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$15,000 Tito’s Prize Available for One Austin Artist

Zack Ingram, "Badass," shellac, cherries, agar agar, 2017. From the Tito's Prize exhibit "Skin Thick" at Big Medium.

Applications are now being accepted for the $15,000 Tito’s Prize.

The award, which goes to an Austin visual artist of any medium, is coordinated by Big Medium. In addition to the $15,000 unrestricted prize money, the winner receives a solo exhibit at Big Medium’s gallery during the high-profile East Austin Studio Tour.

This year’s panel is: Andrea Mellard, Director of Public Programs & Community Engagement at The Contemporary Austin; Dennis Nance, Galveston Arts Center Curator and artist; and Veronica Roberts, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art.

The open call is April 24 through May 31. The winner is announced July 17.

Apply online at bigmedium.org/titosprize.html

Last year Zack Ingram netted the inaugural Tito’s Prize.

Bucky Miller and The Toad

    Bucky Miller, "Moonpie," 2017. All images courtesy of the artist.

    Walking up to the Austin apartment complex where artist Bucky Miller lives, the stirrings of his aesthetic are in the surroundings that have served as his home in Austin for the last four years.

    The small, shady apartment complex is the kind that looks like a semi-decrepit motel you might see in a David Lynch movie. Its one-story ring of units has rusting numbers on the doors and a small creek running through its parking lot that flows toward the dark corner where Miller lives. Not new enough to feel fresh but not old enough to feel vintage, the complex has hosted a changing cast of Austin residents over the last four years with two constants: Miller and the toad.

    Bucky Miller, “Toad,” 2017

    So what about this toad? Miller explains, kind of, in the statement for his recent exhibition at Houston’s Jonathan Hopson Gallery:

    “I love the Toad, but I do not know the Toad. I cannot, but this has almost nothing to do with the fact that I am human and the Toad is toad. It has a little to do with gaps in communication, but mostly it has to do with the fact that the Toad is a shapeshifter; it is sometimes brown, sometimes gray, sometimes it is the size of my fist and sometimes it is the size of a key fob. Sometimes it is even two toads, and on one wondrous occasion it was three. How could I ever expect to familiarize myself with such magic?”

    Miller’s playful, cryptic writing speaks to his practice in wry poetics. The Toad is both more and less than a real, hopping, crawling, breathing amphibian. There has of course been a real toad, one that emerges from the creek nearby Miller’s apartment complex and warms itself on the twilight cement.

    But also, Miller admits, it is probably (definitely) not the same toad every time he sees it. No matter the individual identity of the toad, Miller identifies its image as a kind of soothing recurrent presence, a signal from the natural world that allows him to keep track of the cycles of time as they pass through his life here in Austin.

    Bucky Miller, “Neighbor,” 2017

    “Perhaps,” I suggest, “the Toad is something like a physical embodiment of a type of relationship with the world, a relationship that you’re not in control of. The Toad comes and goes in mysterious ways, and you can enjoy that aesthetic experience without fully understanding it.”

    “Yes!” he exclaims with a smile.

    Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, Miller grew up with a talent for skateboarding and a passion for writing. He found his way into art through skate photography, but quickly came to the conclusion that skaters were not what he wanted to focus on.

    “I realized that I could do something with photographs that I wanted to with language, but kind of work backwards by starting with the image,” he says.

    This all makes sense as Miller’s preferred method of distribution is through photo books. Miller thinks of his photography not so much in series, but in a collective and reiterative way. He photographs constantly. But it’s the process of selection and bookmaking that becomes a means of processing and collating the through-lines of his vision. Assembling photographs into books, piecing the images into an order like words in a sentence, allows Miller to refine and reframe the narrative of his body of work.

    The book he produced in conjunction with his exhibition at Jonathan Hopson Gallery is a brilliant saturated green, like the color of a cartoon toad. The inspiration for this color came from a slim novella Miller picked up in a used bookstore.  The green glossy dust jacket of “Mrs. Caliban” glistens like the skin of its romantic lead, a tall frog-man named Larry, escaped from an abusive oceanographic lab who brings unexpected eroticism and joy to a lonely housewife.

    Miller’s photo book is matte, but mimics the purity of solid color on “Mrs. Caliban’s” back cover, interrupted only by a small, blurry image of a toad, flooded with light so as to be barely legible. Miller’s work often uses this visual language of low-skill photography — harsh flash, off-center composition, lack of focus — in the service of making the banal strange. His keen eye for the uncanny finds the smallest moments and invests them with an attention that makes one reconsider the shadows of their reality.

    While the book is central to his practice, Miller’s recent exhibitions have demonstrated his inventive approach to installation and his ability to transform the photograph in three dimensions.

    In 2017, Miller received the Umlauf Prize, an award reserved for University of Texas graduate sculpture students. Director of the Contemporary Art Museum Houston Bill Arning, who served as juror for the award, wrote in his catalogue essay: “To say, ‘Bucky Miller is a photographer’— which he probably is—brings up all the ways in which he is not, and his exhibitions are not photography shows, although the most memorable elements are photographic.”

    In Miller’s Hopson Gallery exhibition, and in his “Art on the Lawn” installation for the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, the artist plays with scale, position, and print media to transform his two-dimensional images into objects that emerge from unexpected nooks and structures.

    Installation view from “Bucky Miller, The Toad” at Jonathan Hopson Gallery, Houston, 2018

    At Hopson, the large, brilliant blue sky in his photograph of a dead tree feels a bit like a swimming pool on the floor of the space and the scenes emerging from window panes disorient, bringing an illusory landscape outside the gallery in. At CAMH, the signposted photographs of a goose, a tree, a raccoon play off the architecture and landscaping of the museum to perform a mysterious doubling.

    One of my favorite images in the book and the exhibition at Hopson Gallery — though I’m obviously biased — is a portrait of my dog, Moonpie. Though I spend an inordinate number of hours looking at both Moonpie and the space in which the photo was shot (my front yard), the scene feels eerily foreign, like it was taken out of time and space. Moonpie’s body is curled away from the camera so that he appears almost abstracted, a bright white ball of fluff. A dark shadow spreads across the top third of the image contrasting ominously with the dappling of light on the concrete pavers.

    Bucky Miller, “Jon,” 2017.

    Another of Miller’s dog images shows only the hindquarters of a tall brindled canine poking out from behind the orange and white pole of a parking structure. Both images display Miller’s ability to find something other in the most familiar of non-human creatures, something that makes us realize the different plane of reality in which they perceive the world.

    What is this something other? It is hard to pin down, but I think it just might be a theme in Miller’s work, a theme that pervades his images of dogs, frogs, birds, chairs, corners, nests, and other intriguing elements of the world around us.

    How might objects and images be made to speak to us, across the insular boundaries of human language? In her oddly delightful book “The Companion Species Manifesto,” theorist Donna Haraway described the connection between humans and dogs as relying on “significant otherness,” a phrase that plays with the strange tension between fundamental difference and loving communication in our mutually informing trans-species relationship with dogs.

    It’s the same tension of connection, conversation, and uncanny significance that buzzes like fluorescent light in the dim evening of Miller’s photographic world.

    Bucky Miller’s installation for CAMH’s Art on the Lawn series is on view until March 31, 2019. buckymiller.com

    Bucky Miler, “Swallows,” 2017

    The Weekly Line-up: 4.22.18

    Jennifer Chenowith's house was a popular and long-time stop on the East Austin Studio Tour.

    The Sightlines list of what’s good and what’s new for the week of April 22, 2018.

    Rooftop Architecture and Design Film Series
    The creative process of influential garden designer Piet Oudolf is the focus of “Five Seasons with Piet Oudolf.
    7:30 p.m. April 25, Contemporary Austin—Jones Center

    “Out of Ink: Lost & Found”
    ScriptWorks presents its annual showcase of 10-minute plays.
    8 p.m. April 26-28 and May 3-5, Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St. scriptworks.org

    “Cathedrals of Mexico: Grand Polyphony of Puebla and Mexico City”
    Renaissance and Baroque choir Ensemble VIII performs music of 17th-century Mexico.
    7:30 p.m. April 26, Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church; 7:30 p.m. April 27, St. Louis Catholic Church Chapel. ensembleviii.org

    Americana: Beerthoven Concert Series
    A program features American music reflective of the cultural melting pot, encompassing a broad range of influences from Latin to African to Celtic as well as a new song cycle “Dream Songs” by composer Elizabeth Comninellis.
    7:30 April 27, Saengerrunde Hall, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd. beerthoven.com

    Reading: Kavek Akbar
    Kavek Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry, the New York Times, The Nation, and elsewhere.
    7 p.m. April 27, Malvern Books, 613 W. 29th St. 

    “Fisterra Retrospective”
    In November 2003, 28 artists opened their homes and studios for the first East Austin Studio Tour. The orange house on East Second Street — home to artist Jennifer Chenoweth and her Fisterra Studio — became a spot that thousands of visitors returned to each year for the group exhibits Chenoweth staged. EAST 2017 was the last that Chenoweth participated in. The work of some 50 artists who exhibited over the years is featured in a retrospective of sorts.
    Opening 7 to 10 p.m. April 27. Exhibit continues through May 18. Big Medium, Canopy, 916 Springdale Road.

    Open Canopy
    Canopy, 916 Springdale Road

    “Cage Match Project Vll: Color Composition by Ariel Jackson”
    In an installation of colored balloons, Ariel Jackson tackles Austin’s legacy of racism by mimicing the layout of the 1935 Home Owners Loan Corporation map used to “redline” or deny financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition.
    Canopy, 916 Springdale Road.cagematchproject.com

    “Art of the Contact Sheet”
    Contact sheets not the edited photograph are the focus of an exhibit featuring Columbia Records photographer, Don Hunstein, as well as the photographer responsible for the iconic David Bowie “Aladdin Sane” album cover, Brian Duffy.
    7 to 10 p.m. April 27, Modern Rocks Gallery, Canopy, 916 Springdale Road modernrocksgallery.com

    “Prima Materia” and “These Our Precious Scars”
    In ICOSA Collective’s gallery in the Pump Project building, Alyssa Taylor Wendt and Erin Cunningham collaborate on an exhibition, “These Our Precious Scars” of sculpture, photography and installation investigating imperfection, longevity, hope and revealing seams. And for the Pump Project Gallery, the two curate “Prima Materia.” The ICOSA exhibit is the collective’s last in their Pump Project space.
    Opening: 7 to 10 p.m. April 27. Exhibits continue through May 18. Pump Project, 702 Shady Lane

    Preservation Austin annual homes tour: “Into the Woods”
    The midcentury Central East Austin neighborhoods of Cherrywood, Delwood and Wilshire Wood are the focus of this year’s tour. Read: “A Midcentury, Midtown History Worth Preserving.”
    10 to 4 p.m. April 28 preservationaustin.org

    “Krista Steinke: Good Luck With the Sun”
    With video and experimental photographic processes, Krista Steinke explores the physical and psychological impact of our greatest energy source.
    Opening: 7 to 9 p.m. April 28. Women & Their Work, 1701 Lavaca St.

    Austin Short Short Fiction Festival 
    Elisabet Ney Museum

    Miscarriages, Monarchies, and Marginalized Communities

      Still from "The Unwaged," a video work by Rodrigo Valenzuela. On exhibit at Art League Houston as part of Fotofest 2018. All photos courtesy Art League Houston and the artists.

      Art League Houston’s trio of current exhibitions — running in conjunction with the 2018 Fotofest Biennial — all touch upon nuanced and often overlooked cultural issues.

      Here’s a critical rundown of each which are on view through May 5.

      “Just Relax”

      “Just Relax” serves as a nod to the sage advice given to those trying to conceive, and offers a kind of sarcastic license for Houston-based artist Britt Thomas to explore the harsh road to parenthood. The exhibition navigates Thomas’s experience with infertility, loss, and IVF treatments, though she notes that this is just the beginning in a line of work inspired by childlessness.

      As Thomas acknowledges in the show description, roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage or stillbirth, with 10-12% of the population suffering from infertility. Yet routinely, this reality goes without discussion, deemed either too precious or too private to hash out. Those looking to conceive are often disregarded and the trauma that stems from the extremity of the decisions that come into play when trying to create a biological family is viewed as insignificant. (Perhaps because they are decisions, our culture is rendered confused when trying to find empathy versus pity when confronting these circumstances.)

      Britt Thomas, “Stimming Stomach,” 2017, 14 x 24 inches, print

      Thomas doesn’t shy away from letting her path towards motherhood be ugly. “Just Relax” employs a selection of media that depict the gory reality of IVF — a stomach bruised and bleeding from “stim” treatments (designed to stimulate the ovaries for optimal egg production); the wide array of used needles, patches, and injections endured over a long IVF round; the self portrait taken during a miscarriage. Thomas brings pain to the forefront in “Just Relax.” As she longs for a family, she fantasizes about the mundane tasks that would have occupied her days as a mother. Some of these scenes are found in vintage illustrations by the artist, frozen in ice, photographed, and printed on aluminum to represent the future plans that still have yet to materialize.

      Alongside the gallery’s back wall Thomas places four rocking chairs, painted black, accompanied by audio that tells two stories: one a lullaby for the potential child that Thomas is envisioning at the end of her fertility treatments; the other, an ethereal dirge for a fetus that no longer has a heartbeat.

      “Just Relax” is uncomfortable to witness because the work is so intimately personal to the artist. And the exhibit depends on a level of vulnerability that audiences must embrace in order to study the work.

      Nevertheless Thomas acutely touches upon a sincere anxiety that permeates our society, no matter what side of parenthood you find yourself on, and begs a distinct question: what is family really worth?

       

      “Makeover Kingdom”

      Cobra McVey’s “Makeover Kingdom” at the Art League Houston

      Lodged in the Art League’s transitional gallery (also known as the hallway between classrooms), Houston-based artist Cobra McVey is holding court.

      “Makeover Kingdom” depicts a fantastical monarchy in a futuristic realm. McVey constructs a king and his minions, but instead of traditional regalia, these alien entities are comprised of found objects, often from thrift stores, in bright, consumer-friendly colors.

      McVey’s sculptures are playful, flirtatious, and eccentric. A flower-studded foam donut wearing a tutu is transformed to play the role of “Princess.” Gold-painted condiment containers with blue gemstones compose the king’s crown. “The Jester” dons a pink afro wig that sits jauntily atop a filing folder.

      The sculptures express notes of their royal identity, with manifestations of finery but McVey’s work is as much a rendering of vaulted social status as it is an indictment on our current frivolous materialism. It’s an easily digested, smartly executed vision of a specific future that, for all its humor, provides a sobering perspective on human consumption.

      “The Unwaged”

      Los Angelos-based artist Rodrigo Valenzuela exposes the inequity in undocumented labor forces in his two video works, “The Unwaged” and “Prole.”

      The exhibition’s eponymous piece depicts a loosely organized crowd of workers, edited to appear in the same darkened room. The individuals rock and shake slightly with gazes that never hover much above chin level.

      It’s unknown if this was direction offered by Valenzuela or if adopted by the subjects independently but it feels disjointed as the cameras linger and weave to find new focus within the crowd. It’s behavior that would translate more concretely to a performance, when you can feel the body tension ebb and flow, but collectively, it renders a kind of haphazard tick to the group. While Valenzuela dictates time with the subject based on their length of time spent in underpaid positions, we never get a good sense of their individual experiences.

      “Prole,” however, presents almost a polar opposite viewing experience. Labor crew members commit to an informal discussion that results in a loose game of soccer while detailing their careers. Some express a kind of retaliation against the stereotypes that have been placed upon them (one comments that he works like a “white man” not like a Mexican), while others voice opinions of equitable capability without representation parity in the leadership roles.

      “Prole” illuminates a dynamic brightness of personhood that feels obscured in “The Unwaged.”

      Yet together, Valenzuela’s videos nod at the wars we wage actively — on drugs, against immigrants, against the working class — and those that we allow to continue passively: Wars which hold the potential to be even more detrimental in the marginalization and exploitation of many communities.

      A Midcentury, Midtown History Worth Preserving

        This striking midcentury modern 1957 house on Lullwood Road is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Wilshire Historic District. Photo by Joan Brook Photography.

        Across decades, the fortunes of a cluster of Central East Austin neighborhoods have reflected much of the city’s vision of itself — its midcentury post-war aspirations, the socio-economic barrier created by Interstate 35, and the long and increasingly disruptive presence of an airport in its midst.

        Cherrywood, Delwood and Wilshire Wood were relatively late in-fill neighborhoods, carved from tracts that remained rural well into Austin’s 20th-century development. But in the booming post-WWII decades, the trio of neighborhoods bloomed out of farm land and even became the site of Texas’ first auto-centric shopping center.

        Preservation Austin’s annual homes tour this year explores the Cherrywood, Delwood and Wilshire Wood neighborhoods. “Into the Woods” happens April 28 and features seven midcentury homes.

        “Into the Woods”
        10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28.
        Tickets: $25
        preservationaustin.org 

        “The city experienced rapid growth after the war,” says Preservation Austin Programs Director Lindsey Derrington, “and these homes have an important story to tell.”

        Unlike more stately homes of tours in years past, the middle-class midcentury houses highlighted this year are reflective of Preservation Austin’s priority to tell the story of the city as a whole.

        Says Derrington: “These houses look a lot more like the ones that we all live in, and hopefully that helps make a connection with our audience.”

        Though changes happened quickly in Central East Austin, the names of early landowners and later real estate speculators in the area — Giles, Schieffer, French, Dancy, Patterson — are still reflected on today’s map.

        Tour participants might not be able to enjoy a peach from Nye Patterson’s orchard, grab a chocolate pecan turtle from Lammes Candy#3 at Delwood Shopping Center, or canoodle at the old oak at where Cherrywood meets 38th ½ street without risking injury at the busy four-way stop, but they can learn how these small histories and many more underlie an area that is now central to Austin’s urban identity.

        A map describing the Cherrywood neighborhood and some of its pre-WWII farms, refers to the area as Maplewood, after the local elementary school. Courtesy Cherrywood Neighborhood Association.

        Cherrywood

        Cherrywood is a relatively recent coinage, comprising a number of subdivision names and identities that grew out of farms, dairy land, and cotton fields of the 19th and early 20th century.

        What is commonly called French Place (not an actual legal subdivision name appearing on city records) was platted into city lots before WWII in a series of small subdivisions called Forest Hills, Nowlin Heights, Lafayette Place, University Park, and Avalon by early owner-developers like Payton Nowlin, Lucy Dancy and J.H. and Olivia French.

        Lucy Dancy named many streets in honor of her family’s New Orleans roots, and no one is sure if French Place derives from that or the surname French.

        Hollywood Avenue resident Billie Crawford, now in her 80s, lives in the house her father built with hand tools in 1933, on a University Park lot that her mother won with a $1 lottery ticket purchased on Congress Avenue.

        “This was nothing but a dirt road,” she says of her car-lined street.

        She recollects catching baby possums and cutting the family Christmas tree in deep woodlands she calls The Uplands, indicating an area east of hers, near today’s Cherrywood and 38th ½ streets.

        Still standing at that intersection is a large oak that was known as a rendezvous point and Lover’s Lane.

        The large Giles and Schieffer family parcels north of what is now 38 ½ street didn’t see significant development until after WWII, when Bascom Giles turned his holdings and other acquired land into housing for returning GIs.

        The Walter Schieffer family gave over a grazing pasture from their large dairy operations to become Maplewood Elementary campus in 1951 and sold other land near their homestead at Brookview and Vineland to developer Perry Jones, who created the Willow Brook and Schieffer Place subdivisions.

        Two Cherrywood homes on the tour conform to PA’s midcentury focus this year:  a modest 1960 ranch style on French Place (Forest Hills), renovated by architects Rick and Cindy Black, and a 1950 ranch on Brookview (in Schieffer Place), built originally for the owners of the Walker Tire Company.  Both maintain original features while opening up and expanding living spaces and utilizing sustainable systems.

        A renovated 1960 ranch on French Place is on this year’s Preservation Austin tour. Photo by Joan Brook Photography.

        Delwood(s)

        Most iconic of Bascom Giles’ many projects are the two-story concrete block and stucco duplexes built in 1948 as affordable housing after WWII.

        A 1949 aerial view of the Delwood III duplexes. East 38 1/2 Street is runs horizontal on the bottom of the photograph. Photo by Neal Douglass, courtesy the Austin History Center.

        Platted as Delwood III, “Duplex Nation” is bounded by Maplewood, Kirkwood, Ashwood, and Wrightwood.  Each has an upstairs and downstairs 2/1 unit, steel casement windows, and unadorned exteriors that vary only with porch and roof details.

        The construction of Interstate 35 in the 1950s impacted all of East Austin, and neighborhoods near the expanding airport fell out of favor.  The duplexes became an affordable mecca for bohemians, graduate students, and other young Austin renters for decades.

        They attained National Historic Register designation in 2011 as a nearly wholly intact period development. Like all of central Austin, they are prime real estate today, having seen a steady climb in value and desirability since the airport’s relocation in 1999.

        One Duplex Nation resident reports that upon waking on May 23, 1999, the morning after the last of any portable infrastructure of Robert Mueller Airport was trucked caravan style across town to Bergstrom, she heard birdsong for the first time in her many years in the apartment.

        At the last minute, Preservation Austin was able to add a duplex apartment on the tour, thanks to Barkley Houses who own many units in the area.

        This duplex is on the tour, courtesy of Barkley Homes.

        Bascom Giles’ Delwood II development — north of Airport Boulevard and bordered by the old Mueller airport on the north and east — and Giles Place — south of 38 ½ and east of Cherrywood — were similarly constructed concrete block one-story homes with metal casement windows and clean lines, built for postwar families of moderate means.

        This one-story stucco house on Bentwood Road is in the Delwood II neighborhood. Photo by Casey Woods Photography.

        Their proximity to the growing airport probably saved them as intact neighborhoods.  As original householders moved out and they became primarily rental units or first-time buyer homes, they suffered few alterations or demolitions.  Since Mueller’s new incarnation, the desirability of these areas has again flourished and the three homes on Bentwood Road in Delwood II on the PA tour this year are all architect-owned and redesigned.

        The Bentwood homes of Camille Jobe and Ada Corral of Jobe Corral Architects and that of Moontower Design Build’s owner are all featured.  Their polished renovations maintain the midcentury feel and integrity of their original designs, while updating and expanding the footprint of these small homes in innovative ways.

        Wilshire Wood

        More ambitious was the development of Wilshire Wood on former Giles family land.  Contiguous with the Giles’ own Delwood III development, but a light year away in terms of style and aspiration, Wilshire Wood was developed by Walling, Bradfield, and Brush, the firm behind posh Pemberton Heights in West Austin.

        They sold it as the Tarrytown of East Austin, for “gentle folk of limited budget but of unlimited good taste,” with streets winding through “virgin forest,” and rigid restrictions as to size, lot orientation and architectural control.

        An Austin American Statesman ad of May 1941 inviting prospective buyers of lots in the new Wilshire Wood to park and stroll the foot path through a Peter Pan Fairyland.

        While a few home sites were sold before the war, most construction in Wilshire Wood and adjacent Wilshire Park occurred between 1946 and 1957.  Large lots were developed with sprawling one-story Cordova limestone or brick veneer homes with low-pitched roofs.

        Wilshire remains one of the most intact historic residential neighborhoods in Austin and attained National Historic Register status with 85% of its homes contributing to its historic integrity.  The lack of sidewalks and fences enhances the meandering, park-like feel of the neighborhood promoted from its earliest days.

        Two Wilshire Woods home are on the tour.  A 1952 showplace at the top of Ardenwood Road, once the home of a UT zoologist and geneticist, was saved from demolition by its current owner who made extensive renovations and added a Palm Springs style pool.

        A 1957 home on Lullwood Road was one of the last constructed in Wilshire Wood, and distinguishes itself with a sweeping angled roof and expansive windows, giving stunning views of the neighborhood below.  Granted an exception to the strict neighborhood covenants, owner Merle LaRue Olsen — of the Southern Investment Company and Olson Motors in downtown Austin — designed the house himself, working with a local builder.

        The owner’s midcentury modern furnishings look perfectly in place in this 1957 Lullwood residence. Photo by Joan Brook Photography.

        The current owner’s stylish vintage midcentury furnishings, art, and light fixtures complement its retro aesthetic, including a sunken tub with original tile.

        A Man of Conviction — And Plenty of Parking

        Bascom Giles, to whom so much of the neighborhood development is credited, was Texas Land Commissioner from 1939 until being convicted of bribery and fraud in the infamous Veterans’ Land Board scandal in 1955.  The scheme involved the board’s use of veterans’ signatures, without their knowledge or consent, to acquire land under the G.I. Bill.

        Though it’s speculated that his ill-gotten gains could have gone into Austin development projects, none were associated with the veteran land scheme.  He served 3 years in the penitentiary in Huntsville and repaid some $80,000 in civil judgments brought against him.

        Whatever the source of its funding, the 1951 Delwood Shopping Center was the crowning glory in his vision for postwar Austin.  Sleek and modern, it was the first auto-centric shopping development of its kind in Austin, indeed in Texas.

        A 1951 newspaper article about the opening of the Delwood Center reported that “to insure adequate parking space, even in peak periods of trade, more than 12 acres have been reserved as a parking area.”

        It boasted parking for 1000 cars, with a breezeway and covered walk that insured a customer “need travel no more than a maximum of 50 feet in the open to reach his car.”  Opening day festivities included the give-away of a 16” television and 5 portable radios, kiddie rides on a midway and a ribbon cutting ceremony.

        Checkerfront Grocery #19, Delwood Pharmacy (with a soda fountain), Lammes Candy #3, Winn’s Variety Store, a dry cleaner and “washatorium,” dentist and doctor office suites, Studer’s Photography, a beauty shop, a barber shop, Lad and Lassie Children’s shop, and Capital Seed House #2 (which became Howard’s Nursery) were original or early tenants.

        Delwood Shopping Center, Oct 1953. Only the sign remains, now relocated. Photo by Neal Douglass, courtesy the Austin History Center.

        In 1990, the center was demolished to become a large Fiesta market and surrounding utilitarian businesses of far less charm, but the original sign was retained and moved to the south side fronting 38 ½ street, near what was once a drive-in theater.

        Living on Mueller Time

        The Austin airport began operations in 1930 on land purchased from the—you guessed it—Giles family, and has played a huge role in the fates of these neighborhoods over time.

        As Wilshire Wood prepared its debut as a “Peter Pan Fairyland,” flight operations at nearby Mueller expanded in 1940.  By threat of eminent domain, the city acquired Nye Patterson’s fruit orchards to build a larger municipal airport.

        Mr. Patterson reportedly wept as his beloved plum and peach trees were ripped out against his wishes, and the park on Airport Blvd that now bears his name was set aside in his honor.

        The airport’s proximity kept values down for its neighbors until nearly 20 years ago, when operations moved to Bergstrom.  Since then, the sky’s been the limit, not just for new construction but for the original homes in this ideally located central location.

        Now a master-planned, transit-oriented urban oasis, Mueller is at the heart of what many consider the New Austin. Amidst cheek-to-jowl large bungalow-style homes, greenbelt trails and lakes, retail development, health campuses, and cultural venues, the historic Browning Hangar (headquarters for PA’s spring tour) and the former air traffic control tower stand as its remaining landmarks.

        Restored to its original blue color, the Mueller Tower awaits historic zoning. Photo by Paul Licce Photography.

        The Austin Historic Landmark Commission voted just last February to give historic zoning to the tower to recognize its role in Austin’s aviation history, to preserve its award-winning midcentury design by renowned Austin modernists Arthur Fehr and Charles Granger, and to potentially make it open to the public, if accessibility issues can be addressed.

        At present, barn owls are its only occupants.

        Creek Show 2018 Installations Revealed

        Creek Show 2018 design "Parabolus" by AOD

        The Waller Creek Conservancy has announced the six design teams selected to create installations for Creek Show 2018, the fifth annual iteration of the enormously popular temporary display of illuminated art works along a stretch of Waller Creek in downtown.

        The six teams were selected out of 50 entries submitted through an open call.

        Creek Show also moves upstream this year, with installation installed between Ninth and Eleventh streets.

        The free event will run 6 to 10 p.m. nightly Nov. 9-17. wallercreek.org

        "Amedo Beta: by Polis

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        Pease Park Conservancy Names New Executive Director

        Heath RIddles

        The Pease Park Conservancy has named Heath Riddles as its new executive director.

        Riddles joined the Pease Park Conservancy as CEO this month

        Mostly recently Riddles comes to the Conservancy from The Hispanic Alliance where he was pice president of fund development and communications.

        Over the last 18 years, he has helped raise millions of dollars for local organizations. He has held senior leadership positions at Equality Texas and the Long Center for Performing Arts as senior director of marketing and communications. He also did a brief tour on the agency side of communications as a director at Elizabeth Christian Public Relations.

        Prior to his work in the non-profit sector, Riddles was a television news producer in Austin and in Oklahoma City. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma.

        He has served on the boards of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, The Hispanic Alliance, and Waterloo Counseling Center. Riddles is also a member of the Sightlines advisory council.

        Last year Pease Park Conservancy received a $9.7 million grant from the Houston-based Moody Foundation for the first phase of the Pease Park Master Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for the park’s restoration and the enhancement of its cultural and natural features.

        Sightlines celebrates its first donor party

        On April 15, Sightlines celebrated its first donor party, an afternoon toast to those who contributed to the launch campaign.

        Sightlines launched on Nov. 10, 2017 and the launch campaign brought in $22,000. In the five months since its launch, Sightlines has published 115 articles and built a roster of 14 contributing writers.

        Held at Grayduck Gallery, which graciously donated its space, the donor party welcomed about 125 people who enjoyed beverages by event donor Dripping Springs Vodka, Topo Chico and Friends & Allies Brewery.

        Thanks to everyone who came!

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        Unexpected Elegance in the Landscape: Catherine Lee’s “The Ney Project”

          Catherine Lee's bronze sculpture "Constant Sorrow" on the grounds of the historic Elisabet Ney Museum. All photos courtesy of the artist.

          When Catherine Lee’s angled bronze sculptures appeared in February on the grounds of the Elisabet Ney Museum, adjacent the historic Hyde Park castle-esque limestone building, they delivered a splash of modernity.

          Lee’s dramatic, dark pieces dot the museum’s western flank, including one located a quick jaunt across Waller Creek. Together with some of the artist’s smaller works on display inside, the outdoor sculptures form “The Ney Project,” a temporary exhibit at the city-operated museum. On view through May 6, Lee’s exhibit is one of several initiatives in the last several years that has seen work by contemporary women artists spotlighted at the Elisabet Ney Museum, the former studio and home of the boundary-breaking 19th-century German artist who settled in Austin

          Last year Lee’s “Hebrides #6 Clach An Trushal” was installed on the Ney Museum grounds, a long-time loan from the Contemporary Austin where it’s part of the permanent collection.

          The surfaces of Lee’s bronze rewards close viewing. Lee, who spent decades in New York, now works in a studio outside Wimberley, is also a painter, and her bronze works reveal a painterly touch, for the non-obvious reason that she does, in fact, paint them.

          Just as Ney made waves in Texas by making sculptures of famous men in a male-dominated era and profession, Lee has made a career within a genre of art bloated with men like Donald Judd and Richard Serra.

          At least as best as one can paint on bronze.

          “It’s like painting with fire,” Lee explains in an East Austin coffee house. The sculptures have gone from a series of progressively bigger and bigger models, arriving finally at bronze shapes the size of a respectable boulder, when Lee dons protective gear and prepares to paint. “It’s closer to etching, actually. She heats up the metal surface of the piece with an oversize propane heater, then dips a brush in acid and makes her mark.

          “It just goes psshhaaaawwwww,” she says. Sparks fly, there’s smoke, and the acid reveals colors buried below the surface of the metal, or as Lee describes it, “summoning colors out of the bronze. It’s sort of like rusting.”

          In the oxidation process, unlike with rusting steel, the chemistry of the bronze can reveal a much wider palette. At the Elisabet Ney Museum, the result is dark metal structures laced with wispy cloud-like brush strokes rendered in a coppery green.

          Catherine Lee, “Constant Trial,” bronze.

          There’s plenty of art in Texas’ Hill Country, a lot of it tends to be of the folk or decorative variety. Out there Lee has few peers when it comes to examining back catalogues and a litany of shows in France, Germany, Ireland, New York and San Francisco. Unlike her former home in New York, where there are hundreds, if not thousands, of gallery shows each month, and a cohort of artists who swim in that milieu, there is no one in the immediate vicinity who has such a history with the minimalism, no one, Lee says, she is “in direct dialogue with.”

          Yet there are friends and artists in Austin and the Hill Country, with whom she can talk art. And in any case, Lee says, after commuting for years between Manhattan and Texasgetting out of the metropolis of American art — though a fraught decision — was also why she decided to come back to Texas.

          Keeping a base in New York, “seemed to be really necessary at the time,” Lee says. “There are things you can’t do in Manhattan. You can’t fire a kiln legally!” (She did anyway, of course, it was just that her co-op’s neighbors didn’t quite approve.)

          “I like New York, and I miss New York, but I’m not one of those people who loves New York.”

          Wimberley — or, to be specific, miles past it, along the Blanco River — is the opposite kind of space. Here, for her kiln, Lee built an entire building, open on its sides, keeping embers from drifting out with a mesh screen. “You don’t want to be the one that burned down Texas.”

          Maybe it was the constriction of Manhattan that lent Lee to such an appreciation of Texas’ open spaces. “A lot of my work is about things that are found,” she says.

          A piece of pottery buried in the Texas dirt, or the monolithic oddness of stones she saw in Scotland. Her art seems to follow a systematic process, and often involves making multiples. She says: “Pretty much everything I do is serial. That’s how I make order out of chaos.”

          The serial nature plays out in her grid paintings, her series of wall sculptures which evoke the curves of arrowheads or pottery shards. In both she plays with line and color held in by a repeated shape. Yet the source material is tangential to the work she produces. It’s abstraction, not the thing itself.

          One of her square grid paintings, she says might evoke “the way the dirt smelled when she was a child,” in the Texas panhandle. She finds some irony in New York sculptors evoking the land when there is precious little of it around. >

          At the Ney, Lee’s “Hebrides #6 Clach An Trushal,” named after the tallest standing stone in Scotland, is an elegant, yet intense, structure, somehow unexpected in the landscape. Feeling at once alien — with its too-clean surface and wispy brush strokes — and a kind of witness to the landscape, one which is now being changed by its weather and surroundings.

          The other, smaller works are more recent works, playful, clever variations of the crinkled rock-like form, which reveal small alterations and decisions as the viewer walks around it.

          Catherine Lee’s smaller works on view inside the Elisabet Ney Museum.

          Lee is an ideal fit for the Ney. Just as Ney made waves in Texas by making sculptures (of famous men) in a male-dominated era and profession, Lee has made a career within a genre of art bloated with men like Donald Judd and Richard Serra.

          Lee keeps many of her modes of working in the mix, even decades later. She might make more grid paintings, for instance. “I keep dropping threads and picking them up.”

          And yet she does not want to look too hard at why she makes the work she makes. “I try not to identify an M.O.”

          Still, though Lee says is a fierce editor of her work, she is also able to return to these works years later.

          “I’ll make anything and smash it with a hammer, ‘cause it’s not right, but I won’t do that 20 years later.”

          She’s moved on.

          “The Ney Project” continues through May 6. The grounds are open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The museum is open 12 noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Admission is free. austintexas.gov/Elisabetney

           

          Austin Arts Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Announced

          Anuradha Naimpally (left) and Kathy Dunn Hamrick.

          The Austin Critics’ Table has announced its annual round of inductees to the Austin Arts Hall of Fame. Those honored have all served Austin’s cultural community for many years.

          The 2018 honorees are:

          Norman Blumensaadt, company founder and artistic director of Different Stages Theatre

          Kathy Dunn Hamrick, choreographer and company founder of Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company

          Michael and Jeanne Klein, philanthropists, advocates and board members for organizations that include the Blanton Museum of Art, The Contemporary Austin, Ransom Center, University of Texas Press and Humanities Texas, among others.

          Anuradha Naimpally educator and company founder Austin Dance India

          Inductees will be celebrated 7 p.m. June 4 at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd.  Following the inductions, the arts critics group will give out its awards for the 2017-2018 season. The event is free.

          The Critics’ Table is an informal group of Austin arts critics.