austin art history

A Brief History of Austin Art

For Austin Texas the history of artists, art galleries, museums, art education and religious art probably began near Zilker park with symbolic pictographs created by shamans before American settlers arrived. These settlers continued this history by making various forms of folk art including quilts, carvings and gravestones. Soon thereafter graffiti art appeared which was usually rendered by soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners and drunkards…oh, my goodness! Much religious artwork and artifacts were displayed in the Spanish Missions. The French, German and Swedish settlers contributed their sacred relics and images to their primitive churches.

Art classes in early public schools employed many of the first artists in Texas. More advanced formal art education began and developed with the advent of the University of Texas, Southwestern University and several other institutions. Elizabet Ney set up a studio in the late 1800’s and made sculptures for the State government and other patrons. Local and visiting painters created portraits of governors, mayors, pastors and many other important citizens from the second half of the 19th century on into the early 20th century. Today much of this work can be found in the State Capitol, at the University of Texas, in other State buildings and in county courthouses and municipal buildings.

During the early to mid 20th century, Texas was home to many great regional artists and quite a few resided and worked in Austin. The Laguna Gloria Museum displayed works by Jerry Bywaters, Everett Spruce and other Texas artists beginning in the 1940’s. Today this venerable institution continues its cultural impact as the Austin Museum of Art.

Traditional Western Art was displayed and sold at the Country Store Gallery in central Austin beginning in the 1960’s. Dalhart Windberg, Porfirio Salinas and many others made their name at the Country Store Gallery.

Dave Hickey, a well known writer and art critic, opened the Clean Well Lighted Space in the 1960’s with a show of Jim Franklin’s art. This gallery featured contemporary artworks including the creations of art professors and instructors from the University of Texas College of Fine Art. Many important Austin artists taught at the University and it’s Fine Art Department greatly expanded in the late 1950’s and through the 1960’s. The talents of Charles Umlauf, Everett Spruce, Constance Forsyth, Robert Levers, Bill White, Loren Mosely, Kelly Fearing, Michael Frary and many others were given to the students and these gifts continued through the 1970’s. The University researched and taught general Art History, Pre-Columbian Art, Art Criticism and Conservation at the H. Ransom Center, Texas Memorial Museum and the Huntington Art Gallery.

Beginning in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, superior graphic art and illustration decorated live music venues in Austin. Gilbert Shelton, Bill Narum, Jim Franklin, Guy Juke, Danny Garrett, Micael Priest, Ken Featherston, Kerry Awn and others put the best counterculture into the heads of those who loved the Austin music scene. Most of these artists are still ‘blowing’ innocent and experienced minds.

The decade of the 1970’s saw many independent art galleries and some institutions arise and develop, including the Arts Warehouse in downtown Austin and the Juarez/Lincoln Institute and the Carver Museum in east Austin. The Laguna Gloria Museum advanced and enlarged. The Clean Well Lighted Space continued promoting the work and careers of many artists who went on to greater fame. Also, the University’s Fine Art Department hired a new set of artists who advanced Austin art instruction. Some of these artists are: David Deming, Ken Hale, Tim High, Lee Chesney and Peter Saul.

The decade of the 1980’s presented a huge expansion of independent art galleries. Many current established artists and illustrators made their name and actually began selling some art! A gallery list from the 1980’s should include: Mary Patrick Gallery, Data Gallery, Cibola Gallery (Sam Coronado), David Amdur Gallery, Amado Pena Jr. Gallery, Air Gallery (Chuck Cooper), Gallery Sin Fronteras ( Gilbert Carzenas), Women and Their Work, Pro-Jex (Niel Coleman), Lyons/Matrix Gallery, Deborah Roberts Gallery (Black Arts Alliance) and Mexic-Arte Museum (Hispanic art). And the University hired more ‘ringers’ like Bob Yarber and Peter Saul to teach its art students and to ‘feed’ their young heads.

Many of these galleries and museums succeeded and continued into the 1990’s. A list of new galleries in this decade should include: Wally Workman Gallery, Tarrytown Gallery, Davis Gallery (Bill Davis), Mitchie’s Fine Black Art, Laughing at the Sun, Yard Dog and so many other galleries, etc.

Today in the 21st century, Austin Art culture is superb and known worldwide. Austin artists enjoy and benefit from the fame of Austin live music. These artists and galleries provide a supreme level of talent that is very important to Austin citizens and the entire Earth. A list of contemporary Austin artists should include: Sam Yeates, Guy Juke, Sidney Yeager, Fidencio Duran, Connie Arismendi, Julie Speed, Gordon Fowler, Jim Franklin, Deborah Roberts, Sam Coronado and so many others. Many Austin artists are famous worldwide and perhaps are known on distant planets! Currently, art galleries and studios in east Austin, like Blue Genie Studios and the Series Project/Studio provide much of this Art Power. Tours of artist’s studios occur more than once every year. Finally, the Texas Fine Arts Association is promoting New Talent and established artists at their Art House in downtown Austin.

We thank you and please have a good Art Daze!

Michael Levens
October, 2009