Aransas County’s scenic beauty, abundance of birds and wildlife, and picturesque sights have captured the imagination of artists since the early 1900s. Early settlers valued culture, including music, drama and art, and sometimes painted scenes such as local sailing regattas or their family’s house nestled in the dunes.
Simon Michael founded the Fulton School of Painting and later the Simon Michael School of Fine Art in Rockport in the late 1940s, after traveling around the world, painting with Picasso in Paris and working on Mount Rushmore. He and his students often worked outdoors as plein aire artists, capturing the life around fish houses where boatmen repaired their nets. They also boated out into the bays to paint the Aransas Pass lighthouse and the sand dunes and traveled to Mexico in the summers. Simon had generations of students here and in surrounding Texas towns, offering lessons for $1.00 a day in the beginning. He also began the local tradition of public art, teaching area students to paint murals of sealife and historic buildings.
Other artists and teachers, including Kit Dinger, Steve Russell and Estelle Stair, established the Rockport Art Guild and Association in the sixties, organizing the first Art Festival in 1968. Waves of creative people visited and often settled here to have second careers as artists, sometimes supplementing their incomes as illustrators, teachers and gallery owners.
Also in the sixties a group of artists who loved hunting and fishing congregated in the area. Jack Cowan, Herb Booth, Al Barnes, local artist Steve Russell and others developed a regional landscape school, often called the Texas Coast aesthetic. Meredith Long opened a branch of his prestigious Houston gallery in Key Allegro, which helped popularize wildlife and sporting art. Many of the artists donated their art to conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, the Gulf Coast Conservation Association, later the Coastal Conservation Association, and joined with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to raise money for conservation causes.
In 1984, after being housed in other rented buildings, the Rockport Art Association opened in its first permanent building in the donated Bruhl-O’Connor House; in 1992, they became the Rockport Center for the Arts, continuing many early traditions, including working with children.
Generations of artists, teachers, students, patrons and volunteers have contributed to the art colony, leading to its being named one of the “Top Ten Coastal Art Colony” by Coastal Living Magazine.”
Excerpt from “Friends of Aransas County History Center”
For more information visit https://www.thehistorycenterforaransascounty.org