Episode 6: Don’t Mess With Texas Art


For the past 25 years, Tam Keihnhoff has collected “early Texas art”—which is not exactly what it sounds like. It’s art made by an artist who was born, lived or worked in the state, and it was made more than 40 years prior to the present date. So, “early” doesn’t necessarily mean a century old—or even a half-century old!

Tam, who lives in Houston, is an incredibly curious and tireless collector. She loves learning the stories behind artworks, and she’s particularly fascinated by Texas’s 20th-century women painters, who struggled to earn reputations in the male-dominated art world. She’s even gotten to meet some of these unorthodox women.
Tam has served as board chair at the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art, and now she works for the antiques dealer David Lackey (whom you might know from Antiques Roadshow).


Check out these photos of Tam’s art collection, and her home, which is just packed with artworks and other delightful objects!

An interior shot from Tam's home. The large painting is by her son.
A Robert Preusser painting. He studied with Moholy-Nagy!
Close-up of a painting by Maudy Carron (1911-1996). Tam describes her as "a visionary artist, very quirky and unusual."
Another photo of Tam's home. Artwork by Paul Manes.
Self-portrait by Anna Bell Peck, painted when she was a teenager
A painting by Bror Utter, who was a member of the Fort Worth Circle.
Another shot of Tam's art-filled home
A watercolor by Emma Richardson Cherry
Some of Tam's collection of vintage trompe l’oeil plates hang in her kitchen, around a painting by Robert Rogan.
A print by Lorene David
Another Bror Utter painting
A painting by Katherine Green
Tam's home
An interior shot from Tam's home. The large painting is by her son.

And here are a few artists whose pieces Tam wishes she had!

An abstract painting by Richard Stout, photo from the Houston Arts Fund
A painting from the “Earth Rhythms” series, by Ruth Uhler, photo from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
“Mother Earth Laid Bare” by Alexander Hogue, a Dallas artist famous for his Dust Bowl paintings, photo from the Philbrook Museum of Art
A Hopi kachina doll, photo from the Museum of Northern Arizona

For the past 25 years, Tam Keihnhoff has collected “early Texas art”—which is not exactly what it sounds like. It’s art made by an artist who was born, lived or worked in the state, and it was made more than 40 years prior to the present date. So, “early” doesn’t necessarily mean a century old—or even a half-century old! Tam, who lives in Houston, is an incredibly curious and tireless collector. She loves learning the stories behind artworks, and she’s particularly fascinated by 20th-century women painters in Texas, who struggled to earn reputations in the male-dominated art world. She’s even gotten to meet some of these unorthodox women. Tam has served as board chair at the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art, and now she works for the antiques dealer David Lackey (who you might know from Antiques Roadshow). [0:00] Music.  [0:35] Current i was immediately intrigued because. Frankly i had no idea what that meant i was picturing realist paintings from the mid-nineteenth century around the time that texas became a state and eating forty five. [0:51] Of course then when i talked to tam i found out i was from. She explained that the center for the advancement and study everly taxes art which was founded in two thousand three.  [1:04] Defines early texas department to criteria one it’s made by an artist who was born after work tuesday. To me more than forty years prior to the present day at. [1:19] So that’s a moving deadline and that encourages preservation not only of our debts from a century ago or more. Also tons of art from the twentieth century cs for early texas are includes. [1:36] The more traditional nineteenth century paintings that i was originally picture but it also includes water in other words the genre is she. [1:47] Can who lives in use and has been collecting paintings and prints by texas artists for twenty five years. [1:55] She is inquisitive collector and a true seeker after she acquires a piece she researches the artist.  [2:04] Sometimes getting to me back person. And it started just is no longer alive cam will i’ve been told correspondence or she’ll call up old newspaper articles on microfiche at the library. Word shows sometimes even tracked down the artist family members and see if they have artworks creating in there at. [2:26] For tim collecting is a way to learn more about where she lives and fascinating artists of texas. Both past and present when you talk about access it people have a lot of. [2:45] Cry when they come from that particular state tell me about bad and the role that plays in in collecting taxes are. [2:55] You know i think that makes it i think it’s increase the healthy competition for the material i think it’s, we moved here with somewhat hilarious for us because, we’re driving around east texas and we will see a little early i remember calling friends up and saying okay we are just driving up on this highway near beaumont and we saw this giant. Hot tub hanging outside of the store in the shape of the state of texas and their little stepping stones, at the garden shop in the shape of the state of texas and cookies and everything and in shape the state of texas there was this wonderful pride but also aggravate you know i am i’m,  [3:38] i don’t always your that sure politics of everyone i’m surrounded by in texas, how do i turn to the surround myself with people who share my politics of course like everybody does but is supposed to texas can be both aggravating and can be can also just. [3:56] Produce a lot of affection me and and also at the same time we moved here we are moving to this little corner of se texas that was right by louisiana. So my is has a lot of french influence i mean every third name in the phone book is a french name there’s a lot of cajun culture there. And those great cycle music there’s great food there there’s swamps it’s not what you think of when you think of texas so it’s is very gulf coast. Very wet very, the opposite of where we came from in colorado we can from this high mountain desert and we moved down to this very warm. Interesting exotic corner of taxes and i think that for collectors that creates. That creates healthy competition but also an urge to get more knowledge about it because your proud of it so you got collectors you really learn, exhaustive amounts about artistic lacked in some areas in dallas for example i joke with my friends in dallas to collect up there it’s a blood sport and in dallas collecting, sunday’s dallas nine regional regional a start as there probably the, some of the more expensive paintings and taxes are the dallas ny regional us and who are they tell me you there are. And list goes your and jerry by waters william lester. [5:32] And what period was that they were painting in the thirties forties on to the fifties, and even later in some cases a lot of them ended up at the university of texas in austin and went on to do a painting that was last regional us looking but there look the dallas nine. Painters had that very. I’m regional last look at the nineteen thirties and early forties you know those paintings that were alexander hope is really great example in his paintings of the dust bowl. I am a pretty well known even nationally you know that the famous painting where did the earth looks like, [6:15] a woman has been ravaged those are some of the dust bowl paintings are just highly dramatic and husband is not tons of that material around and and there was a big show before we moved to texas there was a big show at the dallas museum of art, of those painters and a book was published and so does paintings are tough to get and people really go after that group of painters. One of your recent acquisitions is this gorgeous painting that’s a self portrait by annabel pack and she was quite young when she painted he was a teenager right yes she was nineteen. http://collectingculturepodcast.com/2017/06/episode-6-dont-mess-with-texas-art/ [6:53] Yeah and every since found out that she had when she. The paintings that we have by her wonderful they’re really good but they’re not plentiful there just a handful and we’ve since found out because we ben meeting these people just in a recent weeks of our detective work, that she had some mental health issues my amp and possibly skips a from mac, so this he didn’t she ended up not having a long painting career and but but she had really great talent so interesting. That is really interesting it almost looks like what i think it is like your pin expression is that painting. Yeah yeah i agree with you i think it does to what moved you about, you know it’s haunting looking i love hearts about art sometime so i really always enjoy paintings that have, paintings within paintings so that was a little captivating for me but also the expression on our face and just some mysterious, elements you never hand in the painting is so graceful and also little spooky the whole paintings a little spooky and. And i just think it’s really wonderfully expressed beautifully compose and interesting. [8:16] And how did you find out what you know about her life she am. True and really i can’t claim. I can claim this research i’m really good friends with randy tibbetts is a long time research librarian rice university here in houston but who also is is a collector really texas art and he is done, extensive research specifically in houston artist and his encyclopedic about houston artists and so, he’s done some research on this artist and use some real basic things about her but then recently another friend of ours bought some paintings. From a woman who was friends with her friends you know there rid. She was part of a lesbian couple and this other lesbian couple really close friends of hers and and that’s how they ended up with the painting this woman is. I’m just kinda adopted friends and air, two to sign these artists and so we talk to her found out some things and then randy i think it’s been doing some more clipping searches or just searching the newspapers all the time and searching, where is sitting in front of my profession she can and if one thing that i found and collecting taxes are a lot of it was by women. I’m not all of it and certainly not only important painters but a lot of women artists may have had really great talent and may have painted some really great paintings. [9:49] But a lot of them then had to support themselves and they had to have other careers often in teaching and that really seems to have cut down on their painting lives. So that’s kind of a common story that i’ve seen with other artists that i’ve collected that i’m, you have a kind of ruthless and sometimes a little well-off financially in order to really pursue that, i’m full time my husband as an artist i guess some things haven’t changed that still somewhat true dat still and women are still underrepresented in the arts are in rome on, can you give an example of that i know you sent me some wonderful women artists you love who’s who are you thinking of when you say that. [10:39] I wonder what artist and thinking of his marine david and she was, [10:43] she was one of the main reasons that i first started collecting taxes are i moved to beaumont texas i started going to estate sales are how sales were you going to somebody’s house and. No you did everything and had everything has a price tag on it and i bought a portfolio some paintings i thought looked pretty nice, and then occasionally another sales i would find prints by this woman marine david so i started researching her and i found that. [11:13] She was the head of our department in the public schools for many many years. But a lot of the contemporary artists i was meeting in beaumont didn’t even realize that you never done art but in the nineteen thirties she had gotten her, graduate degree at columbia even though she was came from kansas city missouri and then move to beaumont texas she got her masters degree and collect columbia, and she was in all these important shows including a show at the metropolitan museum during the war called artist for victory which is a really important show, i have the right to be an especially for someone who does transocean to print in that show, so she has career she show drop the salad she shows for some reason which i haven’t been able to uncover she her paintings wrists were published in magazines in paris she had this, this major life of our jb, but then she took over as the head of the school of the schools and am from that time on she could only paint some or all of your paintings the subjects ever paintings were province town she would go to the artist colonies on the east coast in the summers, and she is members a member of an important friend killed here in texas but. [12:30] Her parents didn’t even realize that she had ever been a working artist you know and her career took over her life, but she i think my theory is that she then influenced, with her hiring serious artists as teachers and with the rigor of her pro choice which i heard i’ve read quite a bit about and talk to people about i think she ended up, creating a really rich our culture in that town because because she was a serious artist and she was ball on. [13:03] Into the moment of all places this place in east texas but like many places in texas there was always money floating around and so so art could make a way and those in those places. Am and ended in there was always support for the arch in it and beaumont i think another really great woman artist who is really influential. Here in houston with emma richardson sherry and she was born in the eighteen fifties. And she travel to paris often and she was one of the earliest and all this members of the art students league in new york and was friends with. Boom shes url one of the earliest members of the society and a name with man ray and apple crowdsource you is it even though she was older by that time is used for i think an eighteen fifty six. She always wanted to be a keep abreast of what was modern you know that was important to her and she brought the new back to texas she had the first stitch impressionism showing taxes in eighteen ninety six, near houston and she brought she probably brought the first cubist painting to houston she painted a cubist painting and and, france a number of them she was aware of, she doesn’t very early on and she always wanted to bring what was new and was exciting in the art world back to texas and when people think of are now lot of people just think of or someone who painted a lot of flower paintings. [14:39] What’s you can sell flower paintings. Little floral arrangement paintings are big ones and there were times when she was making her primer living for her family off of orange. But she had many other interests and she was influential and she taught other teachers to then hot younger students who were some of the first abstract paintings in texas. So she also founded organizations that went on to be. The organizations that established museums like the the denver art museum the kansas city art museum the museum of fine arts houston. I’m highly influential. So bad that her longest time was in houston she married someone here and she would travel to paris for many years but she always came back to houston system can remain home. Now we know a little bit about what an amazing life and richardson sherry had tell me a little bit about the painting the you have a first, the emerson cherry picking that i sent you i think is interesting because it’s she was. By the time she was sixty years old i was in the nineteen twenties she painted that painting in france it’s of a little bridge in france and, and yes it’s not a traditional painting of a bridge by any means. And you can tell she was looking at people like morrison harley at the time and was interested in modernism at the time and so i think that’s just a really early my. [16:15] Music. [16:51] Someone really interesting and artistic on to meeting really enjoyed. [16:57] One really colorful character artist is mighty karen and she i met her when we first moved to texas and she was.  [17:07] Kind of toward the end of her career and the end of her life. But she she had shown up on the art scene in houston in the nineteen thirties she got a scholarship to study here with these young, ants tractor this year in houston people don’t realize that was abstraction happening so early in texas but it was nineteen thirties, and so she she was really young she got a scholarship to study here with well-known teacher here named all mcneal davidson, and she became friends somehow i have to figure out how with james johnson sweeney, around that time she was friends with margo jones to you know when it become well known choreographer, they were in this little in particular group and she became friends with james johnson sweeney who later was the second director of the guggenheim museum in the nineteen thirties he was a curator at the, no no mom and she. They exchange letters all the time and ended up getting investigated by the fbi because because, damn they thought that the writing she was writing this really abstract. Wade case you don’t really influenced by gertrude stein and so she’s writing these weird little letters talking about poop, the ball hits you later painted and she’s writing these letters to james johnson sweeney and the fbi and stop investigating both of them as a result of the letters and she was the kind of person who would go to europe with your friends and have to be restrained from litterally dancing on tables. [18:39] Hi she dressed so colorful he didn’t show in berlin i think are in germany in the nineteen. Babies and she was in her seventies by that time and she was wearing purple hair. And green tights and mary jane shoes and some outrageous dress and all the. [19:03] Young people in germany at the time who were sort of radical looking, was stopped in their tracks by this apparition of this crazy american lady with purple hair so she was just one of those memorable outrageous characters and even though she knew a lot about our. Are almost looks like outside right is primitives it’s it’s spontaneous and, it kinda reflects the zany weird interesting delightful personality that she was she was a character. [19:36] What’s your favorite piece of yours that we haven’t talked about i really love this painting by katherine green,  [19:46] it’s a painting, probably from the gulf of mexico of a fisherman and it’s a nineteen thirties painting and i just think she’s one of these, kind of best kept secrets of taxes are, she was in one of the more important early exhibitions the nineteen thirty six centennial exhibition, and she every painting i’ve seen viruses really beautiful and really skills she studied in paris on the nineteen thirties like some of those ladies dead she came from a well to do family and then her husband died, early on in a car accident so she ended up going into the family timber business, and working and kind of getting away from her paintings and because the family was well off, the paintings never really traveled outside of the family so and so they never really made it onto the market but, we knew about her from the centennial shower and we contacted our family when i was working on a show in them at the museum in beaumont and we went around all the family members and found all these terrific, wonderful paintings and, the minute the catalog from that show was published we had people from all over the state wanting to find out how to buy her painting its because there was a terrific but they’re just not out on the market and i think that’s just another example of some of those women. [21:15] Who ended up not really having. A mainstream are career but he did really quality work i also wanna talk about you talked about money care and on and you could send me something by i think it to say his name robert purser. [21:33] Yes i know with where they connected cuz i and i wanna talk about paintings that is such a beautiful painting as.  [21:41] Yeah she he was something they both studied with all mcneil davidson and i think they’re proof sir and. One other artist maybe frank alaska who was also in that group, i think they funded the scholarship for her form it, and so yeah they were connected they were all in that rc group that hung around with, margo jones theatre person and and a painted sets for this little on card on card group but they also study with only daniel davidson and then rubber presure. And should such early count and he was such a little prodigy from the time he was seventeen he was taking these wonderful little paintings, fantastic abstract sl mc neill davis and took her when he was just seventeen years old to chicago where my holy nice was teaching at the new bath house and. [22:40] And got him accepted to study at the new bauhaus, and and knowing i set the time he couldn’t believe someone at age is making those paintings and he couldn’t believe that those paintings for being a in taxes so all mcneil davidson the teacher said, paintings. Don’t come from the highways they come from the by ways or something like that i mean she she’s she let him know that you can find great paintings in many out of the way places that hunting to me. It seems to look like tendency okay in my opinion is it’s i look alot like and in fifty candidates are maybe nero also. A little bit of your in the area. [23:23] You sent me many photos which were wonderful and she sent me i have photo some paintings that were hanging in your kitchen and. But i want to talk about the ceramic heat, this ceramic plates that are around surrounding the paintings because there’s just no way we can not talk about them because they were bats totally jumping out of the house so what is up with the ceramic plates.  [23:49] Well that’s started with my friend david lackey the antique dealer who i’m working for now david, had this wonderful little late and it had what looked like half peeled hard boiled eggs on it, and he just got in the state and i was living we have a townhouse next door to him at the time and that was kind of the staging area and i saw that plate my phone love with that bought it and so being. I’m. Me being this kind of i i will always want to find out about things and then i want more of them usually i look on the back to the. Ceramic company was after est e an italian company and i started just searching online and i found out, those rednecks were sold by neiman marcus and tiffany in like the early sixties and there’s just a whole category of these wonderful. Trump loy sort of ceramics and i guess there may be the descendants of, in nineteen eighteen seventeen sentra jala but there twentieth century there much more accessible and affordable and i like them more you know i think they’re just really fun and so. Since i’m since i have a bug of collecting if one is good fifty years so much better so, i just started searching money bay and at that time you getting for pretty reasonable cost now they’re like many other things there a lot more expensive but. [25:21] I have a whole bunch of them and i’m crazy about and that’s just one of the collecting categories that i just really love always looking for new water an interesting one, i really by them anymore but i like seeing new ones and i’m trying to infect other people like my cousin is interested now and maybe collecting some. So there is ceramic plates for people who aren’t looking at them they did the ceramic plates that have, collections of fruits and vegetables that are beautifully colored obviously, but they they also goes well with your art on the wall there like a it all just seems to work together like he said it pops of color and, it just works well in the kitchen you just wanna have, being a painting for food and paintings of bright colors but you know the thing that i found was when i was hanging paintings in this house because i had we had a, kind of we called our beach house only was really are city house in houston and we had our house in beaumont so we moved over here we’re combining two houses full of, art the one thing i found was when you have so much arch. You can make it where he can make it work i mean you have your kitchen and you have these plates you can, a ridiculous number of paintings find paintings are gonna look great with the plates it’s just how it works that’s the fun of re decorating. [26:47] That’s right and that’s the fun of a fun of collecting. Maybe not at the masterpiece level although i think i do have a few masterpieces but that’s the fun of collecting a deeply into a category of. Hi will now that you’ve mentioned that you have a few masterpieces what are. [27:09] I think and maybe masterpieces too strong a word but i do think that are too poor order paintings are really great examples of, [27:20] that group of artists and particular of his paintings that was a group of artists in fort worth and again they were this kind of the original list for painting that, we had a mainstream at the time american regional a style and these fort worth artist were a lot more out there they were heavier party years, they were more avant-garde i think you’re a little wild they travel to new york a lot, and they were painting this kenmore surrealist looking stuff and i think brother was one of the best of that group of painters, and i think these paintings of these weird creatures that he was doing in the nineteen forties or just a really wonderful example of his work and i really,  [28:05] i really enjoyed and i really love them are super pretty and super find a kinder for my bf dolly, my answer might be as in new movie beetlejuice like when the sculptures as hashanah it that that’s what they look like they look like a sculptures. [28:25] I can see that i can see that sure there very very mobile they look like they could move around on on the plane of the painting your, so let’s also talk about your other collections that aren’t ceramic beautiful plates or paintings because you also love quilts and you attacks ios tell me a little bit about that. [28:50] I do love textiles in fact you had said is the possible question if you don’t collect paintings what would you collect i really will always regret that i didn’t start collecting.  [29:03] Textiles from uzbekistan just ages ago and i have a few in the cut fabrics and and just wonderful textiles from that part of the world but i’m. I’m a sucker for textiles well we’ll have to check it out so. At the end of our hardcastle want people to do this collecting culture questionnaire about the first question is if you could collect anything, what would be the size that you are ready collecting you are the answer that well but i have another one i have. I really think my number one thing would probably be i wish i started forty years ago collecting cucina dolls or maybe even before i was born i would have needed to start but,  [29:45] those are just absolutely knock me out they just every time i see him like on my list of things i would steal first from the museum of fine arts houston, it’s the kitchen and hall up or just passing that out there and then okay so if you could live in a different time when would that be. I think i would want to live. At no time the past i would wanna live maybe fifty or seventy five years into the future i would wanna know what things have held up. What things people are collecting then, what things were absolutely gone from the collecting universe what things completely lost their spark or lost the glamour i just think i’m of i just think of someone who’d wanna live in the future i never been someone who thought. [30:32] Even though i collected all these antiques i never thought i’d love to live in the edwardian era or the victorian era i never had to start even are jack i love early modern a staff. Never wanted to live a nineteen twenties paris so. [30:48] What’s the collecting mishap you’ve had or something you bought that you were crack, my collecting mishaps are always on the side of things i wish i had bought i can think even things that i don’t love as much as when i bought them i still learned a lot from buying them so, i think my mistakes of then i should’ve bought a wonderful abstract huge richard stout painting. [31:15] Ten years ago the first time i ever looked at one or i should have bought, where is fuel earth rhythms painting when i had a chance at about half the price they are now a i think those are my mishaps things that got away things that i didn’t by and not maybe not recognizing genius. [31:35] When you have it just right in front of right or not recognizing a bargain you know not recognizing i mean. You’re always pushing the limits of what you want to spend maybe just not pushing am quite far enough even when i knew that the painting was great, so then he has those mishaps is a collector i think it might be more on that side than, the other side not buyers remorse but not buying from mars bread.