Day Trips

The Amon Carter Museum has a new, modern look, but it's still the same old great place to get culture.

A bright and shiny addition
A bright and shiny addition (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth has a new, modern look. After a demolition, construction, and remodeling project that closed the museum for 26 months and almost doubled the floor space providing four times as much room for art, the new galleries opened to the public on October 22.

First opened in 1961, the Carter Museum owns one of the finest collections of Western and American Art in the U.S. The core holdings were the personal collection of Amon G. Carter Sr., oilman and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Over the years, the collection has branched out from 400 works by Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington to include almost 240,000 pieces of important paintings and sculptures, plus a world-class collection of photographs.

The addition uses the original building like a front porch of a Southern mansion with a panoramic view of downtown Fort Worth. The new wing is made of polished brown granite quarried in Saudi Arabia and fabricated in Italy that fills a triangle shape at the intersection of three major streets at the northwestern corner of the city's Cultural District.

Of the museums in the Cultural District west of downtown that include the Kimball, the Museum of Science and History, and the Modern Art Museum, the Carter Museum of American Art retains an accessibility that the others don't have with the possible exception of the Museum of Science and History. Maybe this feeling of openness is because there is no admission fee, but more likely it is because the art is easier to identify with.

The walls are covered with the works of masters like Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Alexander Calder. The majority of the paintings and photographs are of real mountains and streams, Indians, cowboys, and African slaves. Colorful works of folk art hang next to smooth sculptures that could have come from ancient Greece. It is the place to discover artists like John Quincy Adams Ward and Henry Merwin Shrady.

As a high school student, I often skipped classes and occasionally took refuge in the refrigerated galleries of the Amon Carter Museum. It wouldn't take me long to amble through the mood-lit rooms, and it was relaxing to a youth looking to escape the commotion and uncertainties of the late 1960s. Over the years I have returned regularly to see famous traveling exhibits like Richard Avedon's "In the West," or more obscure shows like a collection of Mexican broadsides. It always felt like returning to a favorite aunt's attic.

That is why I first visited the new addition with a bit of apprehension. Would they have changed the familiar into an unrecognizable and foreign place? As I walked through the east entrance's arched portico, the two-story gallery space was the same polished wood and pictures that grabbed at the eye for attention. This time the hallway directly in front of the rotating door looked like a tunnel leading into a bright new world.

From the outside the dark granite extension -- designed by 95-year-old New York architect Philip Johnson, who also did the 1961 building -- is an unobtrusive understatement behind the original Texas white shellstone building trimmed in granite and bronze. From the inside the opposite is true. The addition is open and airy while the older areas are a bit claustrophobic in comparison. I instantly got the feeling that I was walking into previously forbidden paradise of beautiful things that I always suspected existed.

"Our spacious new galleries will allow visitors to see much more of the collection," Amon Carter Museum Director Rick Stewart said at the opening. Before the new portion was built, the museum could exhibit less than a tenth of one percent of its massive collection at the same time. With the creation of the new space, about 800 works of art will be on view at any given time. The museum plans to rotate the exhibits every three to four months, plus host traveling shows throughout the year.

One of the most impressive additions to the new portion of the museum is the two-story atrium at the south entrance. Topped by a vaulted lantern illuminated by indirect sunlight, the open space is a cross between industrial and modern architecture. The lantern roof gives an umbrella look in the middle of the grand piano-shaped dark stone building.

In addition to the new gallery space, the museum has added storage vaults, a conservation laboratory, larger bookstore, and office space. Educational programs have always been an integral part of the museum, and expanded library facilities open the massive art book collection to researchers while a new auditorium offers space for lectures and presentations.

The museum was originally called the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art and was established by Carter's will in 1955. Born in Crafton, Texas, in 1879, Carter quit school when he was 11 years old and worked his way up through a series of jobs until he became advertising manager of the Fort Worth Star. He later purchased the paper. He brought the first radio station, WBAP, to the Metroplex and helped establish American Airways, later to be called American Airlines. A good friend of humorist Will Rogers and other celebrities, the majority of Carter's wealth came from oil wells. The museum is still run by his daughter, Ruth Carter Stevenson.

At 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., the Carter Museum opens Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10am-5pm, Thursday 10am-8pm, and Sunday noon-5pm. For more information, call 817/738-1933 or go to www.cartermuseum.org.

543rd in a series. Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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