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Notes on Making The Kimbell: Year One
by Anne Bothwell 15 Sep 2011

Capturing one of Louis Kahn’s last film interviews, and remembering Patsy Swank: filmmaker Mark Birnbaum shares some thoughts on “The Kimbell: Year One,” which airs on KERA TV Friday at 7:30 p.m.


The Kimbell: Year One will air on KERA-TV this Friday, September 15 16, at 7:30PM and repeats Sunday 11:30 a.m. and 9: p.m..  It was one of documentary maker Mark Birnbaum’s first films in Texas. He shared these memories on  Facebook, and kindly allows us to share them with you.

The 1974 documentary chronicles the first year of the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth. It was one of the first films I made in Texas, working with the groundbreaking Newsroom staff at KERA-TV.

The Kimbell: Year One features interviews with museum architect Louis Kahn, founding director Richard Brown and Kay Kimbell. I was given half a day to wander around his celebrated new building with Kahn while he mused on art, architecture, light and life. My favorite quote, “Ornament is the adoration of the joint,” referred to his leaving the basic structure of the building uncovered.

It was one of the last times he spoke on camera before his death in 1974 of a heart attack in a men’s restroom in Pennsylvania Station in New York. He went unidentified for three days because he had crossed out the home address on his passport.

Louis Kahn, from “The Kimbell: Year One”

The opening still photo montage of the film — something I could knock out today in a few hours at my keyboard — took three of us nearly a week to assemble in KERA’s main control room.

The film was written and produced by Patsy Swank. Ms. Swank began her career with KERA-TV in 1970 as an arts and environment reporter for Newsroom.  She later had her own shows, Swank in the Arts from 1978, and Portfolio in 1980, a magazine-style series examining the aesthetic side of North Texas. In 1988, she entered the public relations field when she was appointed as Dallas deputy cultural ambassador, a post that led to her encounter with Queen Elizabeth II as escort to the Meyerson Symphony Center during the queen’s visit to Dallas. It was through working with Patsy that this carpetbagger came to appreciate the extraordinary depth and rich variety in the arts that Dallas and Fort Worth had to offer.

Here is the credit list for The Kimbell: Year One

Directed by Mark Birnbaum

Written and Produced by Patsy Swank

Technical Director Dan Parr

Film Cameramen Bill Anderson, Mark Birnbaum, Sam Newbury

Film Soundmen David Arthur, Bruce Cambell, Craig Mayes, Travis Rhodes

Music Written and Performed by Meri Wilson

Music Recorded by Sundance Studios

Electronic Editing Mike Head

Still Photography Laura Garza

Production Harold Bock, George Kline, Jim Wrenn, Joe Bill Worthington

Special Thanks To Shirley Spieckerman

A Production of Newsroom, KERA-TV

  • Ellen Oppenheim Richards

    Mr. Birnbaum couldn’t have talked to Kay Kimhell, benefactor of the Kimbell Art Foundation which runs the Kimbell Art Museum, because Mr. Kimbell was long dead by then. The person he talked to was Kay Fortson (Mrs. Ben), niece of Mr. Kimbell. Mr. Birnbaum’s memory is foggy.

    Not only did I work for Mrs. Fortson and Rick Brown and knew Louis Kahn, but I was one of the first curatorial staff hired at the Kimbell and spent 11 wonderful years there.

    Ellen Richards

  • Yes Ms. Richards, my memory is foggy. That’s why we have film. At exactly 20 minutes into The Kimbell: Year One, Patsy Swank interviews Ms. Kay Kimbell who comments on the Hermitage Exhibition — she calls them “the Russian pictures” — and makes a little slip of the tongue when she says, “They don’t know that I… we built the museum.”