by Myrna Zanetell
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Kress expert to revamp
Art Museum collection
In September 2017, the El Paso Museum of Art welcomed Elizabeth Dwyer as the Kress Interpretive Fellow, a position in which she will share her expertise for 10 months on behalf of the museum’s Kress Collection.
The collection consists of works donated to the museum in 1961 from the Kress Foundation, which distributed about 3,100 works of art nationwide from the collection started by founder of Kress stores. The El Paso Kress store was a long-time leader among the national chain of stores, and therefore the city received a particularly generous donation of 57 works, which has now grown to 59.
“One of the benefits of having been gifted with a portion of the Kress Collection is that the Kress Foundation provides on-going support in the form of free conservation and restoration of the collection,” El Paso Museum of Art Senior Curator Patrick Shaw Cable explained.
“Additionally, they also offer a program which allows museums to apply for Kress Interpretive Fellowships. EPMA Director Victoria Ramirez suggested we look into this opportunity, and our application was approved in late summer. Once we were awarded these funds, it was up to our museum staff to choose a recipient. Following a nationwide search, based upon her qualifications, Elizabeth Dwyer became our final choice.”
Dwyer is a perfect example of the rewards of exposing children to the fine arts at an early age.
“When we were young, my mom often took my sister and me to museums, visits which we called ‘vacation days.’ By the time I was 13, I had decided that I wanted to work in a museum so that I could create these same days for others.”
The Southern California native pursued this vision as an Ackerman Scholar, earning a BA in Art History at UCLA with a minor in Italian. She completed internships at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which affirmed her interest in Italian art of the Renaissance period. Dwyer continued her education by earning a MA and PhD in Renaissance Art and Architecture as a Presidential Fellow at the University of Virginia, graduating in August 2017.
“With the conferral of my doctorate I was eager to share my knowledge of this field with others,” Dwyer said. “I am so fortunate in having the EPMA select me as their Interpretive Fellow. I arrived in El Paso in mid-September 2017, and in the coming months my assignment is to completely reinterpret and reinstall the museum’s Samuel H. Kress Collection of European Art encompassing 59 superlative works of art. It’s a tremendous project, one that I am honored to undertake with the aid and insight of my colleges here at the EPMA.”
Regarding her vision for the collection, Dwyer said, “In the process of reinterpreting the collection, I will look at the works, rethinking the stories we want to tell and the stories these pieces tell us.”
Works in the European collection span the time frame of more than five centuries. The oldest painting is a Madonna? and child created in the last half of the 13th century, while the most recent were painted in the 1700s. This includes the famous Bellotto work, “Entrance to a Palace,” 1762-1765.
“One of the most remarkable things is the sheer number of Christian works in the collection – 36 out of the 59 pieces,” she said. “For this reason, my approach will be to rehang the works using three themes: Gallery 1, ‘Madonna and child’; Gallery 2, ‘Saints and sacred stories’ and Gallery 3, ‘Rise of secular art.’ As opposed to religious themes, paintings in this (last) category include portraiture, as well as pastoral, mythical and architectural landscapes.”
Cable, the museum’s senior curator, added, “It has been years since these paintings were originally installed. Currently the works are hung in chronological order according to the time period in which they were created without any further explanation. The themes Elizabeth has chosen should make the collection more engaging and will hopefully give up a better opportunity to reconnect with the public to remind them how important these works really are.”
Dwyer echoes this intent. “When it comes to his interest in art, Samuel Kress was remarkable. His initial goal was to collect one piece by each of the artists named in Giorgio Vasari’s the ‘Lives of Painters, Sculptors and Architects.’ Over time he expanded this scope to include art that extended into the 18th century. All told, he built a collection containing 3,100 objects which he distributed to more than 90 museums, universities and public institutions. The largest gift was more than 1,800 pieces of art to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.”
As part of this project, the El Paso Museum of Art’s European galleries will be closed in early March and will reopen on May 3.
“In anticipation of closing these areas,” Dwyer said, “I’ve been working with the curatorial staff in planning several themed exhibitions drawn from our permanent collection.”
The first, which opened Dec 14, is titled “O Holy Night: The Nativity in Renaissance Italy.” It explores how the nativity story was told 500 ago. “We have some beautiful nativity scenes, which relate to a small Franciscan devotional called the ‘Meditations on the Life of Christ,’ the first illustrated, printed book in Italy. It was a bestseller at the time,” she explained.
The second, “Mystics, Martyrs and Almsgivers, Celebrating Lent Through the Centuries”, which focuses on the penitential season of Lent, will open Feb. 1.
Those interested in learning more about the Kress Collection can go to the Foundation website, www.kressfoundation.org and select the heading “Browse the collection,” where you will find an alphabetical listing of cities that received Kress artwork. It also allows you to bring up a picture of the artwork. The EPMA website: www.elpasoartmuseum.org also offers photos of the works in the museum’s permanent collection.
In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the El Paso Holocaust Museum and the El Paso Jewish Federation Film Series present a screening of “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” Sunday, Jan. 28, at Alamo Drafthouse. The presentation will begin with remarks at 2 p.m.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is Jan. 27, and marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945. The commemoration seeks to honor all who perished and suffered, and to sustain the memory of those events.
“The People vs. Fritz Bauer” is the true story of one man whose pursuit of justice leads to the capture of the infamous Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi criminal responsible for the deportation and ultimately the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children in Auschwitz.
Tickets are $10 ($6 for seniors, students and military). To purchase tickets, send a check to the Jewish Federation, 7110 N. Mesa, El Paso, TX 79912. To purchase by credit card, contact Brenda Ehrlich at 203-3334.
Tom Lea at Marcus Gallery
Hal Marcus has announced that his gallery at 1308 N. Oregon now represents the art of Tom Lea.
“We have 26 originals and 13 signed prints by Tom Lea spanning from the 1930s to the 1990s. We have watercolors, drawings, oils and a good selection of signed prints. This collection is from the James Lea Estate via the Tom Lea Institute,” Marcus explained.
Tom Lea (1907-2001) is El Paso’s most famous artist, famed not only for his paintings, but also his wartime work for Life magazine and also as author of two books that were made into movies.
“Some of these works have been published in books and some have never been seen before,” Marcus said. “They can be viewed on our website, www.halmarcus.com, by clicking ‘Early El Paso’ in the ‘Artwork’ tab. Scroll down until you see his name.
Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts.
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