Texas A&M: Texas Art Enthusiasts Contribute To Texas A&M University Art Galleries

Linda and Bill Reaves found themselves coming down with a case of homesickness. The year was 1975, and the fledgling educators had just moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, from their home state of Texas to take teaching positions.

The solution to their longing seemed simple—paper their bare walls with Texas art. To conjure scenes of home, the couple worked within their teachers’ salaries and bought prints depicting the Lone Star State. But the art bug really bit when they had saved enough to purchase their first oil painting at a high school rummage sale in Grand Rapids.

Little did they know the mystery, and the lifelong love of art, that painting would spark. The Rocky Mountain scene with Native Americans in the foreground was unsigned, but believing it to be an original Albert Bierstadt, known for his sweeping landscapes of the American West, Linda and Bill took to researching their cardinal piece with increasing interest. For the next five years, they painstakingly attempted to authenticate the painting. Upon returning to their home state of Texas to finish their doctoral degrees, the mystery was finally solved—through additional research the Reaves discovered their inaugural piece was, unfortunately, a period copy.

While some novice collectors might have been daunted by such a setback, the Reaves were more determined than ever as they embarked upon their newfound quest for researching and acquiring great Texas art. The homesick students had become the teachers. Devoting their time to education and arts connoisseurship over the years, they eventually amassed an important and focused collection of Early Texas Art originating from 1920 through 1980.

The culmination of the Reaves’ passion and dedication resulted in a bulk donation of their collection to the Texas A&M University Art Galleries in late 2021 – with over 350 works on long-term loan, 100 pieces donated, and a substantial endowment to keep Early Texas Arts programming alive and well at Texas A&M – providing the genesis for the Texas Art Project, an initiative and collaboration with the Texas A&M University Art Galleries staff to bring Texas-centric arts exhibitions, research, and programming to Texas A&M and beyond.

The Texas Art Project celebrates the state’s cultural and fine arts legacy through twice yearly exhibitions, co-curated by the Reaves, featuring Early Texas Art from the Reaves’ collection, the University Art Galleries existing collection, and borrowed works from other private and public lender collections.

“We are so pleased to have this opportunity to work along with the talented team at the University Art Galleries to organize a thoughtful and engaging exhibition series that can help viewers better realize the robust range, depth, and quality of art produced in our state over the years,” Linda Reaves said. “It is our hope that the entire series will serve to enhance fine arts opportunities for both students and the public alike.”

A recent Texas Art Project exhibition of Texas Impressionism works in the J. Wayne Stark Galleries, “Strokes of Genius,” resulted in a 286 percent increase in visitor traffic, with exhibitions bringing in Texas A&M classes, homeschool groups, and expert guest speakers from other museums, like The Grace Museum and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

What started out as a whim to cure a case of homesickness turned into a lifelong passion, with the Reaves assisting in the formation of the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art (CASETA), operating their own prominent fine arts gallery in Houston for more than a decade, and now serving as co-editors of the Joe and Betty Moore Texas Art Series at the Texas A&M University Press.

After serving as educators and administrators for more than 35 years, and Bill previously working for the Texas A&M University System, the Reaves’ early calling to become educators has further compelled them to make lasting impacts on their community and state; while not only seeking to provide for the students at Texas A&M, they plan to introduce underserved communities and rural school districts to the world of Texas art with their recent gift through educational programming, which will meet people where they live in their communities.

“Linda and I are especially excited about helping to bring more exposure to Texas art to the Texas A&M community and the state,” Bill Reaves said. “We think that learning and knowing more about our state’s rich visual arts legacies only adds additional joy and enrichment to the experience of being a Texan.”

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