Dallas museum’s ‘Hotel Texas’ exhibit honors Kennedys, Fort Worth

Posted Saturday, Jun. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders After stepping into a gallery at the southern end of the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent Saturday afternoon, I stood in awe — in reverence, really — of a time, a place, a president, a unique artistic experience and a special group of people in my hometown, Fort Worth.

From the moment I arrived, it was obvious this exceptional exhibit had captured all of that, and more.

It’s hard to explain my emotions, but I was instantly moved, holding back tears more than once and feeling an enormous sense of pride. Perhaps never before have Fort Worth and its people been celebrated more in Dallas than with this one extraordinary display of art and history.

“Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” produced by the DMA in partnership with the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, reunites 13 of 16 art works that were on exhibit in the Kennedys’ three-room hotel suite when they arrived late on Nov. 21, 1963.

The Secret Service had chosen the Fort Worth hotel’s Suite 850 for the Kennedys, rather than larger and more plush accommodations on the top floor, for security reasons. But the drabness of the rooms prompted a group of Fort Worth residents to spruce up the surroundings by securing paintings and sculptures to create a mini, but exquisite, art exhibit, complete with catalog.

In a matter of days, Ruth Carter Johnson (later Stevenson) and Sam B. Cantey III had borrowed five works from museums and the rest from private collections, including pieces by Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Thomas Eakins, Henry Moore, Eros Pellini and Charles M. Russell.

Jacqueline Kennedy noticed the paintings and sculptures that Friday morning and was surprised and thrilled by the gesture. One of the last phone calls President Kennedy made was to Ruth Johnson, who was home that day nursing a sick child. The catalog for the show is dedicated to Ruth Carter Stevenson, who died this year before the exhibit opened.

Walking into the entrance of the exhibition, a visitor is almost overwhelmed by the floor-to-ceiling photographs of Kennedy’s Fort Worth visit. There’s the one of him outside the hotel that Friday morning with Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Sen. Ralph Yarborough and Rep. Jim Wright. Another shows the press of the crowd, with many people reaching for the president’s hand.

It is almost like being there among the eager well-wishers. Every photo, except the one of the Kennedys’ arrival at Love Field, is of Fort Worth and its people.

Before the artwork, which is displayed with photographs of the pieces in the suite, are other artifacts from that day and a quote from a speech Kennedy gave at Amherst College a month earlier.

It states in part: “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth … In a free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology.”

The art is amazing.

The last thing the visitor encounters is a brief video of the president’s visit to Fort Worth, narrated by the former resident Bob Schieffer. It shows the crowds that greeted him, an excerpt from his last speech and the motorcade back to Carswell for the 13-minute flight to Dallas.

Schieffer’s final words in the video: “And it all changed so suddenly moments later.”

The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 15 at the DMA and moves to the Carter Oct. 12, may be the most compelling and inspirational commemoration of Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago. I know many Tarrant County residents will want to wait until it gets to the Carter, but this show ought to be seen in Dallas as well.

Fort Worth folks should flock to it now. Go by the busloads.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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