Fine art tourist: Emil bisttram at panhandle-plains museum (PPHM)

h. d. bugbee, mountain men, (old bill williams and jim bridger), oil on canvasboard

A brief history of the PPHM

PPHM is located in Canyon, Texas, approximately 20 miles south of Amarillo. The museum opened to the public in 1933. It was the brainchild of Hattie Anderson, an educator who had moved to Canyon to teach history at the West Texas Normal School (now West Texas A&M University).

Hattie was fascinated by the history of the area and began to enlist the aid of individuals in the area to form a historical society to preserve the history and culture of the Panhandle-Plains. The historical society flourished for thirteen years; the growing collection of artifacts created the need for more space. The historical society then funded the creation and operation of the museum.

Today the museum continues to prosper and is home to over three million artifacts within the 285,000 square foot complex. The museum provides insight into the past and the present of many facets of the people,culture, history and industry of the Panhandle-Plains. The collection includes galleries devoted to paleontology, archeology, geology, Native American culture, textiles, petroleum extraction and western art.

We enjoyed the PPHM immensely and strongly recommend devoting at least a half day visit when you visit the Amarillo – Lubbock area of the Panhandle. In addition to the museum this area offers ample outdoor recreational opportunities (Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon – see post: CTSPRINTERLIFE: TOURING THE PANHANDLE). https://wordpress.com/post/ontheroadwithmariastephen.net/6946

EmIL Bisttram

OTR had the great fortune to meet Deanna Lowe Craighead, Curator of Art at the PPHM, while visiting another museum in the panhandle. In addition to dialing us in about the Bisttram exhibition, Deanna also provided us with the recommendation to visit the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa ( see post FINE ART TOURIST PHILBROOK MUSEUM OF ART). https://wordpress.com/post/ontheroadwithmariastephen.net/7362 The balance of this post is dedicated to the Bisttram exhibit and a bit of his biography.

Emil Bisttram was born in Nagylak, Hungary (now Nadlac, Romania) in 1895. His family emigrated to New York City in 1906. Bisttram studied art at National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, the Art Students League, and the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. He also taught art while studying and was known through out his career as an excellent and sought after teacher.

emil bisttram, storm over taos, c. 1931, oil on canvas

Bisttram visited Taos, New Mexico in 1930. Initially he was overwhelmed by the size and scale of the New Mexico landscape and he struggled to capture the majesty of the environment. Despite that he returned to Taos in 1932 and it remained his home until his death in 1976.

Bisttram evolved from painting New Mexico landscapes and native culture to a decidely abstractionist style. The painting above (Storm Over Taos, 1931) is representative of his early work in New Mexico. The photographs of his paintings below are from the PPHM exhibit (private collection on loan – Ladd Family) and show his progression into abstraction.

emil bisttram, waterfall, 1959, acrylic on canvas
emil bisttram, winter, 1959, enamel on masonite
emil bisttram, celestial structures, 1959, enamel on masonite
emil bisttram, ascension no. 2, 1959, enamel on masonite
emil bisttram, midsummer night’s dream, 1960, enamel on masonite
festivity, 1960, enamel on masonite

Transcendental painting group (TPG)

Bisttram, along with Raymond Jonson, formed the TPG. The TPG was part of the Non-Objective Abstractionist wave of Modernism – which in part emanated from the influx of artists fleeing the increased political disruption ocurring during the 1930s in Europe.

emil bisttram, symphony in blue, 1963, oil on masonite

“The Transcendental Painting Group is composed of artists who are concerned with the development and presentation of various types of non-representational painting; painting that finds its source in the creative imagination and does not depend upon the objective approach.” —- TPG Manifesto

emil bisttram, windsong, 1964, oil on masonite

While we do not enjoy the work of some popular avant garde abstract artists, in our very humble opinion we think the paintings of the TPG artists and in particular Bisttram are in a different category. The work is clearly non-objective in may regards but relatable and created with a clear design in mind. We would love to know what you think.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Added bonus of visiting the PPHM – the excellent Palace Coffee is a five minute walk from the museum.

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