University of North Texas

UNT Insider | January 2012 issue | Laying the Foundation exhibition explores UNT's art roots

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Laying the Foundation exhibition explores UNT's art roots

From a UNT News Service press release


Artist Mabel Vandiver's artwork titled Landscape circa 1930 on loan from Fort Hays State University.

  • What: Laying the Foundation: UNT Art Faculty, 1890 -1970 -- A collection of work from past UNT art faculty members
  • When: Through Feb. 11
  • 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays
  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays
  • Where: UNT on the Square, 109 N. Elm St. on Denton's historic courthouse square
  • Cost: Free
  • Information: or 940-369-8257

UNT's venerable art program began with a drawing class around 1893 at what was then called Texas Normal College and Teachers Training Institute. Over the years, the program has matured into UNT's nationally respected College of Visual Arts and Design.

A new exhibition titled Laying the Foundation: UNT Art Faculty, 1890 - 1970 explores the roots of the visual arts program at UNT, looking at art works from early faculty members who provided the foundation for UNT's award-winning art programs.

"I have wanted to do something like this for a very long time," says D. Jack Davis, professor emeritus of art who retired in 2011 after 40 years at UNT, including several years as dean. "All of the years I was involved in administration in the arts program, I recognized that we had a rich legacy. We wouldn't be where we are today had we not had these faculty members building the program."

Robert Milnes, dean of the College of Visual Arts and Design, says great art schools develop traditions based on the creative efforts of generations of faculty and students.

"We all know that, but seldom have the opportunity to see the work and honor the people who dedicated their careers and talents to make something wonderful happen for their students and for the cultural enrichment of the community and nation," Milnes says. "Dr. D. Jack Davis' research and his own longtime commitment to the art, art education, art history and design programs at the University of North Texas are legendary in and of themselves. This extra effort at mining our collection and the collections of others to put together a show of this magnitude is yet another milestone in the future development of our renowned programs."

The exhibition is sponsored by the North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts, UNT's Institute for the Advancement of the Arts and the College of Visual Arts and Design.

"Over the years, many of the UNT art faculty participated significantly in the daily life of Denton and helped shape it in to the artistically rich and diverse community we enjoy today," says Herbert Holl, director of UNT on the Square and the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts. "For this reason, I am especially pleased that the community and university can share this common legacy here at UNT on the Square, in the heart of the city."

The earliest works available for the exhibition are by faculty member Martha Simkins, who taught at UNT from 1901 to 1906.

"When the Industrial Revolution occurred in this country, it was believed that every student needed to learn how to draw because those kinds of skills would help the U.S. produce better designed products that would be more competitive economically," Davis says.

As a result, normal schools across the country began to offer drawing classes, and UNT followed suit.

The exhibition also includes examples of publications by Cora Stafford, a legendary figure of the art program and the person for whom a gallery on campus was named. Stafford came to UNT in 1921 and remained on the faculty until 1964, the year of her death. Other works are by Carlos Merida, the world-renowned Guatemalan painter, and Gyorgy Kepes, an experimental photographer associated with members of Germany's Bauhaus, a famous art school that began in 1919 and continued until it was closed by the Nazi regime in the 1930s.

Still others in the exhibition are Lorraine Estelle Berger, Claudia Webb Betti, Carl Benton Compton, Michael Eugene Cunningham, Richard Miller Davis, Rudolph Fuchs, Ray Gough, Wilfred Higgins, James Jefferson Johnson, Flossie Kyser, Richard Harlow Laing, Georgia Belle Leach-Gough, Corinne Marquis, Mickey Story McCarter, William McCarter, Bliss Stone McManus, Octavio Medellin, Blaine James Richards, Donald Jerry Scaggs, Don Raymond Schol, Sonja Schulz-Whiddon, Francis B. Stephens, Mabel Vandiver, Mack Vaughan, Henry Whiddon, Leroy Robert Wilce, Ronald Williams, Robert Winokur and John Paul Zelanski.

"Certainly, the program has moved far beyond just the training of teachers," Davis says. "That direction really started to change in the '40s, and part of that was because Cora Stafford was very futuristic in her thinking."

Under Stafford's leadership, the program added interior design, advertising design and fashion design, he says.

"Today, people are making the case that skills in the arts are critical to the future of the economy because of how much we depend on visual information rather than the written word," Davis says.

Ellen Rossetti with UNT News Service can be reached at

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January 2012

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