Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 1

     Admin's note:

     On May 2, 2011, the Council for Artists' Rights sent an eblast telling of their choice for U.S. museum director of the decade:  Maxwell Anderson.

     As you may know, Anderson will be the next director of the Dallas Museum of Art beginning in January 2012.  And in a subsequent letter, CFAR recommended to the DMA's internal search committee and its contracted NY executive search firm that they choose someone most like Anderson to fill the position.  We are are extremely happy that Anderson has accepted the challenge to be the DMA's next director.

     Anderson's piece, "A Clear View:  The Case for Museum Transparency" so well elucidates his views, that the eye of the entire art world will be on Dallas.  The same museum conflicts are troubling many if not most art museums in the U.S.

     The art history of the transitional years in Dallas, what the late Robert M. "Mac" Doty called a renaissance--including a museum becoming the worst run in the country--has been hidden.  We have asked Chapman Kelley, a veteran of those crucial years, to shed light on that era by writing his memoirs.  It will be enlightening for everyone interested to know the true history.  Many will be watching developments made under the leadership of Anderson.

And now, the first installment of Chapman Kelley's memoirs....


     I have led a very interesting life during challenging times. As a result, beginning literally decades ago, I have been urged to write my autobiography. Now seems to be the appropriate time because it will also contain, to my knowledge, the only true history of Dallas' art community during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

     This memoir is for the many people who have so generously supported me and the other image makers who truly give of themselves to make the world a better and more beautiful place. 

     In 1985 and 1986 I lectured by invitation on my Wildflower Works at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and at the museum's professional school.  Robert M. "Mac" Doty attended the lecture. At the time, Doty was the director of the Currier Gallery (renamed Currier Museum of Art) and former curator of the Whitney Museum, NY.  Soon after the lecture, I visited with him at his home in New Hampshire.  Doty was very familiar with Dallas' art world during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  He considered it to be in the midst of a minor renaissance.  He felt that my professional life as a painter had begun so early and at such a top level in both Dallas and New York that I could and should promise to reveal the disastrous deterioration the U.S. art world had taken by the 1980s.  Since my roles included painter, art dealer, art teacher, art collector, and having been so very fortunate personally--I promised to do it.  In an effort to be accurate I have since then probably read a book a week. 
     I was born the third of eight children to Ruby Victoria Sloane Kelley and Ralph Payne Kelley on August 26, 1932.  My family has some very interesting white Anglo Saxon protestants--some very famous, rich and influential; my great-great Uncle, American frontiersman Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson (1809 – 1868), a great-great grandfather, Robert Kelley, and my great-great-great grandfather, Dr. James H. Lyons, (1805–1881) three-time mayor of San Antonio including once at the end of the Civil War, respectively.  Most of my relatives gravitated to the field of education.

     Shortly after my birth my father was offered a one-fourth ownership for $100.00 in the newly created Frito Company; Frito Company evolved into Frito-Lay and is currently a division of PepsiCo Inc.  Instead, he opted to be its first independent distributor.  He did very well with his own sales company, but obviously would have done better as part owner. 

     We were raised in a large white brick house with a few acres on a hill overlooking San Antonio. Our household included live-in servants, and a menagerie of pets.  I raised registered Persian cats. Up until high school I was very athletic with riding horses, playing center on the football team, pitching on the baseball team, running on the track team, boxing and wrestling.  My father was my coach.  My two older brothers played in the high school band and I did also but before I was in high school--the E-flat alto saxophone.  So to this day I enjoy good music, particularly opera but also classic, folk, rock and jazz and the area consuming my interest is classical music.  I have the radio tuned to it around the clock, each day.

     I began drawing as early as I can remember and started classes with my sister Pat at San Antonio's Witte Museum at, I think, the age of eight.  I thought the children's classes was not enough and so I was allowed to participate in the adult classes including life drawing!  I was fortunate that my family encouraged achievement but did not worship money.  I soon began classes at the private Hugo D. Pohl School. During my freshman and sophomore years at a private high school I was allowed to leave at noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and skipping 60% of Geometry and Spanish classes to also study with Pohl--a classic beginning of very accurate draftsmanship. After Pohl retired, I continued classes at his studio until I left to attend the venerable Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), the oldest professional art school in the U.S. 

     My junior and senior years were spent at Thomas Jefferson High School which Don Vogel also graduated from and rightfully called the most beautiful high school in America.  My cousin Otela ran the library and my Aunt Otela was its guidance counselor.  Aunt Otela took me and my drawings to visit Ruby Dugash--painter and art teacher at Jefferson High.  I had some of the usual prodigy publicity by then and Dugash confessed that she had nothing to offer, so I was enrolled every afternoon in the art department as a special student at Trinity University.  Dr. Adah Robinson, who had studied at New York Art Student League alongside artist Ben Shahn, was the department chair and took a great interest and she was just what I needed at the time.  Since I was to graduate in 1950 Dr. Robinson and my Aunt Otela did research on my "next steps" and we chose the PAFA.  The academy had a number of real practicing professional artists, each teaching only one a day a week.  They would critique the same paintings and drawings.  PAFA also awarded William Emlen Cresson European Traveling Scholarships of which I won two, in 1954 and 1955. 

     In order to be accepted by PAFA one had to submit works.  I was in such awe of that institution that I stayed out for two semesters in order to prepare the best portfolio possible.  I entered the academy in the summer of 1951.  Amusingly, Roy Nuse, who taught drawing at the PAFA (every art school should have one like him), would not recommend the advancement of any student for at least a year.  He sought me out and insisted that I needed no more drawing and took my work to the other instructors.  As a result I was immediately advanced into painting--supposedly the first such instance in the history of the PAFA.  Later I won the Thomas Eakins Figure Painting Award and earned honorable mentions in both the Cecilia Beaux Portrait Painting and the Perspective Competition.

     Joan Catherine Wisner and I were married in my second year while at PAFA.  Our first son Cole Chapman Kelley II was born in my third and Kevin Carson Kelley in my fourth year--so I worked hard both in and out of school.

     While at the PAFA a group of us ate at a small French restaurant with music students from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  We would go to musical performances with them and to their critiques afterwards and they would do the same with us vis-à-vis art exhibitions. While at PAFA I signed up for a coordinate degree program as part of the University of Pennsylvania and was accepted.  When I went to register I ran into some PAFA students who advised me to not divide my time and energy, but to instead pursue the academics later, which I did. 

     The principal painting instructors at the PAFA were Franklin Watkins who had had a one man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950--I own one of his paintings from that exhibit.  Also on staff were Hobson Pittman and Walter Steumpfig who had each been featured in a series of Life Magazine articles about leading painters of the time; it wound up with the one asking if Jackson Pollock was our greatest living artist.  In sculpture class we had instructors Walker Hancock and Harry Rosin.  In drawing class it was Roy Nuse, in printmaking Morris Blackburn and in painting we had Francis Speight, Julius Bloch and Rosewell Weidner.  Guest artists as teachers included Peter Blum, Stuart Davis, Jacques Lipchitz and Abraham Rattner.  I took my paintings regularly to Watkins, Pittman and Stuempfig and guest instuctors for critiques but also periodically to all the others as well.

     In my first or second year I was chosen to interview French surrealist painter Yves Tanguy for a television program broadcast live, which I did.  The student body cast their vote to have me head a committee to the academy's administration. But I deferred to an older student who assumed that chairmanship. One of my first exhibits at Atelier Chapman Kelley included the work of some of my former PAFA teachers--some major works by John McCoy were sold and that of Hobson Pittman, whom I regularly represented.

     PAFA students were taken to visit with major art collectors.  For example, we spent time with Henry Plumer McIlhenny whose dining room featured Toulouse-Lautrec's "Moulin Rouge" with a Degas "Ballet Master" in the powder room.  Mcllhenny's sister, Bonnie Wintersteen, had her fabulous Matisses.  Robert Sturgis Ingersoll who at different times was president and director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, challenged us to express and defend our historical and aesthetic opinions.  After Ingersoll's death Sotheby's had a 1970s auction of his personal art collection. I had to leave New York and return to Dallas for an event and so I asked one of realist painter Andrew Wyeth's daughters-in-law to bid for me. She assured me that if she bid for me one increment above the highest estimate I should be able to get a 7" and a 9" krater pottery and a stone Jacques Lipchitz that I remembered seeing in Ingersoll's garden. I acquired none because Ingersoll's "eye" was so respected that each object fetched several times the highest expectations.

     In addition to the Cresson Award I had also been awarded four years of tuition scholarships, three of which were used at the PAFA. For my first Cresson European Scholarship Award I traveled along with Richard Gibney, a mural student.  We went to England, France, Spain (for Pamplona's Fiesta San Fermin and its El Encierro or "running of the bulls"), Italy through Switzerland with time in Germany and Holland. We sailed on the Queen Mary and returned on the Queen Elizabeth.
     We spent most of the time in museums and often met up with other PAFA students.  We learned to eat at student Mensas where we frequently found students of music with whom we went to the opera and concerts.  They came with us to art exhibits.  Among academy students, a date was likely to be spent in a museum, which charged no admission fee; as they must be again soon in the U.S. 

     Whenever guest instructors were announced, many students would arrive early to sign up for a critique of their work.  The students' early arrival had to do with the estimate of the guest instructor's importance.  I did not arrive on time so American Expressionist painter Abraham Rattner did not get around to viewing my work.  It was the end of the day and everyone was outside going home.  The director and administrators were on the verge of taking Rattner to dinner.  However, on his way out he saw me putting my paintings away in my locker and stopped me saying he wanted to see more.  I chased around to present as good a group possible for him.  Luckily I found an empty room and quickly propped my work along the floor leaning them on the walls. Earlier in the day Rattner had been urging most of those whose work he had reviewed to learn more about their material, anatomy and solidity related to space--to develop a very painterly authority before expecting to make nonfigurative masterpieces as the Abstract Expressionists had--with the authority they had. And that pursuing a strained novelty was not the same as a well earned and considered truly personal originality. Rattner's last minute critique of my work caused a quickness, a gathering of the entire school.  At the time I was painting figures very solidly. Rattner used my work to make his points and surprisingly predicted national recognition for me; it was another example of my good fortune.

     One memorable event was seeing a large Giorgio de Chirico exhibition in Venice.  At the PAFA his bold use of chiaroscuro and free use of dramatic abstracted shadows inspired my first original group of paintings which became known as my "Nuns" series with titles like "Nuns on a Staircase," "Shine Boy - Toledo, Spain," "Cloistered Life"--and I am certain having seen original de Chirico work helped me to gain a second Cresson Award in 1955.  

     My generation considered going into the arts as a vocation.  No one had delusions of fame and fortune or to ever  make a living at it.  So in 1955 I returned to San Antonio and in order to support my painting and my family; I took a job working 45 to 50 hours a week as a purchasing agent.  My employer was Martin Wright Electric Company, the largest entity in the south and southwest U.S.  I never expected for my painting to support me, and family. 

     Once back in San Antonio, Dr. Adah Robinson critiqued my paintings.  She advised me that some universities were hiring the best exhibiting professionals they could get and that among them was the University of Texas at Austin. I had had my works graded at PAFA anticipating going back to do academic work and had all of the records sent for an appointment with Dr. Donald Weismann chair at the University of Texas.  I arrived on a Saturday morning with a station wagon full of paintings.  He asked me why I wanted to go back to school after completing four and a half years of formal study and winning two PAFA Cresson Awards.  I replied that much of my family was in academia and why not--it may make me a better painter. Dr. Weismann's university colleagues studied my paintings and drawings.  They said that if I insisted on becoming a student there, I would be accepted.  The consensus was that the art department would grant credit based on PAFA success. They agreed that my having previously studied and discussed history, philosophy, etc., that enrolling for those classes would be so elementary for me as to be a bore.  Their strong advice was for me to instead exhibit my paintings.  Dr. Weismann gave me copies of four letters that he sent to his friends at other similar universities to watch for me because he felt that any teaching job that I would accept later in my career would be because of professional standing and not accumulated degrees.

     Years later in 1966 I had a juried exhibition at Atelier Chapman Kelley for my current and former students work and a good bit of prize money.  I had Dr. Weismann as the juror--he contributed his honorarium to the prize sum.  I told him that before he heard from others I wanted him to know that I used our 1956 discussion as a lesson for others planning their careers in art.  He laughed at this and said that he did also.  I then added that I also included the fact that a couple of years after our last meeting, and largely due to his advice, my professional stature had advanced to the extent that I was in a position to recommend him to my dealer Mary Nye for his first one-man exhibit.
     Of course I had family and friends in San Antonio and continued to work, paint and play tennis.  My good friend Bill Thornton arranged for us to use his cousin's swimming pool.  The pool was located in an estate requiring seven full time gardeners.  In 1956 I painted a full length very Whistler-like picture of Bill against an interesting background; it was a paneled room imported from England, steeped in rich colors.  We went for a coastal trip to Galveston with Bill and his boat.  That's where I painted "Beach at Eventide.”  

Next week's memoirs installment to include:

Second European trip courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art's William Emlen Cresson Award

Chapman Kelley imported from San Antonio to Dallas, TX

First commercial gallery exhibition at age 24

First major art prize

All of the above is coyrighted material, all rights reserved.  Permission for use will be considered upon written request. 

Comments are welcome, the use of actual full names is strongly recommended, as are affiliations with organizations.


  1. comments about Kelley's Chapter 1 made on Sam Blain's Facebook wall: Sam wrote, "Installment 2 of Chapman Kelley's memoirs is NOW posted; and, the blog is fast approaching the 7,000 viewer mark. This will give you a taste of what the Dallas art scene had going for it, a few years ago. There are many more installments to come! Chapman's really working hard on this project. It gets better and better and better!"

    Mary McCleary wrote: "Fascinating"

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