The small West Texas town of Albany might be not be the first place you would expect to find a first-rate yet small art museum with an ongoing series of adventurous contemporary projects.
The Old Jail Art Center (OJAC) first opened in 1980 in the first jail built in Shackelford County, two hours west of Fort Worth. Built in 1877, the historic jail remains the anchor of what is now a 17,000-square-foot modern museum complex with two additions and a sculpture courtyard.
Rugged and remote as the surrounding area is (the museum considers its core audience coming from 25 rural counties), the region nevertheless has wealthy oil and ranching families who over the years have made gifts of art and of money.
Now, marquee artists in OJAC’s collection include Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Moore, John Marin, Alexander Calder and Grant Wood, among others. The museum has an excellent collection of paintings by the mid-century Fort Worth Circle artists, as well as a good-sized gathering of the group known as the Taos Moderns. Its Asian art collections is one of the best in the state and there’s a diverse pre-Columbian collection.
Patrick Kelly is the museum’s executive director and curator of exhibitions. In 2008, he launched the Cell Series, an exhibition program that spotlights contemporary Texas artists. Artists are invited to devise site-specific exhibitions of the work in the historic jail building.
“I think visitors (from out of town) come here and expect to see only western or cowboy art, and then are surprised when they see what we have,” says Kelly.
“It’s always a balancing act in a place like Albany, ” says Kelly, of appeasing small town tastes while making a bridge to the contemporary art scene. “You have to respect the past and what’s already here while also bringing in what’s new.”
An artist himself, and a native Texan, Kelly was raised in Lubbock. He received a BFA from the University of North Texas in Denton and an MFA from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth where for several years, Kelly was a studio assistant for noted artist Vernon Fischer. Kelly landed in Albany in 1997, thinking he and his wife, Amy Kelly, would just be there for a couple of years. Several decades and two grown children later, Kelly is deep in (Amy is the museum’s registrar), living literally a block from the museum. A studio behind his home allows him to balance a busy artistic practice of his own with his museum career.
Recently the Old Jail Art Center received a gift of work by Texas artists — the Art Guys, Earl Staley, Joseph Havel, Kirk Hayes, Sam Gummelt, Mel Zielger, and Trenton Doyle Hancock — from the estate of Dallas art collector Sonny Burt.
Upcoming exhibitions include one that spotlights Houston-based painter Francesa Fuchs as well as the installation of a monumental sculpture by famed German artist Anselm Kiefer, a submarine made of lead that lies scuppered on a sea-floor of concrete.
Kelly took time to respond to our Sightlines Questionnaire.
Describe Albany in three words.
Small, rural, supportive
How would you describe the arts community Albany?
The arts have been, and continue to be, very important to Albany, Texas and are an integral part of the culture and activities in our small community of 2,000 people. Albany has a long history of producing many talented individuals representing the visual and performing arts. Their legacy continues not only through the Old Jail Art Center (OJAC), but through the “Fandangle” — an annual outdoor musical performance based on the history of our region of Texas that has been performed for over 80 years. Music, dance, and theatre are alive and well in our community.
Who are your favorite local artists in Albany? What are your favorite local galleries or arts institutions?
Despite the fact that there are only 2,000 residents in Albany, there are a few contemporary artists that do live and work here… including myself. (Wish there were more!) Sculptor Joe Barrington maintains a studio in Albany and Throckmorton, Texas and produces steel figurative work that is always impressive. Regardless of the fact that the OJAC is the only visual art institution, it gets my vote as favorite. With a collection of over 2,300 objects, the art outnumbers the population.
What do you value most about your work?
I value the fact that we support and promote Texas artists by providing a venue for them to share their artwork and visions within an art institution. On occasion, we have the opportunity to purchase works by these artists for the permanent collection for future generations to see. In return, audiences that may have never been in a museum are able to experience art that they have likely never encountered.
What do you consider your greatest career achievement so far?
Periodically, I am able to show works of art by artists that haven’t received the recognition they deserve. Being able to show a body of quality work, that may have been overlooked or forgotten, does give me a sense of achievement. Admittedly though, it’s not really my achievement since they did all the work.
What do you do on a day off?
I make art.
How do you want the statewide arts community to evolve?
This is a less than poetic, and somewhat regional illustration, but the arts community is kind of like Texas’ soil. It’s comprised of multiple layers of artists, collectors, museums/art centers, galleries, and donors — each of these having their own strata. Supporting Texas artists by buying their work and providing exposure opportunities is like rain on a dry prairie… everything below benefits.
What part of the pandemic were you surprised to find being a creative benefit?
During the pandemic shutdowns, many museums were forced to shift their outreach to various digital platforms to provide access to their collections, exhibitions, and working artists. Given the OJAC’s remote location, we were already providing virtual content to numerous families and schools. Since our digital delivery platforms were already in place and being successfully utilized, we concentrated on improvement and deeper dives into the art and artists rather than scrambling to learn how to do the technical stuff.
Where is one place in Texas you want to go but haven’t been?
I’ve never been south of Marfa to the Big Bend region. I’ve made several attempts to do so, but my plans keep getting interrupted.
The Old Jail Art Center is located at 201 S. Second St. in Albany, Texas. It is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closed on major holidays. Admission is always free. ojac.org