texans American? MoMA's
AMERICANS Exhibitions. Among the artists she examines are Forrest
Clemenger Bess, Kathleen Blackshear, Jerry
Bywaters, Connie Forsyth, Dorothy Hood, Toni LaSelle, Robert
Preusser, Everett Franklin Spruce, Charles Umlauf, Donald LeRoy
Weismann, Charles Williams, and Dick Wray.
MODERN ART IN TEXAS "covers the years in [the state] when abstract
forms, marks, and lyrical color fields still felt novel and provocative,
before Abstract Expressionism became an orthodox style." Edwards
contends that her aim "is not only to reconstruct that initial enthusiasm,
but also to argue for the continued vibrancy and effectiveness of
midcentury painting and sculpture in Texas. The best Texas midcentury
art is fully capable of profound visual communication."
As a Fort Worth
native, I especially enjoyed her examination of the Fort
Worth Circle, which included such artists as Bill Bomar, Cynthia
Brants, David Brownlow, Lia Cuilty, Kelly Fearing, George Grammer,
Veronica Helfensteller, Dickson Reeder, Flora Blanc Reeder, and
Bror Utter. "In midcentury Texas," Dr. Edwards asserts, "the nearest
approximation to a unified group of artists who shared similar aesthetic
philosophies and who sang, drank, danced, recited poetry, and made
paintings, prints, music, and, in some cases, love together emerged
in Fort Worth in the 1940s. But they were more a coterie than a
school, and the art of each member is highly distinctive and quite
different from that of any others."
This commendable publication shows that Texas art consists of much
more than rustic scenes of cowboys, windmills, and fields of bluebonnets.