Lately, freeways have been taking a back seat to back roads when it comes to planning our art adventures. This is partially because we are limiting long-distance travel to care for our ailing senior cat in her final months, but also because we are really enjoying finding and sharing art off the beaten path.
I grew up in a small community - too small to be a town even - in East Texas. When I lived there, the population was maybe 500 people, give or take. In addition to pine trees, I was surrounded by art and artisans! Woodworkers, stained glass artists, painters...it wasn't an artist colony by any stretch of the imagination, but the value of creative work was instilled in me early on. I have always known that a great artist can wear coveralls and fix your air conditioning. That art and artists aren't limited to big cities full of people with fancy pedigrees. I know this, and feel it's my mission to make sure that other people know it, too. So, you will see more small, rural art stops covered here along with larger exhibitions and city galleries.
Our most recent art adventure took us through the cotton fields and pastures of Central Texas, through Corsicana, Brenham and Round Top before a quick overnight in Austin to see Jeffrey Gibson's "This is the Day" show at The Blanton Museum of Art. All-in-all, the trip was about six hours from Dallas, including stops, compared to the three-to-four hours it takes as a straight shot down I-35, and worth every extra minute.
This was not our first visit to Corsicana, but it was our first visit where things were actually open. (We previously visited on a Sunday.) In the art world, Corsicana is known for its 100 W Corsicana residency, where artists and writers can live and work, or just work, from a historic building off of the downtown square. Unsure of our schedule and timing, we didn't make an appointment to visit the studios, but we hope to do so next time.
Corsicana's downtown is quirky and creative, with statues on nearly every corner (including one honoring Wolf Brand Chili!) There was plenty of street art and pockets of green among the coffee shops, antique stores and restaurants.
Our next stop was Brenham, Texas, birthplace of Blue Bell Ice Cream and home to its Little Creamery, which is open to visitors. It's also home to Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site, where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed. Since I visited both places in the early 80s (with the paper Blue Bell hat to prove it) we focused on Brenham's vibrant downtown square, and, of course, the art there.
A little shop called Ballad of the Bird Dog is a vocal champion of downtown Brenham and the "Small Town Revival" movement. It's got a wide selection of local, handmade and artisan-crafted merchandise, from blue jeans to gem essences. Mescalito Coffee is its in-store coffee shop, which was closed when we arrived. Instead, we went a few doors down to Wired & Inspired, a coffee bar and gift shop that was less sleek but warmer and a little more friendly. We came home with a bag of "Java Roodle" coffee beans, which are cinnamon/hazelnut flavored and perfect for fall!
The Brenham Fine Arts League gallery is also downtown, and has an attached gallery with walls, shelves and display cases full of different types of art at many price points. There were a few pieces I wish could have come home with me, including the rabbit painting over the chair in the above photo. It was great to see art and artists given such a visible space downtown.
Round Top was our last small town stop, and I wish we had more time to spend there. We stayed close to the Henkel Square Market area, which I suspect just scratches the surface of what this art and antiques heaven has to offer to an art adventurer.
While many businesses were closed for the day, we did have time to pop into the Humble Donkey Studio. This gallery and shop had a lot of charming donkey and other farm animal art by artist and proprietor John Lowery, along with found objects, note cards and other unique items.
We (or rather, I) looked wistfully toward the closed sign on Abejas' new Round Top store; we both looked wistfully toward the pies at Royer's Pie Haven and got lemonade instead (but don't feel too sorry for us, the lemonades were great and we had pie in Corsicana just that morning), and then we headed out of town toward Austin, our final stop.
We traveled to Austin specifically to see Jeffrey Gibson's "This is the Day" exhibition at The Blanton. After seeing his work at the Whitney Biennial, I knew he was an artist that I wanted to keep track of, and to see and share with others at every opportunity. We had hoped to see this show on its opening weekend earlier this summer, but a minor kerfluffle cut that trip short. So, we sneaked in a quick visit before it closes September 29. This was a phenomenal show and definitely requires its own blog entry.
While we were there, we took the opportunity to see more of The Blanton, and were impressed with how much diverse and amazing art it holds.
We were really excited to see this portrait and an interior piece by Sedrick Huckaby, a Fort Worth artist who should be on your radar if he isn't already. We first saw his amazing work at the 2019 Dallas Art Fair, and he's represented by Dallas's Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden.
This fascinating installation by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles is comprised of "600,000 coins, 800 communion wafers, 2000 cattle bones, 80 paving stones, and black cloth," according to artsy.net. An interesting and surprisingly tranquil piece, given its content and subject matter.
A trip to the Blanton isn't complete without a visit to Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin." There is a lot going on in this simple space. Light shines through the colored glass and casts shadows and highlights that change like a kaleidoscope, changing based on the time and season of your visit. Like many of these types of art spaces, I love that it's never the same experience twice.
Before we headed back to Dallas, we stopped in at Yard Dog Art, one of our favorite galleries in Austin. It never fails to disappoint if you are looking for art at many price points that you won't find anywhere else, like these pieces by Jon Langford and Dan Levin.
This was a very busy art adventure, but one that we greatly enjoyed. We are already looking forward to visiting some of the smaller towns again to dive a little bit deeper into their creative communities, and there is still plenty to see for our next trip to The Blanton and in other Austin museums and galleries as well.
If you'd like to trace our steps on your own Central Texas Art Adventure, here's a helpful map. Use the plus/minus buttons to zoom in, and clicking the right corner square will activate full-screen mode, where you can input your own address to start from: