Photography by Julia Cartwright.
Pull the string at the Creative Arts Center of Dallas, and uncovers the history of local art in our city that begins at the turn of the 20th century with the Texas Monet, Frank Reaugh.
Octavio Medellín started what would become the Creative Arts Center in 1966 in El Sibíl, Frank Reaugh’s home and studio near Lake Cliff Park.
Diana Pollack, the center’s executive director, said she started the school with the encouragement of Reaugh’s “disciples.”
“It was his fans, like the fan club that kept the studio going after Reaugh’s death in 1945,” Pollack says.
For many years, Medellín taught at the Dallas Museum of Art, when it was located in Fair Park, which made him a prime candidate to start the school.
Medellín died in 1999, and the Dallas Museum of Art is showing a preview of his art through February. It took about two and a half years to put the program together.
The Creative Arts Center he founded, now located near White Rock Lake, still operates on the same educational foundation that Medellín was built on, Pollack says.
He says: “We follow his teaching methods here. “We continue his philosophy of providing a nurturing environment for students to learn.”
There is no in-your-face curriculum, and students are encouraged to experiment and explore their creativity.
The agency is celebrating 56 years with a newly renovated building and planned expansion, just as its chief executive is retiring after 25 years in office.
Play with clay
Demand for classes at the Creative Arts Center is higher than ever, Pollack says. The center offers about 500 classes a year. More than 300 students are now enrolled, with about a third in the clay classes.
There are 11 potty groups per week, each with 10 students, and they are all full until October.
“We’ve seen it really explode during this pandemic,” says Pollack. “If you’ve got your hands in the mud, you can’t look at your phone. There’s a desire to get away from technology and engage with other creative people.” .”
Medellín required students to make their own clay, but the Creative Arts Center now buys it from Trinity Clay.
In addition to pottery, there are classes in welding, wood carving, painting, drawing, glass, jewelry and stone carving.
It is easy for our neighbors to take this institution for granted, but this strong but non-technical school is rare. There is only one in Texas that compares, Pollack says.
But no other place in Texas offers such depth of education.
He says: “If you want to carve stones, you should come here.”
In March 2020, the board of directors of the non-profit Creative Arts Center was expected to authorize a feasibility study to start a campaign to raise $5 million for the expansion. That would have added a second building to the 2-acre campus, doubling its classroom capacity and gallery space for art exhibitions.
“Then the epidemic hit, and everything stopped,” says Pollock. “Now we’re on the catch line.”
Office and warehouse renovations, totaling $500,000, were recently completed. That included improving compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the original, former Works Progress Administration-built Bayles Elementary building.
The facility has been a stop on the White Rock Lake Artists Studio Tour for decades, showcasing one piece from each artist on the tour. The new gallery space means the center can expand on that and offer more programs to new artists and those they’ve worked with in the past.
As a non-profit, the center receives grants to provide free classes and camps to the public. For example, Camp Metal Head teaches disadvantaged children welding and jewelry making. Run with the Pack offers creative classes for adults.
The legacy of Octavio Medellín
The Dallas Museum of Art’s Octavio Medellín: Spirit and Form is the museum’s first retrospective of his work.
Medellín “was very materialistic,” Pollack says. He dabbled in many media, but was best known as a sculptor.
Agustín Arteaga, director of the Eugene McDermott museum says: “Medellín’s great legacy is due to his incredible talent and his great influence in our community as a mentor to many people. “We hope this exhibition confirms his place among the most important artists working in Texas in the 20th century.”
Dallas artists Edith Baker and Marty Ray were among the Medellín students. Artists inspired by Medellín are back to teach at the Creative Arts Center.
“We like to say he influenced generations of Dallas artists,” Pollack says.
Indigenous Mexican art was a major influence in Medellín.
Born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, the same year as Frida Kahlo, 1907. Her family moved to San Antonio after the Mexican Civil War in 1920. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago but left to visit Mexico. .
“He went to Mexico City, where he explored Mexican Modernism, meeting important artists such as José Clemente Orozco and Carlos Mérida, but also walking through the countryside of the Gulf Coast,” according to Dallas Museum of Art.
Mexico is where his ideas flourished.
The retrospective includes 30 paintings created by Medellín from 1926 to 1995.
Pollack said he saw the latter six times. “I see something new every time I go.”
Medellín also produced tons of public art in San Antonio and Dallas. The museum is also putting together a driving tour of his public art in Dallas, as part of the retreat.
Creative Arts Center is on the map, along with St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church, where Medellín created the altar wall and the stations of the cross. His work can also be seen at the Latino Cultural Center in Deep Ellum, Southern Methodist University, Calvary Hill Cemetery, Temple Emanu-El and Love Field Airport.