Electra Anne Marshall Carlin, art gallery owner, daughter of Bert Marshall and Frances E. (Peers) Marshall, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on September 28, 1912. Her father was an assistant superintendent for a railroad dining car service, and her mother was the daughter of Joseph Moody Peers, a prominent early Fort Worth businessman who operated the hotel Peers House.
Carlin attended the University of Oklahoma but transferred after one year to Beaver College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. In 1935 she completed her undergraduate degree in English at George Washington University in Washington, D. C., where she met Missouri native Howard Lee Carlin. They married on August 20, 1935, and remained on the East Coast, including a period during World War II when Carlin served as a naval lieutenant. In the late 1940s the couple resided in Roanoke, Virginia, where they both were employed by Shenandoah Distributing and where their son Michael was born. Howard Lee Carlin later became deputy director of the National Production Authority in the U. S. Department of Commerce.
In 1952, after twenty years living on the East Coast, Electra Carlin returned with her family to her home state and settled in Dallas, where her husband held a position with the Farmers Home Administration, U. S. Department of Agriculture. Just three weeks after the Carlins’ arrival, Howard Lee Carlin was killed in an automobile accident. Subsequently, Electra and her son relocated to Fort Worth where her mother still lived.
By February 1959 Carlin was a partner with Terese “Terry” Tarlton Hershey in an art gallery called Wonderful Things, founded by Law and her partner June Lowe in late 1957 at 4735 Byers Avenue. Wonderful Things was Fort Worth’s first art gallery, predating both the Amon Carter Museum and the Kimball. In September 1959 the gallery reopened in a converted laundromat at 710 Montgomery with Electra as sole proprietor. The inaugural exhibition featured the paintings of such modern European masters as Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Vuillard, and Claude Monet, among others.
The focus of the gallery, renamed Carlin Galleries in April 1960, turned immediately, however, to contemporary American paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, and crafts. Carlin wasted no time cultivating a small stable of about a dozen artists; her initial selections included painter Emily Guthrie Smith, ceramicist Richard Lincoln, and printmaker Blanche McVeigh—local artists that she represented for many years. At its peak in the 1970s, the number of artists associated with Carlin Galleries grew to thirty-five.
Carlin offered a schedule of solo and group exhibitions featuring her Fort Worth and regional artists as well as Inuit art. Also falling into the rotation were exhibitions devoted exclusively to prints and drawings and an annual Collectors’ Christmas installation, which represented a wide range of prices and artists, including painters, printmakers, ceramicists, and jewelry designers.
Carlin was intensely dedicated to the promotion of her artists’ work. Between 1959 and 1988, she sold 635 works by Emily Guthrie Smith, a skilled pastel painter and portrait artist. Another successful member of her stable was Fort Worth printmaker Blanche McVeigh for whom Carlin mounted a major retrospective in 1970 following the artist’s death. Carlin also had long-standing relationships with Fort Worth painter James Blake and professors John Guerin (University of Texas), Luis Eades (University of Colorado), Richard Lincoln (Texas Christian University), and William Bristow (Trinity University, San Antonio). Another well-received artist, Virginia landscape painter John Chumley, whom Carlin represented from 1960 to 1988, had been an artist in residence at the Fort Worth Art Center when the gallery opened.
In addition to local and regional artists, Carlin developed strong relationships with two artists of national stature. Her most renowned was Peter Hurd, a painter then enjoying widespread popularity, whom she approached in July 1960 about showing his work. In 1964 Carlin partnered with the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art (now the Amon Carter Museum of American Art) when the museum featured a retrospective of Hurd’s work, and she simultaneously mounted an exhibition dedicated to the artist. During the 1960s Carlin represented New York artist Adolf Dehn, whom she encountered by chance at Associated American Artists Gallery in New York in 1962. Carlin accorded Dehn three one-man exhibitions, including a joint exhibition of his work at her gallery and the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in 1969 following the artist’s death.
From the beginnings of her gallery in 1959, Electra Carlin offered Inuit art, with the gallery’s first exhibition devoted to prints and sculpture occurring in 1961. The Canadian government authorized a small number of American galleries to sell these creations of artists living near the Arctic Circle; Carlin Galleries, which focused on art from the Kinngait (then referred to as the “Cape Dorset”) community, was the only distributor in Texas. Carlin developed a regional market for this material by helping museums, including the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, to organize exhibitions dedicated to Inuit art.
Carlin’s persistent encouragement and cultivation of collectors in North Texas and her numerous collaborations with local museums furthered the region’s growing recognition of contemporary art. As such, she played a crucial role in the rise of Fort Worth’s thriving community of museums, galleries, and artists. While the gallery’s patrons preferred landscape and still life subjects, Carlin endeavored to broaden their aesthetic horizons by occasionally featuring works by artists working in abstract modes of expression. Regular exhibitions at Carlin Galleries ceased in 1987; private sales continued until the gallery closed in 1990. Carlin was a member of the Fort Worth Historical Society and the Jewel Charity Ball. Electra Carlin died on February 19, 2000, in Fort Worth, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.