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‘More than a museum': memories of Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum as it celebrates 50 years

A group of people stand inside the Kimbell Museum.
Marcheta Fornoff
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The Fort Worth Report
The Kimbell Art Museum is celebrating 50 years with a series of anniversary events, including free admission to the new exhibit “Murillo: From Heaven to Earth” throughout the week.

From the architecture to its calming environment, five museum patrons share what they appreciate about the Kimbell.

For 50 years, the Kimbell Art Museum has been the pride of Fort Worth.

The museum is inviting the community to celebrate with the opening of its new exhibit, “The Kimbell at 50,” and a free family festival on Saturday, Oct. 8, headlined by Fort Worth singer Abraham Alexander, with free admission to another recently opened exhibit “Murillo: From Heaven to Earth” during the week. Other events are planned throughout.

For the Kimbell Art Museum anniversary, the Fort Worth Report and KERA asked five patrons what the venue means to them:

Brentom Jackson, 37, mental health counselor in Fort Worth

Brentom Jackson first visited the museum on a class field trip when he was 6 or 7 years old. He and his friends were much more interested in the Kimbell’s big green lawn than the art on the walls.

One of the school chaperones noticed their restlessness. Jackson still reflects on his words:

“Even though it may not be reaching you right now, just to go through the process (and) appreciate it because a few years from now, you're going to look back and realize that it was an experience, a privilege to really be in that space,” Jackson recalled.

Later, at Texas Wesleyan University, Jackson got an assignment to write about a Kimbell exhibit . Returning to the museum, Jackson remembered that long-ago field trip, even recalling some of what the docents told the young students.

Jackson started to have complicated feelings about museums, the origins of their art and how pieces were acquired. But he still took friends from grad school in Austin to tour the Kimbell.

“One of the other things I always appreciate about the museum is that it also kind of opened itself to being just more than a museum. I think I've had, you know, meetings there over lunch. I've done yoga there a couple of times,” he said. “Even during that time where there was kind of like a love-hate relationship, it was more than a museum. It was kind of like, you know, a space within the community that one could utilize.”

Now, he’s a father, and he took his son to the Kimbell around the time he turned 1.

“It's always been kind of like a touchstone each time period of my life,” he said.

Morghan Gray
Morghan Gray
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Morghan Gray is a ceramist who enjoys visiting the Kimbell because of its relaxing environment.

Morghan Gray, 38,  ceramic artist, moved to Fort Worth four months ago.

Morghan Gray recently moved from Austin, but she’d already made several visits to the Kimbell while visiting her twin sister in Fort Worth and their dad.

“So every time I’d visit, we used to go together and look at the new exhibits or even the [permanent] one[s] and just hang out and have fun,” Gray said. “Also, my dad lives in Granbury, and so my sister and I also like to visit the Kimbell with him as well.”

One exhibit in particular made an impression:

“When I went to the Nefertari exhibition, they had beads that were made out of Egyptian paste. And when I started undergrad in ceramics at Louisiana State University, I was taking a glaze making class. That was the first thing that taught us how to make was Egyptian paste,” she said. “So when I saw all the beautiful jewelry made out of that, it kind of reminds me like … I can make that. I know how they did it.”

The museum’s not just a favorite family bonding spot. It also inspires Gray’s artwork.

“I am a ceramic artist and so I do work with drawing on the potter’s wheel. And sometimes I just really need a break from the studio to kind of gather my creative thoughts and just take a moment and just look at other artists, the composition, the color, the forms,” she said. “So (it) really inspires me to continue making as well.”

Christina Blank, 52, professional artist and middle school art teacher; originally from El Paso but has been in DFW for 25 years

Christina Blank first fell in love with the Kimbell while attending Sam Houston State University.

She and some classmates took a roadtrip to Fort Worth to see a show at the museum at the urging of one of their professors.

The first thing that struck me was the building. The Louis Kahn Building is just amazing. The architecture and the way that the light is diffused as it comes in from the roof is just beautiful,” Blank said. “But also, because it's such a small setting, you really feel like you can just be part of the art. It doesn't feel like you're in a warehouse. It feels very intimate.”

She’s a professional artist and a middle school art teacher, but she hasn’t had the opportunity to take her students on formal field trips to the museum. However, at her last school, several families held informal meetups there. They toured exhibits together and discussed the art while picnicking on the lawn.

“What was really exciting was seeing 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds be able to see art for the first time right in front of their face,” she said. “…We can talk about the chemistry and how the paint works together, and then we can try that back in the classroom and talk about what we saw, and then they can try it in their own paintings.”

Being able to see the art up close has had a profound effect on her, too. The self-described chemistry nerd said she never had a deep appreciation for Renoir until she saw his work at the Kimbell.

“When I got in person in front of a Renoir, and I could actually see the layering he put in the colors, the way he suspended his colors with the oils and stuff, I was blown away. And he's now one of my favorite people,” she said. “ … Because of the diffused light, because you don't have a harsh glare on it, you actually can see all those layers of paint in the art … And that's one of the things that blows me away.”

Johnny Sanford.
Johnny Sanford
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Johnny Sanford said he enjoys recording music as a hobby and found his trip to the Kimbell inspiring.

Johnny Sanford, 49, U.S. marshal and independent recording artist

Johnny Sanford grew up in Fort Worth but spent much of his adult life in Dallas and now lives in Fort Worth. He recently took his first trip to the museum and said he also was blown away.

“As soon as I entered the building, I noticed the architecture,” he said. “There’s these huge arches on the ceiling … The Piano Pavilion was a … pretty glass area. Glass walls. And you could see outside. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.”

The self-described hobby artist and musician appreciated the variety of art that was on view.

“There were several different pieces from different eras of the time,” he said. “The one that really caught my attention was the Buddha, the Asian art, the Egyptian arts.”

Having a free permanent collection and rotating calendar of special exhibits broadens the museum’s reach, he said.

“I really believe that whenever you have art exhibits that the community can relate to, it’s a plus for the culture in the area,” he said.

Brian Dickson Jr., 22, gallery assistant at Kinfolk House, grew up in Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood

Brian Dickson Jr. first visited the Kimbell on a class field trip in middle school at Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

He still remembers the impressive palette of colors featured in Rococo and Baroque era paintings, the large scale of the works, and how he felt in the space.

“In all honesty, my first experiences at Kimbell, um, I didn't feel comfortable at times, being Black and whatnot,” he said. “However, I have definitely seen a shift in the culture, in the atmosphere at the Kimbell.”

Dickson Jr. enjoyed the museum’s recent exhibit titled “Slay,” which featured two artists’ takes on the same story painted 400 years apart, as well as other lectures and panels the museum has held.

He also credits the Kimbell’s team, from security guards to staff at the cafe, for making the space feel welcoming.

“They foster that community feeling,” Dickson Jr. said. “Across the board many museums are becoming more welcoming and more inclusive of all voices, of all people, especially marginalized communities. And I definitely think the Kimbell Art Museum is part of that movement.”

The changes make him excited about the museum’s future.

“To see the growth of the Kimbell as far as diversity, equity and inclusion is beautiful,” Dickson Jr. said. “ … I'm just extremely happy and excited for the next generation to walk in this space and feel like they belong, and to see art that they can see themselves in.”

Celebrate the Kimbell's birthday at a free family festival Saturday Oct. 8. 1-7:30 p.m. at the museum.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Got a tip? Email Elizabeth Myong at Emyong@KERA.org. You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter @Elizabeth_Myong.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter/Producer. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.