Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 12

     An irrefutable track record of local state and national publicity across many years, of what countless others have said about my Wildflower Works concept (1976 to present) via their correspondence and other documentation, the many meetings I conducted with my slide shows, and of course my work in watercolor, oil and drawings and much more is what directly influenced Lady Bird Johnson to establish the National Wildflower Research Center (since renamed Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). In the years leading up to her decision to make the NWRC a reality, what follows is a tiny sample of selected correspondence coupled with a compelling narrative that underscores my assertion.

     The November 1980 issue of ARTnews featured an article about my new medium for painting, Wildflower Works, with a photo of yours truly.     
The November 1980 issue of ARTnews featured an article about the new medium for painting, Wildflower Works.  

      Jim Street, Public Information Officer of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport issued a three page press release dated April 11, 1977, heaping praise on the Airport’s Wildflower Works.

     Robert Mac Doty, Director of the Akron Art Institute wrote a letter dated April 19, 1977 saying, “…innovative, delightful and lots of other adjectives for your divine new work.”

     Again from Jim Street of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, penned a letter dated May 1, 1978, “…you have made a real contribution to the Airport and I thank you for it.”

     The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Board of Directors received a letter written by the Texas Wildflower Protection Society dated May 10, 1979, commending the Wildflower Works, “You are very fortunate to have such an ambitious, intelligent designer and artist as Chapman Kelley working with you.”

     Again from Robert Mac Doty, this time as the Director of the Currier Gallery of Art, wrote a letter dated December 18, 1979 saying, “…the piece [news media article] didn’t mention all the good work you did to support contemporary art and artists in Dallas.  So there is a lot of the Chapman Kelley story still untold.” (emphasis added)

     It was not a total surprise when I received a handwritten note with very encouraging comments from Lady Bird Johnson dated June 2, 1980. Notably, this was more than two years prior to the opening of the National Wildflower Research Center in December of 1982.

     Louise Perry (spouse of E. Gordon Perry Jr.) President of the Dallas Garden Club forwarded a copy to me of a formal resolution in 1980 which states in part, "...the Dallas Garden Club endorses the efforts of Chapman Kelley to plant wildflowers in public places and does hereby encourage other such organizations, groups and municipalities to commend and assist Mr. Kelley in this endeavor."

     Jack W. Robinson, Director of Dallas Parks and Recreation wrote a letter dated August 18, 1980 confirming that a resolution has been passed by the Dallas Garden Club for "...beautifying open spaces in Dallas through wildflower plantings...it is most gratifying to have the support of influential citizens in such an important community project."

     Jane Scholl of the Smithsonian Magazine in Washington D.C. wrote a letter dated April 6, 1981 informing me, among other things, that just one more editor (of several editors) needed to come on board so an article could be written about the Wildflower Works.

     George Philip Huey Jr., Dallas Parks and Recreation Assistant Director of Maintenance and Beautification penned a letter dated May 21, 1981 saying the Dallas Museum of Natural History/Wildflower Works "...can give us the impetus for more of the same in other parts of town."

     Clyde D. Walton, landscape architect with the state of Maine Department of Transportation wrote a letter dated August 4, 1981 informing me that my broadcast commentary with Craig for Maine Public Radio "...came off well..." and requested a Wildflower Works catalog for Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan and several others.

     Eddie C. Hueston, Superintendent of Dallas Park Maintenance, wrote a letter dated September 24, 1981 saying, “Chuck Finsley of the Dallas Museum of Natural History and Al Naugh of the [Dallas] school system are meeting with us…to determine a site for the continuing study of bluebonnet germination. This ‘spin off’ from the original Wildflower Works is another cooperative effort we are happy to participate in.”

     So Lady Bird Johnson was keenly aware of my previous years' success as evidenced above, which began as early as 1976 and with the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport Wildflower Works and later the Dallas Museum of Natural History/Wildflower Works.  In her heart she knew that the future NWRC would not fly without my hands-on participation and top-tier guidance. She phoned her best friend Patsy Steves of San Antonio, TX to have her ask me to approve and participate in the steering of the future NWRC, which I did.  To feel most comfortable about the situation Lady Bird insisted that I become a member of the NWRC's board of directors, executive committee and head of the education committee and I did so.  What I brought to the NWRC was concept and plans for its beginning, middle and long term viability.  It was something no one else had ever done or was capable of doing.  I would soon regret my decision to get involved. 
     Soon after coming on board I recommended that the NWRC hire range scientist Dr. Thomas Jefferson Allen.  Because Allen was at the time an employee with the Texas Highway Department, we sought their approval prior to the hire and they saw no problem.  In the wake of Dr. Allen becoming one of the staff, a meeting at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas was convened to hear my Wildflower Works presentation which was that it was the underpinning and driving force of the NWRC.  The meeting included Laurence S. Rockefeller (of the prominent Rockefeller family) and his wife Mary, and Nash Castro, General Manager of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission of New Jersey.  Rockefeller’s interest in the Wildflower Works concept was stoked by that presentation.   After he  left the Ranch it dawned on him that he had an important follow-up question for me. Because Rockefeller and Castro had attended my lecture at the same time, and after several months had passed, Rockefeller asked Castro to refresh his memory.  Castro felt that he could not answer Laurence's query with authority. So Castro followed up with a letter to me dated August 12, 1982 telling of his recent meeting with Rockefeller and his question. 

     The two-page letter I wrote seven days later to Nash Castro dated August 19, 1982 clearly answered Rockefeller’s question about how and why my Wildflower Works concept could solve the world’s lack of potable water.  We proved that the Wildflower Works was acceptable to the general public, that it thrived solely on rainwater, used no fertilizers or insecticides and bloomed sequentially through three seasons.

     And seven days later Nash Castro penned a letter to Laurence Rockefeller dated August 26, 1982.  In the correspondence Castro tells Rockefeller, “I think his [Chapman Kelley's] statistics are rather impressive.”

     As a result of my LBJ Ranch presentation and Nash Castro's "middleman" role to help resolve Laurence Rockefeller's concern, everyone was delighted to learn that Laurence promised to make a donation to the NWRC of somewhere in the $250,000 range; Margaret McDermott contributed $25,000.
     Realizing that my use of a new medium for painting, that of using wildflowers, coupled with its massive water-saving properties constituted a major arts/science breakthrough and with just 40 days remaining until the official opening of the NWRC, Lady Bird Johnson penned a letter to me dated November 12, 1982.  "You are the real pioneer!" she hand-wrote at the end of her two-page letter.

     On December 21, 1982, the evening before the NWRC opening, Candice Land, Bonnie Leslie and my spouse Joan accompanied me for an event with the NWRC's board of directors. The event was organized, sponsored and paid in full by yours truly.   Lady Bird was scheduled to attend.  She was a no show.
     The NWRC's official opening date was by design December 22, which marked Lady Bird's 70th birthday. One NWRC board member who attended was socialite Bonnie Swearingen, wife of oil tycoon John. Bonnie and I became friends as a result of her attending my art classes in 1962 in Corpus Christi and where my work was shown at the Centennial Museum. She and John became collectors of my work.  They convinced Joan and me go up to Chicago for several fundraisers, across some years, at the Chicago chapter of the Boys and Girls Club they were supporting.  I contributed some paintings to the events. In the fall of 1977 I was the Swearingen's guest and through them I met Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic for the first time.  That trip evolved into a press interview about the Wildflower Works. All of this happened a solid five years before the establishment of the NWRC.
     After the birthday party for Lady Bird, Bonnie and John came to our suite to see my slide show which included the Dallas Museum of Natural History Wildflower Works and that showed the obvious progress through 1977.  It was on this occasion that both of them invited me to come to Chicago to do a great work!
     The morning after the opening, December 23, 1982, I learned that a superintendent with the Dallas Parks and Recreation had been added, at the last minute, to the NWRC board of directors and executive committee. Alarmed at the unscheduled and unannounced change, I phoned art collector Olga Hirshhorn for advice.  She told me to get an explanation from Lady Bird.  I immediately scheduled a meeting with her.   Instead it turned out to be a meeting held much later, probably the following month, and surprisingly only with Lady Bird’s accountant and a lawyer.  That was certainly irregular and twice that I know of that Lady Bird had skipped out of a commitment.  At some point I took parliamentarian Mary Jo Shotts with me to one of the NWRC executive committee meetings; she was to furnish advice on meeting protocol.
     Much to my surprise I Iearned from Texas Highway Department of Transportation landscape architect Craig Steffans that Lady Bird had spoken with Dallas arts patron Margaret McDermott.  Steffans conveyed to me that McDermott had told Lady Bird that I had sued "her" (McDermott's) museum, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art.  McDermott was referring to the 1975 class action lawsuit that advocated for Dallas' public interest---an interest which unfortunately had no prior legal representation---as part of the disputed Virginia Lazenby O'Hara $4.5 million in Dr. Pepper stock shares bequest to the Foundation for the Arts (an ongoing private entity) and the DMFA.  I feared that McDermott’s talk with Lady Bird had infected her with the blacklist and that Lady Bird and her cohorts would  seek to eliminate me from the NWRC project.  That would leave only one person to get credit for my "big idea" of 1976, i.e. the Wildflower Works:  Lady Bird Johnson.  And I'm sure that McDermott desperately didn't want me to continue receiving credit for this important arts and science solution to the world's greatest future problem: managing the water supply. As evidence of McDermott taking an adversarial position against Dallas' public interest, at one NWRC executive meeting I played the audiotape for Lady Bird's lawyer and accountant of the Dallas City Council hearings of the contested Virginia Lazenby O'Hara $4.5 million bequest involving the DMFA; they heard McDermott's testimony. (The audiotape hotlink and narrative is accessible here in the last paragraph of art historian Sam Blain's Dallas Art History Blog.)
     Within days of the NWRC opening ceremonies I learned that it had been decided for NWRC to instead become a clearinghouse to publish the results of others' research without NWRC actually incurring the expense and risk of doing the hands-on work.  I suspected that a ruse had taken place not unlike the classical bait and switch ploy and that the hard research work would never get done.  
     The NWRC was originally to be located in East Texas where Lady Bird had lived as a child. It was never made public as to why the NWRC original site got switched to Austin suffice to say the new site was located under Lady Bird's radio station towers and on land unusable for almost anything else.  The new NWRC site was most likely used to favorable advantage on Lady Bird's federal income tax return.
     At some point Lady Bird and I were invited to jointly give a Wildflower Works presentation in Louisiana, we accepted--but instead of keeping the commitment she sent a staff person as a replacement.
     Since the purpose of the NWRC sprung directly from and all about doing the research related to my Wildflower Works concept, during one executive committee meeting I brought up the fact that a current NWRC board member had ordered the Dallas Museum of Natural History/Wildflower Works be destroyed despite having a written agreement to the contrary.  Board member Nash Castro responded by saying members could not discuss other member's business.  The board member ended up doing a stint in prison for unlawful sexual behavior while in a Dallas public park men's room.  The scandal was reported by the Dallas newspapers.  I felt that I had hit the proverbial stone wall and so I had architect Peter Block pick me up from the meeting.  I declined a lunch invitation from Lady Bird and never returned to another NWRC committee meeting.
     In the spring of 1983 the Allen's and I were at the LBJ Ranch for a barbeque where Nash Castro, then-President of the NWRC asked Dr. Allen for his resignation.  Of course Allen was now expendable to NWRC, but that freed him up to work with me on the Chicago Wildflower Works, hurrah!  Allen was a retired Texas A&M professor so the lost income meant little to him.  Being such a kind and conscientious person, Allen would not have engaged in double-dipping anyway.
     So the initial aim of the National Wildflower Research Center was to provide the scientific support for what range scientist Thomas Jefferson Allen described as a new vegetative management system based on my Wildflower Works concept.  The millions of dollars raised for the NWRC were expected to be used for research.  That is how the project was advertised and planned.  Everyone I knew expected that Lady Bird's name would eventually be incorporated into the Center's name, but why in the world would "research" be dropped from it?  What happened?  Had the NWRC's mission changed so radically? Had Lady Bird and her handlers schemed behind the scenes to create an organization using my "big idea" to raise lots of funds, then change the entity's name, and eventually establish a memorial called Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center?  Or had the Internal Revenue Service intervened after receiving a tip that no research or publication of such was forthcoming in NWRC’s new role as a clearinghouse?  The IRS may have asked the NWRC for evidence of plant research, and having not gotten any, forced the Center to amend its name to reflect reality:  the gross lack of research activity.  By shifting the purpose and focus of the NWRC did Lady Bird and her minions dupe Laurence S. Rockefeller, his wife Mary, Margaret McDermott and all of the other initial contributors out of their donated cash?


     These memoirs are a work in progress. Please submit information you may have to refresh my memory.  

Note:  With the exception of the news media images, all of the above is my copyrighted material, all rights reserved.  Permission for use will be considered upon written request.  Blog comments are encouraged, the use of actual full names is strongly recommended, as are affiliations with organizations.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 11

     In the early 1970s I was a delegate at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations or UNESCO, 16th Conference on the Environment, held in Houston, Texas.  The experience caused me to be more aware and empathetic about world-wide problems.

     In March of 1976 at my Saturday art critique I challenged attendees with the proposition, "What would you do if you were able to do anything in the world?"  After each student had been called on they turned the question back to me. By this time I was used to the conscious use of intuition that I had learned from author, inventor and futurist R. Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller at the University of Illinois symposium called "Matrix for the Arts," in 1967 where I was a participant.  The result of this learning had already brought me opportunities such as creating the Dallas-based art school the Northwood Institute, the Free University at Lee Park and the training of high school students in the arts as part of Mayor John Erik Jonsson's "Goals for Dallas" initiative.  Once in a while I'd have the opportunity to share the following experience with others in my studio. I'd tell them how I had been travelling with my clients in their private planes.  I suddenly realized that I could transpose both figuratively and metaphorically the flat concrete roads and runways of the new Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport with the nonfigurative elements of my paintings. The airport's general oval drainage areas among the runways were bordered with black top asphalt which mirrored the bands around the ellipses in my work; the only thing remaining was to install actual wildflowers in place of painted ones.  Because of my close association with Françoise Gilot, Dr. Jonas Salk and Fuller's tutelage I realized the environmental benefits of cultivating wildflowers to an exacting new level, coupled with gaining the public's approval of a new aesthetic and replace the still-current preference for residential and commercial water-guzzling green lawns, that we should no longer tolerate because of the worldwide water crisis.

     If wildflower cultivation and research could be pursued as I indicated, I predicted that unrealized food, fuel, fiber and medicines would be found which could allow for the easy development of the common uses of native plants in landscaping resulting in a marriage of the arts and sciences benefiting and bringing together humankind and nature in a vibrant working relationship. Everyone was rather flabbergasted at the possibilities of my D/FW Airport Wildflower Works.  There was an immediate demand that I pursue the concept because with the support of those present, between 20 and 30 people, the idea might be discussed and either ignored, suppressed or misused by others.

     So I went to Dallas acting mayor Adeline Harrison and she sent me to the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport board to share the idea.  I offered to pay the entire cost of the wildflower seeds, which I did.  The airport board assigned to me the airport's central area—four miles with 300 feet between the roadways.  Johnny Pate was in charge of helping develop the seeding and entirely responsible for the upkeep. An offshoot idea was to harvest the seeds from the seed heads the following season and to sell them to anyone interested.  The income generated from selling the seeds, tote bags and tee shirts, etc. to commission new works of art by other artists in a beautification effort for the Dallas/FW Airport.  This was all previously documented and agreed upon between the airport board of directors and myself. 

     The concept and effort gained immediate attention and garnered publicity around the U.S.  Subsequently, many lectures and honors came my way.  Airport officials were shy about the premature media fanfare and wanted to wait until the following spring blossoming.  Several tons of lupinus texensis, known as the Texas' state flower the bluebonnet, would by then have been sowed along with several hundred pounds of phlox drummondii, otherwise known as red flax, scarlet flax and crimson flax.

     To make my vision for the airport's wildflowers tangible, through the winter I painted watercolors madly—85 of them in 125 days!  They were related to my earlier works as wells as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Wildflower Works.  Historian Sam Blain and my assistant Candice Land began creating a catalog announcing this new dimension in the arts. The widely-considered great American collectors of art, Olga and Joseph Hirshhorn, who already owned my work and had gifted a diptych painting to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird, allowed a comment to be published in the catalog. 

     On April 22, 1977 Joan and I were Lady Bird's house guests.  I was Lady Bird's dinner partner at a large event honoring biographer Robert Caro and his wife Ina. He took on the responsibility of writing four books about Lyndon B. Johnson. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

     I had taken some of the watercolors and discussed the Dallas/Ft.Worth Wildflower Works concept with Lady Bird, Mr. and Mrs. Preston Jones, he a famous Texas playwright and Fleur Cowles the morning of the 23rd.  (Two decades later the October 1996 issue of Vanity Fair had this to say about Cowles, "...legendary American expatriate, editor, writer, painter, hostess, and philanthropist, is publishing her memoir and "The Best of Flair," an opulent anthology of the dazzling, short-lived magazine that galvanized the literati in the early 1950s.") Lady Bird had encouraged the Texas Highway Department to use wildflowers on its highways; they had done so since 1929 after a superintendent realized the beauty and reduced mowing costs.  However, Lady Bird said that to her knowledge no one had ever been able to deliberately cultivate them and unless our team succeeded it was just an empty dream. 

     In the spring some early mowing took place.  Those plants that had been seeded and that were not destroyed by the early mowing began to make an excellent beginning.  The art world and news media had a field day reporting on the blooms.  The resulting exhibition of my related watercolors was a huge success.  I was invited to give presentations, which I did, such as for the Transportation Research Board (national) at two venues, San Antonio, Texas and Orono, Maine.  Art News published a nice story on my new medium.  In 1979 the Texas Highway Department hired range scientist Dr. Thomas Jefferson Allen to set up the department to develop better more dependable plantings along many more highways in TexasAs a result of this I began to be a "regular" at the LBJ Ranch. You will recall that in the early 1970s I was President Lyndon B. Johnson's last visitor when I delivered the diptych painting and unexpectedly spent the entire day, one on one, spontaneously discussing his legacy; 36 hours later he was dead.  I made a series of what were to be the final photos of a living LBJ.

     I met Dr. Allen at a symposium attended by many people who worked out of offices in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.  From that day on Dr. Allen and I were joined in mutual effort like Siamese twins; we were this way until his death.  His professionalism as a range scientist and his impeccable integrity were the key aspects to our success.

     Of course I was doing test plantings at my gallery on Fairmount St. and at my homes in Highland Park and Turtle Creek.  Unfortunately for us, Johnny Pate and his boss at the D/FW Airport abandoned ship.  The replacement boss was a retired military officer.  He wanted the airport grounds clipped close like the haircut of a new military recruit.  Thus the D/FW Wildflower Works petered out without explanation.

     I don't expect that we will ever gain any hard evidence that the Dallas Museum of Fine Art's (since renamed Dallas Museum of Art) blacklist had anything to do with the D/FW Wildflower Works demise. However, the occurrences of the museum's and others' efforts to negatively affect the careers of several Dallas artists will be forthcoming in this memoir. 

     The good that came from this experience with the D/FW Wildflower Works is that we proved that cultivation was possible.   One mistake (we learn from these too) was not to have the outside general maintenance component under my control.  Another misstep was to expect expensive aerial photography to convey the color density and saturation after only one year of a growth cycle; Life Magazine staff had expressed a keen interest in such images.  Another error was not accepting the beautiful Lorraine Haacke, art critic with the Dallas Times Herald, to do a Wildflower Works cover story for Braniff International Airways' in-flight magazine.  Finally, not understanding how complex the planning and development of outside grounds maintenance would be was a setback; it happened before I met Dr. Allen in 1979.

Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport Wildflower Works and Braniff International Airlines passenger jet

    In April of 1980 I was approached by Walt Davis curator at the Dallas Museum of Natural History and later by its director Lou Gore about having a retrospective exhibit of my paintings at the museum.  They also expressed a keen interest in my installing a Wildflower Works which would surround that museum building.  Walt had become familiar with my work after visiting my gallery in 1979.  I shared the proposal with Dr. Allen and when he volunteered his guidance we accepted the offer.  At some point during all of this Dr. Allen suffered a heart attack.  Amazingly, he was subsequently able to be a full partner in the choice of plant materials and related matters for the creation of the DMNH/Wildflower Works.

     Walt told me that the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, literally next door, would have to be purposely misled by outdoor signage during the autumn and winter announcing the event.  The bogus signage was necessary because we knew that the DMFA was determined to stop me and any other Dallas painter or sculptor from having any important recognition—such as what I once had in Dallas—that could be garnered independent of the DMFA.  In fact, this Wildflower Works exhibition and the related artist recognition by the public was why the DMNH would be able to gain free beneficial publicity and foot traffic that natural history museums rarely received; such publicity was the norm for art museums.  The museum staff knew that if the DMFA had learned of the show beforehand they would have somehow interfered because it was no secret that the DMFA had lots more clout with city and landlord park district officials. 

     We plunged into making an ambitious catalog and series of lithographs relating to the show.  Botanist David Block regularly inspected the progress of our plantings even through the winter.  I was disappointed that the DMHN did not contribute anything to the catalog.  It would not even accept my cousin Eula Nelms (Mrs. Horace) $10,000 contribution.  She intended on taking a federal income tax deduction for her donation.  I considered the DMNH's refusal to accept the donation to be a very bad sign!  However, I believe that the museum did contribute something to the grand dinner opening party which was catered by my chef son Cole and his wife Lisa.  Blossom and Brad Horton were also an integral part of the culinary team.  The event was a great success.

     The exhibition and DMNH/Wildflower Works installation succeeded as planned.  Olga and Joseph Hirshhorn came to see the show.  Kenny and John Pickens hosted a dinner party for out-of-town guests which included folks from both U.S. coasts.  Susan Horton hosted a Sunday brunch for visitors in a setting that surrounded everyone with her extensive collection of my work.

     The DMNH and its staff had not had such a high level of attention before; as a result they extended the exhibit and Wildflower Works through the next year.   I was honored when they asked me to plan a traveling exhibit with them.  On weekends bus loads of school age children came for tours.  Some of them sent back color drawings in testament to the tours I had conducted.  News of the exhibit naturally spilled into the museum's surrounding residential area.  The young neighborhood children became our docents.  Each was given an official Wildflower Works ribbon to wear.  I don't know if the children adopted us but we had wonderful times and enjoyed enhanced community relations with the neighborhood.  The museum was affiliated with a local high school club.  The club installed a bee hive in a museum window and did interesting experiments.  However, their test plots, for which we had furnished seeds, weren't consistently tended and yielded less than satisfactory results.

Volunteers/docents and botanist wearing official Dallas Museum of Natural Histroy Wildflower Works ribbons circa 1980
     Walt Davis and Lou Gore were invited to give a presentation about the museum's participation in the Wildflower Works at the annual American Association of Museums convention in Philadelphia PA.  For that event I donated 450 DMNH/Wildflower Works catalogs that were snapped up by collectors/attendees even before Gore arrived!  Their talk drew a standing room only audience and as a result they were asked to repeat the presentation.  Obviously flattered by the request, they gladly did so. 

Gounds of the Dallas Museum of Natural History - Wildflower Works

     DMFA museum director Harry Parker must have crawled back to Dallas under the bellies of snakes from the embarrassment of having a natural history museum next door have such a big hit exhibition by a local Dallas painter, yours truly, and unfortunately for the Dallas art scene, the target of a DMFA blacklist.  This is where the trouble began; remember, in the power center that is downtown Dallas, the DMFA clearly had much more clout than the DMNH.

     I had a scale model made for a "portable" room and exhibition for the proposed traveling exhibit.  I brought along the model when Walt Davis took me to visit the director of the Hoblitzelle Foundation. Established by Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle in 1942 the foundation makes grants to social service, educational, medical, and other organizations in Texas, especially in the Dallas area. The purpose of our visit was to explore funding for my traveling exhibit.  The Hoblitzelle director's son, who happened to be a pilot at the D/FW Airport, said that his fellow pilots created an informal lottery to pick the day the airport's wildflowers would blossom.

      The DMNH was given an exceptionally long time frame to submit its application for a grant.  The Hoblitzelle director personally held open the deadline to file, he did so several times.  I realized that in all likelihood the DMFA had intervened and killed the prospect.  Sometime around 5:30 p.m. I phoned the mayor about it; he was an executive of Tom Thumb food stores.  We arranged to have breakfast the following morning.  Since the mayor knew that I headed the campaign to preserve Oak Lawn and particularly the community where my gallery on Fairmount St. was located, (currently the prosperous Uptown area) he thought our meeting was about a neighborhood preservation issue.  When I explained how the DMNH had inexplicably balked and missed some application filing deadlines and my suspicion about the DMFA's intervention, he put the director of the park board in touch with me.  The park board was the landlord of the parcels used by the DMFA and DMNH.  The director's first report was that the DMNH would submit the grant proposal immediately.  He promised that if it didn't happen then he would personally provide it.  Eventually nothing was ever done.  You will hear more of this gentleman, who was also on the National Wildflower Works Center executive committee and about how he was sentenced to a prison term for unlawful behavior in a public park men’s room.  The incident was reported by the Dallas newspapers.
     By now Robert Caro's first book on President Lyndon B. Johnson had been published.  As a direct result of LBJ's "insider" connections forged from a career in state and national politics, Caro pointed out in his book that although LBJ was a most capable politician, LBJ had conducted personal business transactions that caused more than a few eyebrows to be raised.  Choosing to increase the U.S. involvement in Vietnam War overshadowed LBJ being remembered as being among the greatest of U.S. presidents based on the congressional enactment of his domestic policies. LBJ's political career was flawed only because of his decision to escalate the Vietnam War.  The legacy of subsequent American presidents is similarly tarnished for not heeding President Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex.  To offset Caro's sometimes negative content about her husband's personal profit-making deals, Lady Bird sought to create some upbeat publicity hoping to diffuse that unflattering material made public by Caro.  And can you guess what Lady Bird chose to do?  She had her best friend Patsy Steves of San Antonio, TX ask yours truly to approve and participate in a newly created organization, the National Wildflower Research Center, which was to conduct the necessary research to fully develop the public use of the technical vegetative management system that would result from my Wildflower Works!  However, it was foolish of me to agree to participate.  I should have known how politics can be played whereby people exploit minds and divert funds for their own benefit.  It would have been so much the better for me to have politely declined Lady Bird's offer and instead develop a Wildflower Works entirely on my own. I would have long ago published the findings and recouped my initial monetary investment.

     In 1979 I had another successful exhibit at my atelier. National recognition flowed for the Wildflower Works concept.  If I may say so, my beautifully redone gallery received lots of compliments as did the Lambert house which had a lawn of wildflowers on Turtle Creek Boulevard.  My lawn at the gallery prospered--wildflowers were present spring summer and fall with a lawn full of bluebonnets in green rosette stage through winter.  Unlike my work, I learned that there were a number of professional and amateur self-styled experts who had "nothing to show" regarding their project's sequential blooming across three seasons of the year.

     I was travelling about to learn whatever possible about cultivating wildflowers.  I gladly presented lots of slide shows at no cost to attendees.  However, I sensed that there seemed to be an unlikely possibility for another "Dallas" Wildflower Works.  At this juncture I was further convinced that I had become a target of a Dallas Museum of Fine Art blacklist and because I was such an integral part of the Dallas art scene, the blacklist doomed the future of that, too.

     It was very gratifying to have both the respect and support of so many here in Dallas who could see the importance of the work of art in the community, the world at large as well as the water conservation aspect of the concept.  However, the efforts by the DMFA to enforce their censorship of all artists in the community through fear demonstrated their reckless cruelty as well as their historic foolhardiness.

    In this case the eagerness of the DMNH to enhance its reputation through sharing the related publicity generated by this traveling Wildflower Works exhibition was soon brought to a halt.  The project was likely stymied by the more powerful DMFA.  The result was that the Wildflower Works was destroyed by being cut back against a specific written agreement and the funding of the traveling exhibit of my work never materialized.

      As you may know, a blacklist is insidious and obviously unjust.  It is illegal punishment for independent souls who believe that we have in fact the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  Blacklisting is conveyed through innuendo, libel and a negative "whispering campaign" in order to frighten others.  It hopes to deprive its targets of their right to freedom of expression.  It seeks to dominate a community of people and have them accept the will of those with power.  It strives to make the warning, "YOU MAY BE NEXT!" a cornerstone of its effort.

     The other disastrous effect of the blacklisting was that my financial portfolio at the First National Bank in Dallas was purposefully misplaced.  How could this possibly happen while the bank proudly displayed so much of my work and for such a long time?  For example, my "Nine Poplars" painting hung on the most conspicuous bank wall in Dallas.  It was hung under a skylight in the bank officers’ formal reception area surrounded by private dining rooms where VIP clients were made to feel pampered and comfortable.  Only well-heeled clients visited the bank's ninth floor where bank officer's suites were located; that's where my paintings were in the offices of the chairman of board and top tier vice-presidents. R. H. Stewart III, who headed First National Bank in Dallas since 1959, and his wife Cynthia, who was my pal, art student and tennis partner had been among my most ardent supporters since I arrived in Dallas in the 1950s.  Their home was full of my paintings.  Their daughter, like others such as Mary McDermott, was sent to counsel with me.  Being perceived as a serious painter signaled a caring and idealistic human who young people of that age, those of the 1960s, could trust.  If I may say so, such personal characteristics were confirmed by the larger society and well demonstrated by my pivotal role in the creation of the highly popular Free University at Lee Park in Dallas.  

     The public example made by the blacklisting of this leading painter, art dealer, art teacher and fortunate art collector was that I went from having my own bank officer chosen and assigned personally by R.H. Stewart III to handle my financial consultations and portfolio, to subsequently being relegated to visiting an under-the-street pedway booth for my banking needs.  The "underground" banking person had no real authority and was not even aware of my bank account or that it had been "demoted" and reassigned.

     In pursuing the by now widely-acclaimed Wildflower Works concept, of course my expenses grew exponentially.  To continue, the only option I had was to sell the most valuable objects of my personal collection such as original works by Alexander Calder, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Henry Moore, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.  I sold them for far less than their worth and risked the viability of my real estate holdings.  The benefactors of these sales were some of my best clients, resulting in disastrous consequences for me.  Soon I was forced with the double dealings of supposedly respectable clients and friends but also the efforts of others who wished to actually claim credit for the Wildflower Works concept. 

    It is ironic that Austin, Texas storyteller and radio show host John Henry Faulk (who became my friend via Dallas arts patron and promoter Bonnie Leslie) and famous playwright James Maxwell Anderson were also blacklisted in the 1950s. The blacklisted Anderson is the grandfather of our new art museum director and well-documented champion of museum reform, Maxwell L. Anderson.  Faulk with his attorney Louis Nizer beat the architect of that blacklist campaign against him, U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy and his backers, in a federal court libel lawsuit.  A jury awarded to Faulk three times in damages beyond the amount he had requested. As a result Faulk went on to become a famous First Amendment lecturer and wrote a book about his blacklisting experience called "Fear on Trial."  The book was adapted for CBS television.  Ironically, CBS had ended Faulk's broadcasting career in the mid 1950s after bowing to pressure from blacklisters.  You will learn more in a near future memoir chapter about my 1980s First Amendment "victory" lawsuit after my noncommissioned “Chicago Wildflower Works” (1984 - 2004) artwork was threatened by folks affiliated with the Chicago Park District. 

1979 note from John Henry Faulk to Kelley and associates
     With this cast of characters, blacklisting information and historical background we'll see how all this plays out. 

     And given the area's water shortage issues, it will be interesting to see what future generations will have to say about Dallas' neglecting to take advantage of the vast water savings that the Wildflower Works proved was possible; it was a new aesthetic landscape made acceptable to the general public and one waiting to replace a current watering regimen which is no longer affordable.


     These memoirs are a work in progress. Please submit information you may have to refresh my memory.  

Note:  With the exception of the newspaper images, all of the above is copyrighted material, all rights reserved.  Permission for use will be considered upon written request.  Blog comments are encouraged, the use of actual full names is strongly recommended, as are affiliations with organizations.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 10

The Tragic Life of Frank A. Jones—a great artist

           After I was imported from San Antonio, Texas to Dallas in 1957, I made paintings, exhibited work, traveled, taught art and opened Atelier Chapman Kelley (ACK).  In 1959 I expanded my atelier by adding an art gallery and frame shop.  The expansion included having the sculptor Heri Bert Bartsch teach a class in what he knew best.  Then in 1960 I won first prize at the Twenty-Second Annual Texas Painting and Sculpture Exhibition.  The Texas Annual was the kingmaker of artists and was sponsored by major Texas art museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art.  ACK’s future needed a business manager.  My first choice was a fine sculptor, H.J. "Harvey" Bott.  Harvey lived with his wife Margaret on The Strand in Galveston, TX.  It is now a National Historic Landmark District, an area of mainly Victorian era buildings.  Harvey graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, TX, a year after I did and played in the school band with my sister Pat. The Botts went to New York City with us, the site of my first exhibit.  The role of business manager didn't suit Harvey and obviously I didn’t need a gallery director.          For a while Perry Nichols’ son Christopher worked as ACK's business manager.  Before my 1964 New York exhibit Murray Smither asked me if he might have the job.  At the time of his request he worked at Texas Instruments putting to use the journalism education background he studied at Sam Houston State Teachers College, (now known as Sam Houston State University) located in Huntsville, TX, his hometown.  I suppose a prerequisite high security clearance for his job at Texas Instruments had something to do with his wanting to leave TI.  Even though he had attended some of my art classes, he didn't seriously pursue making art.

     As business manager Smither accompanied some of his art teachers from Sam Houston State Teachers College to where the teachers juried the first prisoner art exhibit at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, TX.  He returned with several prisoners' work from the show and he told me that he thought they were "cute."  When I saw them I said that one small blue and red pencil drawing by Frank A Jones was far more than cute.  I instructed Smither to return to the prison to ask Jones, of course with prison officials' acknowledgement, if I, as Atelier Chapman Kelley, could be the exclusive representative of all of his work.  And to inform Jones that ACK would supply him with better and larger paper and color pencils of a wider color variety.  Smither did as I asked.  As a result, I had Smither take several of Frank's works to New York where he showed them to his friend Paul Rogers Harris.  Harris for a short while had a job at the Museum of Modern Art.  However, the museum didn't buy any of Frank's pieces.  Even though Frank had talked of his earlier drawings, those prior to 1964, none have surfaced.  We introduced Frank's work to the rest of the U.S. by submitting it to juried museum exhibits. Thus Frank began to be accepted as a fine contemporary artist.  For example, Jones and
Nathan Oliveira split the top prize at the Weatherspoon Gallery's (Museum) Art on Paper exhibit.  Frank was invited to make a personal appearance at the University of North Carolina to receive his prize.  Regrettably for all involved, we reported to Weatherspoon staff that the prison warden would not make an exception and allow Frank to venture outside.

     Frank was born sometime around 1900.  He was biracial; his parents were Native American and African.  He was a functional illiterate.  Given the Southwest's historical climate, coupled with Frank's mixed blood lineage and lack of formal education, he was misperceived--by the larger predominantly white Texas society--as a misfit and therefore suspect.  At the facility where Frank was held, prison officials like Tony Schindler (his supervisor) made it known that he thought Frank was innocent and had become the town scapegoat--Schindler and others thought Jones had been, pardon the cliché, "sent up the river" for others' crimes.
Frank A. Jones ca. 1968

      Texas state senator John Field and his wife Beverly, the local top interior decorator (and a great beauty) were friends of mine.  They took a great liking to Frank's work and Beverly even began to collect it.  John started a campaign to have Frank pardoned by Governor John Connally.  Unfortunately, Field died of a heart attack and with it the hope and prospect of gaining a pardon for Frank were dashed.

     Frank's last and final will provided for the proceeds of his estate to establish a fund for scholarships for high school art students of his hometown, Clarksville, TX.  This was what he wished despite the perception that Clarksville officials were suspected of using Frank as a town scapegoat and had victimized him.  Had Franks' desire reached fruition, it would have been a wonderful end for his legacy.  However, it was not to happen.  For example, a very promising Clarksville art student scholarship candidate surfaced.  I and others submitted a recommendation to The Honorable Judge Amos A. Gates (county probate court) for the candidate to receive a scholarship.  We received no reply.  My then-attorney, David A. Newsom of the law firm Green, Gilmore, Crutcher, Rothpletz & Burke sent a check to Judge Gates for the purchase of the Frank Jones estate in the amount that Frank would have directly received for each drawing.  The judge informed us that Smither had been named executor of Frank's estate and that we had to deal directly with him.  Instead, Smither got back to us demanding a larger price relating to full retail value of Jones' work plus other monies amounting to what I considered to be an extortionate amount of cash.  Undeterred by the high money request, in 1973 I purchased the Estate of Frank A. Jones.

    In prison Frank had gone for many years without a penny for a piece of candy or a stick of chewing gum.  No visitors came to see him during the same period. Even though ACK sold his work for only $10 to $50 each, from those earnings Frank was able to purchase expensive Benson & Hedges cigarettes.  He became the proud owner of the largest gold watch in the entire prison.  His bank account grew to have over $1,000.  Interviews with outside media followed, commensurate with his growing artistic fame.

     Huntsville prison inmates were periodically given parole hearings.  By 1968 Smither was aware that Frank was to be released from prison.  An arrangement had been made to release Frank with some jobs lined up for him on the outside to insure that he had a steady income.  When I asked Smither what could be done to help Frank obtain a parole, he reported to me that the prison psychiatrist didn't feel that Frank could survive in the outside world.  He further stated that with all the new attention showered on Frank that he was content with the only home he had known for many years--Huntsville State Prison.  However, in 1968 I was listening to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. funeral on the radio while driving to Dallas from Houston and I stopped in Huntsville for a visit with Frank.  As I prepared to leave I asked him if there was anything I could do or get for him.  His reply was, "Yes, get me out of here."  I was startled because this wasn't at all what Smither had conveyed to me.  Smither was well aware that he was being paid to keep Frank happy with art supplies and to find a way to get him out of prison.  When I returned to Dallas I reemphasized to him that he was to do everything possible to seek Frank's release.

    After 1970, in the wake of Smither no longer being an employee of ACK, my new employees went through all of the atelier correspondence files.  Despite representing himself as such, Smither was a business manager and never a director at Atelier Chapman Kelley.  The staff found a number of complaints from the Huntsville prison staff, even from Frank Jones himself, about his neglecting to tend to Frank's artistic and well-being needs.  We found a copy of a letter Smither wrote on December 27, 1966 to Huntsville prison officials.  To our astonishment the letter intimates that Smither meant to keep Frank in prison, essentially betraying him.  After Smither's severance from Atelier Chapman Kelley, we found a stack of Jones' work, completely and inexplicably out of place, squirreled away in the storage building behind my gallery.   In addition, several times the gallery and studio had previously been unlawfully broken into; the three perpetrators were professional thieves.  They were willing to go to prison rather than confess the identity of who had sent them and refused to name the targeted objects of the burglary.  In the 1980s Smither took Bud Drake and his wife into the storage building to retrieve several of Bud’s sculptures. 

     In the winter of 1969 we received a telephone call from the prison on the day before Smither was to physically meet with Frank immediately upon checking out.  As Frank feared, he never made it out; he died while incarcerated.  I held his work off the market for about a decade until an important travelling exhibit of Frank's work was held at the Mulvane Art Center, Topeka, Kansas, which was organized by Jim Hunt.  Jones work is referenced in a book on folk art authored by art collector and curator Herbert Hemphill. Hemphill was one of the founders of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. He and the museum have purchased Jones' work.

     The renaissance of American art during the 1950s and 1960s had lost its steam and some smart dealers gave folk artists the new name of "outsiders."  A very important new movement was born.  Because Frank fit this image (not unlike French Post-Impressionist painter Rousseau) his work soon was in demand; we accepted exhibits for him which were held in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.  Frank quickly became a star in this new category.

      Later I was approached by William "Bill" Steen who wanted to curate an exhibition and publication of Frank's work.  It would take place in Houston, TX at The Menil Collection.  The Menil Collection has Jones' work.

     More recently in my return to Dallas in 2006, having been in Chicago since 1983, I learned that Smither has been very busy dealing in the resale of Jones’ work, much to the sorrow of some original owners.  Much to my surprise, he co-curated a Southern Methodist University exhibit of Jones' work.  Since I'm the owner of the Estate of Frank A. Jones, it seems bizarre for him to be intimately involved in a solo exhibit of Frank's work without SMU ever reaching out and using me as a professional resource. There have been stories floating around since the 1960s that some of Frank's fellow inmates, as art students, quite expectantly imitated his work, "fakes," each with the hope of gaining sales and becoming famous.  "New" items alleged to be Jones' work have shown up without the iron clad provenance that begins with Atelier Chapman Kelley.  I am the only one in the position to authenticate his work and have always been the exclusive dealer of Franks' work.  Many dark possibilities loom on the horizon waiting to be solved. 

     Decades ago University of Texas at Austin art history student Lynne Adele approached me about her research, a master's degree thesis on Frank.  In it she mentioned that her husband was incarcerated at Huntsville during the same time as Frank Jones.  I allowed Adele to study all of my records pertaining to Jones and when I was furnished a copy of her thesis, I asked her why she had not included Smither's betrayal of Frank in it.  She had no answer.

     Confusing the situation even more is that reference to Adele's work about Jones continues to be regurgitated on the Internet while omitting not only the true history but also leaving out any reference to Frank's sole estate representative, yours truly.   For an art historian to continue to ignore the Smither correspondence as disgraceful factual history brings into doubt both her integrity and that of the university museum she represents.  An art historian has a responsibility to tell the truth, and the whole truth so that bogus or stolen work will not confuse and ill serve future generations.

    Very recently we learned that it appears Murray Smither has still not paid out the proceeds, generated by the 1973 sale of Jones' remaining drawings, to the Clarksville Independent School District.  It was cash that was to solely benefit Clarksville high school district art students. 

     Much of this and more can be gleaned from the Houston Post newspaper (now defunct) art critic Susan Chadwick's lengthy articles about the matter.  In her April 23, 1990 article titled 20 years later, Jones’ scholarship find still not established, she wrote, “But the drawings were to be sold, according to his (Jones) will.  And the proceeds were to be used (by Smither) to establish a Frank Albert Jones scholarship fund.” …And the $5,000.00 received in 1973 for the drawings in the estate is not accounted for.”  Former Dallas resident James Surls, was quoted. “Frank Jones had an enormous impact on me,” said renowned Texas sculptor James Surls,” Chadwick wrote.  She penned another article about Jones just two months later in June of 1990.  Chadwick was contacted earlier this year at her home in France and she was thrilled to learn that the unfinished business of the funding issue was being discussed anew.  She mentioned that she still has the notes used to write the newspaper articles.  Actually, Ms. Pam Bryant, Superintendent of the Clarksville Independent School District was also recently contacted and remarked that as far as she knew, for an "indeterminate" number of years a check for $200.00 had been received.  Susan Chadwick in her article wrote that the checks have been “financed by an anonymous donor.” I get the strong impression that the lion's share of the proceeds has not been forwarded to school Superintendant Pam Bryant by Smither.  Had the $5,000.00 been deposited into a bank account by the Clarksville school district beginning in 1973, the time the estate was liquidated, the interest and principal would have by now easily grown to over $100,000.00!  And that's using a very conservative commercial loan interest rate pegged to the annually adjusted Federal Reserve prime interest rate.  So does Smither owe the Clarksville Independent School District somewhere well over $100 grand?  I am no legal scholar, but it seems to me that a Frank A. Jones fully executed last and final will is black letter law, is not subject to a statute of limitations and is binding and enforceable even to this very day. 

     Wouldn't it have been a much happier legacy for Frank to have been released in 1967 and to have lived to a ripe old age visiting with serious art students?  I had envisioned that scenario while teaching at Northwood.  His is an example of a great artist making marvelous works despite being illiterate and having had a late start creating work at age 64.  And then crowning the legacy by leaving a much larger estate of his work selling at today's value and becoming available to high school art students via scholarships tied to Frank's hometown--Clarksville!

    I would argue that Frank Albert Jones’ artist, moral and legal rights have been violated in this morbid case.  But for a lack of others' professionalism, honesty and human decency, Frank's life's end should have been as happy as his "haints" as he called them, once captured and tamed in his wonderful works. As a well trained, successful, experienced professional, as a painter, art dealer, art teacher and art collector, including being the dealer and collector of Frank's work, I am most familiar with his work; I have quite a different history and work interpretation of the real significance within his work.  I would not question the historic facts of his life but it has always seemed to me that the restraining of the vast majority of his "haints" indicate that he had overcome or exorcised them and they were as he, helplessly confined and thus comfortable to live with.






Due to an original bad copy, the text of the above correspondence is mostly illegible, for your convenience a trascription is included: "I'm writing you in regard to my parole. which was to come up this month. I discussed a two (2) year put-off August 17, 1968. If it is possible I would like to talk with you to see if something might be done.  Mr. Smither, concerning my pictures. Would it be possible for you to send a little money.  I am in need of a few things from the commissary.  I also need a box of red pencils.  If you still want me to draw for you, let me know when you come.  Thank you very much for your time and assistance. Sincerely, Frank Jones." (Uncertain letter date.)



          These memoirs are a work in progress. Please submit information you may have to refresh my memory. 

Note:  With the exception of the newspaper images,all of the above is copyrighted material, all rights reserved.  Permission for use will be considered upon written request.  Blog comments are encouraged, the use of actual full names is strongly recommended, as are affiliations with organizations.