By Mary Mone
Piece by piece, the Texas Museum of Art is a source for not only the Tyler Junior College community but also the Tyler community to enrich their lives with art from all over Texas. Current exhibitions, Bits and Pieces by Al Souza, and From the Vault, which contains works from the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, are on display for visitors.
There are 1,600 pieces in the permanent collection at the TMA, and the exhibits change every three months.
The Bits and Pieces exhibition was not planned, but when Caleb Bell, curator of TMA, was home doing puzzles during COVID-19 lockdowns, he got the idea to feature Souza’s collection.
The collection was completed between 2000 and 2010, and according to TMA’s Executive Director, Christopher M. Leahy, “it’s just an incredible visual display.”
Leahy said the collection presents works that are a collage of puzzle pieces.
“From this distance, they’re really abstract, but when you get close to them and really look at them, you can see the layers of puzzles and how he’s built the composition up,” Leahy said.
Layers in Souza’s work are a theme. He layers different puzzles on top of each other to create a whole new piece.
Souza, born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, has had his works, or what he refers to as paintings, presented not only through Moody Gallery in Houston, but, “has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally,” according to moodygallery.com.
The way Souza composes these art pieces is a process. He starts by laying the puzzles out on his studio floor and gets up on a ladder and looks down at them. After he can see clearly, he organizes how he wants them to flow and work together. “Again, much like a painter composing a painting,” Leahy said.
Souza’s exhibition opened July 19 and will be on display until Oct. 18.
The From the Vault exhibition, which is a collaboration with the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, is also currently on display and will be available until Nov. 29.
The From the Vault exhibition is filled with contemporary art from personal collections of artists.
“When you use the word contemporary in art, it simply means living artists,” Leahy said. The exhibit is filled with an assorted collection. “The works are diverse and include drawings, mixed-media collages, paintings, photographs and prints,” according to tylermuseum.org.
Another exhibit being shown in the TMA is the annual Art of Peace. The Art of Peace is a community wide week where they “promote a spirit of creativity, compassion, and community through partnerships, fellowship, dialogue, social action, music, poetry, and art,” according to tylerpeace.com.
The art museum is still focused on its roots by being involved with the schools around Tyler and surrounding counties. For example, they sponsor student artists and work with children in middle school by doing a themed day where art teachers have students represent what the day of the dead means to them, and then the museum displays the artwork.
“We send out a call to them to bring their students artwork here and we display it. I think we had 200 students last year,” Leahy said.
After students continue in their academic career and reach senior year of high school, the museum offers them a display opportunity again. For the past 15 years, the museum has offered this opportunity, and last year, they had 20 high schools participate with a total 98 students from nine Texas counties.
“By and large the work is incredible. It shows an enormous amount of creativity and good teachers,” Leahy said.
Almost 50 years ago, the Tyler Service League, who were more well known around Tyler classrooms as the “picture ladies,” started the Tyler Museum of Art,
The picture ladies were a group of women who invested time into the community in the 50s and 60s. They saw a need for an art component in the community. They did many things, but one of the most notable activities they did was bringing posters of art into classrooms to present to children.
After much consideration, the group contacted the president of Tyler Junior College, and they received land on campus to build a museum. They raised money in 1969, and Davis Wilcox, a local architect, built the 15,000 square foot building in 1970. They officially opened in March of 1971 and will celebrate their 50th anniversary this March.
The picture ladies began the TMA for a cause they were passionate about. This cause was something Eleanor Cameron, one of the picture ladies who was active on the museum’s board until last year, kept close to her heart.
“She died at 98, and she was active and moving until the day that she died. She was a phenomenal Texas woman,” Leahy said.
Art can be intimidating to many people, but Leahy believes it is for everyone to look at and interpret, despite their level of knowledge. “One of the things about art is that you don’t need to know anything to come in,” Leahy said.