20090420

219 Dallas , TX: Lighthouse Hill


Dallas, Texas: Lighthouse Hill




When I think of Dallas, I think of oil. When I think of oil, I think of gas--Hopper's painting Gas, which contains an image of a sign for Mobil Gas, whose headquarters are in Dallas. For years Mobil's building was the tallest in Dallas. In fact, it was the tallest building south of Washington, D.C., and the huge Pegasus statue on its roof presided over downtown Dallas and the entire American South like the one presiding over Hopper's painting.

The building had since been transformed into a hotel and surpassed in height by many more modern skyscrapers, but the city had adopted the Pegasus as its symbol. Pegasus medallions topped the lamp posts downtown streets, and the public sculpture theme in this town was corner statues of variations on Pegasus. The one in front of the preserved cabin of area pioneer John Neely Bryan had on a tie and reading glasses. In front a building at Bryan and Harwood was a version of the statue Pegasus and Man by Carl Milles, a copy of which I had seen in the courtyard of the Des Moines Art Center. At the corner of Main and Akard was the Pegasus Credit Union.

Also, when I think of Dallas, I think of November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed here. The sixth floor from which the fatal shot was fired (depending on who you believe) was now a museum devoted to JFK and that fateful day. I got spooked thinking that I was about to walk the same steps that someone (allegedly) took that day. The exhibit did a great job of clarifying what was known about that day and the people tied to it--and what remained unknown about it. An exhibit of important moments of loss in the U.S. already had already added the Attack on America September 11, 2001, though my visit was only three months after that.


One thing I do not think of when I think of Dallas is lighthouses. However, that's what I was here to see. Edward Hopper's painting Lighthouse Hill in the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). Lighthouse Hill shows a series of darkly shadowed hills topped by a pale yellow lighthouse set against a blue sky. One of the few well-known photographs of Hopper shows him painting this canvas. Jo wrote they "lived curiously for [the] sake of [this] canvas. Lighthouse Hill came out of housekeeping with water from village pump--& the toilet in a shed shared with lobster bait." More so in person than in reproduction, the painting gets across a sense of isolation. Partly it is the separation between the two buildings. Partly it's the anonymizing sunlight broadsiding the white fa├žades.

The painting was so popular that immediately after the DAM purchased it, another admirer wrote to inquire about obtaining it. The DAM wrote back, "neither the owner or the museum would care to relinquish this particular painting." However, someone seemed to dislike it. Lighthouse Hill was one of three paintings scratched by a vandal in the museum. Luckily, the needed repairs were relatively minor. Hopper suffered at Dallas's hands an attack just as did John F. Kennedy.

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