FORT WORTH SCHOOL
FORT WORTH SCHOOL. The Fort Worth School of artists, most active as a group between 1945 and 1955, cannot be defined by a common aesthetic, as can the Dallas Nine, but by their support of one another and their development of an art community in Fort Worth. The group emerged in the aftermath of World War II, when the industrial, financial, and cultural sectors of Fort Worth grew rapidly. The Fort Worth Art Association had reorganized in 1939 and implemented a policy to exhibit the work of local artists. Under the leadership of Sam Cantey III and Sallie M. Gillespie, and later Dan Defenbacher, the association's annual solo exhibition and "Local Artists Show" became important stimuli to artists and patrons alike.
A varied group of men and women was part of the Fort Worth School; some of the best-known artists were Blanche McVeigh, E. Dickson Reeder, Veronica Helfensteller, Evaline Sellors, Flora Blanc Reeder (who painted under the name Flora Blanc), Kelly Fearing, Cynthia Brants, Bill Bomar, McKie Trotter, and Bror Utter. Also prominent in the group were Emily Guthrie Smith, Charles T. Williams, George Grammer, Lia Cuilty, David Brownlow, Marjorie Johnson Lee, Ann Williams Boynton, Jack Boynton, and John Erickson. Although the styles of these artists were quite distinct from one another, common influences shaped the work of many in the group. Cubism, with flattened, shifting planes, structural grid, and roots in primitive art, colored the works of Dickson Reeder, George Grammer, Bill Bomar, Cynthia Brants, Bror Utter, and David Brownlow, among others. Surrealist interest in fantastic and dreamlike imagery influenced the work of Veronica Helfensteller, Kelly Fearing, and Flora Blanc, as well as that of Reeder, Bomar, and Utter. Although some of the Fort Worth artists worked in a number of modes, including realism, the group as a whole moved beyond the painstaking representation and earthy subject matter of Regionalism, which had dominated Texas art since the early 1930s.
The Fort Worth artists' awareness of European trends was fostered in part by the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts, founded in 1931 by McVeigh, Sellors, and Wade Jolly, and attended by many of the artists in the group. Flora Reeder was born in New York and often summered in Paris, where she studied with Leon Kroll, George Gross, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Fernand Leger, and S. W. Hayter. Dickson Reeder also studied in Paris, with Alexandra Exter and S. W. Hayter. The faculty of the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts organized an exhibition program and brought to Fort Worth the first show of such School of Paris artists as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and André Derain. The Fort Worth Art Association also brought in many exhibitions from New York galleries that exposed local artists to the work of leading contemporaries. Perhaps most influential, however, were Dickson and Flora Reeder, whose home became a forum for the exchange of new ideas that they gathered on their travels. The Reeders were particularly generous in sharing printmaking techniques that they learned at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17, thus encouraging a number of other artists to experiment with the intaglio process.
Other activities that united the group included work on sets for the Reeder School, established by the Reeders in 1945. This school's annual productions prompted interactions among artists, actors, musicians, and dancers until it closed in 1958. The local artists were also active in the Fort Worth Art Association. Many of them spoke or demonstrated painting techniques for local organizations, donated works for auction, and decorated debutante balls in order to raise money for the new museum, which opened in 1954. Several of the artists associated with the Fort Worth School displayed their work nationally and internationally. The Fort Worth Art Center (later the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worthqv) subsequently shifted its emphasis to national and international art, and the "Local Show" was discontinued after 1965.
The Fort Worth School dispersed after the mid-1950s; many artists moved away, and those who chose to stay promoted their art elsewhere. However, the activities of the Fort Worth artists had effected a change in the national perception of Texan art, both through positively received group shows in New York galleries and enthusiastic reviews of Texas exhibitions in theNew York Times. Closer to home, the Fort Worth artists were instrumental in raising funds for the city's first independent art museum and in cultivating art patrons. Such collectors as Kay and Velma F. Kimbell and Amon G. Carter, Jr., subsequently established outstanding museums, the activities of which contributed to Fort Worth's importance as a national art center.
Beyond Regionalism: The Fort Worth School (1945–1955): A Texas Sesquicentennial Exhibition (Albany, Texas: Old Jail Art Center, 1986). Jerry Bywaters, Texas Painting and Sculpture: 20th Century (Dallas: Broadax Printing, 1971). Floyd Durham, "An Exploration of Some of the Causes of a Developing Painter's Colony in Fort Worth, Texas," Journal of Cultural Economics 1 (December 1977). New York Times, November 15, 1953.