Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 6

          In 1965 I was awarded the top purchase prize in the Annual Eight State Painting and Sculpture Exhibition, Oklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The Center has since been renamed the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.  1965 brought other recognitions my way such as inclusion by the Who’s Who in The South and Southwest for its Second Biennial Citation in Art; the same year that pioneer heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey received it in medicine and U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright in government. My award was sandwiched between awards given to artists Jasper Johns and Gene Davis (1963 and 1967) before the program was discontinued. Not bad company! Incidentally, in 2011 President Obama presented Jasper Johns with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House.  It was the first time in 34 years that a painter or sculptor has won the nation's highest civilian honor.

          The 1960s were halcyon years for my family.  We purchased our first Dallas home on the corner of Wycliff and Douglas.  It was built on the back of the lot with garage in front.  Previous owners had hoped to build a larger home on the Wycliff frontage.  This promised a charming little house near the boys’ school.  One of my former art students, architect Cole Smith helped us to make it into a little showcase; the Dallas Morning News wrote glowingly about it in its Monday, January 3, 1966 issue.  Our home was designed with two upstairs bedrooms and a bath.  The plumber told me that it was the first time he had replaced a modern bathtub with an antique claw-footed one.  Cole Smith composed a compact kitchen; to our delight, he used a waxed brick floor.  The kitchen was divided from the dining area with shutters.  The rooms were heated with restored and converted antique wood stoves.  French doors opened to a front porch the width of the house.  The porch was covered with Wisteria, so attractive when in bloom.  In the spring the sight brought unsolicited offers from prospective home buyers.

          Our fleet of cars was increased to include a practical station wagon, which, along with the TR3 looked well in the driveway.  We decided to convert the garage to a playroom for our sons Cole and Kevin.  The centerpiece was a professional Brunswick billiards table that featured a triple slate felt-covered playing surface.  The table was mounted on a laminated bent wood base.  The pool table proved to be a wise investment; our place became a hangout for the boys’ friends.  The arrangement was hard on the refrigerator but well worth it for the healthy lifestyle it promoted for everyone.  Joan and I decided against bringing a television into our lives until our boys had learned to read and use the library.
          Cole and Kevin played on the football team and I don’t think Joan and I missed any of their games.  We regularly shuttled almost half of the team to the games.  One year a line led from the Xmas tree out a back window to the station wagon; a go-cart gift was in it.

          We felt our little nest to be so charming that we could have confidently hosted a party for Queen Elizabeth.  We did entertain Richard Marcus (future CEO of his family’s luxury retail business) and Françoise Gilot (widely known as the only woman who dared love Pablo Picasso and leave him), two people just as exalted as the Queen, don’t you think?

          With the exception of 1961 and 1963 which were spent in Cape Cod, throughout the 1960s our family visited coastal Port Aransas during Easter, Thanksgiving and most summers.  It was during these fun years that I painted the “sand dune” series.  Other extended family members would join us in Port Aransas.  Sculptor Roy Fridge worked and lived on the beach.  He joined us for many meals, he was an always welcome guest.  Cole and Kevin hunted for the old and rusted bolts of hurricane-damaged piers.  Roy used the bolts in his artwork.  We acquired four of his sculptures.

          Fortune Magazine in 1955 and 1956 published two long articles about purchasing art as an investment.  Those writings strongly contributed to the corruption of the art world.  The magazine inadvertently drove the art market into the hands of wealthy people who otherwise had no knowledge, sensitivity or love of the fine arts.

          So by the 1960s it was a bit late to put together a truly great collection of French Impressionist, classic early 20th century and even pre-war American work.  The reason being is that those works’ prices were growing so very quickly.  Owners had the opportunity and incentive to donate works to museums at a significant increase in value over what they had initially paid.  Due to a change in federal tax law, the owners’ museum donations yielded considerable personal federal income tax deduction amounts.  Such giving led to owners’ having their egos stroked and they enjoyed increased stature in the art community.  This situation gave other players the opportunity of only assembling a good or perhaps even a fine collection, but not a great one.

          There are some first-rate works in the Margaret McDermott art collection, most notably Degas Dancer with Fan 1879, a pair of early Monet Nymphéas, a Georgia O’Keeffe “open and closed clam shells” and a beautiful Renoir drawing. Also in the collection are three sculptures purchased directly from Atelier Chapman Kelley.  One is a work by Jean Arp, another is a 1937 nude by Henry Moore and the other is a Rodin titled La Meditación.   These certainly are among the artists’ best efforts.  Distinguished London art dealer Thomas Gibson had a hand in facilitating the Henry Moore acquisition.

handwritten note from Margaret McDermott to Kelley (transcribed): "Dear Chapman: I can not tell you how I have enjoyed the show--and admire your determination to do things in a grand way.  Good luck and hold that lovely lady for me until I return (the Rodin, I mean, of course) Warm Regards - (signed) Margaret
1937 nude by Henry Moore

La meditación  by Rodin

          Wildenstein Gallery principal Goldenberg and I urged Margaret McDermott to make some key purchases.  However, because of pricing she missed owning some masterpieces—there comes to mind a Monet still life with an enormous bouquet of either asters or daisies. The McDermott collection is a very respectable one, assuredly one of the most important in Dallas.  The collection’s diversity of historical periods and styles will one day be a significant addition to the Dallas Museum of Art.

another hand written note from McDermott to Kelley dated April 1967
           Although Margaret McDermott did not accept the sales policy I had set with Wildenstein Gallery of New York and Atelier Chapman Kelley she did buy regional artists work.  One purchase went to benefit the Dallas City Colleges.  She bought one of my larger “poplars series” works, it had been in a Dallas Museum of Art exhibit, for the El Centro College opening day ceremony.  Another purchase was a large size “field of flowers” piece that was placed in a well known Dallas medical school director’s office.

          Gene McDermott knew of Margaret’s attitude toward my sales rules.  He saw to it that I was compensated.  And he was very generous in helping me to purchase work for my personal collection including pieces by Henry Moore and Georges Braque.  Gene even arranged for my son Cole to unexpectedly have a McDermott scholarship to St. Mark's School. Gene was probably a major supporter of the school.

Knoedler & Co. Gallery note informing Kelley of Margaret McDermott's shipping instructions, 1967

          We were great friends at this point and I made for Gene a gift painting of his favorite cottonwood tree.  The tree was located on their “farm.” I personally carved the frame for that painting. Gene’s ending days were protracted.  But he was fortunate to spend them at home.  He was eventually confined to his bedroom and had the cottonwood painting brought in from the "farm" and hung there in the room.  Gene was obviously comforted by the work and needless to say it pleased me when I learned of the move.  Jerry Bywaters agreed that it was a high compliment to me.  Bywaters and I were the only arts professionals present at Gene’s 1973 graveside service which was a by invitation only private affair.

          In the mid-1960s Evelyn Lambert and Janie Murchison sent private university Northwood Institute founders (1959) Dr. Arthur E. Turner and Dr. R. Gary Stauffer to me to advise them about establishing an arts affiliation with their business college.  The Northwood Institute already had four campuses in operation including one at Cedar Hill near Dallas which to this day continues to serve students in the Southwest United States. Turner and Stauffer had heard Roger Stephens director of the newly formed National Endowment for the Arts say that a growing need existed for people who could manage a fine arts organization, without sacrificing quality in the arts, and who also could keep theatres, galleries and other arts entities operating as viable businesses.  I replied that the partnership would have to include a professional art school.  And that I would hire the first really good graduate.  (I actually had to fire my entire staff in 1966.) Turner and Strauffer asked me about my desire to include an art school.

          I told them that was great and that I would know more about the matter soon because I would be discussing the topic at a University of Illinois symposium. Apparently the head of the U. of I. Center for Advanced Study was impressed after learning of my challenge to the College Art Association about programming.   I had been a speaker at the CAA’s 1960 convention in Dallas where I cautioned the audience about the plethora of new studio or professional art departments popping up on every campus and how they would have to do the same things that professional art schools had done for 160 years.  The teachers in the art departments would be those who were not in need of a day job.  Essentially, as Olan Hankins a retired educator friend of mine said, “Mozart and Beethoven had teachers, but no one taught them to be Mozart and Beethoven.”  Or as a high school teacher and former art student of mine said, “You can no more teach that which you don’t know than you can come back from some place you ain’t been.”  Professional art schools had professional artists come in to teach for only one day a week--they did not employ professional teachers.   School administrators would have to accept that incoming students with lesser talent, if administrators were honest with them about their prospects in the art world, would not return for a second semester. The few students who possessed the real ability and drive would instead leave to attend a major art school where they could study with professionals and broaden their exposure by regularly visiting major museums.  Those who would realize, certainly the vast majority, that they did not have the prerequisites would then go into other professions or business to become knowledgeable and sincere supporters of those few individuals who proved themselves to be the real thing—an artist.

          So the head of the University of Illinois’ Center for Advanced Studies chose me for the symposium; I’d be rubbing elbows with some very important folks.  He invited me to be on two of the visual arts panels for the university’s “Matrix for the Arts.” The event was part of the school’s Centennial Celebration cosponsored by the Illinois Arts Council and the university’s Center for Advanced Study.  The purpose of the symposium was to explore whether or not a university campus could provide the atmosphere, culture, freedom and professional instruction to help and train serious art students. 
          One fellow panelist was American writer, educator, philosopher and art critic Harold Rosenberg. He coined the term Action Painting in 1952 for what was later to be known as abstract expressionism.  The other visual arts panelist was architect and U.S. interstate highway system designer Joseph Passonneau.  Designer Leo Leone moderated the event.  Three individuals, pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments John Cage, prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Charles Wuorinen, and American composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian, and jazz musician Günter Schuller were panelists.  American music historian, critic, author and seminal figure in the field of musicology, Gilbert Chase, rounded out musicians on the panel.  Performance arts professionals such as dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, French mime performer Claude Kipnis and Canadian-born American actress, dancer, writer and theater director June Havoc were all part of the visual arts panel.

         Saul Bellow, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts, opened the symposium.  American systems theorist, architect, engineer, author, designer, inventor, and futurist Buckminster Fuller closed the symposium.  I was asked to represent the visual arts on the wrap up panel.  Since I was due to advise the Northwood Institute’s Turner and Strauffer I stayed for the after-event, Buckminster Fuller’s presentation, “Intuition.”  That talk was to become one of the most important events of my life.  Everything significant that I have done since has come out of or been strongly influenced by what I learned about intuition from Fuller that day.

          Another strong influence came into my life at that time.  Lucky me—what a creative mixture!  Artist Françoise Gilot brought along for the second show of her work at Atelier Chapman Kelley her new husband polio vaccine pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk.  What a dynamic duo!  Stanley Marcus had asked me to have an exhibit of Gilot’s paintings in 1964 to coincide with the release of her book, “Life with Picasso.”  The book sold over a million copies in dozens of languages.  Gilot came to Dallas for the Neiman-Marcus French Fortnight and the exhibition of her paintings.  Gilot, Salk and I hit it off personally resulting in my taking a trip with them to New York.  We visited Harold Rosenberg and June Wayne.  June founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles. She led the revival of fine art printmaking where artists teamed with master printers. Françoise continues a close professional relationship with my former dealer Jake Manguno of New Orleans, who I introduced her to several decades ago.

           In the 1970s Françoise, Jonas and I shared our alarm about the direction the art world was taking.  We actually planned an international conference for Dallas to air these concerns.  We had the attention and help of my good friend Louis Hexter.  Like the art world itself in Dallas our plans were torpedoed.
          While in Chicago from the 1980s through 2006 I had the opportunity to hear Françoise Gilot speak at The Art Institute of Chicago on various artists she had known.  She was the best lecturer on art that I have ever heard.  The AIC lectures were invariably filled to capacity.  Imagine my hearing her speak of Giorgio De Chirico!

          Once Françoise stayed over to spend an evening with my Chicago Wildflower Works board of directors and some of the volunteers who maintained it. The event was held at the home of Chicago Wildflower Works chairman and civic leader Hope McCormick and her husband Brooks. 

          Everyone was very pleased with Françoise that evening.  Ken Peterson, aka Ken Boe, said the “Gilot evening,” combined with his volunteer work maintaining the Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 – 2004 while attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was a life-changing experience.

          As expressed in the Arts section of the New York Times Sunday edition, October 23, 2011, "Stealing the Show," Françoise is having much well-deserved success in galleries around the world.  She is a vibrant person and significant artist and poet--a great lady. 

Next up in Chapter 7
Gainesville, Texas
Northwood Institute plan and result
“Goals for Dallas
magnet arts school concept: Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts

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  1. Dear Chapman:

    My father was Dr. Arthur E. Turner, and I inherited several of your paintings which I have on my walls. Your story is fascinating!
    Michael S. Turner

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