Small Sculpture in Texas

A Modern History
of Art In Dallas

On the evening of October 12, 1982, I visited Alex Troup in his tiny upper Oak Cliff compartment. Off to the left as I entered his darkened digs, was a huge storeroom filled to the 12-foot ceiling with wooden crates. On the far side of Alex's living/dining/bedroom was a table, where he motioned me to sit, opposite him. Alex had been after me for nearly three years to "interview" him. He had the story. All I had to do was write it down. And I did. From almost seven till well past ten, I filled 26 steno pages with his oral "History of Art in Dallas," which is what he'd planned to name his Oak Cliff museum of urban art and archeology.

Calling Alex eccentric puts it mildly. Mark Alexander Troup's parents owned C. Troup, an important Dallas gallery in the 50s and early 70s. But this is Alex's story. He's been holding it inside too long, and it's made him even crazier than he often pretends to be. There is a rational, caring human being in that mad genius exterior.

But he's nervous. He has a major epic for the people of this community. He doesn't want to get run out of town on a rail for telling it true. But he'd like to put it behind him. Like any good archaeologist, he's dug each careful piece of his story out of the last four decades, carefully unearthing each new (arti)fact, sifting out the dirt, brushing it off, labeling, cataloging and boxing it up for future exhibition.

Alexander Mark Troup says the Troup family involvement in art began about 1958, when his father began collecting Pre-Columbian art. About that same time, the elder Troup had met a man named Rascious, whom Alex said was "a smuggler who lived near Midway Road and gave giant 50s parties."

Rascious knew the Rockefellers, often visited Mexico, Peru and other South American countries. He was, said Alex, "a con man who hung out with the beautiful people and had a second hull on his boat," and brought back many forbidden treasures for himself and the beautiful people. His gallery, The Black Tulip in the affluent Inwood shopping center, was the chic abstract art place in Dallas. In 1957, The Tulip featured the latest wave in art from South America.

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The Troups gradually got more involved into the Dallas arts scene as they attended fortnights at Neiman Marcus, met Don Vogel and went out to Valley House, where Don threw some big parties. About that same time, the Troups started going to the Dallas Museum, "while Jerry Bywaters was still running it."

"In 1958, Murray Smither met Chapman Kelley." Alex said. Murray later studied painting with Chapman and helped him at his gallery on Maple Avenue. At the time Kelley was painting large oval nudes. Modern Art in Dallas was still hard to identify. Most of what was being shown and sold was, said Alex, "Impressionism and abstract New York-y stuff."

In 1964, Gallery Trohafole (pronounced Tra-ha-foh-lee) opened on Fairmount. Adding their names to the mix were Clarence and Barbara TROup, David HArdy, Dick FOx and Mary LEe." Trohafole's first show was John Nieto, who did bullfighters in oils and ads for Sanger Harris" and is now, said Alex, "an Indian artist in Taos." they also showed Anthony Martin, then considered "the Texas Andrew Wyeth."

Trahafole showed "all kinds of artists from the back roads of Texas." Some of them, said Alex, scrounging through piles of newspaper clippings, "barely had any teeth. The minute they'd get $800-900 together, they'd be down in Houston trying to get a bigger gallery."

Alex' father was involved in the Print & Drawing Society, Dallas Archaeological Society and the Dallas Museum. At the archaeological society, he met Loyd Harper, who owned the used book store on Deep Elm. Through Harper, the Troups met King Harris, an avid and active archaeologist. "We'd all go on digs while mother worked the gallery," Alex said. "King Harris wasn't college degree material; he was the Raiders of the Lost Ark type-but older and wiser."

One of their major digs was a pit at (now Lake) Lewisville. Among the other finds they made there were the 20,000-year-old jawbone of a camel and lots of arrow heads. They were trying to salvage as much as possible before the Army Corps of Engineers flooded the area, turning it into a lake.

"From then, we traveled all over Texas. We found stuff, went to sites and caves. We spent a couple of years with King Harris." Alex remembered "The Wolf Street Panic" when someone found some gold doubloons in the near downtown upper Oak Lawn area. A lot of people were digging up the neighborhood looking for the rest of the treasure, but King Harris figured it had to be up near Oklahoma, so he went up there and got his biggest find ever, two bronze yokes left by Sixteenth Century Spanish explorers. The Troups, meanwhile, "were looking for treasure, adventure, or, at least, a good story."

"Right about 1964, there was a print-making shop in Waco, whose presses the Dallas Print and Drawing society wanted brought back to Dallas. So, Fox, Lee, Alex's father and little Alex (in the back of the truck) went to Waco and brought up three presses, litho stones, brayers etc. and delivered them to some houses near Lee park. Eventually, "We got the litho stones and some supplies, but we had to leave the old 1876 presses, and they disappeared."

After a year of partnership living and working, Barbara Troup was fed up, and Alex remembers her saying, "Well, we only made $1,500 out of the gallery last year." Soon they found a space of their own. "My folks got the upstairs of the building above Haydon Calhoun's chic New York-type gallery" on Fairmount. C. Troup Gallery's "first show was Anthony Martin from Clarkesville. They sold everything. Meanwhile, Haydon was having his shows: Al Kidwell, Richard Nighart."

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Tracey-Locke (then a small company) had just moved from a shop on the corner. Beatniks were hanging out at the Rubiyat on McKinney. And the Stoneleigh P was still a pharmacy. Dick Fox became a postman; Hardy went back to painting at shopping centers and carnivals; and Alex doesn't know what became of Mary Lee. Says Alex, "We were not selling junk; we wanted to sell modern art: Picasso--even though people in Texas still thought he was a communist"--and others.

"In '64, 65 and 66, art began to get funky. New York-y abstraction was wearing off. Collectors, who were more and more middle class, wanted to be part of this outgrowth, this flourishment, this fun. Dallas was getting to be a booming city. Love Field was pouring them in. The city itself began to change. It was conservative, old-fashioned and a little mixed up," Alex said.

"There were three basic types of art going on in Dallas at that time-watercolor, teacup old-lady affluence run by Texas queens; people coming out of colleges; and the collector's market." It was a period of optimistic investment in art. People were buying Impressionism, Picasso, pre-Columbian (until the fakes came on the market), Indonesian and all kinds of other art."

Beneath it all, "was a boiling under. Something was fixing to go, but nobody yet knew what," said Alex, digging in his giant closet full of boxes of who-knows-what-all memorabilia.

C. Troup was about to feature their first New York Attraction, Leonard Baskin. Chapman Kelley had shows, Mary Nye had shows. Rule Askew, who wrote the opera column for the Dallas Morning News, was showing Texas art.

Ralph Kahn had just started his Contemporary Gallery in the newly-opened Quadrangle. NorthPark was opening up at that time. Dallasites were discovering Mall Art, and many "galleries were out there to help get NorthPark going Skyscrapers were going up, and they needed art inside them," Alex continued his historic monologue as he dug through piles of clippings, prints and old Dallas magazines.

In '66, the Troups discovered Eskimo art. "My folks brought the first Eskimo show in Dallas. They sold half the show, and Janet Kutner wrote them up." Eskimo art is still very successful here, Alex noted, "but it's not folk material anymore."

While Chapman Kelley was preparing his "great show of nudes," Alex remembers Chapman trying to get back one of the earlier nudes he'd traded to Clarence Troup. C. Troup didn't want to give it back, thinking it was much better than the later versions and would surely accrue value. Alex wasn't certain of the timing of this show. "Murray Smither could correct me on the dates, but I don't think dates matter any more."

Meanwhile, more and more celebrities and others were "coming off the airport to the gallery. Michael Renning and Jacob Javits were two who'd been amazed that Dallas had anything original going on in art. "They figured that since Texas was just teeming with money, we'd just import everything." The galleries along Fairmount Street were getting to be very "busy and important on Saturdays and Sundays when all the shows opened."

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Finally, Haydon Calhoun, whose posh gallery was downstairs from C. Troup, was beginning to strange out his upstairs leasees. Married to an Egyptian woman with a mania for horses, Alex said, Haydon got himself "stabbed and was being pushed around in his wheelchair by his lover, a seven-foot tall black man named John. My folks were still trying to be very conservative, trying to deal with the middle class, because at the time that's where the money was."

"They were doing okay this time," Alex continued. "Selling art, doing framing, and my Dad still had his insurance investigating job. Charles McGough from East Texas State was teaching silk-screening. "Every week, all the social ladies came to work at making silkscreens."

Occasionally, I glanced up from my note-taking to the plethora of show announcements, schedules, posters and other artifacts Alex was pulling from his storage closet. "I've got all the information here," he said. "It'd just take me several years to figure it all out." Mostly, I just scribbled madly trying to keep up with the word flow. "Dallas was making its transition," he said. "It was the Tricky Time."One day while the Troups were considering subleasing the bottom floor, their landlord stopped by to tell them "the building had been sold to Louis Heter, and Chapman Kelley was going to move in. He wanted us to move out within six months."

Alex Troup, historian, was waxing nostalgic: "There was a Victorian neighborhood there when I was growing up, and they were tearing it down, making parking lots out of it, turning it into the mid-late-Sixties era All of a sudden all the refrigerators had avocado on them. It's the same kind of transition you saw here about two years ago," he said.

The headline on the front page of one of the old newspapers from Alex' collection proclaimed "Jack Ruby's body flown back." I was writing faster now, getting up some scribbling speed. Kennedy's killer's killer's body was flying back into old Love Field, and Alex had just pulled yet another stack of papers from his closed-box museum. "I'm not making these things up. They're all in here," he said.

"We had to find a place to stay." The family Troup moved to Cedar Springs, next to the Miramar Museum and across from Orand Buick. "My father tore down all of the print shop and threw it down the stairs until it built itself up to the second floor. Then they moved all the stuff out and into the new place."

In 1968, the Troups traveled New York. On their way, they visited all the schools, met students, faculty and friends. And through these friends, they met still more artists. It was a friendly personal period, but Alex remembers "buildings burning, and we couldn't drive through Indiana because of the riots"

Back in Dallas, the Troups had a whole new line-up of artists. It was about 1968, and things were changing again. "Buildings were going up: Republic National Bank, First National, Southwest Life." Interior designers were visiting the gallery regularly. "We didn't have all those art services-all that cheapie stuff," Alex said. Silkscreens and lithographs were selling very well. "Paintings were too expensive. My parents were making a killing."

They dabbled in all forms of art-the fine, eccentric, African ethnic, Eskimo, conservative. They wanted to know what it all meant." All this time, his father was still investigating for insurance companies. "I come from a family of workaholics. To live in Dallas you have to be a workaholic," he said. "There's a lot of boredom here."

"Art was changing again. By 1970, the recession came in. The middle class wasn't buying art like it had. Posters hippies-collecting art changed. Now was the seeds of the revolution; the transition had begun."

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Art was considered a luxury, and luxury items weren't bought as much. The Conceptual Movement and Avant Garde space was taking over. It wasn't modern; it was dead. You couldn't sell it, and you couldn't live on it. You had to be funded to do it."

"My parents had integrity. They didn't want to go to minimal/conceptual. It was not affordable or feasible. They wanted to stay the same. It was too fast-chaos and bewilderment. They realized it, and they were tired. They'd been in business nine years-since 1964."

As if to give them just the right shove, The Dallas Museum of Fine Art started "showing art by their artists," and "my mother accused the museum of selling art at a nonprofit institution supported by City tax money. They sued the museum."

After they lost, they were blackballed in the city. They were tired--the pioneers who didn't get credit. They were confused They got out of it completely in 1972."

Alex paused. It was the first time I'd had a chance to ask a question. Did Alex miss the gallery?

He didn't answer right away. "I guess I do miss it," he said, reflecting on the long-lost past. "I was raised in it all my life. Now I'm an obscurity from my parents, because of all this. They didn't want me to be an artist. They wanted me to be a doctor or something. They eighty-sixed me because they were disillusioned.

It's a tough thing here [to be an artist]. They didn't want to back me on it. And I didn't have any money. There was a side of them in grief, in pain, and they wanted to get rid of it."

"Because they got out of it, they saved themselves a lot of pain. Too much had gone by too quick." Alex didn't get out, though. "I was still hanging out at shows. A lot of hippie things were still going on."

Alex moved in with Oak Cliff Four painter Jim Roche during early summer 1974, after the elder Troup had run Roche off. Alex remembered Roche--"long-haired pony tail, cowboy boots, blue jeans and lots of silver stuff." He also remembered fleas and trash everywhere. Most especially he remembered a wall Jim had smeared with cat shit and painted in purple: "This wall for sale for $30. To Clarence with Love from Jim."

After that, Alex worked construction for a while, then with Jay Largo (who made western art). "I worked in plaster for a year. Then with David McCullough. Then I worked for Rafael Martini."

In the late Seventies, Alex "hung around some Gypsies--Manuel Mauricio, Laney Yarber, Deborah Dobbins, Suzanne Whitley. It was motley," he said. "Michael Minzer, Karen Hale, all of us would go over to Moon Mansion, which was the Ashley Bellamy experiences. While McCullough was doing the video marathon thing with Frank Tolbert at Smither's space, I got involved with theatre, dancing, poetry, all experimental kinds of stuff. I feel the loss now. It was easy. You could afford it. Inflation hadn't cut in."

"I probably hung out with forty or fifty people a year I met all the people--James Surls But I never got in deep or heavy. I wanted that distance. The fun was watching all this. I learned that if you get caught up in all this, you get sucked up into it. That's what happened to my folks."

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"Then I started working with Norv Hermanovski. Norv had a hard time in Dallas," Alex understated. "Everything he did is gone now."

Alex stopped momentarily to asses his own place in all this. "I'm really an historian. I'm another kind of artist. I'm your culture artist. I realized by '78 or '79 that all this stuff was disappearing. They were getting married, getting broke. A lot of them were getting permanent jobs. I was going to open a museum on 10th Street" [in his grandmother's house, where he still lived]. He wanted to call it "Modern History of Art in Dallas." That's what I was doing for ten years. When I took off from art, I went to historic preservation.

Unfortunately, the museum dream was short-circuited when his parents threw him out of his comfortable digs on 10th Street. By then he'd accumulated thousands of artifacts, including several stone cuttings from the Sanger Building (the "old building" at El Centro College, which had been torn down in spite of considerable preservation feeling in the community). "This was my other strange life-style. Art got boring, so I went into history."

Alex "spent nine years on Woodall Rogers Freeway." He showed me a box full of artifacts, antique toothpaste jars, combs, brushes, pretties, which he called "the last nine months of Woodall Rogers. This stuff dates back to the 1880s and was taken not far from the Belo Mansion, from a place once called 'Victorian Village' or Uptown Dallas."

"I'd dug in that vein, what was a creek, washing off the dirt, cataloging it, collecting it. I'd discovered the former Dallas Dump. While I was doing that-nine years of my life, I was doing the art scene, music scene, going to work Which is why I haven't gotten married yet."

"What we're looking at is a city in perpetual motion. That's why my parent got out of the art business. It's a killer. You're living a piece of quick time "

Alex was winding down. He slowed the pace to discuss one of his sculptures hanging on the wall over the table. He called the pieces of an old plow mounted on a slatted structure The Last Farmer.

"It's too quick here. It has a hard time to last. It needs to slow down. It needs some kind of stability.

It needs more of it from the art community-from the museums, art centers and artists themselves."

Then, briefly, Alex Troup talked about the contents of his store room-"all the stuff I've ever dug." When he moved from the 10th Street house, "I lost about half of it-eight or nine thousand bottles, clothing, old uniforms, nearly half of the Sanger's building and thirteen or fourteen others. They great debate within has been to give it all to the Historical Museum, but I've been down there"

Alex said he was "an archivist." Mulling over the last nine years of life in his urban archaeological dig, he said, "the value is the essence of what was. Rebuilding distorts the tradition. People don't get a grasp of the history."

He pointed to one of the larger sealed wood crates near the entrance of his cavernous archives. Inside, he said, was his latest piece, which he called Cannibals in Dallas. He didn't open it up, but he did say, "In the art world, you get eaten up."

Texas Arts Revue #10
April 1983
  

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