Graham Williford's America

January 27–May 11, 2008

Thomas Allen, Jr. (1849–1915). Toilers of the Plains (on the Old San Antonio Trail), 1879. Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 45 1/4 inches.

Walter McEwen (1860–1943). The Witches, c. 1892. Oil on canvas, 79 x 118 3/4 inches.

The late 1950s were a dark time for connoisseurs of American art. Though the Eisenhower era marked a "return to normalcy" in the United States and the national zeitgeist was enraptured by Americana, artists with names no less iconic than James McNeill Whistler and Winslow Homer rarely were mentioned. Museums and galleries across the country were selling off the works of American painters whose style had fallen out of favor, and with them an invaluable document of the nation's cultural identity was in danger of becoming a mere footnote in history.

Graham Devoe Williford helped change all that.

The Tyler Museum of Art pays tribute to this pioneer in the appreciation of American art – and native East Texan – with Graham Williford's America, the TMA's first major exhibition of 2008.

Homer and Whistler join the likes of William Merritt Chase, Thomas Cole and John Singer Sargent as just a few of the titans of 19th- and early 20th-century American art represented in the exhibition, opening to the public Sunday, Jan. 27, and continuing through May 11 in the Museum's North Gallery.

Organized by the Tyler Museum of Art, Graham Williford's America marks one of the first major exhibitions spotlighting the legacy and vast collection of Williford, a native of Fairfield, Texas who is regarded as one of the leading forces in rekindling interest in the study and collecting of American art.

The exhibition includes close to 60 works of art, yet represents only a small percentage of a collection that was compiled over several decades and had come to include more than 1,000 American paintings and decorative art pieces by the time of Williford's death in May 2006.

"This exhibition is a can't-miss opportunity to see some of the most important pieces in American art history all together in one show," TMA Director Kimberley Bush Tomio said. "People might have seen several of the works individually at galleries or museums throughout the country, but rarely has there been a single exhibition drawn from this collection that showcased the diversity and scope of this essential period in our nation's cultural heritage. From the Hudson River School landscapes to still lifes to the American expatriates, it's truly one-stop shopping. I've been working with art museums for more than 20 years, and IÕve never seen anything quite like it."

Guest curator for Graham Williford's America is Mary Anne Goley, an authority on American artists and founding Director of the Fine Arts Program of the Federal Reserve Board (1975–2006). An acquaintance of Williford's for more than 20 years, Ms. Goley worked closely with the collector in curating works from his collection on loan to the Federal Reserve.

"Graham helped bring American artists back into the conversation at a time when museums and the marketplace were dominated by Europeans," Ms. Goley said. "Graham was a genuine student of American art, and this exhibition pays tribute to his contribution to the annals of American art collectors. He is to be renowned for his curatorial eye, which was quite good. He knew a good painting when he saw it."

The exhibition is organized into six thematic categories to reflect the pervasive styles and trends of 19th- and 20th-century American art: "America the Beautiful," spotlighting landscapes of the Hudson River School; "The Lure of Foreign Places," focusing on the contribution of American expatriates in Europe; "Art for Art's Sake," highlighting James McNeill Whistler's principle of "beauty is truth" in evocative figures and landscapes; "Expressions of American Identity," showcasing the most influential portrait painters of the period; "Presence of the Past," exploring historical subjects as interpreted by American artists; and "Still Life," illuminating the period's most intimate genre in art.

This exhibition was organized by the Tyler Museum of Art.

Exhibition sponsors for Graham Williford's America are The Graham Williford Foundation for American Art, Amy and Vernon Faulconer, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Kathie and Leo Mack, Barbara and Billy Bass, Dr. James and Norma Cotton, and Austin Bank. The exhibition also is supported in part by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts. Corporate Member sponsors are Dermatology Associates of Tyler and Tyler Cancer Center. Media sponsor is KLTV Channel 7. The opening lecture by Mary Anne Goley is sponsored by Potter Minton, P.C.

Graham Williford's America is the TMA's sole exhibition that will require ticketed admission in 2008. Cost to the general public is $5 for adults, and $3 for seniors and students. Children age 12 and under will be admitted free. Admission is free to TMA members.