Since being in the Favell 2 weeks ago, I’ve thought a lot about another unheralded, excellent museum that specializes in Western and Native American art and artifacts–the Stark in Orange, Texas.
Ruth & I first heard about it while visiting Houston a few years ago. We were so intrigued that we took a day to go to Orange, the easternmost city in Texas, where it was a bit of a shock to drive down residential Green Avenue and see a huge, modern museum looming ahead.
H.J. Lutcher Stark, son of a prominent local family, started collecting just out of college, and his passion continued unabated throughout his life. Trips to the family ranch near Estes Park, Colorado, always included scouring the Southwest, especially in Taos, New Mexico, for anything of eye-catching beauty. “There’s more Taos art in this building than in Taos,” I was told. The Stark Museum of Art came along in 1978, regrettably, thirteen years after Stark died.
The Museum’s quality and breadth of collection was as startling as the fact that it’s free. The grand entrance atrium’s centerpieces were some Navajo rugs and a Frederic Remington sculpture, “The Broncho Buster”, displayed with three other equally impressive bronze works.
Along the walls were glass cases containing some of Stark’s greatest collecting triumphs—Kachina dolls, exquisite Maria Martinez bowls, a stunning Zuni squash blossom necklace, a Shoshone child’s vest, but not the blanket shown above.
Down a hall were some fascinating letters written and illustrated by noted Western artist Charles Russell.
The United States in Crystal is part of Stark’s Steuben collection. Between 1950 and 1959, Steuben designer Sidney Waugh created a crystal panorama of the United States by engraving 50 identical bowls, one for each State. The centerpiece was a crystal interpretation of our National Seal. Stark bought the entire set, the only one in existence.
Adjacent rooms contained paintings with familiar names like Georgia O’Keeffe and N.C. Wyeth, and unfamiliar ones(to me) like Herbert Dunton, reportedly Stark’s favorite painter.
The next room contained John James Audubon engravings and a rare 1838 copy of Birds of America. The Stark owns a five-volume set that belonged to Audubon. Also in the room was a comprehensive Dorothy Doughty display. Her porcelain birds were arranged somewhat chronologically so we could see her growing skill and artistry between 1935 and 1962 as, working in England for Royal Worcester, she created a series of American birds.
The last room was called “Exploring America’s Frontiers,” and, again, the lesser known artists on display were as accomplished as the known—Bingham, Catlin, Bierstadt, etc. Admiring an exquisitely executed Indian painting by Charles Bird King, I learned that he was a really talented 19th century Washington, DC artist who never visited The West. Tragically, all but a few of his paintings were lost in a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865.
The Stark is startlingly good.