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UNT Insider | August 2011 issue | Research project uncovers rich history of artists from Wichita Falls area

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Research project uncovers rich history of artists from Wichita Falls area

From a UNT News Service press release


Painting by Frank Tenney Johnson

Painting by Frank Tenney Johnson

Three graduate students and a professor at UNT embarked on a project to find artists who lived or worked in the Wichita Falls area before 1970 -- and they uncovered a rich artistic history that they hope will inspire local school children.

Expecting to find about a half dozen artists from the area, the researchers instead discovered about 65 artists, including nationally prominent artists such as syndicated comic strip artist Leslie Turner and Western artist Frank Tenney Johnson.

The students and D. Jack Davis, director of UNT's North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts, selected about 15 artists from the 65 and wrote a five-lesson curriculum unit about the artists who documented the life, land and culture around them. The UNT researchers conducted two teacher workshops in June 2011 to introduce Wichita Falls-area teachers to the units. The teachers will in turn take the lessons back to their students.

"We hope the teachers get across to the students that their community has a rich cultural heritage, and the students then think, 'If those artists can do that, I can do that too,'" Davis says.

The research project began in January in collaboration with the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at Midwestern State University. The researchers culled through newspaper clippings and photographs in the Wichita Falls Art Association's archives, looked at web sources, referred to the book Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists by John and Deborah Powers, and looked through Midwestern State University's course catalogs from the 1920s through 1970s.

The curriculum is targeted to seventh grade but can be modified for upper elementary school grades or used in lower high school levels, the researchers say. The unit includes hands-on art lessons for students, such as creating storyboards as comic strip artist Turner did.

Davis and his students hope that students and teachers beyond Wichita Falls may feel inspired to use their example as a model for researching artists in their own areas.

"I think that students will find out that the investigative research is actually fun," says Cindy Hasio, one of the three art education doctoral students involved in the research. "You're like a detective finding clues, and you're interviewing people and getting more perspectives."

Many of the art works show the Wichita Falls landscape through red rock, sparse trees, sunflowers, purple thistle and cactus flowers. That documentation of land, life and culture will be valuable to students who have a wealth of information about the world online, but may not know as much about their communities, says doctoral student researcher Liz Langdon.

"Even if there is nobody of national prominence who comes from an area, there are still going to be artists who are going to be saying things that are interesting at least on a local level that will speak of the time and place," Langdon says. "Now, students have access to global information at their fingertips, but sometimes the stuff that is close is hidden."

Jennifer Hartman, another doctoral student researcher on the project, says the newly developed curriculum will help localize art for students used to studying Michelangelo and Picasso.

"We approach art from a very outside world -- looking at the great masters, and most of them came from places other than where we came from, with perspectives other than the ones we have," says Hartman, a former middle school teacher. "But I think the teachers will be inspired by this and likewise will inspire the students to represent their own culture and their own area."

Ellen Rossetti with UNT News Service can be reached at Ellen.Rossetti@unt.edu.

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August 2011

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