Weekender: See Art Live at Gallery Night

What can a small Texas town offer up for entertainment?  One venue is Gallery Night in Haltom City.  The event is sponsored by the local Art in the City committee and the Haltom City Library.  Local artists and performers will be featured on Saturday, September 8, from 2pm to 8pm.  That’s right – live artists, not merely television images, will project their creativity, without any broadcast filters, commercials, or graphic special effects, straight to the public’s senses.

Gallery Night

Artist – when people are asked to name artists, the usual names are listed:  Van Gogh, DaVinci, Picasso, Renoir, maybe Jackson Pollock or Robert Maplethorpe are mentioned.  Strangely, no women artists.  But with some prodding, the names drag out:  Georgia O’Keefe, Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, maybe even Rachel Ruysch or Annie Leibowitz.

There could be dozens of reasons why most people confidently list male artists and then fumble when asked for names of women artists.  Maybe because the culture still places primacy in the masculine and not the feminine?  Such a cultural perception seems evident even with a quick Google search.  Type in “famous artists” and see the results. The “Famous Artists Gallery” lists Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, Andre Derain, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet . . . no women.  Even the “Top references for famous artists” suggestions at the bottom of the page display all male names – no females.  Only when the word “women” or “female” is added to the keywords do the results change.  Apparently, there is an underlying assumption that women artists are so few and far between that they are mere subsets of the artist community. In fact, women are more often considered to be the subjects of the male artist (see how strange that division is when the word “male” is used to mark difference?), rather than artists in their own right. In this way, women have been objectified not only by the male artist’s gaze, but also by the viewer’s gaze.  There is even a recent study that discovered people saw women “as body parts,” while men were perceived “as whole” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/07/26/men-women-bodies.html).

How does a society then, change its perception to seeing both females and males as “whole”?  And understanding that the noun “artist” is gender-neutral?  One way, perhaps, is to experience art in all its forms, and by many different people.

Gallery Night at the Haltom City Library gives patrons that chance to broaden perspectives.  The Art in the City exhibition features women artists such as the following:  Bennie Johnson Wood,  Bennie

current president of the Trinity Arts Guild,

Sheila Cahill, Sheila

and Carola Locke.Carola

How did these women get their start in art? All three women became interested in color and drawing during their childhood.  Locke remembers obsessively drawing horses “in elementary school”; Wood reckons she was 7 or 8 when she picked up Crayola watercolors and paper.  “I wasn’t very much for drawing,” she says, “but take a Crayola and paint what I was seeing was great!  I painted flowers, and thought it was beautiful.”  Cahill remembers her interest started during elementary school, as well: “I was 7 or 8, too; I made a clay turtle, and dried it out in the sun.  My dad encouraged us to draw and be artistic.”

These 3 women are wrapped in the identity of “artist.”  Not “woman” or “female” artist, but quite firmly, “artist.”  Locke believed she was an artist as she drew horses; an added factor, she says, was her older brother, “who was an amazing artist, and so it was natural to assume that I fell into the same category.”  Wood states her mother “wanted me to take piano lessons, but if I saw someone painting, my hands would ache to do that.”  Wood started considering herself an artist first in the 1960s, when one instructor, lecturing about art and the individual’s desires, told her audience that, “if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you will never go anywhere.”  That statement, Wood says, “had a profound effect on me, and from that day on I never looked back.  I’ve taken 83 workshops with instructors that I thought could help me further my career and desire.”  The third artist, Cahill, laughs when she says, “I’ve painted for more than 20 years, but only got serious in the last 8 to 10 years.  I still consider myself an amateur since I haven’t sold a lot.”

Although their childhood artistic proclivities are similar, the women use different mediums for their art.  Locke paints acrylic on canvas, and that’s her “only medium.”  Wood states she has worked with all mediums, but in 1980 she was introduced to watercolor; that introduction led her to Principles and Elements of Design, and changed the way she painted.  “It’s no longer just picking up a tube of paint; you decide on a color scheme and stick to it,” she states.  Cahill responds that she “used to be a hard-core, nothing-but-Oils-person,” but since she has started watercoloring classes, she is enjoying those.  And, she has completed some “works in Acrylics, and loving that.”  But Cahill doesn’t stop at those mediums.  One of her friends got her “hooked on carving gourds.  I enjoy the tactile nature and organic feel of working with the gourds,” she adds.  History plays a part, as well, since Cahill thinks about how the gourd as an art medium “has been used for a very long time, both as a utilitarian and decorative vessel.”

Clearly, these artists enjoy what they create, and, given how long they have been perfecting their craft, they have produced many art pieces.  Picking favorite pieces to display can be difficult, especially when an artist like Cahill thinks “that if an artist does not like their work, it is not finished.  I like most all my work; I know to some it is not appealing, or it is amateurish, or it is not expressive enough, but that’s okay; I enjoy it.”  And Wood likes “whatever I am working on at the present.  I have been told I need to stick to one subject.  That is boring to me.  I love all forms of art – impressionist, abstract, and experimental.”

But even before the artists can pick pieces to display, they first consider whether the pieces are finished.  Knowing when a piece of art is finished can be another difficult stage.  For example, Locke reveals when she finishes a piece of art, she usually feels “a mix of relief, depression, and worry.  It’s an odd combination, I know, but relief at being finished, depression as if I am at the end of an adventure, and worry that I have missed some detail and will find that detail a week later after the painting has sealed.”  Cahill’s take is more optimistic – she “almost always” feels good when she finishes, “sometimes it’s because it just flowed out of me with every brush-stroke going where it belonged, or sometimes I feel good because it was so difficult, and I made it through and achieved what I had set out to do.”  Wood’s art pieces are scrutinized yet again:  “When I first think I am finished, I put it in a prominent place where I can view it from every direction; even turn it upside down.  Sometimes after watercolors dry, they do need tweaking.”

Finally, the art pieces pass the artist’s inspection, and are deemed worthy of exhibiting or selling to others who are fascinated with art.  Locke’s works are displayed in “various gift shops and coffee houses, though,” she adds, “I have displayed in galleries and salons as well.”  Cahill admits she hasn’t yet exhibited her pieces, primarily because she enjoys creating her works more than working to establish them in a gallery.  However, she is “planning on participating in the October Art in the City Art Festival,” which is held at the Haltom City Library as well as this September’s event.  Wood’s pieces can be viewed at the Trinity Arts Guild, the Fort Worth Northeast Sub-Courthouse, the Bedford Library, the Euless Library, Fort Worth Public Library in downtown Fort Worth, and Terry’s Motors.

Bennie Collage
Bennie Johnson Wood
Cahill Collage
Sheila Cahill
Carola Locke
Carola Locke

It’s possible, of course, that not everyone can come to the Haltom City’s Gallery Night and enjoy the local artists.  That doesn’t mean people should never seek out art, for, as Cahill remarks, “art today is all around us.  It is in everything from wallpaper to advertising . . . when you go on vacation, you should go to the local galleries. . . look for art competitions online to view newcomers’ works.”  Locke suggests people look for art “in local coffee houses, cafes, and gift shops,” and Wood orders, “go to every local art show and sale.  Local library, State Fairs, one-man shows, group exhibits.  You never know when you will see some art that will open doors for you that will never close.”

Indeed.  Art is an open door for imagination, and art “does not exist only to entertain, but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for truth” (Streisand).  Of course, sometimes what the audience searches for is simply . . . another way of looking at the world.

Special thanks to Sheila Cahill, Bennie Johnson Wood, and Carola Locke for their art images and discussions.  For more online art, try http://www.abcgallery.com, http://www.metmuseum.org/, http://www.nmwa.org/ (National Museum of Women in the Arts), and http://www.womanmade.org/ (Woman Made Gallery).

Weekender: “The Only Thing Pink About Growing Up Cowgirl is a Sunset”

High Desert Princess

Take a day and visit Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Located in the Cultural District of Fort Worth, surrounded by art and science museums, the National Cowgirl Museum is a wonderful place to go for visual reminders of women’s strength and determination, seen in the faces and forms of cowgirls.

The Museum’s current collection of 11,000 artifacts (5,000 of which are paper documents) aren’t displayed all the time; according to Heather McMaster, the Museum’s Collections Manager, each artifact has specific guidelines for display.  The guidelines dictate the types of display cases, the humidity (usually 48% to 52%), the lighting, how much space must be allotted to each artifact, and even the time that the artifact can be displayed.  In addition, if the artifact is on loan from a donor or another museum, the “Deed of Gift” can further restrict press access, as well as the timing of the display.  That’s a lot of juggling for the Museum staff.

Planning exhibits and displays begins one to 1 ½ years in advance; the detailed planning takes about 4-6 months.  Museum staff must obtain the artifacts if they aren’t already on-hand, write text for the artifacts, acquire specially-built display cases, special lighting, and a few hundred more details that culminate in the new exhibit’s debut to the Museum visitors.

The Museum has permanent displays and exhibits; in fact, there are 4 permanent galleries, and the most recent addition is the Dale Evans exhibit, much of which was donated to the Museum personally, by Dale Evans herself.  Artifacts such as her saddle, shoes, eyeglasses, typewriter, and some manuscript pages can be viewed in a special Spotlight display.

The Museum also has a display that focuses on Annie Oakley, another legendary cowgirl.  “She was a woman ahead of her time,” McMaster commented, “encompassing both athletic ability and a lady-like demeanor.”  Oakley’s amazing shooting abilities led to a starring role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show; one of the Museum’s photographs shows Annie Oakley (born Phoebe Ann Moses) sitting in front of her tent, the epitome of a young lady taking her afternoon tea outdoors.

Other notable displays feature retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Tad Lucas, and Temple Grandin.  These women, McMaster said, “challenged the idea of “cowboy” in the American West, and became role models for other women.”  Justice O’Connor, after growing up on the Lazy B Ranch near Arizona, in 1981 became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Tad Lucas (born Barbara Lucas) began her professional rodeo career in 1917, and became known as the “world’s best female rodeo performer.”  Temple Grandin is famous for designing humane livestock facilities and for her research on livestock behavior.

Other exhibits are “travelling exhibits,” on loan from other museums, or donors.  And the National Cowgirl Museum responds in kind, loaning out artifacts to be displayed elsewhere, such as The Journey Museum in South Dakota, which specializes in artifacts of the Western Great Plains.  In fact, the Sandra Day O’Connor exhibit is packed and ready for travel for another museum’s fall exhibition.  Such exhibit loans can be from 6 months to 1 year.

One of the more popular travelling exhibits was the Apron Chronicles, which was “comprised of 150 vintage aprons, 46 framed photographic portraits and accompanying storyboards.”  Aprons not only were displayed in cases beside story panels, but also criss-crossed the ceiling like international flags.  McMaster described how the aprons came from different women, from the 1930s and 1940s.  The stories ranged “all over the map”.  Each panel in the exhibit told “the true stories of these women behind the aprons.  Since aprons are seen as icons of  “woman in the kitchen,” McMaster added, “the stories destroyed that stereotype.”

Hard Twist

Another travelling exhibit is on display now at the National Cowgirl Museum.  The current exhibit, “Hard Twist:  Western Ranch Women,” is displayed on the first floor of the Museum.  An impressive photography display by Master Photographer Barbara Van Cleve is open for public viewing until October 28, 2012.  The photographs show all aspects of a cowgirl’s life.  Some of the “regular ranch business” of branding cattle, horse and cattle round-ups, feeding livestock, vaccinating and treating livestock are pictured, but then other photographs capture the big skies, open spaces, and volatile weather that accompany any working cowgirl.  Still other photographs show generations of cowgirls with their families, digging out trucks from frozen mud, and handling an open sledge to feed livestock in several feet of snow.  In all of the photographs, though, one thing is perfectly clear:  strong women shine like the North Star.

Special thanks to Heather McMaster, for her amazing knowledge of the Museum’s collections, and to Cindi Collins, for her wonderful background lecture regarding the photography of Barbara Van Cleve