Margaret Webb-Dreyer

Duration: 1hr:11mins
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with Margaret Webb Dreyer
Original Recording Date: 07/08/1976
OH 038

Louis Marchiafava: July 8, 1976. Interview with Mrs. Margaret Webb Dreyer. Mrs. Dreyer why don't you begin - [muffled inaudible noise] - I'd like to begin by asking you about how you began to paint. When did you first discover your talent?

Margaret Webb Dreyer: [Laughs] Well, I suppose I've painted all my life. My mother always had many art supplies - paper, and crayons, and watercolors - around then. I started painting when I was very young, and then I took art courses in high school, and then I went to Westmoreland, an all-girls school in San Antonio. And there I studied with a very fine teacher who had just come back from studying for six years with the young Paris artists. And through her I learned much about space breaking, I learned dynamic symmetry, which has helped me all through the years, because I have gone more and more abstract in my painting. And I went to the University of Texas and I was in the School of Architecture there for a year and a half. Mostly doing watercolor and drawing. I went to Museum of Fine Arts School, and I spent one summer with a friend on drisilus, who took a summer place in St. Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her husband was the Swedish council general here. And she took her son, and I took mine. And she rented this beautiful old place right in the heart of town, across from a church. And I studied there, at the Instituto with Pinko, and several of the - Leonard Brooks was teaching there and he later gave me my first award. I don't think he remembered me because this was sixteen or eighteen years later. But, I guess in one way I really a lot more self-taught then anything else, and I've tried to keep up with the young artists all through the years. I never stayed in my original style, although everybody said that they would recognize my early work from what I'm doing now.

LM: Let's talk about your early style. What influences were in there?

MWD: Well, I...

LM: What was your inspiration?

MWD: It was the sort of work that everybody was doing all over the world at that time - it was very abstract things. And I've always loved abstract painting. And, well, Ben Dubois, when he worked for Butes, when the Grimbacher man would come into town to sell his wares, Ben would call me to come give a watercolor demonstration. Because he said that I was painting like John Marin. Well at this time I was a very young artist, and I don't think I really knew who John Marin was, because he was so fresh and new in New York. But I suppose I was the first artist in Houston to do that watercolor. And, then when I was in the Fanmaguild in Windy I did demonstrations for watercolor classes. So, I think I've put out more than I've got - took in in those watercolor lessons. But Ben would see that the Grimbacher man would give me a big number twelve brush, and that was very important in those days, to have someone give you a number twelve watercolor brush and some good colors.

LM: When you studied in Mexico, was this during the fifties?

MWD: Uh, yes. My son I think was about five or six. It was probably in '50, '51.

LM: Was there a particular development occurring in that time in art?

MWD: Well, I think in Mexico there's always that very Mexican touch to everything they do. Just a beautiful Mexican feeling, even with the Canadian artists - there were many Canadian artists who were studying in San Miguel, who had moved there to paint. In fact Leonard Brooks, who was teaching a - was a Canadian and was the official war correspondent artist during the war, and had taught at the universities in Canada and in Wastekgee and in San Miguel. But overall, the Mexican artists and teachers who were there in San Miguel at that time were painting just like they were in New York, and not too many were painting that way in Houston. I suppose I was one of the early abstract painters in Houston. I had to find portrait painters like Robert Joy who has made quite a reputation in Texas as a portrait artist because he always has two or three years ahead of people waiting to have their portraits painted. And, but Schulitz tried to have, tried to go into abstraction, but his illustrated things were so in demand that he just didn't have time to do these abstract things that he wanted to do. But, I found that in San Miguel they were doing the same things that artists - young artists - were doing all over the world.

LM: When did you begin to drift more towards the abstract?

MWD: Well, I think I always felt in design when I painted. In my earliest watercolors, when I first starting showing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Contemporary Arts Museum, where they had juried shows and art shows. And from the time I first started to paint I had this feeling for a design in my paintings, and then that was strengthened by this first teacher that I had, who had just come back from studying in Paris. And, then I did a lot of city scenes at that time, in wet watercolor, but they were still a little bit abstract, even from my very early days.

LM: When did you sell your first piece?

MWD: Oh, now that's hard to say. My God, that's so many years ago.

LM: [Laughs]

MWD: I hardly remember. When my husband and I were first married we lived on Hawker Street, and there was the big storefront across the street from us. And Buck and Ruby Lee - she and my husband and I took this place for our studio. And it had a lot of rooms upstairs and we rented to some other young artists and there was just an artist group who worked at this big old storefront. It's on Pacific Street. And we would have a model come in, and especially - I don't know if you know my husband also is a painter, and he was in many of the early shows at that time, city shows and then state shows. And we worked with Buck and Ruby Lee. And Buck did so much for all of the young artists. He had a station wagon and James Tillman at the Museum as so cooperative, and so beautiful. Buck would run with all the paintings of the young artists and fill his station wagon and take them over to the show, three hours late, and James would wait there, and everybody would have their things in to be judged. So that was the time that I first started painting professionally. And that was, I guess, in, uh, I was very young at the time, and I had never really painted for shows or been aware of shows actually. And about that time I guess I started selling my paintings. And my - the first gallery I was with was with Ben Dubois when he was at Butes.

LM: How does an artist make these contacts? Sort of a circle of friends and acquaintances, or...

MWD: You mean if an artist wants to go in the gallery?

LM: Galleries, boards.

MWD: Well, you know it's just a national - an international - thing. Like I got, I don't remember how I happened to get the first invitation to the state shows. I've shown in the Texas Watercolor Show for years, and the last five years I guess I've won six awards in that show. Then in the Texas Annual I've won about five in the last five years. But I just get an announcement every year, and an invitation to send to the show. But I guess first you have to enter the show, and the Art League here in Houston, has been very helpful in that. I think they post a - they put out a little bulletin every month and they give a list of the upcoming shows, and who the judges are going to be and the deadlines and all of this sort of thing. Then after you make - like I've been in the Midwest Bi-Annual - after you've been in that show once then you're automatically on the list and they send you...material for the next show, that you might enter it.

LM: And that's in Nebraska?

MWD: The Midwest Bi-Annual in Nebraska.

LM: So you've exhibited outside of Texas as well as in..

MWD: Oh, yes. I've exhibited in Mexico, and...oh, various states. I've been on tours with the Texas Fine Arts - you, know, it's a national show. The Texas Watercolor Show is open to anyone who's ever lived in Texas before as much as six months. And from those shows they select paintings to go on tour every year, and they'll go to maybe four or five states and they'll go to museums and to universities in other states.

LM: I liked to talk to you for a moment about some of your major awards. You won the first Purchase Award for the Blueprint for Survival Two.

MWD: Uh, yes. That was in the...Well, I've won several awards for my blueprints. I won the first award, the Purchase Award, in the Texas Watercolor Show. It was the Art League -

LM: And you won the King Award.

MWD: ...award. Well that was in the Texas Fine Arts, I believe. On another one. Then I won my first award on my first blueprint in the Houston Art League. And I had also won the first award in the Art League on Space Law, which I did right after - that was the first, first award I won in the Art League.

LM: And then you won the Simply Memorial Purchase Award for a painting.

MWD: That was in the watercolor show several years ago I think.

LM: Well, I'd like to talk a little bit about the Survival paintings. What was the theme of them?

MWD: Well, to me at this time I was very, very concerned about the war.

LM: And this was in the late sixties?

MWD: Yes. And I was very opposed to the war, and I marched in the marches, and I got shot up by the Ku Klux Klan. I don't know whether I should mention that, I shouldn't mention any group, I know. I did march on the lawn of the Marine building, with a lot with a lot of the young protestors, and got thrown rocks at me from the - out of trucks passing by. We had quite a bit of harassment at the gallery at that time. We woke up one morning - my husband was leaving for the Chronicle - and he came upstairs and woke me up and he said, "Come look quick. See what's happened to the front of the gallery." And there was a big slash decompating on the front of the gallery under the flowering tree and the mosaic fountain, and red paint just thrown all over the front of the high yellow face that's up against the building, and all over the porch, and down the wall. And all over the back of our car.

LM: Is that a sickle and hammer or a swastika - you said it was a swastika.

MWD: It was a sickle and hammer, yes. And, then the big thing was the night when we were sound asleep and I hear this terrible crash and ran downstairs and somebody had shot through the front door and through the glass panels, with a .45, I think. And they lodged in the mosaic wall of the entry. And broke the glass - we had to replace all the glass in the doors, replace the door itself, which was one of those old glass doors in this old house that I grew up in. So we had - that's what started my Blueprint for Survival series. The war, and my being opposed to it and just what was happening in the world and the injustices, the fears, I think, that everyone was experiencing at that time. I had a son that was at the age when he would have gone into the service, and so many of my - I had been playground director for a number of years. And so many of my little kids from the playground, whom I had worked with, who were little dead-end kids, many of them whom I grew to love very dearly were killed in the war. And this was heartbreaking to me and many of my friends' children that I had seen grow up. And I was very despondent over the whole thing, so I think all of this just sort of overflowed into this series that I did - the Blueprint for Survival.

LM: How many blueprints were there?

MWD: I've done about fourteen altogether. And there have been some paintings have grow out of that style, where I have always loved to paint with a lot of light emerging from a dark background. I love contrast and I love tension in a painting. I love pull and tug and contrast. And so many of my paintings have very much contrast in them. Both of light and forms and color. And, so then out of the Blueprint series I went into other things, like, the - I was influenced by African sculpture, and I did this painting with a very dark blue background with a man riding a horse, all very abstract. And it was called After Benin. And it was after the Benin culture, you know - African art.

LM: Was the Survival...

[phone rings]

LM: Were the Survival paintings hopeful, or where they...

[phone rings]

MWD: Oh, no. They're very hopeful.

[phone rings]

MWD: They're very hopeful. And I'm a very optimistic person. And I suppose that I did them - started as a little prayer and a great desire to do something. I mean, this was all a thing that welled up in me when I was doing the Blueprint paintings. I'm very interested in people. I love people. It was heartbreaking to me to see any rationality subjected to indignity and - I was a social worker, I taught at Ripley House for quite a while. And I taught at a park in the East End where a little Mexican boy used to walk through the park. And some of the kids would throw rocks at him. And they said that he was not allowed on that park. So, I think after three years there that I had taught the children, or I had tried to make them see that we are all alike. And a friend of mine who teaches out at the Medical Center, who is a very brave man, said at that time, and I wasn't aware of that, that in a black person, it's just the epidermis of the skin that's dark. And if a place is burned you see a white or pink patch on a black person's cheek. It's exactly the same in every way except this outer layer of the skin - the epidermis that is.

LM: Are this - this series of paintings for Survival, do you consider them distinct in their style and expression from what you'd done before and what you did after?

MWD: No, I think, probably in style, my other work led into these, in style. Because my painting, one series after the other, has developed from the previous series. And if you could see my early paintings, like, I was winning awards in the post-Easter show years ago, and I have a very abstract painting that I think stated about '40, or '38 and something, when I was just starting to paint, that won awards in the post-Easter show, and it was called Jesus Before Pilate, or something. And it was very abstract. Always abstract then, you know. And that reminds - well, I'll bring that up later. But, one series of paintings grew out of the one before it. And, I think you could, as I said, at my early things, and realize that they're my paintings. But the thought changed. Now my new series, is a series of just almost non-objective paintings - five by seven on raw canvas. And they're stained paintings, but they're not stained paintings like Frankfurt Taylor and the Rothko things, where they're just big blocks of color. These are designed things with the movement - maybe three blocks in a painting with the movement crossing. And still the same abstract forms that I used in my previous paintings, even in Blueprint paintings. But not as much contrast, I've noticed in these. They're softer and they look like old Persian rug colors more.

LM: What was the inspiration for this new outlook?

MWD: I think - I felt the need to paint bigger, larger things. And I was handicapped through the years, because I always had some kind of business going - the murals company, or teaching with the recreation department, painting classes all over the city, and then the gallery, and pushing other people's work and just being a Sunday painter, and having a small area to work in. So when I closed the gallery we just used the whole master bedroom upstairs - which was the big long bedroom - I turned into my studio. And Martin's studio was way at the far end downstairs, so we don't bother each other. And I had wall space to work on. So I just tacked these things up to the ceiling, and down to the floor, and I just worked right on the wall. And I had never had room to do that before, because we were living upstairs at the gallery and furniture - a lot of these things were just upstairs, they were moved all over the gallery now. And when I closed the gallery, that gave me movement to spread out and do large paintings. And I don't know - my sister told me that - well, I studied decorating, too - and I suppose I might have been influenced...My husband, Martin, brought back a lot of batiks from Jakarta, from the famous batik makers. Well my paintings are nothing like these. But they are similar in size in that these things reach, you know, from the floor to the ceiling. And my sister told me that she was reading articles in the new home magazines, which I haven't done much of since I used to do decorating, too. I'm painting so much of the time that I don't do that too much. You train, of course, the natural look with the huge rocks and trees that touch the ceiling, and batik paintings - floor to ceiling batik paintings. Well, I didn't know this. I have always just painted as I felt, and I think people all over the world will arrive sort of at a similar expression. It is just amazing how the creative mind is a universal thing that the artist draws from. And I have noticed this all through the years as I've painted you will see something that will come out of Houston, or out of New York, or out of Timbuktu, or Sweden, or anywhere, and in the same style. It's just beautiful. And I notice color trends, too. During the war years, there was a show at the - well, it was the Texas Annual that was held in Dallas every year, and that year all of the paintings were red. Just practically everything in the show was red, and they were from all over Texas. Artists who didn't know what the other artist was doing. And I think this is true all over the world.

LM: So the universe is a melting pot then.

MWD: Yes.

LM: That's interesting. I never quite thought of it that way.

MWD: Well, I think it's true.

LM: Environmental?

MWD: Well, or it's just, I guess you would call it The Big Man, or The God Thing that's within everybody. I think it's the thing really that makes progress in the world. That we think in terms of progress and moving forward, and of change. And, uh...would you pronounce your name correctly for me darling? I studied it, and it's the most beautiful name.

LM: Well, you have a choice. If you want to use the Anglo-American pronunciation, you would say "march-e-vall."

MWD: I want the Italian.

LM: "Mach-e-fava." "Mach-e-fava."

MWD: Mach-e-fava. You know, I'm descended from an Italian. My South America - my South Carolina family are descended from the Dominis in Italy.

LM: Hm...

MWD: And when I was in Italy three summers ago with the builders and decorators group I went to, uh, the Vatican, and went to Florence and saw those fantastic buildings but that's not apropos of where we were.

LM: [Laughs]

MWD: Where were we? I do love your beautiful name.

LM: Thank you. People either like it or love it or cruise it.

MWD: Well, this is another thing that Italians have finally come into their own in this country and all over the world - not that they needed to anywhere else - but I think as a new - we're all Anglo-Saxons, mostly, when we started. My father's people were the Webbs, and they settled in Virginia, and they were of course from England. And all the Pilgrims and all the settlers, we had some beautiful people. Native Indians haven't been accepted until the last few years. People are beginning to realize that they're Americans.

LM: [Laughs]

MWD: It's really tragic about nationalities.

LM: You're really coming out - you did some murals, too, didn't you?

MWD: Yes, I did a quite a few murals. In fact, I started a murals company. A friend of mine - Charlene Carpenter, who was an artist here - and I decided that we would start a murals company. And we contacted about a dozen of the young leading artists in Houston at the time. We were doing murals in shops and stores and residences. About that time I was contacted by Mario Cavallini. A good Italian who had moved to San Antonio and opened a mosaic business there. And had brought his Italian family and his Italian company to San Antonio. And he contacted me in Houston, and so we added mosaics to our murals business, and we did some beautiful work for architects here, just all over mosaic things.

LM: Was that in Houston?

MWD: Yes, and outside of Houston, too, because mosaic was very new here and, well, I did a fountain and a bathroom and something - we did this beautiful home. And I did the Cavallini mosaic on the face of their building in San Antonio. And I did some, mosaic mural for the Webading School for Buffington architects here. And then we threw - I had done work for Wilson-Mars-Crane-Anderson. Now it's split up and they're different firms. But Mr. Crane wanted us to present a mural for his new bank in Longview, Texas. He was leaving Houston and leaving the firm and retiring, I guess, to go back to Longview, and he had a bank there. So we did this chest high mural, in sort of a concave movement - it was their design, Mr. Crane's design - and had never worked in mosaic and he had done very little abstract work, and I gave this job to her to do, and he did a magnificence thing - I mean I worked with him a little on how to do mosaic, and then he went to San Antonio and worked with Cavallini, and you know, it's all done in reverse on paper, and then set into this concrete foundation, set in with wet cement, and then you let it dry, and then you have to wash it off with an acid and take the paper off. And it was really a beautiful thing.

LM: Well, wasn't these your designs?

MWD: No. No, this is one thing that we decided to do - let each artist do his own design. And this was a very fine thing to do, I think. I did my design - I was mostly the contact person in this, and then we would select the artist according to the style that he worked in and the style, or the architecture of the building or the residence.

LM: That's very interesting. Did you have a registry for the various artists? How did you go about doing this?

MWD: Well, I was very familiar with their work, most of them, and each artist did several samples, small watercolors or casings of work they could do, maybe. A panel of two-by-four, or two-by-five, one by three, and what it whether it was a residence or a building or an old-fashioned house, or a little boutique, or whatever. You know, they would do different designs for different things, and, uh. That went on until I opened the gallery, and...even after the gallery was open we still did mosaics a number of times.

LM: Before we get into the gallery, a discussion of the gallery itself, why don't we go back just for a moment, and let me ask you about your - what's your favorite painting, your favorite work that you did? Do you have one that stands out in mind as your best perhaps, or one that...

MWD: Well...

LM: ...or one that you enjoy the most or whatever?

MWD: Most of my paintings I still like. A few of them I don't like that much, but most of my paintings I've liked and I kept several of my paintings. I've just refused to sell them, I want to keep them for my son and to sort of see my progress, you know, from one period to another. But I can't - I love my Blueprint for Survival series, and I do like very much when I run across one of my old paintings that I did during my wet watercolor series. I still love those and sometimes I wonder how in the world I ever did them. Because my style is not really that way now. But, I can still see the forms as similar, although I would say my work is free, still very free...Especially in this new series of long - it's almost like - they're painted tapestries, is what they are.

LM: You mentioned that the Survival series gave rise to a new form, and you didn't really get involved in that. Why don't you get ahead and do that now?

MWD: Well, the Survival series, at that time I - in the gallery I was one of the first galleries to bring in pre-Columbian art. Catherine Spencer had I guess one of the first important galleries in Houston, and she was representing Andre Henri of New York, who specialized in pre-Columbian art. And she and her husband and my husband and I - her husband was a very fine architect [unintelligible] - we all went to Mexico one summer and bought some pre-Columbian things. And I was so excited about them. When I brought them back Andre was in town one time and Catherine brought him over to see pre-Columbian. And I had this painting on that had been in Houston shows called Pay Ting - it was sort of a satire on the openings at the show. All these huge paintings were hanging all around this room and we had a big, fancy, French chandelier on the center of the wall and a table with all the desserts and all of the beautiful things we had at the openings. So I knew - I had been looking at the pre-Columbian and he saw this painting, and he was studying this painting of mine. And, Cathy says, "Come on, Andre. Hurry up. We've got to go." She had to get home to do dinner for Bailey or something. They were running late. And, Andre didn't pay attention to her, just kept looking at this painting, and she was rushing him and he says, "Catherine, leave me alone. I'm studying this crazy-wild painting." So at that time, it was the only painting of mine that I had in my house. I had a friend here, who, one of the Blafford girls, Tutti, I think,she's in New York, Trutti, I think, Tutti Blafford, and she had sent a friend of hers from New Orleans over about three or four weeks before, and he had bought everything I had in my house. Just cleaned me out - old watercolors, practice things, little old funny drawings, all of Martin's things. We just didn't [unintelligible] in the house. Most of it unframed, and titled-edged, you know, and, so I didn't - that was my chance I guess to go to New York and show in a good gallery, if I had something else to show him, or if I followed through with it. But I was so busy with my own thing at that time, I really got into a dubious route. My sister decided to move back to Houston and move into the old house, which we'd had as a rented house for many years. My family home, where we live now, had the gallery. We had it all done over and she went back to her husband and decided she didn't want to leave New Mexico at all - or Colorado. So, just overnight, Martin had opened a gallery, and of course I ran it, because he was newspaper man and I had the time, I was away from where I'd started. So that's when I started collecting pre-Columbian art, and then I specialized in pre-Columbian art in the gallery, and then I went from pre-Columbian art right into African art, and these things influenced me in these paintings that I have done which are - that grew out of them. The different series but they had sort of the same colors and same style. And then I went from that series into them, the painted canvases. Is that what you wanted to know?

LM: Yeah, continue with your paintings, see what differences there were. does one go about organizing a gallery. Did you make contacts among artists, or did they come to you...?

MWD: Oh, you just let a little something flutter in the air and suddenly you just have all these people appear that you don't even know. And there was - I had done quite a few lecture things. There were three of us on the panel out at Rice University. I didn't have a note, and these two very prophetic artists who speaking with me had all these stacks of, you know, material that they were reading from, and I just started talking, and I was so excited about the whole thing, and suddenly my mind just went blank. And I, it seemed like an hour, and it was probably just half a second. And I looked down, and George Williams, who taught, who was head of the English department out there, was sitting down in the audience and he was smiling, and his wife Marianne was sitting beside him, they just threw a thought right into my mind and I just went on in and kept on going again. But I had met some of the young architectural students out there who later came to the gallery and wanted me to see their paintings and drawings, and one of my first artists that I had in the gallery was Arthur Turner, who has done beautiful things in the art world. He's now with Betty Miller Gallery. And I took Arthur when he was a sophomore, I think, in college. His work was just so exciting and so profound, and he them went to Claimbrook. And I had a show of a group of Claimbrook artists who were friends of his. All very fine painters. I've had Joseph Kale in my gallery, who is a very fine artist from Corpus. And, people just come and ask you to look at their things, and there was one man who came when I was away one day, and left about a hundred paintings - funny little things on paper, you know. I haven't ever heard from him since. I don't know what happened to him. I have these little stacks of funny looking drawings. I guess maybe someday - I've tried not to destroy anything, you know - but the other gallery people say that after you've had something for two years you either throw it away or sell it - but I've tried to keep most things that artists have left at the gallery.

LM: Did you gear you gallery toward a particular clientele?

MWD: Not really. I geared my gallery toward the artists. And I never made a lot of money in my gallery, but, I have been helped so much by different people, like Buck Schulitz, and Ben Dubois, and those beautiful people, when I was young and just starting...that I really never made a lot of money in my gallery, because I had very young artists who weren't known. And they would show with me for a year or two and about the time their name would be built up, then they'd go over to another more prominent gallery here, and they were subsidized by this gallery, and then they just started going right on up. But, I have exposed a lot of young artists in Houston to the public, and I would have huge openings and the booze would flow, and I'd even serve hors d'orveurs. The gallery opening would cost me three or four hundred dollars, and then the next thing I knew one of these artists - I never had a contract with an artist. I never required anything of an artist. What he wanted to do was his business. I never tried to hold him back.

LM: A very informal arrangement.

MWD: Yes.

LM: Is that common amongst most galleries, or did you

MWD: Oh, I don't think so. I think most of them have an arrangement where the artist has to guarantee, or the gallery might guarantee to sell a certain number a year, there are written agreements in most galleries.

LM: I've heard, um, something, we were talking about the role of the middle-class gallery where the catered more or less to the execrable tastes of people. Have you run across that very much? That type of gallery in Houston?

MWD: We have, the galleries have just sprung up in Houston everywhere here. There - you can hardly go anywhere without seeing a gallery. We have some very beautiful galleries. I think maybe one or two or our galleries have gone too far for Houston, maybe rein it in, so I've just - I get things that are little beyond the concept of most people, whether it would be here or New York or wherever. But are these things like the Westheimer Art Show, where they have booths lined up for blocks and blocks, and any amateur artist could go over and put his things in a booth. And it's a little bit unfortunate that they aren't juried by someone, because people who don't know art, who grow up without any knowledge of it, are apt to by these things, because they think they have a bargain. And they end up with a bunch of junk in their homes. And, more power to the young artists, to be able to sell their things like that on the street, and I'm not putting the whole group down, because among those artists are talented people who will show in galleries some day and become very good artists. There are commercial galleries here who cater only, as you say, to the decorator-type business. But the better decorators wouldn't touch some of those things, [laughs] because they know what's good, too. I always tried to keep good work in my galleries. And good work isn't always the first work to sell. Because it's like anything else: what you buy, you pay for. And most of my people in my gallery were young artists, but they were artists that I recognized as having a lot of talent and big future, and most of them have gone on to become very fine artists.

LM: Well, you spent most of your life in Houston or in the Houston area - the general vicinity.

MWD: Um...

LM: First of all, I guess I have to ask you whether that's true or not. [Laughs]

MWD: Yes, it is true, except that we did travel. When my husband was travel editor with the Chronicle for many years, before he was, we went to Mexico at least once a year, and spent a lot of time in Mexico. But we're travelers. And I have been to quite a few places in the world. In the summers - I spent my summers - we have a summer place down in, on Clear Lake, that was built by an old sea captain before the 1900 storm. It was anchored into the ground with cables and set in stone posts, concrete posts, about eight or ten feet into the ground. It survived all the storms, including the 1900 storm. And, I spent all my summers there, or the most of my summers. And I think that was conducive to my becoming a painter. Because I would go out in a little skiff - we always had a lot of people there in the summers, huge table, and a French cook from Louisiana, who would cook this marvelous things and always a lot of guests from out of town and out of state, who would be at this big place in the summer - and I would slip out in the middle of dinner, and maybe not even eat dinner, and go out just at dusk in a little row boat, and you could row almost across to the channel, which was about a mile over, without getting above the waist, it was never any danger, you never even had to think, it was just so great to just sort of sit out on the water with the waves lapping...Record players over on the other side of the lake, just drifting music, drifting over to you. And, sometimes I would be out there for an hour or two until the sun went completely down, and sometimes the moonlight nights there were just magnificent. And it was just...

LM: Sounds inspirational.

MWD: Oh, it was beautiful. That's where NASA is now, you know, on Clear Lake. [pause]

LM: During this time - well, let's say, when you first begin actually turning professional as a painter, what was the climate in Houston and the surrounding area toward art? Was it conducive?

MWD: Uh...well, your friends, all your friends wanted you to give them - "When are you going give me a painting? When're you going to give me a painting?" I still have it from family, distant family, when they come through town. "Oh, Maggie, I love this painting. Why don't you give me this?" And even if you go for certain services some place, and although you're paying for this service this person will say, "I want one of your paintings, why don't you give me one?" Well, you know you can't - say, well, this little work sells for $600. You don't give away your service, you wouldn't give away $600 worth of service. And yet somehow people think that artists should give them paintings. Now there is a beautiful thing that exists among the artists themselves, there's exchange parties, and this is fine. And you also exchange - I have a marvelous old chest, I traded Phillip Truman, who has a Chinese antique gallery, and he deals mostly in oriental things, but he had this chest in his shop which I loved, and he saw a painting of mine which was a four-by-five-and-a-half painting, it was an abstract painting of fish, and of course that is a symbol, you know, a very beautiful symbol with the Chinese. He loved that painting and he said it was the first abstract painting that he'd ever seen that he liked, because he likes typical, oriental paintings. So, I had been looking at this chest, and he said, "Well, I want that painting, and you want the chest; why don't we trade?" So I have found that you do some trading on painting. And then of course this thing has come up, you know, in the art world, where if you donated - if an artist donated a painting to an auction - which artists are always called on to do - and believe the artists are beautiful in donating, donating, donating constantly, to all the good causes. And at one time you could dig up, if you were a professional artists and had an established price on a certain type of painting, you could deduct that amount from your income tax. But then they passed a law - because people were just deducting all sorts of things and pushing the price way up - I guess this is what happened, this is what I've heard - and especially when people would donate things to a museum, they would double the price and have some appraiser push the price way up for them. So now they have this thing that if an artist donates a $1000 painting, what he gets to deduct is the cost of the materials he put into the painting. So you might, your canvas might cost you $30, and your paints can... So that's what you can deduct after you've given a $1000 painting to some beautiful cause. Which you want to do - but now they're working on that. I know some artists have banded together, and they've taken this before Congress and trying to get something done about this. And Artists Sacretium, and that national group of Artists Sacrity, and that's what good, good comes from joining together and having a mutual purpose and interest.

LM: When you first began painting and selling your paintings in Houston, was it very profitable? Has it changed over the years? Have the people become more sophisticated here now? Are there more outlets for paintings, for artists?

MWD: Yes. Oh, yes. Definitely. Paintings in those days they sold for very little. I guess it was just - well, Polly Mars had a gallery here, Dubois gallery, the Butes gallery had really the top Houston artists at that time, and then when Catherine Spencer opened her gallery she took them. And with the gallery pushing your work, you were much more apt to sell, because they'd done a big buildup and covered by the critics. And if you see this things hanging in a one-man show, and Houston was a small town, sort of - but, for people who really were interested, and there were always that group of people who loved pretty things, and who loved fine arts, who went to the museums, and we had the Contemporary Arts Museum out on the grounds of the Prudential building for awhile, before they built the new building, and we had the Art League and all these people would sponsor shows. I at that time was depending a lot on awards I won in shows. And some artists had never entered a show - they're just not interested in entering shows. But a lot of the top artists enter shows and win awards, and you can have a good income if you enter shows and win enough awards. But prices have changed and the attitude of people have changed - attitudes have changed. And people are aware, becoming more and more aware, I think, of fine art. All over the world, and not just people say in New York - everybody knows art. I don't believe that's true. I've been other places in the world, very much, other areas where artists, well, like Chicago, the southwest, Kansas City, in California where art students go. But, your paintings, as you grow as a artist, and win awards, and become better known, of course your prices go up. And that's good for artists, because they always have something to look forward to, unless they just stay static. You know, I read just recently where one of the Houston artists said he was painting just like he did forty, thirty years ago. And he's sold thousands of dollars worth of paintings, at a recent show, which is good for him, but his painting has become very static and very stale. So most artists try to keep up with the trends, or I think if they're top artists they automatically keep up with the trends, and they all start thinking in a vein, and styles change, and you must keep up with the changes,

LM: To prepare for this interview I did some background research on different - various trends in art, and one of the critics noted that in the sixties the trend seemed to be, that the artist would portray man in alienation from his environment that he felt, from his technological environment, that he was alone in the world. Has this shifted since the early '60s?

MWD: Um...[pause]

LM: Or is it too early to tell?

MWD: A lot of painters have gone more and more - I think after the war was over, people weren't quite as aware of the social angle in paintings, and became more and more abstract, and more - into way-out, non-objective, just into ideas, like the lady works on the floor, with a little cross and a circle on the wall, that was just a little bit confusing to many people. And then I think out of that grew the tendency back into - not necessarily realistic art, but into more of a surrealistic thing. Where you have to show that you can draw and that you know composition, and you know design, and you know the basic elements that are yours, that you're taught about art. And I have noticed a trend back that way. Toward something that shows a knowledge of having been trained. We're becoming more and more aware of the history of art, and art from the very early cave paintings, and on through the primitive things, since we've been exposed to the ethnic art from over the world, and we travel more now, and we see these things and we're beginning them in down the museums more than we ever did before. So, and of course, Picasso, you know, was greatly influenced by the cave paintings, by many of the ethnic things, and many of the great artists had. But I see a tendency back now to painting something that shows you have a background and a knowledge, and I think one thing that's great is these new boxes that are being done by so many of the artists. They're just beautiful. The wooden boxes, you know, with little wooden secrets in them, and bundle of compartments that open. After the Cornell box, I suppose, we've always had marvelous boxes, they've always been terrific. I collect boxes, and I have many from different parts of the world, from different periods, but the boxes come back into its own. For some reason people in Cornell started it, I guess it was the first one that was recognized in this field in this country , but now you see this thing growing up. But it shows a beautiful knowledge of putting a lot of feeling and thought into a small thing that's done with the hands, that takes a lot of time, and involves a lot of creative thinking. And, I feel that in my new canvases, even though there are objects if you look for them, there're subjects if you look for them, and Jim Harris at the Contemporary Arts Museum told me he sees a lot of animal...[pause] Well, that's stupid. I can't think of that word. [pause] What is the word I'm searching for? [pause] Well, I've lost the word. I'm doing a lot of going back into mythology and icon making, and I'm really thinking when I do these paintings. Feel the mythology - well I've done a series of those now, that's one of my new things that I'm going into. Like the Daphne painting, where they're - Daphne was changed into a beautiful tree, you know, by the gods because she didn't want this lover, and that is one thing, a large painting that I've done. Animal symbolism, my God. The word symbolism - that's what I think that a lot of artists are getting into their work now.

LM: I wonder what the reason is for that?

MWD: Well, I think it's, we're searching the world, and when we realize that we're not as smart as we think we are, we've come a long way. But when you back to the great Greek and Roman and the Chinese, the Oriental thinking, what fantastic things there were and we're going into the Jung philosophy of symbolism that has come done through the centuries in the art. And I think it is that more people are becoming more educated and they're studying these things in school, and now symbolism means a lot more to them. They have studied and become aware of these things. Been made more aware of them through their educational background for one thing. And then when we have so much art that's being brought in from all over the world. Like we have these marvelous puppets, hand puppets, from Bali, are just fantastic. Puppets have always fascinated me, too, but then when you see these life-size figures that the native Africans have done that who never had a lesson of any kind - of course it's been handed down from their artists - from one craftsman to the next generation. But I think these things are causing change in the work of most artists.

LM: We've covered a lot of territory. Are there... [recording fades out] Are there any areas that we haven't discussed that you'd like to talk on?

MWD: Oh, I don't know. I think there are a lot of people who deserve a lot of credit in Houston for pushing the arts. I wouldn't know how to start doing this. I think Jim Hennikist, who has come here with the Contemporary Arts Museum is doing fantastic thing for the Houston and Texas artists and getting great young artists out even from parts of the area. He reminds me - though he's a completely different type of person - of James Tillman, when he was over at the Museum of Fine Arts. He was so warm, and so receptive - he made the artists feel that this was their museum, and any comment or any criticism, he was completely open to, and eager for suggestions, and Jim Harris is the same way. I think Mr. Agee over at the Art Museum is doing a fine thing there. And then we have the Art League, and we have groups of people here - we have the art camps, and we have the main state happening thing, we have many things coming into Houston that we haven't had before, like the sculpture shows - the outdoor sculpture shows. They are just marvelous and people are considering buying these now for public areas, and buying paintings for public areas, and this is very important to us as a people. The people should have these things before. When you go to Europe you realize how - really what a dearth of art there is around us. In most parts of the United States, and some people have become aware of it, even others. But we've always had a lot of magnificent things in Houston in the museum and in private collections, but now people are getting these things out of the homes and into shows in various places. They're lending their art and it's touring the country, and the Ded-O'Neills did fantastic thing for Houston. And just a magnificent thing they've done here. There's so many people I could mention. And, I think that Houston has a great future in the arts, and I certainly will help in any way I can as long as I'm here. And I feel that when people realize that they must support the arts, they donate to other things, they throw a lot of money away. When you think of how you go out and spend for a dinner party, or just to go out for dinner, if you just give half of that once or twice a week as a donation to one of the museums, what a great thing that would be for the arts, and support the theater here. As you said before, when we were discussing that, how much has happened in the theater and in the Grand Opera, and in the Symphony - we have a magnificent Symphony here for years. We all gain more recognition in that field. And I think Houston has a magnificent future and we just got to keep working at it.

LM: On that positive note then we conclude - before we do, though, so I'd like to thank you so much for your participation in the Oral History project. I've enjoyed it.

MWD: Well, I feel very flattered and very grateful that I was called on to visit with you, and it's been a beautiful - whatever time that it's been - it's must be a least an hour. And...

LM: A little over that, as a matter of fact.

MWD: A little over an hour. And of course, we could go on forever. You with your interests, and your background and your training in this area, and I think that this is a wonderful thing that they're doing. We could talk of things on tape and have them library where they are available to the public.

[end of recording]