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W.W. TORREY Attorney at Law 4105 N. Travis P.O. Drawer 752 Cameron, TX 76520 254-697-3700 Fax: 254-697-3702 [email protected] Clint Hamilton in his Abilene studio, 1985. PHOTO COURTESY THE CLINT HAMILTON FOUNDATION with purple net bows and hen eggs. He said, “Nobody can ever begin to imagine the work which went into creating, bit by bit, each of the headdresses, each of the decorative units.” He didn’t consider these projects beneath him but rather their own kind of art, one that involved the community in a way that museums and galleries couldn’t. In an interview, he snorted with disdain at the thought that “some people will walk by the win dows and think that things were just stuck there, any which way, by chance.” As Judy Deaton, art historian and curator of exhibits at Abilene’s Grace Museum, argued, Clint made art seem welcoming and accessible to average people because “he didn’t see it as an elite, intellectual process.” Or as Lynn Barnett, director of Abilene’s Cultural Affairs Council, told me, with Clint, people had a chance to see how art happens. He would pick up a piece of junk at your garage sale, and “the next week it would look magnificent in a display or in his next work of art.” Maybe because of his roots in Pop Art or his window-dressing past, Hamilton didn’t seem to worry about the permanence of his creations. Deaton said that he would take collages apart and remake them, paint over them, and thread them with organic materials. Clint gave a wonderful piece to friends of my parents after they had starred in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s a woodblock print of Woolf herself surrounded by beads and pencil marks and delicate insect wings, pieces of which had disintegrated over time and collected in the bottom of the frame like fairy dust. While much of Clint’s tangible work is scattered or falling apart, his real legacy may be the Abilene art scene. Before his death in 2001, Clint taught art to hundreds of kids and adults in Abilene, mentoring a string of young artists and gallery curators who came through the budding art scene. Hardly the failure I’d once thought him to be, Clint ultimately made more of an impact here than he could have in New York. He was the first director of the Center for Contemporary Arts, a cooperative that still holds monthly art walks that bring more than 500 people to museums, shops and galleries in Abilene’s oncedeserted downtown. Clint was not alone in these efforts. Officials realized early on the potential for the arts as an economic driving force, so they used the city’s tourist tax to create and support a Cultural Affairs Council with a professional staff. Wealthy local philanthropists have chipped in to support artists and museums. Thanks to these efforts, the boarded-up Drake Hotel, built in 1909 in the Mission Revival style and fallen into disrepair over the years, blossomed into the stunning Grace Museum with world-class exhibits. Across the street, the old railroad right-ofway has been landscaped and now sprouts outdoor sculptures. This year the Texas Commission for the Arts named Abilene one of five designated “cultural districts” in the state, a program that highlights cities with thriving art scenes. When I heard that news, I was surprised. And then I wasn’t. Abilene was not just my Bible Belt, backwater hometown. Like the collages and windows of Clint Hamilton, cities revive and fall away and transform into something different. In Abilene, Clint saw the raw materials for art. On a recent trip back to town, I attended the senior art show of Hannah Capra, Clint’s last student, who plans to go to art school in New York in the fall. A willowy young woman with long black hair, her work was both glossy and dark, butterflies and gas masks. At one end of the hallway hung a crayon portrait she drew of Clint when she was 6. He was in poor health by this time, and she drew the lines of oxygen coming out of his nose like tentacles. She said walking into his house was like walking into a dream, a broken bottle from the street standing next to a fine vase. He would turn to her and say, “Make something.” Afterward, I stopped by the hip new coffee shop across the street from where Clint’s studio used to be. It sells T-shirts with slogans like “Keep Abilene Boring” or “What Happens in Abilene, Leaves Abilene.” Pretty much my sentiments when living there as a young person. Drinking my Fair Trade coffee, I remembered what Hannah told me about a piece Clint did, made up of pennies with tiny vintage photographs on them, and how they made her “see pennies for the first time.” That was a little bit how I felt now, like seeing my own Abilene in an entirely new light. 0 Mary Helen Specht lives in Austin. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times. Her website is maryhelenspecht. corn. WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG