Art curator Randy Tibbits is on a mission: to give late Texas painter Emma Richardson Cherry the attention she deserves. ''We're trying to have people see her in a different light, and actually, to have people see in Houston in a different light,'' Tibbits tells us. ''The idea that most people have is that nothing really happened in Houston in terms of art until the de Menils came here. They made a huge contribution, of course, but they were building on a foundation that had been built by people like Mrs. Cherry.''
According to Tibbits, Cherry was a pioneer and the exhibit ''Emma Richardson Cherry: Houston's First Modern Artist,'' now on display at the Houston Public Library, shows several highpoints during her groundbreaking career. In 1888, she was one of first Americans to paint at Giverny, where she became familiar with impressionism. She arrived in Houston in the early 1890s, when the city's population numbered less than 30,000 and set about organizing the Public School Art League (the precursor to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). In the 1920s, she was a member of the avant-garde Societe Anonyme in New York; fellow members included Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp.
But it's not just Cherry's ever developing, cutting edge style, with forays into impressionism and cubism on her way to modernism, which draws attention. At times, her subject matter also warrants notice. In Deep South Cherry shows an African American woman, reportedly one of the Cherry household servants, sitting in a garden with a baby on her lap. ''She's painted a Madonna and child,'' says Tibbits. Cherry painted Deep South in 1937, during a time when African Americans were rarely shown in stately or regal poses.
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There's an opening reception for ''Emma Richardson Cherry: Houston's First Modern Artist'' with Tibbits and co-organizer, Houston Public Library curator Danielle Burns at 7 p.m. on February 22. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Through May 4.
Mondays-Thursdays, Saturdays. Starts: Feb. 2. Continues through May 4, 2013