Old Main at Dusk, Sam Houston State (originally Normal Institute), 2015
oil on canvas
36 x 48 in
Location: formerly on the campus of Sam Houston State University- burned 1982
“Old Main” was one of the most beautiful public buildings in Texas for nine decades. Part of a surge of public construction in Texas in the prosperity of the late 1880s and ’90s, the new main building for Sam Houston State Normal Institute also coincided with a resurgence in the reputation of Sam Houston as people acquired some emotional distance from the cataclysm of the Civil War. His prescience in efforts to avoid Secession, and his incredibly accurate predictions for the war and its aftermath, had finally found an audience in the clarity of experienced hindsight.
This renewed appreciation for the great man was expressed in the new building in a series of memorial windows on the second floor. It was a memorial seen best from the interior of the building. But that meant that, when others made paintings of Old Main by daylight after its demise in 1982, the memorial aspect of the building’s intent was lost. Old Main, in those pictures, became like the anonymous photos of someone else’s ancestors in an antique shop.
I decided three years ago to make this right by doing a painting that would, as faithfully as possible on this scale, show the stained glass memorials to Sam Houston and others as they appeared in about 1928. Doing the painting as an evening image allowed me to light the windows from within.
This also speaks to the importance of East Texas in Texas history. Much of the early canon of the state’s heritage was born in Huntsville, partly from the recollections of people such as Joshua Houston and others who had known Houston personally, and partly from people such as Anna Hardwicke Pennybacker. Mrs. Pennybacker was a graduate of the first class of Sam Houston State Normal Institute and wrote “A New History of Texas” in 1888. That would be the standard classroom history text in Texas for forty years.CALL FOR PRICE