The Pro Texana part of Baylor University’s motto “Pro Ecclesia Pro Texana” flavors the Martin Museum of Art’s current exhibition of work by 19th-century Texas artist and Baylor’s first art professor Henry A. McArdle, and there’s a Texas-like sense to what’s in the show.
There’s his “The Settlement of Austin’s Colony,” rarely seen outside its usual home in the Texas Capitol. An 8-foot tall 1902 study of Sam Houston, owned by Southern Methodist University, but forgotten for many years. Smaller versions of McArdle’s epics “The Battle of San Jacinto” and “Lee at the Wilderness.” Portraits of five Baylor presidents and a Baylor founder, Judge R.E.B. Baylor, Texas governor James Stephen Hogg and members of some of Texas’ founding families are also on display.
The exhibit also features map sketches from McArdle’s days as a mapmaker in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and his self-portrait in pencil.
Visitors to the exhibit, which will include regents for both Baylor and Southern Methodist University at an Aug. 30 reception, will have an experience that not even McArdle enjoyed.
“He never saw these paintings together,” SMU McArdle scholar Sam Ratcliffe said.
The show contains 22 oil paintings, 11 drawings and several diaries plus two paintings by Florence Steward, one of his Baylor at Independence students. It’s the biggest exhibition of works by the Texas painter, drawn from the state Capitol, SMU, Baylor’s Texas Collection, the Nau Civil War Collection and private owners, with some pieces on public view for the first time.
The Irish-born McArdle taught drawing and painting at Baylor from 1871 to 1885, when it was located in Independence, and that Baylor connection led to the exhibit’s creation. Former Texas Collection director Thomas Charlton and Dean of Libraries Pattie Orr planted the seed of the idea several years ago with Ratcliffe, head of SMU’s Bywaters Special Collection in the Hamon Arts Library. Momentum for a Baylor exhibition on McArdle accelerated after Ratcliffe gave a talk on the Baylor art professor to Baylor alumni and supporters interested in the university’s early history. John Wilson, current Texas Collection director, and Martin Museum director Karin Gilliam joined in the show’s organization with Ratcliffe as guest curator. Baylor regent Cary Gray and his wife, Amber, were enthusiastic backers, providing some of the exhibit funding, and the end result of the collaborative project will be on display during the debut of Baylor’s $266 million McLane Stadium.
That timing is no coincidence, Wilson said. “The Gray family had the vision to do something cultural at the same time that something athletic was going on,” he said. “They wanted SMU to be involved as well. We have a long history together and this was a way to connect the two universities culturally.”
McArdle immigated to the United States in 1851 at the age of 15 with an aunt. He studied art in Baltimore, graduating in 1860 from the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, a year before the outbreak of the Civil War. He served in the Confederate Army under Gen. Robert E. Lee as a mapmaker, but likely didn’t see direct combat during his service. After the war, he and his Virginia wife, Jennie, moved to Brenham, Texas, in 1868, apparently to improve her health in a warmer climate.
Two years later, she died and McArdle moved to Independence, where he supplemented his farming by teaching art at Baylor University from 1871 to 1885.
He started some of his best-known paintings while at Baylor: “Lee at the Wilderness” in 1871 and “The Settlement of Austin’s Colony” and “Dawn of the Alamo” in 1875. “Lee at the Wilderness” shows the Confederate general restrained from going into battle by members of Hood’s Texas Brigade, some of whom modeled for the painter. A fire at the state Capitol in 1881 destroyed “Lee” and “Dawn of the Alamo,” leading McArdle to paint new versions, “Lee” in 1885 and “Dawn” in 1905.
“Lee” was McArdle’s first widely acclaimed painting, but his last Civil War study as he found suitably heroic material in the Lone Star State. “He really, completely adopted Texas history,” Ratcliffe said. His famous “Battle of San Jacinto,” rich in historical details like “Lee,” was painted in 1895 and has hung in the Capitol since 1901. A smaller version of that painting, completed in 1901 and not realized as more than a study until 2009, is in the Martin Museum exhibition as is the Capitol’s “The Settlement of Austin’s Colony,” seen for the first time away from its Austin home.
His journals, lent by his descendants and digitized by the Texas Collection, show his classes in drawing, painting and sculpture were somewhat small — 18 students in the 1880-81 school year — with portrait painting a considerable part of his work. Comments in his accounts book suggest he may have painted more than 50 portraits in his career, but the whereabouts of those isn’t known. “You think, where are the others?” Wilson wondered.
After Baylor University moved to Waco, McArdle set up residence in San Antonio, where a son lived. The class of 1885 commissioned McArdle to paint the portraits of five Baylor presidents — Henry Lee Graves, Rufus Burleson, George Washington Baines Sr., William Carey Crane and Reddin Andrews Jr. — which are in the Martin Museum show.
Portraits of Republic of Texas President Sam Houston (whose seven of eight children attended Baylor), Baylor founder Judge R.E.B. Baylor, Texas Gov. Stephen Hogg, Louise Higgins Tryon (wife of a Baylor founder William Tryon), Baylor art student Irene McNelly (daughter of Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly) and other members of Texas founding families show the intertwined threads of Baylor and Texas history.
“In a way, Texas is a very small place,” Wilson said.
McArdle wanted the state to buy his paintings on Texas history, but never saw any money from it, Ratcliffe said. The state Legislature accepted them on loan, but didn’t buy them outright until McArdle’s family pressed the issue after the artist’s death. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, where the unlucky artist lies at rest under one last snub by the state — a gravestone that has his name as Harry, not Henry, McArdle.
Ratcliffe will moderate a panel discussion with Wilson and exhibition lenders from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 30 in Lecture Hall 149 next to the museum galleries, and a reception will follow from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The Martin Museum of Art also has a second show of works by contemporary Texas ceramicist Roy Hanscom. Hanscom, a Lone Star College-North Harris professor, combines a high level of technical craft, functionality and a touch of playfulness in his creations.
The 15 pieces in the Martin show seem variations on a theme of clustered, segmented containers, improbable tableware that vaguely suggests toads or plump caterpillars.
But a closer look reveals details that show Hanscom’s mastery of form, said Baylor ceramics professor Paul McCoy: tentaclelike legs or handles shaped by the weight of wet clay; large, complex lidded compartments difficult to fire; and an individuality of pieces despite two basic glaze colors.
The Houston artist will explain his work and style in a 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 gallery talk at the museum.
“Henry A. McArdle: Texas Painter, Patriot and Baylor Professor” and “Roy Hanscom: Containers”
When, where: Today through Sept. 21 at Baylor University’s Martin Museum of Art, Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
A round-table discussion about McArdle and his work will take place at 3 p.m. Aug. 30 at the museum, followed by a reception at 4:30 p.m. Hanscom will speak on his exhibit at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18.