A painting depicting only blue shoes resting on a pillow is pretty self-explanatory. However, a trip to the Tyler Museum of Art will prove that average looking blue shoes are only part of a bigger picture.
One of the pieces featured in Graham Williford’s America under the thematic section Expressions of American Identity is from an artist named William Merritt Chase and is titled “Portrait of Harriet
Hubbard Ayer” or “The Blue Shoes.” The painting leaves much to the imagination — it is simply the legs of a woman wearing blue shoes, her feet propped upon a pillow. A painting that is easily overlooked at first glance, it is only one piece of a very large puzzle. The painting on display is but a section of a full portrait. At some point in time, the painting was cut into three sections. Williford owned the bottom section, featuring the blue shoes, and the top section is on display in another museum. The middle section, however, is what John Perry, pr/marketing coordinator for the museum said “is like the ‘holy grail’ for art collectors” meaning it is has been sought, but never found.
A number of the other paintings featured in Williford’s America offer hidden stories or interesting anecdotes just waiting to be told, but preferably seen.
The Tyler Museum of Art currently features an exhibition on loan from the Graham Williford foundation for American Art entitled “America.”
The exhibit is comprised of 57 paintings collected over the years by the late Williford. The paintings have been divided into six thematic categories such as America the Beautiful, The Lure of Foreign Places, Art for Art’s Sake, Presence of the Past, Expressions of American Identity, and Still Life.
Williford had a love for the 19th century American artists because it was an era that was familiar to him. John Williford, the cousin of
Graham Williford, made the analogy that the 19th century was to Graham Williford what the 50s or 60s are to Generation Y. When Williford began collecting art in the late 1950s, American artists of the 19th century were not as well known as they are today. In fact, John Williford said, “Within the last 20 years there has been a revival of the appreciation for 19th century artists.” John Williford further said, ” At the time when Graham started collecting art, Western
European art dominated the market and the modernist period was in full swing…19th century art was ‘overlooked.'” Williford took this as his chance to begin collecting the 19th century art that was readily available and also some pieces that were hard to find. Chris Stewart, art department chair at Tyler Junior College, has seen the “America” exhibit a couple of times since it has been at the Tyler Museum of Art.
Stewart said, “It is a good example of the artists of the time, and art that would stand the test of time.”
Williford, an East Texas native, died in 2006, but the art he collected has been preserved by the Graham Williford Foundation for American Art, and contains roughly 1,000 pieces of art and sculpture. Stewart said, ” It is a perfect example of a collector and his love for art” and also said it was “good judgment and decisions by the collector…he had a good eye.” Trustee for the foundation, John Williford said it is important to see the America exhibit because, ” It is an experience where one can step back into the past and see America as it was in the 19th century through the artists’ eyes.”
Graham Williford’s America will be exhibited through May 11, 2008. For more information regarding the exhibit, please visit http://www.tylermuseum.org.