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Telling the Kennedy story from a different angle

 

Robert Francis
rfrancis@bizpress.net

The art tells the story, but perhaps one picture tells it better than most.
The photo, from 1963, shows Ruth Carter Stevenson - then Johnson - securing the bronze sculpture Angry Owl by Pablo Picasso into her car in order to transport the work of art to the Hotel Texas and from there to the suite occupied by President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy.
“The story has roots in Fort Worth, and our former Board President Ruth Carter Stevenson was closely involved,” said Andrew J. Walker, museum director. “She helped activate the city’s cultural leaders to donate great artworks to outfit the presidential couple’s hotel suite so that it represented Fort Worth’s hospitality and cultural sophistication.”


In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art will exhibit the artworks installed in the president’s suite at the Hotel Texas during his visit to Fort Worth in 1963. The exhibit is on view from Oct. 12, 2013, through Jan. 12, 2014.
For Walker, the exhibit is a way to tell the story of the Kennedys’ visit from another point of view.
“The unexpected tragedy that followed has overshadowed this great expression, and we appreciate the opportunity to tell the story of the Kennedy’s visit to Texas from a different, more uplifting perspective.”


The story began five days prior to the president’s arrival in Fort Worth. When descriptions of the presidential suite at the Hotel Texas were released to the public, Owen Day, then art critic for the Fort Worth Press, was not pleased. He proposed the idea of filling the president’s suite with art to prominent art collector and leader of the Fort Worth Art Association Samuel Benton Cantey III. According to Walker, Cantey contacted Stevenson, collector Ted Weiner and Amon Carter Director Mitchell Wilder.
Stevenson, Walker noted, was not thought to be a supporter of the president.
“It didn’t matter, they were committed to showcasing Fort Worth,” he said.
Cantey conceived a three-part exhibition that would unfold in the parlor, master bedroom and second bedroom of suite 850. Drawing on local private and public art collections, each room of the suite was outfitted with works of art that befitted the tastes and interests of President Kennedy and the first lady, according to Walker.
The Parlor featured a work by the impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840–1926), alongside works of modern sculpture and painting, including the bronze sculpture Angry Owl by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973); an oil painting of Manhattan by American expressionist Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956); an oil-on-paper study by Franz Kline (1910–1962); and a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore (1898–1986).
The Master Bedroom, which was designated as Jacqueline Kennedy’s bedroom, was adorned with impressionist masterworks per her well-known affinity for the genre. The room included Summer Day in the Park by Maurice Prendergast (1858–1924); Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890); Sea and Rocks by John Marin (1870–1953); and Bassin de Deauville by Raoul Dufy (1877–1953).


The Second Bedroom, the president’s room, featured late 19th-century and early 20th-century American art, including Thomas Eakins’ (1844–1916) Swimming, Marsden Hartley’s (1877–1943) Sombrero with Gloves and Charles M. Russell’s (1864–1926) Lost in a Snowstorm, among others.
“They were all chosen with an eye toward the tastes of the couple,” said Walker.
It was pulled together quickly as the photo of Stevenson strapping in the sculpture by Picasso indicates.
By the time the presidential couple retired to their quarters in Fort Worth though, they had no chance to notice the art, said Walker.
“There was a small printed catalog left on the coffee table for them to find,” he said. “Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t know the art was real until the next morning.”


Taylor Gandy, one of the supporters of the exhibit, saw Kennedy during his visit to Fort Worth. He believes it is important to remember that the president was impacted, even in his final hours of life, by the work done by the citizens of Fort Worth.
“I think it’s important for Fort Worth to not lose sight of the fact that this is where President Kennedy spent his last night,” said Gandy. “In fact, as far as I can determine, one of the last calls he made was to Ruth Carter Stevenson to thank her for the art.”
“Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy” is presented in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, which organized the exhibition and hosted the exhibition until it moved to Fort Worth. The Fort Worth presentation of the exhibition is supported in part by contributions in memory of Ruth Carter Stevenson from Shirlee J. and Taylor Gandy and Bob and Patricia Schieffer.
 

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