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Just Passing Through: Friends in Jail

Anvers, L'entree du Port by Eugene BoudinBy Charles Lohrmann

When you spend enough time studying and enjoying works of art, inevitably an individual painting, sculpture or photograph will take on personal, almost totemic, significance. Over time, if you visit and venerate the work often enough, the relationship that develops is almost like a friendship. You remember and think about the art at odd times, wonder what other viewers think of the piece, share your thoughts about the experience, and plan to visit again next time you’re in the neighborhood.
I have one particular group of such friends that I visit often and suggest you get to know as well. It’s an attractive group of five small-scale

Impressionist paintings in the collection of The Old Jail Art Center in Albany, on US 180 northeast of Abilene. The diverse subjects represented in the group—a still life of roses, a harbor view, a landscape, a nude, and characters cavorting at a masked ball—create an imaginary visual vocabulary for life in the late 19th Century, so there’s a definite romantic appeal. And the small scale—not much larger than the magazine you’re reading—makes these paintings seem all the more exquisite. The larger (and more typical) Impressionist paintings you’ll see in other museum galleries are amazing and engaging in their own way, but these small paintings, particularly in this intimate setting, seem more personal.
Even though I’ve been thinking of these paintings as my own for several years, I decided I needed to find out a little more about them. So, on a recent visit to The Old Jail Art Center, I asked Museum Director Margaret Blagg about the collection.
She explained that they were bequeathed to the museum by an Albany man named Marshall R. Young Jr., who had strayed from his hometown to become a magazine publisher in California. She also put my mind at ease by adding that—along with another favorite, a Modigliani—this set of Impressionist paintings (aka, the masterworks) would always be on view.
If it were my personal choice, this group of paintings would always have a small room of its own—a shrine of sorts—but that’s not in the cards. So I’ll plan to continue my drop-in visits to the museum to see them wherever they’re displayed.
After sharing a few more details about the Impressionist paintings, Blagg, as museum directors do, wanted to point out some other developments at the Old Jail Art Center. Turns out the museum, as part of a recent project, has just restored the jail’s windows to the original look, and now the glass is inside the bars instead of outside. So passersby can see the jail bars in the windows as they scrutinize the odd glyphs carved in the stones by the Scottish stonemasons documenting their work on the structure. The bars create a more authentic historic view of the 1870s, two-story building, which was the first public edifice in Shackelford County.
The Old Jail also has enhanced its already-appealing collection of Asian art with special selections on loan from the internationally renowned Arthur M. Sackler Collection. And, in the two rooms upstairs (the original jail cells), Blagg explains a new series of exhibits called A Cell of One’s Own, which will feature the work of contemporary Texas artists.
But, wait a minute. I have to ask, how does a small museum in a town of 2,000 manage such a diverse collection? The answer from Blagg is: “The museum was founded by art collectors, so it had a serious art collection from the very beginning. One of the founders, Bill Bomar, was an artist himself and was a member of the noted Fort Worth Circle. He and his cousin, Reilly Nail, were the co-founders.” Of course, prosperous ranching and oil interests in the area have a lot to do with the museum’s ongoing operation, but the original vision is still essential to the identity of the collection.

 What you'll find

The Old Jail Art Center’s collection of small-scale Impressionist paintings includes:
•    Nu Couché, vu de dos (Reclining Nude from Back) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
•    Paysage avec Rivière (Landscape with River), by Gustave Caillebotte.
•    Nature Morte aux Roses (Still Life of Roses) Henri Fantin-Latour.
•    Anvers, L’entrée du Port (Entrance to Port of Anvers) Eugene Boudin.
•    Au bal masqué—les fêtes Parisiennes—nouveaux confettis (Masked Ball) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
For more information on Albany’s Old Jail Art Center (at 201 South Second St.), call 325/762–2269; www.theoldjailartcenter.org.

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