Curator’s Corner

Learn more about the collections and exhibitions at Stark Museum of Art from our Curator, Sarah E. Boehme, Ph.D. Find companion content on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

February 25, 2024

Thomas Moran, The Mirage and Little Cypress Elementary, Mural

Murals are a project of the Education Department of the Stark Museum of Art.  Rebecca Johns, Studio and Outreach Programs Manager, directed this mural painting.  “The average mural usually takes approximately 30 hours to complete, but these students were able to complete this mural in just four hours! Students were amazed over the week to see their work transform from a completely blank canvas into a colorful mural.”

The students learned that the Moran painting is a landscape.  In creating his landscape painting, Moran abstracted what he saw in the natural world.  The artist portrayed a real site, the cliffs of Green River, Wyoming Territory.  The artist’s first sketch in the American West was a drawing of these cliffs, made in 1871. The Mirage, painted eight years later, presents one of Moran’s boldest and most romantic views.  He omitted elements that were not important to his vision.  Moran left out evidence of the railroad that brought him to Green River as well as any buildings in the area.  On the other hand, he added imagery.  He portrayed Native Americans riding into the distance in a watery mist with the weathered geologic forms as a backdrop.  For his nineteenth century viewers, he presented an idealized West, a concept that continues to affect perceptions today. 

Thomas Moran’s “The Mirage” is on view in Gallery One of the Stark Museum of Art.  Admission to the Stark Museum is free. 

Thomas Moran (1837 – 1926), “The Mirage,” 1879, oil on canvas, 25 1/8 x 62 3/8 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Purchase of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, 1977, 31.18.15

Little Cypress Elementary School students, Mural, on Stark Museum fence

February 24, 2024

Horne, Black Miners

In 1848, gold found in California beckoned thousands of fortune seekers to the territory.  That is a well-known story in the history of the American West.  Connie Horne in her work revealed a lesser-known aspect.  She highlighted a group of African American who sought gold in mining claims along the American River, near present-day Folsom, California.  In 1849, they established one of the earliest claims in Sacramento County.

Connie Horne’s quilt shows the men working, using the tools of mining.  They break up rocks with picks.  Other miners wield shovels to clear dirt away, and others use large pans to separate gold from debris.   Horne employed her tools to construct the story.  She chose fabrics to create the setting—the river, the hills and the mountains.  A denim fabric literally represents the miners’ jeans in the foreground.  The artist applied paint and color pencils for details in storytelling.

Connie Horne prepared an artist statement about the quilt for the exhibition catalogue “Black Pioneers:  Legacy in the American West.”  After describing the miners’ claims, she concluded, “Work there continued until the late 1850s, when mining began to fade.  African Americans then found their way to the growing cities and towns of northern California.  A handful of African Americans struck it rich in the gold fields and mines, while others established successful businesses.” 

Connie Horne, (Elk Grove, California), “Black Miners,” 2021, Cotton fabric and batting, textile paint, color pencils; photo manipulation, machine appliquéd and quilted, 40 ¾ x 41 inches. On loan from the artist

“Black Pioneers:  Legacy in the American West” on view at the Stark Museum of Art, March 2—August 3, 2024

Organized by The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art with gratitude to guest curator Carolyn Mazloomi, PhD.

February 19, 2024

Steuben Glass, “Presidential Plaque, Abraham Lincoln”

Engraving designer Bruce Moore represented each of the Presidents in a pose appropriate for his story.  He showed Abraham Lincoln in a full figure, standing position.  Lincoln is in a “contrapposto” pose.  The term “contrapposto” means counterpoised and refers to his stance with his weight on one leg while his other leg is bent.  It is a relaxed pose, but one is ready for action, not rigid.  Moore was an academically trained artist who had European study.  He was likely aware of ancient sculptures, especially of orators (speechmakers) that used “contrapposto.”   Lincoln is known for his masterful speeches such as the Gettysburg Address and others, so this pose evokes the tradition of oratory.  Yet, Moore showed Lincoln not with commanding hand gestures, but with more subdued physical expression.  His left hand is lowered with an outward-facing palm.  He is open, even vulnerable. 

With his right hand, Lincoln grasps three objects.  He holds his characteristic top hat, rather than wearing it. His uncovered head makes him less imposing.  Lincoln has a rolled-up scroll, referring to the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves (with limitations). From his hand, a cape falls in elegant drapery folds. 

Bruce Moore (1905 – 1980), engraving designer, Donald Pollard (1924 – 1994), glass designer, Steuben Glass (1903 – present), manufacturer, “Presidential Plaque, Abraham Lincoln,” 1959, engraved crystal with ebony-finish wood base, 15 1/2 × 5 × 2 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965, 41.8.2.C.

Vinnie Ream, “Abraham Lincoln,” 1871, Marble, Rotunda U.S. Capitol. Photographic credit: Architect of the Capitol. As a work of the U.S. federal government, all images created or made by the Architect of the Capitol are in the public domain in the United States.

Moore probably found additional inspiration for his Lincoln representation in an important nineteenth-century sculpture.  Artist Vinnie Ream (1847-1914) made a statue of Abraham Lincoln for the United States Capitol Building not long after the President’s death.  According to the Architect of the Capitol, “In 1866, at the age of 18, Vinnie Ream was selected by the U.S. Congress to sculpt a memorial statue of President Abraham Lincoln. This made her the first female artist commissioned to create a work of art for the United States government.”  Ream’s sculpture has Lincoln holding a scroll of the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand, and his cape drapes his body and then falls in folds below his left hand.  Both Ream and Moore depicted Lincoln wearing a double-breasted frock coat, the type of coat he wore the night he was assassinated.  Ream’s representation Lincoln as a contemplative figure gave a measured resonance that was a model for Moore.

The inscription on the Steuben plaque coordinates with the theme of oratory.  The words come from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered March 4, 1865.  As Lincoln began his second term, the Civil War was nearing its end.  The Union would prevail.  Lincoln faced the formidable task of healing the nation.  He sought to do so, not with vengeance and retribution, but with reconciliation and justice.  The inscription uses concluding words from the speech, “With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves . . . with all nations.”  Lincoln’s message remains relevant today.

The Steuben Presidential Plaques are on view in the Stark Museum of Art’s exhibit, “Steuben Glass: Stories Engraved in Crystal,” installed in Hallway 3. 

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is available through the National Park Service’s Lincoln Memorial site.

https://www.nps.gov/linc/learn/historyculture/lincoln-second-inaugural.htm

February 14, 2024

Unidentified artist (Diné [Navajo]), “A Rose”

Navajo weavings from the earliest times featured abstract designs, such as striped wearing blankets, and the later elaborate geometrical patterns in rugs.  Pictorial elements, such as birds or flags, appear in Navajo weavings as early as the 1860s, but they are rare.   Pictorial weavings became more common in the early twentieth century.  Weavers made designs that introduced a range of representations.  Some weavers drew upon traditional Diné culture with depictions of ceremonial dancers or patterns based upon sandpaintings.  Others branched out with portrayals of animals, plants, and scenes of everyday life of Diné people.

The weaving called “A Rose” is very unusual, even as a pictorial weaving.   This weaving re-interprets a Euro-American motif from textiles such as rugs and tapestries.  The typical Euro-American design features a large central element of flowers with corner elements and other ornamentation.  The weaver of “A Rose” could have taken inspiration from an item similar to the “Fire Screen” in The W.H. Stark House Dining Room.   That “Fire Screen” has a large central element of a vase of flowers, including what appear to be pink roses.  The vase is an amphora-shape with large rounded body, small neck, and prominent side handles.  The vase in “A Rose” is a similar amphora-type.  This “Fire Screen” has corner elements, though not as prominent as “A Rose.” Both works have curving ornamentation of ribbons or other flourishes. 

The creators of “A Rose” and “Fire Screen” each use a process where straight lines build the image.  Navajo weavers use an upright loom of vertically stretched warp threads; they pull the horizontal weft threads through the warp threads to make the pattern and the weaving.  The Euro-American needlepoint crafters start with a canvas grid of straight lines, and they take diagonal stitches over the gridlines to cover the canvas with rows of stitches.  The needlepointer of the “Fire Screen” used small stitches and varied thread colors to create an illusion of three-dimensionality.  The weaver of “A Rose,” while depicting curved objects, emphasized the linear aspect of the process.  She (most Diné weavers are female) used rectangular shapes to build her images, even when they were round like the roses.  She took inspiration from Euro-American imagery, and yet interpreted it in an abstracted, geometric way, so that she reasserted her own culture’s aesthetics.

Unknown, “Fire Screen,” (detail of photograph of The W.H. Stark House Dining Room), c. 1900, cloth and wood, 13 3/4 x 41 3/4 x 25 inches (35 x 106 x 63.5 cm), The W.H. Stark House, 61.900.31.

Unidentified artist (Diné [Navajo]), “A Rose,” natural handspun wool and commercial yarns; commercial dyes, 63 x 48 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965, 82.900.188

The grouping of Pictorial Weavings will be on view in the Lobby of the Stark Museum of Art until early June.  Be sure and stop by to view them and enjoy these roses for Valentine’s Day and beyond. 

February 13, 2024

Steuben Glass, “Louisiana”

The Steuben Glass series “The United States in Crystal” includes a central bowl to represent the United States plus fifty bowls, one for each of the states in the Union.  Each state bowl has an image that represents its history, culture, or natural features.  Artist Sidney Waugh designed the images and wrote brief descriptions providing background on the subjects.  To choose the themes, Steuben Glass sought assistance.  The firm reached out to the Institute of Early American History and Culture, an independent research organization in Williamsburg, Virginia, for advice on suitable subjects for each state.   The theme of Mardi Gras for Louisiana is ideal because the celebration is such a distinctive aspect of the state’s culture.  Mardi Gras is an official Louisiana state holiday, dating back to 1875. 

For the image, Waugh depicted a King of Mardi Gras as the central figure.  He likely found inspiration in photographs of the Krewe of Rex parade float from the 1950s.  On the float, Rex (the King) sat enthroned under a canopy of a giant crown with drapery panels.  In Waugh’s scene, Rex has a similar setting.  Two costumed musicians flank the King and entertain with banjo, horn, and tambourine, emphasizing the importance of music in the celebration.  Waugh stylized the figures and exaggerated their poses. His style creates an appropriate look for the holiday with its heightened theatricality.   

Sidney Waugh prepared the following statement about the bowl “Louisiana.” 

“Every state in the Union boasts of its special character and its local traditions. Louisiana has no need to boast. Its character and its traditions are so old and so unique as to attract the attention of the traveler, the gourmet, the gambler, the artist and the historian without benefit of instructions from the Chamber of Commerce. 

Louisiana has its own style of architecture, its own cuisine, its own language and its own social customs. Among the last the most notable is the great fete of Mardi Gras. At the time of this pre-Lenten festival, kings and queens, both black and white, are chosen and carried in gay parades through the streets, music and revelry are the order of the day and hospitality is unbounded.  

The New Orleans Mardi Gras is, without doubt, the greatest and most unique festival in America.”

“The United States in Crystal,” including “Louisiana,” is on view at the Stark Museum of Art as a standing exhibition.

February 2, 2024

John James Audubon, “Maryland Marmot, Woodchuck, Groundhog”

After completing his monumental study on “The Birds of America,” John James Audubon turned his attention to mammals.  He wanted to record American animals and document their appearances and habits.  He eventually limited his focus to “viviparous quadrupeds.”  That means four-legged animals that bear their young alive.  He thus avoided some mammals such as whales and bats.   Audubon made watercolor drawings that were the basis for the prints for his three-volume publication.  He and his friend, The Reverend John Bachman, wrote the text that described the animals.   In writing about the groundhog, they did not use the word “hibernation,” but they described the process.  They wrote, “The species becomes torpid when the leaves have fallen from the trees in autumn and the frosty air gives notice of the approach of winter.”  They noted that the groundhog “remains burrowed in the earth until the grass has sprung up and the genial warmth of spring invites it to come forth.”   Audubon’s depiction portrays a female with two young groundhogs in a verdant green landscape.   The female has emerged from hibernation and has born her litter.  She stands as if watching over her offspring.  Enough time has passed that the two young are old enough to explore the landscape.  Audubon’s title for the print records synonyms for the common name of the species, Maryland Marmot, Woodchuck, and Groundhog. 

January 15, 2024

“Langston Hughes, Pioneer Poet”

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an author and activist, born in Joplin, Missouri.  He is known for his powerful poetry and as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, the flourishing of Black culture that developed in New York City.  

Artist Tierney Davis Hogan depicted Langston Hughes for the exhibition “Black Pioneers:  Legacy in the American West.” She wrote an artist statement about this quilt for the exhibition catalog accompanying “Black Pioneers.” 

Tierney Davis Hogan chose to portray Hughes for this exhibition, seeing him as a pioneer poet.  She used a photograph of Hughes by Carl Van Vechten from the Library of Congress and reimagined it.  She layered the likeness over an American flag and an African fabric to visualize Hughes’s identity as an African American.  She stressed his role as a poet by incorporating words of Langston Hughes’s poetry into her art.  Hogan reshaped four lines from the 86 lines of the poem “Let America Be America.”  

Hogan lined the poem’s words along the stripes of the American flag, seemingly to emphasize the call to respond to American ideals.  She arranged the wording so that “pioneer” appears directly over the head of Hughes.  The final two words of the poem, “is free,” appear upon the African fabric, stressing the importance of freedom, especially for African Americans.  Hogan noted the continuing relevance of Hughes poem, which was written in 1935, and encouraged the reading of “Let America Be America” in its entirety. 

The four lines of poetry that Hogan used include a dream reference.  Scholars believe that Hughes’s poetry influenced the imagery in Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.  The two men were friends and maintained a correspondence for many years.  Hughes wrote a reference to Dr. King in his poem “Brotherly Love.”

Langston Hughes has a connection to Orange, Texas.  In 1945, he spoke at the Salem Methodist Church.  Local historian Margaret Toal has written about Hughes’ visit for KOGT radio and noted that the newspaper “The Orange Leader” carried a front-page story about the poet’s upcoming visit. During his time in Orange, Hughes autographed a printed copy of one of his poems for local civil rights leader Velma Jeter. 

January 12, 2024

Melissa Cody “World Traveler”

The exhibition “The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans” explores the ways in which Native American artists have expressed connections to the land, rooted in generational history.  Melissa Cody’s mastery of weaving developed through teachings of her mother, her grandmother, and a community of support.  Her materials and tools come from the land.  She draws upon these connections to create in “World Traveler” a work of stunning beauty in its complexity and yet unity. 

January 1, 2024

Russell, “Hers to the Trail Behind You [To Mr. & Mrs. Richard Jones]”

In this card, he began with a reflection on the past year, using western metaphors.  Here’s “to the trail behind you which wasn’t all easy to ride.”  Yet, he also looks forward with his good wishes, hoping “your trail is long and smooth.”  Russell acknowledges eventual mortality, noting that the trail goes to “the pass on the Big Devide,” the passage from life to death and the hereafter.  The image he added lightens the message.  Russell drew a rough-hewn, but prosperous and smiling cowboy, who lifts a bottle in a New Year’s toast. 

Russell made this hand-drawn card for Mr. & Mrs. Richard Jones (Dick and Peggy Jones.)  Dick Jones worked for the business in Great Falls, Montana, where Russell bought his art supplies and had his paintings framed, according to scholar Brian Dippie.  Dick Jones and Russell became friends.  Later Dick and Peggy Jones moved to California.  There, Dick started the Dick Jones Picture Company, which published prints of Russell’s art. 

“Hers to the Trail Behind You [To Mr. & Mrs. Richard Jones],” is on view in the Stark Museum’s exhibit “Christmas from Charlie:  Charles M. Russell Holiday Greetings.”   After the holidays, the Stark Museum of Art will reopen on Wednesday, January 3, 2024.  “Christmas from Charlie” will remain on view through January 6, 2024. 

December 25, 2023

Russell, “Old Santy Was Good to Us All [To Philip R. Goodwin]”

Russell’s drawing depicted the table decoration that he made for a Christmas dinner with his wife and friends.  The artist modeled a Laplander (Sámi) in a sled pulled by a reindeer. He used wax and other materials, including salt and diamond dust for the snow. Russell’s sculpture survived and is now in the holdings of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.  The page of the letter “Old Santy Was Good to Us All [To Philip R. Goodwin]” is included in the Stark Museum’s exhibit “Christmas from Charlie:  Charles M. Russell Holiday Greetings.”

This page is a fragment of a letter Charles M. Russell sent to fellow artist Philip R. Goodwin.     After the holidays, the Stark Museum of Art will reopen on Wednesday, January 6.  “Christmas from Charlie” will remain on view through January 6. 

Charles Marion Russell (1864 – 1926), “Old Santy Was Good to Us All [To Philip R. Goodwin]” c. January 1908, pen and ink, and watercolor on paper, 9 × 5 1/2 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965, 11.106.25

December 9, 2023

Leon Gaspard’s “Rabbi”

This artist was born Leiba Schulman in or near Vitebsk (in present-day Belarus).  He had early artistic training in Odessa (in present-day Ukraine).   There he demonstrated an interest in painting “types and scenes from Jewish life,” according to the research of Elena Ivanova in the publication “Leon Schulman Gaspard:  The Real Story.” In 1905, he moved to Paris, France, to study art and exhibit his work in the Salons.  Three years later, he married an American citizen and subsequently experimented with adding “Gaspar” to his name. 

In the summer of 1910, the artist made a trip back to Russia, staying until the winter months of 1911.  He probably painted this work during or soon after that trip, since he inscribed it: Russia/1911.  The trip probably inspired him to paint this character study of the wise, older man. The signature shows his experimentation with changing his name.  He signed it: Gaspar.  Later he used the French form of his first name, Leon, and finalized the spelling of his last name as: Gaspard.

November 22, 2023

Steuben Glass, “Puritan Vase”

For this vase, Sidney Waugh drew two figures to symbolize the Puritans.  His depictions of the figures seem to evoke their virtues.  The female Puritan stands with hands folded in prayer.  She looks upward in supplication, and her shoulders slump in humility.  Her demeanor expresses her piety.  The male Pilgrim stands firmly with feet wide apart for stability.  His right hand gently touches the back of the female, a gesture perhaps of protection.  His left hand holds close to his body a book, not identified but undoubtedly a Bible.  He appears to hold a rifle in the crook of his arm.  The male Pilgrim displays fortitude and strength. 

The vase has an inscription: These simple folk were exalted to the stature of statesmen and prophets because they so firmly believed, so greatly dared, and so firmly endured.  Their annals illustrate a great and universal law that faith in God brings God’s assistance. 

These words come from the writings of Samuel Eliot Morison.  Morison was an eminent historian who taught at Harvard University.  He wrote numerous books including a fifteen volume History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II.  He believed in experiencing history, so for his biography of Christopher Columbus, he sailed to the places Columbus visited on his journeys.  Over his career, Morison won two Pulitzer prizes, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and numerous other awards and honorary degrees.   The quotation from Morison on the Steuben vase is based on talks he gave about the Pilgrims.  In 1936, Morison spoke to the Society of Mayflower Descendants in New Hampshire.  His talk was subsequently published as “The Pilgrim Fathers: Their Significance in History.”  In 1951, he gave a revised edition of the talk to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.   Morison posed the question, “Why do the Pilgrim Fathers so constantly figure in poetry, oratory, comic strips and advertisements around Thanksgiving Day?”  Morison saw them as people overcame perils with their faith and created “a great spiritual tradition.”   For Morison’s essay: https://www.colonialsociety.org/node/1052

Morison’s writings and the Steuben vase focus on the virtues of Puritans, an emphasis that overlooks aspects of the historical record.  For the Thanksgiving holiday, recent historical examinations call for a more inclusive look at the holiday’s history.  For example, the Museum of the American Indian offers a re-thinking of Thanksgiving that offers Native perspectives.  https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/informational/rethinking-thanksgiving

The “Puritan Vase” is on view in the exhibit “Steuben Glass: Stories Engraved in Crystal” at the Stark Museum of Art. 

November 11, 2023

Steuben Glass, The Western Group, The Plains

Lloyd Atkins, who designed the shape of the bowl with its pedestal base and lid, served in the United States Army Air Force.  Bruce Moore, who designed the engraving on the bowl, served in the U.S. Army

Atkins was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1922.  In 1941, he enrolled in the Pratt Institute, a school founded to provide a college education for students of all backgrounds.  After only a year, Atkins left his academic studies for the war effort.  After the war, he returned to Pratt and earned a certificate in industrial design.  In 1948, he began working at Steuben, while continuing his studies.  He earned a Bachelor’s degree in industrial design.  Atkins had a fifty-year career at Steuben designing distinctive shapes for the glass works as well as engraving designs. 

Bruce Moore was born in Bern, Kansas, in 1905.  He studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.   Moore taught at the Municipal University of Wichita and then received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in France.  He returned to the United States and worked as an assistant to James Earle Fraser.  Moore left to develop his own career as a sculptor and received a fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome, Italy.  The war in Europe caused him to return home, and he became director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore.  In 1942, Moore joined the U.S. Army. He was stationed at an army hospital at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and studied designing camouflage and topographical maps for the military.  After the war, Moore continued his work as a sculptor.  During this time, he designed many images for Steuben Glass. 

October 31, 2023

John James Audubon’s “Snowy Owl”

Audubon portrayed the owls against a moody, dark sky, even though the Snowy Owl is not nocturnal.  Audubon wrote, “The Snowy Owl hunts during the day, as well as in the dusk.”  The artist probably wanted to portray the Snowy Owl against a dark sky to set off the beautiful whiteness of its feathers.  He presented the owls perched on branches of a dead tree with peeling bark, adding to the gloomy atmosphere.  Snowy Owls live primarily in the remote Arctic area, and they nest above the tree line, but they do appear sometimes in the lower forty-eight states.  In 1809, Audubon drew a pastel of a Snowy Owl that he saw in Louisville, Kentucky.  1809 was during the early period of Audubon’s art, and he depicted the owl stiffly perched on a plain tree branch.  By the time that Audubon made this image for his publication The Birds of America, he was more accomplished as an artist, and he enhanced the aesthetic qualities of his representations.   

The Stark Museum of Art has one of Audubon’s prints of the “Snowy Owl” on view in Gallery 1 through early December.  The print that is on view is in the octavo version of Audubon’s “The Birds of America,” shown as it was originally issued to a purchaser of Audubon’s publication.  Audubon sold his books through subscriptions. The buyer received the book in installments. Each installment contained five prints with accompanying narrative bound together in paper covers. Later, buyers usually had the parts bound into volumes with sturdy bindings. 

John James Audubon (1785 – 1851), John T. Bowen (1801 – 1856), “Snowy Owl,” in “The Birds of America,” 1840-1844, lithograph on paper, hand-colored with printed text; bound in blue paper, 10 3/4 x 6 7/8 inches (27.3 x 17.5 cm), Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965, 11.1.6.6

The Stark Museum of Art has a complete set of the octavo “The Birds of America” in its original presentation of 100 installments, each with 5 prints.  In book publishing, the installments are called “fascicles.”  The word fascicle derives from the Latin word “fascis,” meaning bundle. This rare set reminds us of the efforts needed to bring Audubon’s ornithological work to the public. Audubon had to be not only artist and author, but also a businessperson. 

John James Audubon (1785 – 1851), artist and author, J. B. Chevalier, (1813-1870),  publisher,  paper cover of “The Birds of America,” 1840-1844, printed on blue paper, Octavo: 10 3/4 x 6 7/8 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965, 11.1.6.4

The paper cover of one fascicle of “The Birds of America” shows how the installment looked as received by subscribers. 

October 17, 2023

John James Audubon’s “Roseate Spoonbill”

The species that inspired Audubon’s print has an almost-absurd appearance.  The bird’s lovely pink plumage contrasts with its daffy features, like the elongated and flattened spoon-shaped bill.  Hunters prized its pink plumes for hat decorations in the nineteen and early twentieth centuries.  Due to the resulting overhunting, the Roseate Spoonbill declined severely in population.  Conservation efforts resulted in recovered population numbers.  It is, however, a state-designated Threatened species in Florida.

The Audubon print of the Roseate Spoonbill on view in the Stark Museum of Art is a pattern print.  It was one of the versions used by the John T. Bowen, the printmaker, as a working model for the colorists. They applied color to the black inked prints.  Its current condition shows the evidence of its use in a studio setting.  The print has undergone art conservation treatment to stabilize its condition for preservation purposes. “Roseate Spoonbill” will remain on view in the Stark Museum’s Gallery 1 until early December.  

John James Audubon’s art influenced other artists.  Over a hundred years after his groundbreaking work in “The Birds of America,” the Steuben Glass produced a set of crystal plates inspired by Audubon.  Three of those plates, including “Audubon Plate, Roseate Spoonbill,” are on view in the Stark Museum’s exhibition “Steuben Glass:  Stories Engraved in Crystal.”   Steuben produced twelve plates with bird images inspired by Audubon’s art in 1940.  Between 1943 and 1950, Steuben added another six plates.  Later, collector H.J. Lutcher Stark commissioned another eighteen plates.  The Roseate Spoonbill was one of Stark’s commissioned pieces. 

Artist Sidney Waugh designed the image, based on an image of Audubon’s work.  A Steuben artisan then engraved an image of the Roseate Spoonbill into the crystal.  The engraver had to create his image only through line.  Even without the characteristic pink color, the engraved bird conveys elements of a graceful image.  Viewers of the exhibition can see the delicate and varied lines the engraver used to create the illusion of feathers.  “Steuben Glass:  Stories Engraved in Crystal” will be on view until July 6, 2024. 


Steuben Glass (founded 1903) manufacturer, Sidney Waugh (1904 – 1963), designer, “Audubon Plate, Roseate Spoonbill,” 1956, engraved crystal, 10 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965, 41.8.7.30

October 10, 2023

The exhibition text highlights the significance of Dunton’s growing up in Maine.  He developed a love for the outdoors that influenced his art throughout his life.   The three other Dunton paintings loaned by the Stark Museum are “McMullin, Guide,” “Romaldita,” and “Mountain Mother.”   “McMullin, Guide” presents an idealized hunter.  Dunton portrayed him against the background of a dense forest.  The setting is New Mexico, but it also references Dunton’s remembered past of the forests in Maine. In “Mountain Mother,” Dunton portrayed an animal that held a great fascination for the artist, the mighty bear.  The artist painted a female bear with her cubs, showing both her monumentality and her domestic presence.  “Romaldita” shows Dunton expanding the view of the West by including a depiction of a modern woman at home in the landscape.  

Installation view of William Herbert “Buck” Dunton: A Mainer Goes West, 2023, Phoenix Art Museum. Photo: Airi Katsuta.  Gallery wall.  

September 29, 2023

Audubon’s striking image of the bird shows its elegant, curving plumes. Audubon made the painting of the egret for this print when the artist was in Charleston, South Carolina.  He used another artist to paint the background.  George Lehman (ca. 1800-1870) painted the landscape, which features a Carolina rice plantation. He included a small figure of a hunter.  Some researchers have interpreted the figure as a portrait of Audubon, but that theory is not generally accepted today.  In later editions of the octavo version of “The Birds of America,” the hunter was omitted from the composition.  It was a prescient choice to remove the hunter from the image.  Later in the nineteenth century, egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumage.  Through conservation efforts, populations of these egrets have recovered. 

The Stark Museum of Art’s double elephant folio volume from “The Birds of America” will be open to the “Snowy Heron or White Egret” until early December, 2023.  Then, the page will be turned to a different bird. 

September 22, 2023

The weaver used the natural colors of the wool along with indigo dye for the blue.  The design features jagged stripes and wide borders of geometric shapes.  This blanket is on view through early December in the Lobby exhibit of the Stark Museum of Art.  It is exhibited with Diné (Navajo) textiles, providing comparisons between the traditions in the Southwest. 

September 17, 2023

Although Gaspard left Russia to live in the United States, he drew upon his experiences from his homeland.   In Russia, he had portrayed peasants and ethnic groups. In New Mexico, he found inspiration in the native peoples of the Southwest.  “To the Christmas Dance” is a variation on a composition he often used. A procession, probably of Apache people,  winds its way among snowdrifts through a towering forest.  This painting is currently on view in the Stark Museum of Art’s Gallery 3 through early December.  Come and see Gaspard’s masterful use of pastels in creating this image. 

Leon Gaspard’s American-born wife also was an immigrant to the United States, due to laws affecting women.  Eugenie Evlyn Gasper (yes, that is the correct spelling of her maiden name) was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey, so she was a U.S. citizen.  She traveled to Paris, perhaps to study.  There she met Leon, who had come to the French city to study art and begin his career as a painter.  They married in Paris in 1908.  That marriage meant that Evlyn lost her American citizenship.  Under the United States’ Expatriation Act of 1907, American-born women who married non-citizens were stripped of their citizenship. It was assumed they would be citizens of their husbands’ countries.  Leon Gaspard was wounded during World War I in France, and the couple decided to move to the United States.  In 1915, Evlyn traveled alone back to the United States, probably to find a home for the couple.  As a non-citizen, she had to be processed like other European immigrants who came to America seeking a refuge from the problems in Europe and/or a better life.  Leon Gaspard traveled to the United States a few months later.  Evlyn and Leon Gaspard eventually became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1925.  (For documentation on the immigration story of the Gaspards and other background on Leon’s life and art, see “Leon Schulman Gaspard:  The Real Story,” by Elena Ivanova, Mascot Books, 1923.)

September 13, 2023

The painting “Ourselves and Taos Neighbors” by Ernest L. Blumenschein is currently on loan to the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, New Mexico, through January 28, 2024.   The Harwood requested it for their special exhibition, Harwood Museum of Art Centennial.  In 2023, the Harwood Museum of Art of the University of New Mexico is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Their exhibition traces the history of the museum and collections, along with its relationship to the Taos community.

“Ourselves and Taos Neighbors”is a group portrait including many persons important to the history of the Harwood Museum.  The seated woman, second figure from the left in the painting, is Elizabeth “Lucy” Case Harwood.  She established the Harwood Foundation that would become the Museum.   The artist painted his self-portrait in the foreground of the work; he wears a red sweater.  Blumenschein was also important to the founding of the Harwood Museum.  According to the Harwood’s Executive Director Juniper Leherissey, “Blumenschein sat on the Harwood’s first art committee in 1925, exhibited during their first public art exhibition in 1926, and was included in the first list of artists that were approached to begin a permanent collection at the Harwood. Additionally, Blumenschein led critiques for the Summer Field School of Art in 1952.”  Blumenschein’s group portrait includes other artists whose works are in the collection of the Harwood, such as J.H. Sharp, Walter Ufer, and Victor Higgins.  The painting features other cultural leaders, such as Mabel Dodge Luhan, “a benefactor who generously supported the Harwood Museum from its conception onward.”   

If you are in Taos, New Mexico, be sure and see “Ourselves and Taos Neighbors” at the Harwood Museum. 

Ernest Leonard Blumenschein (1874 – 1960), Ourselves and Taos Neighbors, c. 1940, oil on canvas
41 × 50 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Partial Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965 and Partial Gift of Nelda C. Stark, 1973,31.30.12.A

September 4, 2023

The Steuben Glass bowl “Washington” is part of the series “The United States in Crystal.”  Steuben Glass produced a set of bowls to symbolize the nation.  Bowls for each of the fifty states portray an image related to the history, culture, or geography of each state.  A central bowl symbolizes the nation as a whole.  Artist Sidney Waugh designed the engraving for each bowl.  Steuben Glass provided a written explanation of the subject of the Washington bowl.  “One of Washington’s great contributions to the economy of the United States is her lumber industry which centers in Shelton, near the head of Puget Sound, and employs more men than any other industry in the state.”

In planning the series of “The United State in Crystal, Steuben Glass sought aid in developing the subjects for each state.  The company worked with The Institute of Early American History and Culture, an independent research organization that is located in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Today the organization’s name is the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg sponsor it.  The Institute did research on the states for the Steuben series.  A researcher probably suggested the theme of lumbering as the topic for the Washington bowl.   

To portray the lumber industry, Waugh produced a design featuring Paul Bunyan, a character from popular folklore.  Waugh depicted Bunyan as a giant, dominating the space.   He dwarfs the pine trees and a mountain in the distance.  “Paul Bunyan is the mythical hero of the lumber camps and hundreds of tales are told of his prowess.”  Paul Bunyan may have been an odd choice to symbolize the state of Washington.  The folklore about Bunyan often comes from the Midwest rather than the Far West of Washington state.  The text from Steuben acknowledged the Midwest region’s association with tales about Bunyan.  “This legendary giant felled whole forests at a stroke, and with the help of his ox, ‘Babe,’ scooped out the Great Lakes and dug the Mississippi River.” 

Yet, the text justified the link with Bunyan.  The Steuben Glass text concluded, “Paul Bunyan makes his home at any place where great trees grow and men go out to subdue the forest.  At present he is said to be living in the state of Washington.”   The emphasis on subduing the forest and the focus on male actors reflect concepts of historical significance prevalent in mid-twentieth century America.  Today, the stories might be more inclusive. 

The series “The United States in Crystal” is on view in Hallway 2 of the Stark Museum of Art.  Additional examples of Steuben Glass are on view in the exhibit “Steuben Glass:  Stories Engraved in Crystal” in the Stark Museum’s Hallway 3.  There viewers can other works with engraving designs by Sidney Waugh.