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AAA World Article

Cowtown Culture

Museums of the Fort Worth Cultural District present world-class art.

By George Oxford Miller

AAA World Article

A Dash for the Timber by Frederic Remington (1889). The Amon Carter Museum of American Art displays classic western art as well as works from contemporary Western artists.
Photo Courtesy of George Oxford Miller

The cowboys turn the herd of 17 longhorns into the street three blocks away and drive them past sidewalks crowded with people. The 2,000-pound steers with six-foot-wide horns amble nonchalantly as cell phones and cameras click like distant thunder. Then one of the longhorns stops, turns and faces us. The rangy creature lowers his head and steps forward.

“Oh, hecky dern!” (not a verbatim quote), says a woman as we all stagger backward. The steer stops and nibbles a leafy twig by the curb. It’s just another day at the Fort Worth Stockyards cattle drive, held twice daily year round (except holidays).

When I was growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1970s, the city’s nickname was “Cowtown,” and its motto was “Where the West Begins.” Though still true to its roots, the laid-back half of the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex now has a more inclusive slogan: “City of Cowboys and Culture.” In addition to the  Stockyards National Historic District, downtown rocks at night with the cafes and clubs in the Sundance Square entertainment district. A few miles away, Western and classical art rule the Fort Worth Cultural District with four world-class art and history museums.

After exploring the still-authentic Stockyards—where modern cowboys rodeo in the arena, dance in the world’s largest honkytonk (Billy Bob’s) and buy their duds at Western stores that date back to the days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—I make an easy segue to the cultural district.

Kimbell Art Museum
The domed ceilings with skylights of the Kimbell Art Museum
Photo Courtesy of George Oxford Miller

Among the country’s most impressive American art museums is the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, which sits on a hill overlooking the Kimbell Art Museum; the Modern Art Museum; the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame; and the iconic Art-Deco Will Rogers Coliseum Tower; which is on the National Register of Historic Places. When the museum opened in 1961, it focused on the Old West and highlighted Carter’s collection of 300 works by 19th-century artists Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. Now expanded and rebranded, the permanent collection includes frontier and Western art from the Revolutionary period to the present.

The entrance leads through a temporary exhibit of abstract art and into an open atrium with stairs to the main galleries. Artist Gabriel Dawe brought the space to life with hundreds of feet of colored thread strung beneath the skylights. The airy tapestry transforms the sun’s rays into a rainbow of colors.

The museum’s themed galleries group paintings by time period in a logically satisfying order. Peaceable Kingdom (1826) by Edward Hicks leads to George Catlin’s Archery of the Apaches (1855) and then to galleries with works by Remington and Russell. Also showcased are paintings by Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe and Thomas Hart Benton as well as modern, abstract and surrealistic works by contemporary Western artists.

Kimbell Art Museum sculpture
Outdoor sculpture at the Kimbell Art Museum
Photo Courtesy of George Oxford Miller

Also housing a remarkable collection of art is the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by world-renowned architect Lewis Kahn, a visionary Philadelphia city planner. The museum opened in 1972
amid criticism of its series of concrete, barn-like, vaulted pavilions,
but inside, skylights magically diffuse natural light throughout the exhibit space. Now, museums around the world emulate the design.

I eat lunch in the museum’s Buffet Restaurant, and then I tour the exhibits, which are based on the extensive collection of European masters donated by businessman Kay Kimbell. The galleries display Michelangelo’s first known painting—believed to have been painted when he was 12 or 13 years old—and works by Monet, Picasso,
van Gogh and Matisse, as well as Asian, Mesoamerican and African art. Outside, reflecting pools, gardens and shaded lawns create a popular family play space.

Across the street, the Modern Art Museum building is a work of art itself. With glass walls and arching supports, it sits half-surrounded by a 15-acre reflecting pool. The collection represents postwar art movements through modern and contemporary photography, video and digital imagery. The Pop Art gallery displays a collage of 25 images of Marilyn Monroe and 10 flavors of Campbell’s Soup cans by Andy Warhol. Other galleries exhibit more conceptual canvases with stripes, splotches and splashes of the Abstract Expressionism and Minimalist movements.

Modern Art Museum
Large-scale sculptures surround the entrance of the Modern Art Museum.
Photo Courtesy of George Oxford Miller

Even with its museums of world-class and cutting-edge art, Fort Worth’s Western heritage is never far away. Just down the street from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame celebrates women of the American West “who have displayed extraordinary courage and pioneering fortitude.” Besides famous ranching, rodeo and singing women such as Annie Oakley and Dale Evans, the hall of fame honors Sacagawea, Georgia O’Keeffe and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (who’s from El Paso, Texas).

Cowboys and culture are also only steps apart in Sundance Square. The European-style Bass Performance Hall, with its classic exterior adorned with two 48-foot-tall statues of trumpeting angels, sits on one corner. A block away at Sundance Square, a building-sized mural commemorates the cattle drive era, which soon after the Civil War turned Fort Worth, the last Texas town on the Chisholm Trail, into a boomtown. At the square’s outdoor dining plaza, symphony- and rodeo-goers sit side by side and enjoy haute cuisine and barbeque, culinary examples of the complementary cultures of Cowtown.


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AAA World.

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