Frank Reaugh’s preferred medium
By Harry Ransom Center
Isabella Savage is a Westlake High School student who spent the fall semester as an intern with Curator of Art Peter Mears to help gather and organize data related to the materials in the exhibition Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West. Isabella met with Peter two hours per week to fulfill her requirements for Westlake High’s Mentorship Program, which places students with professionals in their working environment.
I was assigned the task of determining the type and number of mediums used in each section of the Frank Reaugh exhibition. This information is important because it provides a statistical analysis of the range of media selected for display. The pastel medium was predominant but others included water color and oil. I also included various artforms such as drawing, print, sculpture, manuscript, photograph, and ephemera.
Some of my favorite items displayed in the gallery are Frank Reaugh’s hand-made pastel boxes that he manufactured for sale. I learned how Reaugh combined the pigments and chalk to create a wide range of color. Reaugh followed a systematic formula so he could later recreate a certain color, hardness, and texture. He also logged the pigment’s cost, supplier, and its working characteristics. It was these handmade and fine-tipped pastels that helped Reaugh create his more detailed pastel pieces. In the same display is a magazine that Reaugh used to hold many of his pastel works. While out in the field, Reaugh and his students used glossy magazines to protect their art from smudging by carefully interleaving works between the pages. I found this innovative and inexpensive storage fascinating.
Reaugh’s subject rarely differed, but his compositions and use of color made the sky captivating and the landscape unique. Also, his scenes were diverse, shifting from a chaotic stampede to a lone bull staring off into the sunset. One of Reaugh’s common themes was the image of a lone cow gazing toward the horizon, surveying the land. Most of the time the cow is alone, giving the piece a sense of isolation. Reaugh varies the colors, lighting, and composition to prevent this image from being redundant.
My favorite section within the exhibition is “Studies and Sketches,” which allows the viewer to see how Reaugh conceived and composed his artwork. The feeling is a behind-the-scenes look at the art. Something that caught my attention was how Reaugh wrote the time of day the study was created and the position of the sun with a pointed arrow. These qualities added to the intimacy of this section. Even though a great quantity of these sketches are quite small, the viewer can see detail not normally emphasized in Reaugh’s larger works. Also displayed are Reaugh’s detailed sketches of plants, flowers, and trees, which add to the diversity of the section. Reaugh’s beautiful and serene sketches of comets, clouds, sunrises, and sunsets are my favorite.
My mentor, Ransom Center Curator of Art Peters Mears, told me that, “While we had documented the various media appearing in the exhibition, your work provided some surprising statistics not readily apparent in a linear checklist such as the number and percentages of pastel works in each section or the ratio of loans to artworks from the Ransom Center’s collection.” He also shared that “the project also helped illustrate how various media blended together could characterize and support the thematic attributes held within each of the exhibition’s seven sections.”
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