Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 2

     My generation-earlier cousin Otela was a famous debutante, suffragette and perennial delegate to the National League of Women Voters.  I had made a painting of her called "Pickle Server" because of a unique silver antique utensil she owned and which I included in the painting. She phoned her friend and neighbor Eleanor Rogers Onderdonk, sister of painter Julian Onderdonk. Eleanor was at one time the director at the Witte Museum.  The reason for Otela’s call was to invite Eleanor to see the painting.  Eleanor told me to send the painting to the Texas Annual Exhibition--the king-maker event that was sponsored by major Texas art museums. When it was time to choose, I didn't send that one, instead I sent "Kite" and "Beach at Eventide."

     The Men of Art Guild regularly gathered and exhibited at Cecil Casebier's frame shop.  We were visiting there one Friday evening with Fletcher Martin, a west coast painter whose exhibit was opening that Sunday.  Casebier had heard from someone at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art that distinguished Director Emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., Francis Henry Taylor, the show's juror, had wanted a smallish painting submitted by an “unknown” painter.  They were looking for one priced at only $300.00 to win the Witte Museum’s Onderdonk Purchase Prize.  Such a price was indicative of work by a new painter like me.  However, a committee sent from the Witte Museum also had a say in the matter as they had been instructed to choose a portrait; they had to resuscitate a reject to comply.  Of course we were outraged at this lost "big break" for a newcomer and all the repercussions were much discussed. 

     At the Sunday opening, Margaret Pace a committee member, rushed to tell me that Taylor had wanted "Beach at Eventide" to win the Onderdonk Prize--I was floored.  Later I would see Eleanor Onderdonk at opera and symphony performances and she invariably asked what had happened to the painting of my cousin Otela!

     I received a letter from Jerri Jane Smith who ran an art rental at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art.  She requested the two paintings for the art rental.  I replied that I had an early 1957 exhibit scheduled at the Men of Art Guild, of which I was a member, and that I would need "Kite" for it but that when the Annual finished its tour she would be welcome to have it and "Beach at Eventide."

     Mary Nye, who had just opened a gallery in Dallas, wrote a letter to me saying that she wanted my paintings for a show in March of 1957.  So I accepted and had my first one man gallery exhibit at age 24, only 1 1/2 years out of art school.  That show sold unusually well and to rave reviews--Rual Askew art critic for the Dallas Morning News even bought work from the exhibit. Mary Nye wanted me to paint her, and as I did, several women visitors came to watch very quietly.

     Shortly after my return to San Antonio, Mary Nye called to tell me that these visitors would rent a studio and furnish students for three mornings weekly if only I would move to Dallas.  Wow, only three mornings! They were a very prominent group who had studied with Perry Nichols, one of the “Dallas Nine,” before he ran off to Morocco. They were Mrs. Al "Emma" Exline from the famous Millermore family and Mrs. Royal “Pug” Jodi Miller.  Jodi’s sister, Virginia "Ginny" L. Murchison was the wife of Clint Murchison Sr., at the time the third or fourth richest man in the world. After Pug Miller died, Jodi married George Biddle of the famous Philadelphia and New York family.  The two beautiful sisters Louise Roberts and Katherine Madden rounded out those who Jodi would tell me in later, the 1990s, that they didn't just import me to teach but thought I would be good for Dallas.  These charming women were as good as their word and even had some prominent men: Carr Collins Jr. and R.L. "Bob" Thornton Jr., (son of former Dallas mayor) who after he retired as head of Mercantile Bank, became an avid painter.  I had already booked passage aboard the Flandre for the summer to use my second Cresson Award so it wasn't difficult to accept the generous offer to move to Dallas.

     Lee Nordness, a New York art dealer stopped in Dallas on his way from an American Federation of Art convention in Houston.  He had heard of my successful show and invited me to visit him a his New York gallery while on my way to use my second Cresson Award for a painting tour of Europe.  Jodi Miller and Paul Raigorodsky, friend of Texas Governor John Connally, had even bought purchase options to choose from works made during the trip.  As a result, another exhibit using the work I painted in Europe was scheduled for the autumn of that year.  All of this allowed me to provide for my family while being away from them.

    On this second Cresson Award trip in 1957 I again went to the Festival of San Fermin in Pampalona, Spain but what a difference from the 1954 trip compared to being with Cresson Award art students.  Our group included civic leaders Jake and Nancy Hamon who I had met in Dallas, a poet from Spain, the Henry Cabots of the Boston Cabots and novelist Robert C. Ruark whose "Horn of the Hunter" was the result of his first safari trip to Africa and his later "Something of Value" became a best seller.  He led the picturesque life reputed to imitate that of author Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway was a regular at the event.  Unfortunately for us, he was ill and unable to join us in Pamplona that year.

     Since this was a painting trip I spent a good amount of time in my favorite city, Florence.  Emma Exline, who had spent each August in Rome, invited me to join her.  She had entre to Surrealist Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico and so we spent a day with him in his studio at the bottom of the famous Spanish Steps.  I also had the pleasure of escorting her, and her glamorous movie star friend Italian-born Rosanna Rory, to the Villa Cesare where Rory was a judge for the Miss Italia contest. The car valets wore ancient body armor.  At the end of summer Rory was invited to a party in Paris given by legendary Hollywood mogul Jack L. Warner, of Warner Bros. The three of us drove Rory's convertible from Rome to Paris--complete with Hollywood license plates--what a life. The resulting second exhibition was another expected resounding success for me and we resumed classes with additional students.  One was Dick Lane. He was a wild sort of guy and became our first abstract expressionist--full time too.

     The Houston Museum under new director James Johnson Sweeney announced a statewide show juried by him and American sculptor Alexander "Sandy" Calder--but asked that all paintings be framed with 1/4" slats then popular with Abstract Expressionists.  Perry Nichols and I wrote the museum to ask if only paintings compatible with this frame were wanted.  The reply was negative, so we sent paintings anyway and were both rejected.  Dick Lane won the top prize with "Gusher" which I own.

   In early 1959 my students and I hung an exhibit at the new Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts' new building.  The building was purchased by, I believe, John and Lupe Murchison, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lambert, Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Marcus and Mr. and Mrs. John O'Boyle.  I understood that 1/2 of the building would be rented to support the museum.  I had been the local painter most involved with the DMCA--lecturing, serving on panels, contributing work for auction and hanging exhibits with my students.  Douglas McAgy was the new director.

     One evening Jerry Bywaters, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art called me asking me to teach all of the adult classes in their summer school.  I did and they had to turn away several times the number of students that could be accepted.  Obviously the summer was considered a great success because I was offered my choice of classes for the winter and spring.  With my background I chose the High School Scholarship Class and the then not too popular Life Drawing.  The summer gained me another full time student, Bob Hayes who was between going to Harvard Business School and having to take over the family automotive business.  Linda and Bob Hayes and Joan and I became fast friends for many years.

     Since my high school students were not allowed in the museum life drawing classes, I invited them to ours and all the other classes at Atelier Chapman Kelley, of course without charge--and did they attend!  Dick Fox, my framer lived on the premises and so the high school students set up shop somewhere in the building and were there day and night.

     Dick Lane and sculptor Lo Jordans convinced me to open a gallery there also in 1959.  Atelier Chapman Kelley expanded to include exhibiting as well as my studio and classes.  German-born sculptor Heri Bert Bartscht who started the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts also asked to teach there and so we became an Atelier proper.  Our first guest instructor was famed artist Elaine de Kooning, wife of abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning.  Through the years we also had Hobson Pittman, Ben Kamihira, David DeLong, and Hiram Williams among others.  Most artists we exhibited also spent some time critiquing our students’ work.

     In the meantime, I had an again successful one man show at Meredith Long's Houston Gallery.  He wanted to become my business partner in Dallas.

     Cynthia Stuart was my student, tennis partner and generous friend.  Marilyn Corrigan was another of my students.  When I decided to open Atelier Chapman Kelley Cynthia contributed a $1,000 loan to install lighting, paint the walls, etc., and when I wanted to purchase my first car to go to the coast to paint she sent me to her husband R.H. Stewart III on the day that he was named president of First National Bank of Dallas, at age 34.   He had furnished his executive suite with paintings from his private collection. I was flattered when he asked me to replace them with whatever Cynthia chose from my gallery.

     We loaded our new Triumph TR3 with canvases strapped to the luggage rack above the trunk and with Joan, Cole and Kevin and Yo Yo the poodle left for the coast.  The canvases precluded putting the top up, so of course it rained on us and I had to weight the canvases overnight so that they wouldn't warp.  After the first night back in Galveston we found that they had no sand dunes for the 40" x 40" composition that I had come to paint.  We did find a large pile of sand with none of the anatomy that a dune develops, but I could have Cole and Kevin in place to be painted as if on the dunes with the multicolored wooden stakes I imagined in place.  I did study the effect weathering had made on knee-high dunes to make the anatomy plausible.

     I moved my gallery from McKinney Avenue to a large house on Maple Avenue.

     Cynthia Stewart wanted "Sand Dune" in repayment for her loan.  She generously withdrew the request after I told her I had planned on submitting it in an upcoming competition. She allowed me to enter it in the 1960 Texas Annual under one condition; she wanted it entered solely in the $1,000 Texas state fair competition where if it won top prize, would go into the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art..and it won!

Next installment to include:

Early success as a painter attracts serious students
Famous students
J.H. Clark art collection
Constantine Brancusi
Piet Mondrian

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