FAIR PARK, DALLAS, 1936

Fair Park was built in Dallas for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936. Three French sculptors were among the artists in charge of decorating the buildings. In 2011, Anne-Laure GARREC, an intern from the École du Louvre, Paris, spent three months (July-September) researching their participation. This is the result.

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Fair Park, Dallas

Fair Park (ill. 1), named a national historic site in 1986, constitutes the largest ensemble of Art Deco architecture in the United States. In 1936 the city of Dallas was honored to be the venue for the Texas Centennial Exposition, an event that commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, which won Texas its independence from Mexico. In the 1930s, the Exposition gave the civic leaders of Dallas an opportunity to improve the city's poor economy. The modern aesthetic of the Exposition, in which art and architecture carry on a dialogue, provided visitors with a means of escape from the daily reality of the Great Depression.

EXPOSITION PROJECT

At the end of 1934, the city of Dallas offered the best financial support for the Texas Centennial Exposition, and therefore it was chosen as the site of the event among a number of other contenders, including the cities of Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. George Dahl was named by the Texas Centennial Corporation chief architect for the Exposition, as well as its technical director. Ten architectural offices were invited to participate in the project under the direction of Dahl.

The plan for Fair Park was developed from ideas put forth by Paul Philippe Cret, a celebrated Philadelphia architect, who had been invited as a consultant for the project. Cret had been a consulting architect for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. In about four days Cret created a design for the Texas Exposition that was inspired by the traditional Beaux Arts style and by the Chicago World's Fair: Columbian Exposition of 1893, also known as the “White City.” Cret revisited the original plan for Fair Park, created by the German-American city planner and landscape architect George Kessler, in 1904, and brought it to life with the inclusion of a large water basin. The site was further distinguished by large plazas, fountains, and numerous walkways. Visitors could gain access to the exposition by three principal entrances off of Parry, Second, and Pennsylvania Avenues.

George Dahl was given the task of engaging artists to decorate the site with illustrations of the history of Texas. He recruited, for this task, not only local artists, but also a great number of foreign ones. He chose, in particular, French artists who had worked on the 1933 Chicago exposition: Pierre Bourdelle Raoul Josset, and José Martin, who had been recommended to him by the architect Donald Nelson. Dahl had full confidence in Pierre Bourdelle and Raoul Josset, as he had viewed earlier works by these artists and therefore was familiar with their artistic abilities. He also employed Lawrence Tenney Stevens, whom he had met for the first time in Europe. Among the other artists, one must include Carlo Campaglia, Julian E. Garnsey, Otis Dozier, Rodan Perry Nichols, and Pierre Biza. During his travels, George Dahl had met most of these artists, who were underemployed due to the Great Depression and therefore were specializing in the creation of public works destined to decorate the great expositions.

ARCHITECTURE

Work on the colossal project at Fair Park did not begin in earnest until October 1935. George Dahl had set aside no more than nine months for the renovation or construction of twenty-six principal buildings and for the creation of their artistic decoration. Contrary to earlier expositions, the buildings in Fair Park were built to last. Many of them remain in use today: the Texas Hall of State, the Dallas Museum of Natural History, the Children's Aquarium, the Discovery Gardens, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, Science Place, and the Fair Park Planetarium.

George Dahl was not chosen by chance as chief architect for the Exposition. In the course of his travels in Europe and in the United States, Dahl had visited six international expositions, whose architecture he could admire and study. His achievement in Texas is comparable, notably, to the Stockholm Exposition of 1930, co-designed by the functionalist architect Gunnar Asplund, and to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The new buildings for Fair Park were distinguished by formal geometry and vividly contrasting colors. Dahl had embraced the modern style known as Art Deco in order to illustrate the “texanique” theme of the exposition, “the color, romance and grandeur that had marked the development of Texas… the romance of Spain and Mexico, combined with the culture of the Old South. (1)”

SCULPTURAL DECORATION

The artists arrived in Dallas in February 1936. They had only four months to complete their work for the Exposition. All were placed under the general direction of Pierre Bourdelle, Carlo Campaglia and Julian E. Garnsey. The sculptors were supervised by Lawrence Tenney Stevens, Raoul Josset, Jefferson Elliott Breer and José Martin. Raoul Josset, assisted by his friend José Martin, was assigned the creation of three statues representing France, Mexico and the United States, while Lawrence Tenney Stevens was assigned the statues representing Texas, Spain, and the Confederacy. The six statues were to symbolize the six governments which had successively ruled over Texas before it became part of the United States of America. Donald Nelson originally wanted these statues to be polychromed, however, determining that the polychromy might jeopardize the harmony of the sculpture with the architecture, he ultimately abandoned this idea. Raoul Josset and José Martin co-signed two other sculptures: Spirit of the Centennial and American Eagle. Pierre Bourdelle alone signed seven bas-reliefs that were intended to decorate the two buildings flanking the north and south side of the central basin. He also created the bas-reliefs on pylons situated at the southwest extremity of the esplanade.

Statues representing France, Mexico and the United States by Raoul Josset and José Martin at the Pavilion of the Automobile

Raoul Josset created three of the six statues [situated] along the esplanade in a style influenced by classical Greek art. The statues, carved in stone, represent France, Mexico and the United States, and they are placed in three niches on the façade of the pavilion of Electricity, Communication and Industry. In 1936 George Dahl redesigned the Automobile and Manufacturers Building of 1922 and flanked it with two other buildings: the Hall of Electricity and Communications and the Hall of Varied Industries. This ensemble was destroyed by fire in 1942, however, another building, known as the Pavilion of the Automobile, designed by Walter Ahlschlager, was constructed on this site six years later.

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JOSSET and MARTIN, France, Dallas, Fair Park
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JOSSET and MARTIN, Mexico, Dallas, Fair Park
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JOSSET and MARTIN, United States, Dallas, Fair Park

France (ill. 2)

Raoul Josset chose to represent France with her right arm lifted as a sign of patriotic fervor. The fleur de lys on her breast is said to represent the era in which Sir Robert La Salle arrived in Texas. The artist is quoted as saying, “in order to add a little spice to the severity of the figure, I placed a bunch of grapes in her left hand to illustrate the abundance and good cheer of the nation. (2)”

Mexico (ill. 3)

The statue of Mexico was given an even more severe aspect than that of France in order to emphasize the conquering ambition of this Central American nation. Josset wanted the statue to represent the traits of a native Mexican, whose lock of hair falls along the torso to emphasize its hieratic character.

United States (ill. 4)

The United States is represented by a smiling human figure holding a laurel bough in her right hand. According to Josset, the laurel symbolizes everything the American people had fought for: peace, glory, and liberty. Her breast is decorated with an eagle, and she holds a veil in her uplifted hands, suggesting the extended wings of a bird. The French artist added this element in order to give the figure a sense of lightness.

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JOSSET and MARTIN, Spirit of the Centennial, Dallas, Fair Park

Spirit of the Centennial and Fish Sculpture by Raoul Josset and José Martin (ill. 5)

The statue known as the Spirit of the Centennial, by Raoul Josset and José Martin, now decorates one to the facades of The Women's Museum (originally the Pavilion of Government). The statue is carved in stone and represents a young, female nude standing on a cactus and holding some cotton in her left hand. According to Josset, the young girl represents both warmth and the quality of life in Texas, the hospitality and the joy in life of its inhabitants, as well as the health and strong character of its workers (3).José Martin executed the statue, after a drawing by Josset, in only ten days. Martin asked Georgia Carroll, a young resident of Dallas, aged sixteen or seventeen, to serve as his a model. Since she refused, the artist was obliged to use only her face for inspiration. Josset and Martin also created the fountain situated in the water basin at the foot of the Spirit of the Centennial. It is composed of five fishes jumping out of the water and following a curving path composed of parallel arcs from two circles.

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JOSSET and MARTIN, American Eagle, Dallas, Fair Park

American Eagle by Raoul Josset and José Martin (ill. 6)

Raoul Josset created the relief of an Eagle at the top of the Federal Building as a symbol of the United States of America. The gilded eagle contrasts with the grey tower on which it sits. Its quasi integration with the tower gives the ensemble a formal equilibrium and an aesthetic homogeneity. Josset also wanted his work to call to mind the monumental art of ancient Egypt. Josset said of this piece, “I believe that monumental sculpture is not only the most noble and heroic expression of plastic art, but it is at the same time a poem, an architecture, and a science. […] The sculptor must compose and balance the volumes of a statue in a perfect, logical equilibrium. Eternal symphony, which contributes to the one perfection and happiness. Harmony in life. (4)” The original work was replaced by a copy in 1998.

Medallion of Negro Life by Raoul Josset

Josset created an ornamental work, since destroyed, for the entrance façade of the Negro Life Building. His goal was to represent both the labor of the black population in the United States, as well as its accomplishments in the areas of agriculture, industry, education, and music (5).The artist chose, therefore, to sculpt a bas-relief of a black man crouching with his hands lifted towards the sky in the manner of the mythic Titan, Atlas.

Notes:
(1) George Dahl in Willis Cecil Winters, Fair Park, Arcadia Publishing, 1996, p. 67.
(2) Dallas Historical Society Archives, Texas Centennial Collection A.38.3.
(3) idem.
(4) idem.
(5) idem.

Illustrations:
1. Fair Park, Dallas (ph Wikimedia, Joe Mabel)
2. Raoul JOSSET and José MARTIN, France, Dallas, Fair Park (ph. courtesy Jim Parsons and David Bush, Fair Park Deco)
3. Raoul JOSSET and José MARTIN, Mexico, Dallas, Fair Park (ph. courtesy Jim Parsons and David Bush, Fair Park Deco)
4. Raoul JOSSET and José MARTIN, United States, Dallas, Fair Park (ph. courtesy Jim Parsons and David Bush, Fair Park Deco)
5. Raoul JOSSET and José MARTIN, Spirit of the Centennial and Fish Fountain, Dallas, Fair Park (ph. Wikimedia, Andreas Praefcke, 2009)
6. Raoul JOSSET and José MARTIN, American Eagle, Dallas, Fair Park (ph. courtesy Jim Parsons and David Bush, Fair Park Deco)

Bas-reliefs by Pierre Bourdelle for the Pavilions of the Centennial and of the Automobile

Pierre Bourdelle was obliged to adapt his works to the narrative of the Exposition, that is to pay homage to the regional Texas culture while celebrating the embodiment of progress, notably, by the great automobile industry of Ford or General Motors. He therefore created four bas-reliefs symbolizing ground, air, rail and maritime transport for the ornamentation of the Pavilion of Transportation, known today as the Pavilion of the Centennial. These reliefs are as follows.

Man and Angel, bas-relief, colored cement, by Pierre Bourdelle (ill. 1)

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Man and Angel symbolizes air transport. Bourdelle chose to give form to the notion of speed by representing a man flying with an angel. In this work he developed a futuristic aerodynamic aesthetic by using various graphic elements. The curved line of the bodies and of the blue veil give the illusion of fluid movement. Speed is illustrated further by the straight lines on the far left and at the level of the angel's hair. Upon observing more closely the design of the figures, the viewer will notice a simplicity and standardization of the forms, notably in the profiles of the faces, whose treatment is animated and angular. In contrast, the design of the bodies is classical, and the viewer will note the abandonment of a hieratic bearing in favor of movement. The representation of the two figures can readily be compared to those on ancient Greek vases.

Cougar and Bison, bas-relief, colored cement, by Pierre Bourdelle (ill. 2)

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Cougar and Bison, also known as Streamline, represents ground transport. The bison appears to be in a full run in order to escape an attack by the cougar. The design of their bodies follows a curved line, again, in order to convey a sense of movement. The impression of speed is reinforced by an ensemble of blue, white, and cream lines. The word “streamline,” used to define this work, is not insignificant. In French this word translates as ligne aérodynamique, aerodynamic line. The word originally defined a scientific principle, which was afterwards appliedby industrial designersto objects, trains, and boats in order to define their aerodynamic aesthetic. Once the term was popularized, it became synonymous with speed and modernity in the American imagination.

Man and Eagle, bas-relief, colored cement, by Pierre Bourdelle (ill. 3)

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Man and Eagle, or Locomotive Power, represents rail transport. The locomotive is evoked in the background by a large blue wheel apparently being put into action by an athletic male figure and a stylized eagle. These two figures emit an extraordinary force, which illustrates the power that is required in order to put a locomotive in motion. Possibly Pierre Bourdelle also wanted to symbolize the antagonistic, but inevitable, encounter between nature and machine, between the ancient and the modern worlds.

Man and Horse, bas-relief, colored cement, by Pierre Bourdelle (ill. 4)

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Man and Horse, or Man Taming a Wild Horse, the final bas-relief for the Centennial Pavilion, represents maritime transport. Bourdelle doubtlessly perceived in the idea of wild nature a common denominator between this [wild] animal and water. The man tries to gain mastery over the horse, as he will over water. Their elongated bodies, entangled in a tumult of curved lines give the impression of movement and speed, the whole evoking the oscillation of water.

Pierre Bourdelle's bas-reliefs for the Pavilion of Electricity, Communication, and Industry

In 1936 Pierre Bourdelle also created three bas-reliefs to decorate the Pavilion of Electricity, Communication, and Industry. Their style is comparable to that of the four reliefs for the Centennial Pavilion. The artist used the same materials and creative techniques in the production of these works. Unfortunately all three works were destroyed in the 1942 fire. Today, only engraved glass plaques and photographs bear witness to their original state.

Texas Youth, bas-relief (destroyed) colored cement, by Pierre Bourdelle (ill. 5)