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Boom Times Documented At The Old Jail Art Center


by Gila Espinoza 28 Dec 2020 9:00 PM

Just two hours west of Fort Worth in Albany, Texas is a small museum called the Old Jail Art Center (OJAC). If you are feeling antsy from staying home think about a road trip to the OJAC.

Basil Clemons: Witness to a West Texas Boomtown. Through Jan. 30. 201 South 2nd Street
Albany, 76430. Details.

Patrick Kelly is the executive director and curator at the OJAC and he said the trip is pretty easy.

“You basically get on the road and drive. There’s hardly any traffic once you get out of Fort Worth then it’s a very pleasurable experience and depending on which direction you come, it’s gorgeous.”

In 2020, the OJAC celebrated its 40th anniversary. It was founded when two cousins inherited an old jail structure and decided to combine their collections.

“It kind of blossomed from there and now we’re a 17,000 sq. ft. with 2,300 works of art ranging from Pre-Columbian to contemporary Texas art,” said Kelly.

a circus performer with with head in elelphant's mouth

Circus in Breckenridge, Texas, 1926 “Elephant holding C.H. Baudendistel, “Major High Pockets”, Elephant Educator, and originator of the above trick, showing how easily an elephant can take a man’s head in its mouth and lift him up.” Basil Clemons Photographic Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.

As the curator for the OJAC, Kelly sifted through thousands of the 18,000 images in the Basil Clemons collection at UTA Libraries Special Collections to showcase the 71 images in their current main exhibition, “Basil Clemons: Witness to a West Texas Boomtown.”

Basil Clemons was born in Texas and wandered the country in the early 1900s. He was a self-taught photographer. He was in Texas when he learned his photography studio in Seattle burned down. He headed for West Texas and started documenting life during the oil boom days of the ’20s and ’30s in Breckenridge, 30 miles east of Albany.

Ma Rainey's jazz band with musicians playing instruments

Madam Rainey’s Jazz Hounds, Breckenridge, Texas, 1922. Gertrude Rainey adopted the professional name Madam or Ma Rainey after marrying William “Pa” Rainey in 1904. Accompanied by the Jazz Hounds on drums, violin, bass, and trumpet, they performed a comedy-and-dance routine throughout the rural South well into the 1920s. Madam Rainey signed a recording contract in 1923, releasing over 90 blues numbers over the next five years and greatly influencing blues singers who would become better known than herself. Basil Clemons Photographic Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.

With its exploding growth in population and commerce, a lot of traveling shows made sure to stop in Breckenridge – Wild West shows, circuses, bands, and traveling baseball teams. In addition to those kinds of entertainment acts, Clemons also documented daily life in the bustling oil town from everyday workers to work in the oil fields.

man carrying a huge block of ice on his back

Charlie Thorn carrying 300 lb block of ice, Breckenridge, Texas, 1926. Basil Clemons Photographic Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.

“The works are just really gorgeous photographs. So you can really appreciate them either as historic documentation or for the craft of photography. It kind of has a little bit for everybody,” said Kelly.

Also on view at the OJAC is an installation from Deborah Butterfield called “Three  Sorrows.”  As in many of her works, there is a large scale horse in the center of the installation. Surrounding the bronze sculpture are found objects that washed ashore in Alaska, debris from the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

In the upper gallery space of the OJAC’s cell series are works from Charis Ammon from Houston. The layering of urban space where things are built on top of the ruins of something else is an interest of Ammon. In “Inheritance,” Ammon’s paintings and quilts represent her thoughts on the concrete urban construction that she sees in her daily walks – construction sites, broken concrete, debris, and the constant state of rebuilding going on.

Photo: Old Jail Art Center

If you make the trek to Albany and finish up at the OJAC early, there may be time to take a Windshield History Tour and learn about Albany’s historic past without leaving your car. The Windshield History Tours can be enjoyed virtually or physically.

Not up for the beautiful car ride? You can still check out the Old Jail Art Center with their tiny-tours offered through their education department. The tours are 3-5 minutes long and are posted every Thursday on the OJAC’s Facebook page. After the weekly posting, they are added to the “showcase” channel on the Museum’s Vimeo page.

Education Director Erin Whitmore leads a tiny-tour of a print by Antonio Frasconi from their collection. Photo: Old Jail Art Center.

You can follow the Old Jail Art Center on Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo.

Got a tip? Email Gila Espinoza at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @espinoza_kera.

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