While travelling through West Texas recently I was looking up historical destinations in the area to visit. Frontier forts, Old West ghost towns, and ranches came up in my search, along with the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, the county seat of Shackelford County. Situated in a tiny town of not even 2,000 people, this museum is home to extraordinary paintings donated by various locals made rich by oil. The collection includes monumental works from Modigliani, Caillebotte, and Renoir to Picasso and Grant Wood, including many other artistic heavy-weights whose works are much more likely to be hanging on walls in New York or Paris than the middle of Texas oil country. Viewing works like this in any setting is very exciting, but against the backdrop of a re-purposed 19th century jail house in a frontier town made it an even more unique experience.
The most outstanding work in the modestly sized, yet incredibly valuable collection was Young Girl with Braids (1918) by Amedeo Modigliani. The girl is a classic example of a Modigliani woman, with an almond shaped head and empty, lozenge eyes, but her orange-tinted skin, colored by the sun and braided hair confirm the girls’ young age. Painted against a color-blocked field of muted tones, the young girl stands out, imbuing the work with a vibrant, youthful energy and a hint of aloof absence. I love Modigliani’s portraits of women, so encountering this painting, especially in this remote location was such an amazing experience.
Modigliani’s Young Girl with Braids wasn’t the only youthful girl gracing the walls of the Old Jail Art Center. Immediately next to her hung Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Woman with Hat, (1896), a whimsical and saccharine portrait rendered in soft pastel tones characteristic of the Impressionist. It was portraits like these, especially from Renoir, that featured young women that first made me fall in love with art when I was little. Seeing this Renoir painting was a nostalgic experience recalling the many afternoons I sat in my living room as a six-year-old flipping through my parent’s coffee table books of Renoir and other Impressionists to find pictures of other girls my age in pretty clothes. It was a nice reminder of how I first became interested in learning about art and how simple images such as Woman with Hat kicked off a life-long obsession with art.
I was so happy to find this museum. Visiting the Old Jail Art Center was a truly unforgettable experience. It is a haven of beautiful artworks and history in an otherwise desolate place.