I first joined the DMA team in July 2010 as an intern for the Curatorial Department of European and American art. In May 2011 I was hired as the research project coordinator for early Texas art, a two-summer position sponsored by the Texas Fund for Curatorial Research. As an art history graduate student specializing in 18th-century British art, I enjoy switching gears when I am in Dallas for the summer and learning about the history of the local art scene in my hometown. The culmination of my research is an addition to the DMA website that includes both a timeline of all Texas-related exhibitions and a historical text about the evolution of the Dallas art community over the years.
The most valuable resource for my project has been the DMA Archives. When I first started researching the relationship between Dallas art clubs, local artists, and the Museum, I spent many hours perusing exhibition catalogues and photographs from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. I was surprised to learn that women played a central role in the early history of the Museum, and that support for local artists was strong and consistent throughout the decades. I quickly realized that most of my attention would be devoted to the period spanning the 1930s to the 1960s. During this time, the Museum sponsored between five and twenty exhibitions each year that exclusively showcased the work of Texas artists.
Most of these exhibitions were sponsored by local art clubs and were held annually. Examples include the Dallas Allied Arts exhibitions, the Dallas Print and Drawing Society exhibitions, and the Texas Watercolor Society exhibitions. For each exhibition, local artists submitted works for entry, which were then judged by a three-person jury prior to the opening of the show. Top works of art were awarded purchase prizes, which were monetary awards provided by art clubs, private donors, and local businesses. All works that received purchase prizes automatically entered the Museum’s permanent collection.
Here are some of my favorites:
What surprised me most as I was researching the Museum’s collection of Texas art, and specifically the purchase prizes, is the variety of subject matter, techniques, and artistic styles. As you can see, Texas art is not restricted to panoramic views of the desert or scenes of cowboys at work on the ranch. There is much to be learned about the Museum’s vast and incredibly varied collection of regional art. I think it’s time we all took a closer look. Explore the Texas Art section of the Dallas Museum of Art’s website for additional images and information.
Alexandra Wellington is the former Research Project Coordinator for Early Texas Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.