The Top Houston Art Galleries of 1976
In 1973, Texas Monthly published Texas Monthly’s Guide to Houston an approximately 400-page paperback by magazine contributors Felicia Coates and Harriet Howle. In the preface to the book’s second edition, which was published three years later, in 1976, the writers describe in remarkable specificity their imagined readership: “We hope that this volume will prove useful to the salesman just in from Batesville, Arkansas, for the fertilizer convention; the couple and their three children from Linlithgow, Scotland, here for a week’s vacation; the family just dumped by national Van Lines in Ashford Forest Northeast #11; as well as the native Houstonian (on the endangered list) who likes having this kind of information handy.”
When I discovered the 1976 edition this weekend in the Texana section of Becker’s Books in Spring Branch, I immediately flipped to the art gallery listings. How many of the galleries still existed? What was the Houston art scene like in the year of President Carter’s election? Turns out, of the 36 galleries listed in the guide, only six are still around—The Art League of Houston Gallery, the Hooks-Epstein Gallery, the Jack Meier Gallery, Meredith Long & Company (although its Galleria location has closed), the Moody Gallery (which had just opened, and which the guide pronounces "one of the city's most promising"), and the Texas Gallery.
The rest have gone the way of the dodo, but their legacy remains, in the memories of longtime Houston art-lovers and the pages of the Texas Monthly guide. (At least one more edition of the guide was published, in 1983, although there are no copies for sale on Amazon.) Below, a sample selection of galleries ranging from the reactionary (cf. the Mr. Indian gallery) to the avant-garde (the Cusack gallery featured writing on the walls and spots on the floor!). Where applicable, I’ve provided the business that now occupies the gallery’s former address.
The Cronin Gallery
Specialty: Photography by Geoff Winningham, Ansel Adams, David Batchelder, and about 40 more artists.
Advice: The gallery also carried photography books "for you do-it-yourselfers who shutter to think of purchasing another's work."
Replaced by: Empty lot
Specialty: Houston’s most avant-garde gallery
Description: “You’re liable to see exhibits consisting of writing on the walls, spots on the floor, or stripes in the corner.”
Advice: “The newest of the new in art may inspire you, appall you, or make you get out your checkbook."
Replaced by: Lawyer’s office
Galerie Sur La Terre
University Center, University of Houston, 3801 Calhoun
Specialty: Juried exhibitions of work by University staff, students, and faculty
Advice: “Up-and-coming collectors can find up-and-coming artists.”
Prices: $5 to maximum of $500.
Replaced by: Parking lot
Third Level, The Galleria
Description: “Here, in an ever-changing array, are the treasures of the world: 16th century Japanese armor, a 4,000 year old Egyptian necklace, an antique Chinese jade belt buckle, African masks, a gold leaf Buddha with uncut rubies studding his robes, and a Colima dog, to mention a few.”
Replaced by: Unknown
Alfred Lee Gallery
Specialty: Regional artists like Jerry Alexander of San Antonio and Jerry Seagle of Austin. “Alfred also beats the drum for African tribal art, and carries a bewitching selection.”
Clientele: “New collectors and smart old ones.”
Replaced by: Condominium development
Janie C. Lee Gallery
Specialty: The gallery’s windows were boarded up to display the “ENORMOUS” works of Abstract Expressionists like Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler.
Clientele: “Texans who want to cover the wide open spaces with contemporary art."
Replaced by: My Shabby Slips
Specialty: “Wide range of art includes many pieces that would look good on the walls of a living room, den, or sunporch.”
2323 San Felipe (still there)
Third Level, The Galleria (since closed)
Specialty: 19th and 20th century American Art, including local artists like Dorothy Hood.
Description: “At the San Felipe location, choose antique and contemporary sport paintings in a room paneled like your den.”
Clientele: “Ducks in flight, English thoroughbreds, pointers, and scenes from the chase please both the aesthetes and the gunslingers.”
2015-J West Gray ("behind the Ming Palace")
Specialty: Regional artists Lamar Briggs, Lucas Johnson, Stanley Lea, Charles Pebworth, Fritz Sholder, Arthur Turner, and Jack Boynton.
Prices: “Prices for this best-of-Houston work run the gamut, but begin well under $100.”
Current location: 2815 Colquitt St.
11th Floor, River Oaks Bank Building (San Felipe at Kirby)
Specialty: “Enjoy a tasteful collection of American Indian goods: rugs, jewelry, artifacts, and prints. No kitsch.” You’d expect nothing less from a gallery called Mr. Indian.
Replaced by: River Oaks Bank Building
1770 St. James Place, 6th Floor
Specialty: “Bronzes of wildlife that would grace any handsome old mahogany desk,” “realistic landscapes of Southern scenes,” and “oils of gentle hot air balloons.”
Description: “Pianos are gone. Paintings are in.”
Replaced by: Office building
Specialty: “Olympic posters can be purchased here.”
Replaced by: Harris Gallery
Specialty: “Texas-flavored and wildlife art.”
Clientele: “If bucks grazing among the rocks of the hill country, or wild turkeys strutting through bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush appeal to you, check the oils of Travis Keese, who did the wildlife displays at the Museum of Natural Science.”
Replaced by: Strip mall with Papa John’s, Kolache Factory, and Creative Blinds
Speedby’s Old Prints
Specialty: 19th and 20th century English ephemera: calendars, post cards, playbills, and music covers. Also: “Oriental prints, drawings, and watercolors.”
Prices: $1.50 to $300
Replaced by: Law office
Specialty: Contemporary work from New York, Los Angeles, and Texas; Earl Staley is “the token Houstonian.”
Clientele: “Works will appeal to those who are interested in setting off the wall of a twelve story lobby or brightening up the side of a bank. The still life crowd should shop elsewhere."
Replaced by: Buffalo Exchange
Current location: 2012 Peden St.
Watson/deNagy & Company
Specialty: “The gallery owners have an eye for the best in contemporary, basically abstract art… In three years, this team has entered the Houston art scene and made a place for itself.”
Replaced by: Private home