Texas Art as American History: Regional Paradigm or National Archetype?

AHA Session 101
Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Mark Thistlethwaite, Texas Christian University
Mark Thistlethwaite, Texas Christian University

Session Abstract

This presentation brings new energy, insight, and information to understand the history of art in Texas, and the place of Texas art in the pantheon of American art. The story of Texas art reveals a distinctive regional artistic identity and a national significance.

Texas regionalism sprang from a national literary foundation, making Texas art a vital part of the national conversation, as spelled out quite clearly by Rick Stewart in his Lone Star Regionalism, i.e. the writings of Van Wyck Brooks,  Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás (called George Santayana, in the U.S.), and John Dewey published in The Dial, which ultimately birthed SMU’s Southwest Review and Lone Star Regionalism.

The development of Texas Art has been informed and conditioned by a number of factors unique to the state; its history of independence, the distinctive geography and vast spaces, the rich and diverse cultural heritages, the character and composition of people molded by rural and urban experiences, and economic dynamics shaped by ranching and farming and impacted by petroleum, space, and high-tech industries. Artists have responded, consciously or subliminally, to the myth and reality of Texas history and identity. Texas Art cannot be limited or codified as a signature style or a provincial expression because it speaks the visual and stylistic language of American art with an abiding and evolving Texas accent.

The earliest artists from the US created numerous portraits and documented the appearance of fledgling cities such as Galveston, Houston, and Austin, but were especially drawn to the remains of the old missions of San Antonio, especially San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission Concepcion, and San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo. These were the subjects for U.S. Army officers, who brought a new level of graphic sophistication to Texas, but also for immigrants from France and Germany, notably Theodore Gentilz, Richard Petri, Hermann Lungkwitz, Louise Wueste, and Elisabet Ney. Ney did not come to Texas until 1872, and she did not resume her career as a sculptor until the 1890s. But the woman who had sculpted Arthur Schopenhauer, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Otto von Bismarck in Germany found herself creating posthumous sculptures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, versions of which are in both the state and national capitals. Another Texas artist was Edgar Scudder Hamilton (1869-1903), a San Antonio artist who studied in New York and Paris. Though little known today, Hamilton's art garnered contemporary praise in his hometown and New York City. Hamilton serves as representative example of the ambitious provincial artist who views art as a calling and who sets out to secure a reputation.

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