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Henri Gadbois and Leila McConnell at the James Bute Gallery, September 27, 1965. Courtesy of Henri Gadbois.

Influential friends

Another very influential, helpful person was Ben DuBose; he was in charge of the art department at Bute Paint Company. In the middle of the paint store there was one aisle that was all paint supplies and at the end of that was a room. It was a gallery, and I think probably one of the first commercial galleries in the city. He even gave the art club at the University of Houston space in the gallery to have a show. I even bought [a piece at] one of the early Herb Mears and David Adickes shows, when they first came back from France—so that must have been the late 40s, early 50s. Ben would give us leftover mis-sized frames or ends of the rolls of canvas—I mean, he was really generous to the students, the young artists.

In 1966 when Ben left Bute and formed his own gallery that was DuBose on Kirby Drive…most of us went, who were there with Ben. The Friday night openings at DuBose were very social…the place to go. I mean everybody sort of met there, and Ben did a good job of selling. He loved sort of a messy gallery where you’d have to go through and find something that was already there. He never told you exactly what to paint, but he would give you hints, like, “People are painting their houses bold yellow, so….” Or he’d sort of chide you if you hadn’t been painting.

Houston’s art scene was very different. I mean, it didn’t have a strong leader like Dallas and Fort Worth [that was] pushinglocal art. The director at Fort Worth’s museum really pushed the local people—it was almost like a school, and boy, they were exhibiting there. We never had anyone here that was really strong on local art. But then, it might be bad to remain too local—you’ve got to sort of spread your wings.

The contemporary arts association

CAA was a volunteer organization; everybody did their part. I mean, if you were on the board you were probably program director, or you were in charge. People would come up with ideas for shows and they would be in charge of that. Norma [Henderson] was telling me about it when I was in high school, so it must have been the late 40s. Their first show was, I think, utility items like pliers and coffee makers and stuff. It was in the upstairs galleries on Montrose at the Museum of Fine Arts.

I got into the CAA a little bit later on in the 50s because I was drafted into the army, and then I was gone for a year and a half to two years. I remember Leila had sent me clippings of when they moved the Contemporary Arts Museum down Main Street after midnight to the new location of the Prudential [property] on Fannin. The Prudential Building faces Holcombe; the CAA faced Fannin. When I was in Germany, in Nuremburg, there was a neat little museum there that had traveling shows and they had a German graphics show that impressed me very much. I think Jerry MacAgy had taken over the CAA as director by this time, and I suggested doing a German graphics show. I would get the things from one of my sergeants, and I think the show was when I got back in May [1956]—or something like that. It was so popular that people were buying the graphics and I kept mailing back to Germany, and the CAA would send the money to the artists in Germany. We sold quite a few.

We had one New Year’s Eve party at CAA for the members where the whole CAA had Christmas trees hung upside down from the ceiling with the decorations. I think we really wanted to try to be far out…on the edge. But we did have fun. The CAA had a craft show or something like that where you could buy [other artists’ work]. I have one of Jim Love’s—a bird. They were $10 apiece.

Henri Gadbois, 1959. Photo by Maurice Miller. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Archives.

Artists in community

Handmakers was a whole group of artists together—Stella Sullivan, Frank Dolejska—they were craftsmen. It was a cooperative where they would sell their own things. Stella did fabric, textiles, and glasses with designs that she had drawn. And Polly Marsters had the Houston Artist Gallery, which is the same Houston Artist Gallery that Grace Spaulding

Grace Spaulding John, 1890-1972. Artist who studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Art, married attorney Alfred John and maintained a studio in Houston from 1921 until her death.
and Ruth Uhler had in the 20s. Dianne David had the David Gallery on San Felipe and they asked artists to submit a piece of work that had been influenced by a tattoo, which was pretty weird. Then that evening (of the show), they had a tattoo artist, and the first ten people who wanted a little tattoo could get it free.

Another thing was the Friday night print group that Bill Condon

William Condon, b. 1927. An abstract painter and alumnus of Rice University.
had. He discovered something called paper lithography. Instead of using stones…a sheet of paper was treated and you would draw [on it] like you do on the stone with a crayon, then you would put some sort of acid on top and run it through a press—I think we [used]an old washing machine roller as the press. Gertrude [Barnstone] was in the group and we did etchings, too. Alvin Romansky, Leila, Stella Sullivan , Elaine Mass, and Bill of course. The Museum let us use its studio every Friday night. Bill was a remarkable person…we traveled to Europe with him a couple of times.

Leila and I were in the group together and I think something clicked just before I went into the Army. We were married after I got back, but we say we never met, because we always knew each other at the museum. She was a student at the museum school [and] she remembers me as sort of a teenager there. I remember at an Easter art show [she had]a wonderful little figure of a girl that I really did like. She wouldn’t sell it. I keep teasing her that I had to marry her to get that!

Henri Gadbois was interviewed on May 19, 2006. You can listen to the interview here .

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Source:  OpenStax, Houston reflections: art in the city, 1950s, 60s and 70s. OpenStax CNX. May 06, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10526/1.2
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