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Bayou Bohemia: Early Modernism in Houston.

The focus on New York groups such as the 291 and the Society of Independent Artists, and on their importance in disseminating Modernist artistic theories to the rest of the United States, has tended to overshadow the significant role played by individuals and organizations in other major cities. This includes Houston, where the work of local Modernist and abstract artists was promoted in the 1930s by two prominent women: the painter Emma Richardson Cherry (1859-1954) (fig. 1), and her student Ola McNeill Davidson (1884-1976) (fig. 2). Davidson, along with a number of young artists who studied and exhibited with her, would form the core of Our Little Gallery, an art space that opened in the Montrose district in 1938, and was among the first to feature non-objective art in Houston. (1) Indeed, Our Little Gallery featured a range of local modernist experiments, often informed by German aesthetic traditions, and thus represents an important complication of standard histories of American modern art.

A Developing Culture

During the 1920s and 30s, the art community of Houston grew along with the city, whose population rose from 138,000 to almost 400,000 in a mere twenty years. With the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH)--the first art museum in Texas--in 1924 soon followed by the founding of the museum art school, the Houstonian artistic community had a powerful new institutional focus. (2) In 1925, the museum also began a decades-long tradition of juried annual exhibitions restricted to local artists, which ended only in the 1960s, when James Johnson Sweeney arrived from New York to become director of the MFAH.

Though the museum maintained a vigorous program of exhibiting the work of local artists, interest in contemporary art had grown so great in Houston by the early thirties that a fledgling gallery scene, largely the product of work by female artists and art lovers inspired by Cherry, began to emerge. These galleries were sometimes as informal as the exhibitions Mrs. Hardie Robinson mounted in the living room of her own apartment in 1928, though there were also more formal shows at dedicated galleries, such as La Vieille France, founded in 1931. (3) And at the urging of the painter and author Grace Spaulding John, a number of supporters of the arts came together in 1930 to found the cooperative Houston Artists Gallery in two basement rooms of the Beaconsfield Apartments on Main Street, near downtown. (4) The sense of common effort toward a mutual, slightly edgy end was so strong by 1933 that Bertha Louise Hellman, herself an artist, could take Houstonians on a tour of artist studios in the city's "Little Bohemia," the area Houstonians now know as Midtown and Montrose. (5)

It was a vigorous, though largely conservative, art milieu whose members generally exhibited portraits, realistic still lives, romantic or impressionist Texas landscapes, and bluebonnet paintings. There were notable exceptions to this conservatism, though. These included the more forward-looking expressionist Cherry (herself a member of the New York-based Societe Anonyme, founded in 1920) and a few who saw her as a mentor: namely, McNeill Davidson and a group of students who found their individual creative voices through Davidson's encouragement and commitment to artistic freedom over academic orthodoxy. Those students--Gene Charlton, Carden Bailey, Nione Carlson, Maudee Carron, Frank Dolejska, Robert Preusser and later, Forrest Bess--met as they individually discovered Davidson and her liberating teaching methods. As the decade progressed, members of the "Cherry-McNeill Group" (as they were later dubbed by McNeill Davidson, in a letter to Cherry), felt empowered to challenge the conservative boundaries of the community as they became increasingly interested in abstract or non-objective art. (6) In 1938, Davidson and this group of young artists opened a space named Our Little Gallery, which was devoted to showing their own abstract work, as well as that of non-Houston artists. (7)

Though short-lived, the gallery was important as the first showcase for Houston-made abstract art. At the time there was no venue like it anywhere in Texas. It served as a focal point in the city for advanced ideas in art, where, according to one of its members, Robert Preusser,
   Numerous volumes on current
   art and translations of European
   criticisms are available to all. And
   discussions stretch far into the
   night as a deeper understanding
   of art is approached. Here a
   young group of abstract and
   non-objective painters who are
   attracting national attention by
   their work, gather daily for study. (8)

In the early and mid-thirties, several members of the group, including Charlton, Preusser, and Bess, were drawn to the emotive aspects of German Expressionism, rather than the formal or decorative properties that typified French Impressionism, Cubism and their offshoots in Dallas or Austin. (9) And although Cubist elements can be found in her work, Davidson also favored German artistic precedents. The influence of German ideas was partially due to the legacy of Cherry, who had developed an early and keen interest in German art, and in the German Expressionists in particular. (10) While French modernism tended to value stylistic innovations, German modernism emphasized art's ability to foster emotion in the viewer's soul. Any technical innovations, many argued, should only serve that ultimate meaningful intention. (11) This shared Germanic philosophy, as will be shown, made Our Little Gallery noteworthy in the city.

The Artists of Our Little Gallery

Before considering the impact of German aesthetic theory on the art at Our Little Gallery, however, an introduction to the artists who exhibited there may be useful. One of the earliest Houston-based artists to experiment with abstraction was Gene Charlton (1909-79). His early work has a distinctly German Expressionist bent, consisting of landscapes formed of bold strokes of jagged black that outline areas of bright arbitrary color (fig. 3). By the later 1930s Charlton was experimenting further, now with pure abstraction, as did many of the young artists in his circle. After World War II, he split his time between Houston, Mexico, and New York, where he encountered a tumultuous art world bubbling with art ideas new to him, and he seemed intent on trying them all. Charlton eventually had one-man exhibitions in Houston at Bute Gallery (1945) and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (1948), and in New York at Contemporary Arts (1949). His work became more delicate and calligraphic, as he took cues from Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and Mark Rothko, with whom he showed in group exhibitions. Charlton, Graves and Tobey, for instance, appeared in two exhibitions of the Willard Group in New York in 1954. (12) His work again appeared with that of Tobey and Rothko at the Contemporary Arts Alumni Show on East 57th Street in New York. (13) In the late 1950s, Charlton moved to Italy, where he spent the rest of his career, associating in Rome with other American and European artists (including Cy Twombly, whose studio was in the same building as Charlton's), and ultimately directing the Positano Art Workshop.

In comparison to Charlton's work, the paintings of his partner Carden Bailey (1911-97) possess a childlike quality, reminiscent of the work of Paul Klee (fig. 4). Flattened shapes of pattern produce dreamlike fantasies complete with evocations of medieval towers. In 1946, Bailey moved with Charlton to New York, where they both studied at the Art Students League. Though they separated shortly after the move, Bailey stayed in New York and began a successful career as a set designer for NBC Television. He worked as a designer in TV and theater for the rest of his career.

One of the less abstract artists in the group was Nione Carlson (1910-99), who was known for images that offered a distinctive, abstracted version of American Regionalist styles (fig. 5). Her depictions of rural and urban landscapes undulate to the point of being surreal. Scale is distorted as arbitrary color evokes bold emotion. Carlson would stay in Houston, teaching and making her own art, which also came to include murals for movie theaters. She had her own one-person show in New York at Argent Gallery in 1952.

Due to the generosity of Gene Charlton, who funded a partial scholarship, Maudee Carron (1912-96) began her art training with Davidson in the mid-thirties (fig. 6). (14) Labeled "a real primitive" by Davidson, Carron went on to produce both paintings and sculptures. (15) Her later three-dimensional work often suggested a primitivist aesthetic, and was frequently comprised of found scrap metal or wood pieces that formed totemic warriors or idols. In the late 1930s she moved to New Orleans, where she held one-person shows of abstract works at Gresham Gallery (1938) and Little Gallery (1940). In the later 1940s, Carron moved back to Southeast Texas, where she had grown up, and had a long, colorful art career in Beaumont and Port Arthur.

An untitled 1938 piece by Frank Dolejska (1921-89) contains writing on the back, documenting its appearance in Our Little Gallery in that year (fig. 7). (16) Dolejska eventually joined Robert Preusser and others in founding the Contemporary Arts Association (now the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston), where he served in various capacities into the 1950s. Later in that decade he was a founding member of the Handmakers, a group of Houston artists who made fine handcrafts. Though he largely gave up painting, he produced many items in metal, mosaic, and other media for residential and commercial environments. (17)

Robert Preusser (1919-92) and Forrest Bess (1911-77) arguably became the most successful artists associated with Our Little Gallery. Preusser was one of the more abstract painters in the group; by the age of seventeen he was making non-figurative work in the manner of Wassily Kandinsky (fig. 8). In 1939, Davidson took him to Chicago for further study with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy at the recently founded New Bauhaus. Describing the trip in a letter, Davidson wrote that when Moholy-Nagy and the other faculty members at the New Bauhaus saw Preusser's work, they were
   [...] fascinated and filled with
   wonderment--What from Texas?
   I told Moholy, 'Art was from the
   byways and not highways.' He
   caught me, repeated it and said, 'I
   like that.' (18)

After World War II, Preusser returned to Houston where, as mentioned, he joined with Dolejska in founding the Contemporary Arts Association in 1948. Preusser showed his work often around the country, including one-person shows at the MFAH (1948), in Dallas (1949), and in Boston (1955). In 1954, he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he stayed for the rest of his career.

Forrest Bess was always marketed as a naive artist, and his style was more eclectic than that of Preusser (fig. 9). Now recognized as one of the most important American visionary painters of the twentieth century, he left Houston to return to Bay City, Texas, his childhood home. (19) There he subsisted on income from his painting and from the bait business that he conducted. Over the course of his long career, he had numerous exhibitions at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York City, and his work has recently been the subject of retrospectives at the Whitney Museum (in 2012) and the Menil Collection (in 2013).

In short then, the artistic careers of some of Davidson's students were remarkable. In a 1950 letter to Cherry, Davidson articulated what her role had been in fueling their success:
   These boys were very unhappy
   when they came to me--misfits
   socially and didn't know where to
   turn for expression. Of course, I
   understood their needs because of
   what you had done for me--and
   so, like you, I shared untiringly
   all I had; travel abroad, books,
   materials[,] my very soul so that I
   might be able to 'open that door'
   you opened for me. (20)

Such empathy was understandable, for Davidson's interest in art as a profession (rather than as a lady's preoccupation) made her, rather like her young students, a fellow "misfit." As women, Davidson, Carron and Carlson each encountered resistance in becoming professional artists. Similarly, as gay men, Bess, Charlton and Bailey faced pressure due to the social expectations of their day. (21)

Thus Davidson could offer the young artists meaningful encouragement--or, as she put it in her letter to Cherry, "... the showing of the way." In the same letter, Davidson recounted a recent book inscription in which Robert Preusser had expressed his gratitude to her: "For all the years of your faith and understanding McNeill--Robert." (22) Years later, Preusser pinpointed the characteristic that made her a successful teacher and mentor to these young, avant-garde (for Houston, at the time) visual artists:
   ... she was a painter herself and
   a very good one, but she didn't
   paint abstracts. She painted very
   beautiful landscapes and flowers
   and that sort of thing, but she was
   very open to every one of us doing
   our thing and encouraged these
   differences. (23)

She was an influential teacher in other directions, as well. As Preusser recalled, "I, of course, had under McNeill Davidson [been] introduced to a lot of the modern painters of today [...] She was a very dynamic person." (24) Gene Charlton, writing from England to Carden Bailey in 1944, also noted Davidson's dynamism. Charlton, now familiar with an even more cosmopolitan art, described her as nearly as forceful as Duncan MacDonald, one of the directors of the Reid & Lefevre Gallery in London:

I know that we have a staunch friend in Duncan Macdonald--he's difficult--he is so dynamic, so complete a person--and a living dynamo--No hocus-pocus--He is what McNeill almost was. (25)

Houstonian-Brand Modernism

The range of styles that appeared among the Our Little Gallery artists belies assumptions made about the region's art. Mid-century New York critics typically thought about art produced west of the Mississippi as mostly Regionalist, in the tradition of the Midwesterner Thomas Hart Benton. Such art typically had a dark political bent or at least was socially uneasy. The classifications of the art of 1930s middle America in such terms persisted as late as 1953, when the New York Times reviewed the fifteenth Texas Annual, stating how earlier
   Southwest painting was
   dominated by the hard, tight
   Benton-esque hills of Alexandre
   Hogue, the deserted and
   dilapidated ranches and farms of
   William Lester and Jerry Bywaters
   and, lasting longest, the brusque,
   heavily brushed cactus and rock
   landscape of Everett Spruce. (26)

But, as historian Katie Robinson Edwards notes, while Dallas and Austin artists (Hogue, Lester and Bywaters) did often favor Southwestern subjects with a regionalist flair, the Houston group inspired by Cherry was more internationally cosmopolitan. They possessed a profound understanding of European modernism, as distinct from the purely American modernism (at least in aspiration) espoused by Benton and his followers. (27) Moreover, they were eager to incorporate new modernist theories, especially those of Kandinsky and the Bauhaus, into their work.

The result was a band of art that was emphatically international and often experimental in character. Consider, for example, Davidson's work from the thirties, which was far from Regionalist, probably because of her sensitivity to German aesthetics. While her landscapes might at first appear to have the undulating lines of a Benton, the handling is much looser and the space is flatter, more in keeping with German Expressionist examples than anything regionalist. Thus, in Davidson's Watching McNeill (fig. 2), foreground and background are blurred, lines wander from their edges, and color is as expressive of emotion as it is descriptive or decorative.

Davidson's passion for German Expressionism likely came from her own teacher, Cherry. Even though Cherry had a deep appreciation of French art traditions (she had studied at the Academie Julian in the 1880s and spent time in the studio of the Parisian cubist painter Andre Lhote), she was demonstrably interested in German modernism. In 1906, Cherry wrote a short essay on German art that included a discussion of some important precursors to German Expressionism, such as Max Liebermann, Max Klinger, Arnold Bocklin and Franz Stuck. (28) She praised these artists because they "conveyed the German temperament," and "evinced spiritual emotion" that differed from most Western art. (29) And in a 1929 contribution to Art Digest, Cherry wrote, "I wish you could give us more of the present German expressionists' work." (30)

The consequences of her interest were considerable. Cherry likely influenced Ima Hogg to begin collecting German works around 1930. (All of Hogg's German purchases came after that.) Hogg soon bought the Swiss/German artist Paul Klee's Marjamshausen, and later gave it to the MFAH as a gift. Preusser, in turn, must have seen the MFAH's Klee before he did his 1937 painting Dwarf Dwellings (fig. 10). Indeed, Preusser would later express his admiration for Klee. (31)

Moreover, Cherry may have turned Davidson's attention to German aesthetic taste. Davidson soon came to admire the artist Franz Cizek, a Czech who lived for a time under German rule, and whose work she would have seen in Houston when it was exhibited at the MFAH in 1926. Davidson especially admired Cizek's theories on art education, for which he was well known at the time. (32) Cizek argued against regimented academic exercises in favor of automatic processes. He loved the uninhibited forms found in the carefree work of children, and recommended similar spontaneity and freedom to his students. (33) Davidson's approach to education was equally unregimented. As noted above, her students expressed appreciation for her openness to their trying new methods. (34)

And then there was Our Little Gallery--which, according to the Houston Press, actually exhibited German art in 1938, in its upstairs gallery. (35) Largely consisting of prints, the art came from the German collector Martin Lowitz, who is known to have collected and exhibited work by Max Liebermann, Otto Dix and Wassily Kandinsky. Lowitz sold three works by Kandinsky while visiting Houston. (36) The exhibition of this art further suggests that the aesthetic interests of the Our Little Gallery artists were aligned with Germanic ones.

Such a connection is especially evident in the case of Kandinsky. Although Kandinsky was Russian, rather than German, he lived and exhibited in Munich. It was there that he formed Der Blaue Reiter, which included Paul Klee as a member. Kandinsky's theories on art had a tremendous impact, of course, on modern art both in and outside Germany following the publication of his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in late 1911. (37) The book was a treatise on the significance of non-figurative art that justified abstraction on the basis of its affinities with modern physical theories of relativity.

Rather than mirroring solid form, Kandinsky argued that abstraction better realized physicists' new understandings of the material world as disbanded energy (the "spiritual," as he called it). The spiritual necessarily and physically resonates in the person who observes colors, if those colors are arranged effectively with sensitivity. For Kandinsky, the non-figurative best embodied this mystical power. Kandinsky's book became known to American readers when excerpts were published by Alfred Stieglitz in his journal, Camera Work, in 1912.

Robert Preusser's work shares the greatest affinity, among artists associated with Our Little Gallery, with that of Kandinsky. His paintings, with titles taken from musical vocabulary (e.g., Improvisations) contain abbreviated renderings of lyrical figures with a symphony of mountain-like forms caroling overhead, recalling motifs in paintings executed by Kandinsky between 1911 and 1912 (fig. 8). It is no coincidence that Kandinsky had also titled several of his compositions Improvisation. (38)

Preusser, encouraged by Davidson, later studied at the Chicago Bauhaus (as it was known) with Moholy-Nagy, a Constructivist associated with the German Bauhaus. Preusser already shared Moholy-Nagy's belief that art needed to be more than formal exploration. (39) Art was obliged to have a practical content, that is, formal innovation must serve human need and experience as well as expression. As Moholy-Nagy stated, design
   is not a matter of facade, of mere
   external appearance; rather it
   is the essence of products and
   institutions, penetrating and
   comprehensive. Designing is a
   complex and intricate task. It
   is integration of technological,
   social and economic requirements,
   biological necessities, and
   the psychophysical effects
   of materials, shape, color,
   volume and space: thinking in
   relationships. (40)

Moholy-Nagy reinforced Preusser's convictions that meaningful artwork required the ability to activate immediate emotive sensations, and that this could and should extend even to objects of utility. Shortly after arriving in Chicago, Preusser took up photography, clearly prompted by Moholy-Nagy's own photographs. Preusser's work contains the same unexpected compositional angles and exploration of geometric patterns seen in the work of Moholy-Nagy. Preusser also made several photograms, just as Moholy-Nagy had, that experimented with ways to show the penetration of light through form that resemble x-rays. Paintings done soon after by Preusser are also similar to Moholy-Nagy's in their expression of the ubiquitous properties of light, using diaphanous layers of color and intersecting planes.

Subsequently, when Preusser became one of the founders of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the first exhibition organized by him and Dolejska in 1948 championed the Bauhaus ideal of integration. Besides including the typical painting and sculpture, Preusser also showcased jewelry, fabric, wallpaper, advertising, graphic arts, photography, and industrial design. In a letter to supporters, Preusser states that he wished to break down the erroneous impression that many people have that art is something in museums, entirely separate from their lives. It is necessary to do some educational work to show how architecture, painting, sculpture, industrial design, textiles, ceramics, graphic arts and related arts can contribute much to the beauty and enjoyment of our homes, public buildings, and civic centers. (41)

Thus, he concluded, "to parallel the work of a good symphony orchestra which makes great music part of our daily lives, we need an aggressive organization to promote contemporary arts." (42) Finally, Preusser and Dolejska dedicated their second exhibition, in 1948-9, to a retrospective of Moholy-Nagy, who had passed away the year before. Honoring the Chicago Bauhaus leader in this way was testament to his influence and creates another link between the Our Little Gallery artists and German artistic theory.

Like Preusser, Gene Charlton's artistic influences can be traced, at least partly, back to Germany. A landscape painted by Charlton in around 1936 (fig. 3) recalls earlier work done by Kandinsky in Murnau, Germany. Charlton reaches a level of pure abstraction, consisting of watercolors with radiating transparent hues. Both Charlton and Kandinsky use flat areas of broad, raw color to suggest undulating houses on hills, but there is not yet any absorption of foreground into background. Other Charlton works suggest other precedents. Some bring to mind the American painter John Marin, an artist who was fascinated with capturing the essence of unseen forces for which he used the term "valences." (43) In Charlton's work, space unfolds simultaneously, as if different individual views seen over time were caught in a single magnificent image (fig. 11). One way Charlton achieved this effect in his landscape was by placing a line at the left bottom corner of the composition, and then disconnecting and dropping it suddenly on the right. The jarring, disjointed space is Cubist in conception. Significantly, Cubist works by Pablo Picasso were available for viewing in Houston as early as 1929, and again in a 1934 show at the MFAH, which also included pieces by Georges Braque. Charlton's landscapes, which became completely non-figurative by 1952, prove his interest in both Cubist and Expressionist theories of dematerialized form.

The later Cubist forms seen in early twentieth-century German art greatly impacted art in Houston. Carden Bailey's theater set designs from the 1930s (fig. 4), as well as Frank Dolejska's early abstractions (fig. 7), are constructed like Cubist collages in their jarring shifts of patterns and flattened space. And Nione Carlson's portrait of a sitter (usually identified as Edith Sitwell) recalls Ernst Kirchner's later Cubist-inspired work. As in Kirchner's work, the features of Carlson's figures--such as chin, collar and fingers--form sharp angles reminiscent of the medieval or primitive. The sofa rises up, distorting the space and causing the figure to appear to be tumbling forward, boldly confronting the viewer.

In addition to German Expressionist and Cubist impulses, Surrealist and magic realist elements run through the work shown at Our Little Gallery. Charlton's watercolors are looser in form than anything purely Cubist, and are better explained by the unconscious processes used by Surrealists (fig. 11). Relatedly, Edwards has identified a similarity between the free-flowing lines of Preusser and the Surrealist device of automatic drawing. (44) Impacted by Sigmund Freud's new understanding of the depths of the human psyche, both the Cubists and Surrealists studied African and Oceanic arts for their supposedly unrepressed primal sexual content, but also as a way of imagining new forms. Similarly, Maudee Carron's late sculpted figures convey the urgency of an ancient Assyrian votive with their eyes wide open as they kneel with hopeful clasped hands. By this time, Freud's student, Carl Jung, was discussing his theories on archetypes, using tribal objects as evidence of their existence. Carron's objects evoke, in a comparable manner, archetypes of ancient masculinity, femininity, and of the honorable warrior. Growing interest in Jung in Houston eventually culminated in the founding of the Jung Center in the museum district in 1958.

Furthermore, Surrealist pictorial strategies were also used by Nione Carlson and Forrest Bess, who juxtaposed unrelated objects to stir up uncomfortable psychological associations. In one painting, for example, Bess, without logical explanation, places a mask-like face on a wooded stump covered by leaves (fig. 9). Carlson, in turn, exaggerates the lines of space so that dimensional relationships, such as that between a tree and a tall building, are strangely distorted (fig. 5). In both cases, though, the compositions were not simply products of the imagination or the unconscious mind; rather, as in many magical realist works of the time, they were at least plausible. Bess's placing of a mask on a tree stump is not impossible--just odd and inexplicable. Bess's image echoes Jung's concept of the mask as a device to protectively disguise authentic personality.

As a city, Houston had always been surrounded by a number of Germanic and Slavic communities, while French culture was something found in Dallas, Austin, or further east in Louisiana. The work of these Houston artists differed, relatedly, from the output of other Texans grappling with European modernist innovation in that, as Moholy-Nagy remarked, it aimed not at the simple "destruction" of nature, but at enhanced human awareness. (45) Such a temperament can be traced back to the German Bauhaus, of which Moholy-Nagy was a part, and to German Expressionist artistic theory in general. But an admiration of German culture could also lead, especially as the clouds of war gathered, to tensions. When John and Dominique de Menil came onto the art scene, after moving to Houston from France in 1941, Preusser was discouraged by the decidedly French taste of the couple. In a 1991 interview, Preusser complained that the Menils
   had ambitions of making [the
   Contemporary] a Museum of
   Modern Art in Houston. And
   they had the obvious French
   orientation and connections, so
   they proceeded to influence the
   board to change from regional,
   local, not that we were against
   national but--and start bringing
   big shows of French and--the
   biggest one was the Van Gogh
   show. And it was at that time
   that I just couldn't quite see
   myself continuing as a co-director
   because their influence [was]
   very important. They became so
   dominating at the Contemporary
   Art Museum where I was involved
   that I just couldn't go along with
   it, so I resigned at that point. (46)

Preusser's statement about the De Menils arguably reveals a Germanic impulse that had coalesced at Our Little Gallery. The artists there admired the intensity with which German modernists struggled to find form that was expressive of profound human experiences, and they sought to bring that same quality to Houston.


The unique importance of Our Little Gallery for Houston during the early part of the twentieth century has been overshadowed by a scholarly preoccupation with the New York City art scene. As we have shown, though, Houston developed--partly through the efforts of Our Little Gallery--its own version of Modern art that was heavily influenced by the German cultures that settled the area. A study of the artists who surrounded people like Emma Richardson Cherry and Ola McNeill-Davidson proves that these formidable women exerted considerable influence, in fomenting a dynamic and engaged artistic culture.


[1.] Unfortunately, there is little surviving textual or photographic evidence related to the gallery, beyond lists of exhibitors--which will be mentioned below.

[2.] For a more extensive survey of the history of art in Houston in the earlier twentieth century, see Katie Robinson Edwards, Midcentury Modern Art in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), chapter 3.

[3.] On Robinson's exhibitions see "Mrs. Cherry's Works Center of Interest of Home Galleries," Houston Chronicle, February 26, 1928, 31; on the galleries see "New Galleries to Feature Work of Houston Artist," Houston Chronicle, April 19, 1931.

[4.] For more on the Houston Artists Gallery see Planned, Organized and Established: Houston Artist Cooperatives in the 1930s, catalog of an exhibition presented at the Houston Public Library, Aug. 12-Nov. 9, 2017 (Houston: CASETA, 2017).

[5.] Bertha Louise Hellman, "Houston's Art Colony is Big Asset for City," Houston Post, June 30, 1933, 7.

[6.] Ola McNeill Davidson, "Letter to Emma Richardson Cherry," August 19, 1950, Emma Richardson Cherry Papers, Harris County Heritage Society, Houston, Texas. Arguably, Davidson's decision to use her maiden name, McNeill, to label her group, also implies a desire to challenge convention and to offer an exemplum to women interested in accenting their professional rather than domestic identities.

[7.] Randolph K. Tibbits, "'Our Little Gallery' of Abstract Art in Houston 1938," at UserFileFolder/OurLittleGalleryRevised.pdf (accessed March 10, 2018).

[8.] Robert Preusser Collection, uncited newspaper clipping, Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, 1938.

[9.] For a discussion of artistic styles in Dallas and Austin, see Edwards, Midcentury Modern Art in Texas, 68.

[10.] Emma Richardson Cherry, "A Note on German Art," Brush and Pencil 18, no. 6 (December 1906), 244-48; Emma Richardson Cherry, "Letter to the Editor," Art Digest 3, March 1, 1929, 4.

[11.] Preusser shared Moholy-Nagy's belief, derived from Bauhaus philosophy, that art needed to go beyond the decorative. See Edwards, Midcentury Modern Art in Texas, 72.

[12.] Anonymous, "Willard Group," Art Digest, 28, no. 7 (June 1, 1954), 20.

[13.] Anonymous, "25th Anniversary Exhibition, Contemporary Arts Alumni, May 10-28, 1954," Art Digest, 28, no. 7 (June 1, 1954), 17.

[14.] Port Arthur News, "Local Artist Will Exhibit in Houston" January 5, 1936, 6.

[15.] Dishman Art Gallery, "Maudee Carron: Retrospective" (Beaumont, Texas, 1993), 8.

[16.] In the same text, Dolejska also noted that the piece never sold, and that he had used it for some time to cover up a hole in the wall of his shed.

[17.] General biographical information on these artists can be found in John & Deborah Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists: A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas Before 1942 (Austin: Woodmont Books, 2000).

[18.] Davidson, "Letter to Emma Richardson Cherry."

[19.] For Bess's significance as a visionary artist, see Chuck Smith, Forrest Bess: Key to a Riddle (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Powerhouse Books, 2013), or "Forrest Bess," at http:// (accessed March 10, 2018).

[20.] Davidson, "Letter to Emma Richardson Cherry."

[21.] Charlton and Bailey lived together for several years, and the tone of a letter from Charlton to Bailey suggests more than friendship. See Gene Charlton, "Letter to Carden Bailey," April 2, 1944, in the possession of Randy Tibbits.

[22.] Davidson, "Letter to Emma Richardson Cherry."

[23.] Robert F. Brown, "Oral history interview with Robert O. Preusser," Jan.-Oct. 1991, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution at interviews/oral-history-interview-robert-o-preusser-13337 (accessed March 10, 2018).

[24.] Ibid.

[25.] Charlton, "Letter to Carden Bailey."

[26.] Aline B. Louchheim, "Texas Art is Vital and Growing," The New York Times, November 15, 1953, X14.

[27.] Indeed, the national journal Art Digest recognized Charlton and Bailey as amongst the "most progressive" in Houston. See Edwards, Midcentury Modern Art In Texas, 68.

[28.] E. Richardson Cherry, "A Note on German Art," Brush and Pencil 18, no. 6 (December 1906), 247.

[29.] Ibid., 248.

[30.] E. Richardson Cherry, "Entirely Covers the Ground," Art Digest 3 (March 1, 1929), 4.

[31.] Brown, "Oral history interview with Robert O. Preusser."

[32.] Frances Battaile Fisk, A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors (Abilene, Texas: W.M. Morrison, 1928), 43.

[33.] See James P. Anderson, "Art Education's Man for all Seasons," Art Education 22, no. 7 (October 1969), 26-30.

[34.] See for example Brown, "Oral history interview with Robert O. Preusser."

[35.] Ione Kirkham, "Art Colony Greets Little Gallery," Houston Press, May 20, 1938.

[36.] Cameron Shipp, "He Peddles Pictures by the Yard," The Saturday Evening Post, April 9, 1955, 125.

[37.] Wassily Kandinsky, Uber das Geistige in der Kunst: Insbesondere in der Malerei (Munchen: R. Piper & Co., Verlach), 1912. The publishing date was 1912, although the book was available by December of 1911.

[38.] Preusser discusses his shared love of music. See Brown, "Oral history interview with Robert O. Preusser."

[39.] Edwards, Midcentury Modern Art in Texas, 72.

[40.] Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion (Chicago: P. Thiebald, 1947), 42.

[41.] Robert Preusser, "Letter to Prospective Members" (Contemporary Arts Association), 1948.

[42.] Ibid.

[43.] John Marin, exhibition pamphlet, reprinted in Camera Work 42-43 (April-July 1913), 18.

[44.] Edwards, Midcentury Modern Art in Texas, 74.

[45.] Ibid., 72.

[46.] Brown, "Oral history interview with Robert O. Preusser."

Caption: Figure 1, right. Emma Richardson Cherry, Flying Prisms, 1919, oil on board, 14 x 28 in. (45.7 x 71.1 cm). Collection of Randy Tibbits and Richard Bebermeyer.

Caption: Figure 2. Ola McNeill Davidson, Watching McNeill, c. 1935, oil on canvas, 9 x 7 12 in. (22.9 x 19 cm). Collection of Randy Tibbits and Rick Bebermeyer.

Caption: Figure 3. Gene Charlton, Exterior #1: Arrangement Around Two Houses, c. 1936, oil on canvas, 39 x 32 in. (99.1 x 81.3 cm). Collection of Randy Tibbits and Rick Bebermeyer.

Caption: Figure 4, left. Carden Bailey, Untitled, 1930s, oil on board, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. (49.5 x 39.4 cm). Collection of Amanda Wingfield.

Caption: Figure 5. Nione Carlson, Landscape with City and Tree [?], 1930s, oil on canvas, 15 x 18 in. (38.1 x 45.7 cm). Private collection.

Caption: Figure 6. Maudee Carron, "The C ... Dancers" [title indiscernible], c. 1930s, 13 x 12 in. (33 x 30.5 cm). Collection of Laurie and Troy Ford.

Caption: Figure 7, above. Frank Dolesjka, Untitled, 1938, oil on wood, 15 x 16 in. (38.1 x 40.6 cm). Collection of Dick and Virginia Roeder.

Caption: Figure 8, right. Robert Preusser, Untitled, 1930s, mixed media, 5 x 4 in. (12.7 x 10.2 cm). Collection of Tam and Tom Kiehnhoff (originally in the personal collection of Emma Richardson Cherry.)

Caption: Figure 9. Forrest Bess, [title unknown], 1930s, pastel on paper, 18 x 13 1/2 in. (45.7 x 34.3 cm). Collection of Charles M. Peveto.

Caption: Figure 10. Robert Preusser, Dwarf Dwellings, 1937, oil on masonite, 36 x 36 in. (91.4 x 91.4 cm). Collection of David M. Shanahan and Robert Summers.

Caption: Figure 11. Gene Charlton, Untitled, c. 1937, watercolor on paper, 14 x 20 in. (35.6 x 50.8 cm). Collection of Randy Tibbits and Rick Bebermeyer.
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Author:Baker, Susan J.; Tibbits, Randy
Publication:Art Inquiries
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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