The small West Texas town of Albany might not be the first place you’d expect to find a top-notch but small art museum with an ongoing lineup of adventurous contemporary projects.
The Old Jail Art Center (OJAC) first opened in 1980 in the first prison built in Shackelford County, two hours west of Fort Worth. Built in 1877, the historic prison is still the anchor of what is now a 17,000 square meter modern museum complex with two annexes and a sculpture courtyard.
As rugged and remote as the setting is (the museum estimates its core audience hails from 25 rural counties), the region still has wealthy oil and rancher families who have made gifts of art and money over the years.
Prominent artists in the OJAC collection include Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Moore, John Marin, Alexander Calder and Grant Wood. The museum has an excellent collection of mid-century paintings by the artists of the Fort Worth Circle, as well as a large gathering of the group known as the Taos Moderns. Its Asian art collection is one of the best in the state and there is a diverse pre-Columbian collection.
Patrick Kelly is the museum’s executive director and exhibition curator. In 2008 he launched the Cell Series, an exhibition program that showcases contemporary Texas artists. Artists are invited to create site-specific exhibitions of the works in the historic prison building. Bale Creek Allen,
“I think visitors (from out of town) come here expecting to only see western or cowboy art, and then they’re surprised when they see what we have,” says Kelly.
“It’s always a balancing act in a place like Albany,” says Kelly, softening the taste of a small town while bridging the gap to the contemporary art scene. “You have to respect the past and the existing while bringing in the new.”
Kelly, himself an artist and a native Texan, grew up in Lubbock. He received a BFA from the University of North Texas at Denton and an MFA from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where Kelly worked for several years as a studio assistant for noted artist Vernon Fischer. Kelly landed in Albany in 1997, thinking he and his wife Amy Kelly would only be there for a few years. A few decades and two grown children later, Kelly is in deep (Amy is the museum’s registrar) and lives literally a block from the museum. A studio behind his home allows him to balance a busy artistic practice with his museum career.
Recently, the Old Jail Art Center received a gift of works by Texas artists – Art Guys, Earl Staley, Joseph Havel, Kirk Hayes, Sam Gummelt, Mel Zielger and Trenton Doyle Hancock – from the estate of Dallas art collector Sonny Burt.
Upcoming exhibitions include one that spotlights Houston-based painter Francesa Fuchs and the installation of a monumental sculpture by renowned German artist Anselm Kiefer, of a lead submarine resting on a concrete seabed.
Kelly took the time to answer our line of sight questionnaire.
Describe Albany in three words.
Small, rural, supportive
How would you describe the Albany art scene?
The arts have always been very important to Albany, Texas and are an integral part of the culture and activities in our small community of 2,000 people. Albany has a long history of producing many talented individuals representing the visual and performing arts. Her legacy continues not only through the Old Jail Art Center (OJAC), but also through the “Fandangle” – an annual outdoor musical performance based on the history of our Texas region that has been performed for over 80 years. Music, dance and theater are alive and well in our community.
Who are your favorite artists in Albany? What are your favorite local galleries or art institutions?
Despite the fact that Albany only has a population of 2,000, there are a few contemporary artists who live and work here… myself included. (Wish there were more!) Sculptor Joe Barrington maintains studios in Albany and Throckmorton, Texas and produces figurative steel work that is always awe-inspiring. Despite the fact that OJAC is the only visual arts institution, it gets my vote as a favorite. With a collection of over 2,300 objects, art outstrips population.
What do you appreciate most about your work?
I appreciate the fact that we support and nurture Texas artists by providing them with a place to share their artwork and vision within an arts institution. Occasionally we have the opportunity to acquire works by these artists for the permanent collection for future generations to see. In turn, visitors who may never have been to a museum can experience art they’ve likely never seen before.
What do you consider your greatest professional success to date?
Periodically, I am able to feature artwork by artists who have not received the recognition they deserve. Being able to show a range of quality work that may have been overlooked or forgotten gives me a sense of accomplishment. Admittedly, it really isn’t my performance since you did all the work.
What do you do on a day off?
i make art
How should the national art scene develop?
This is a less than poetic and somewhat regional illustration, but the art scene is something of Texas soil. It consists of multiple layers of artists, collectors, museums/arts centers, galleries and donors – each of them has its own layer. Supporting Texas artists by purchasing their work and providing them with exhibition opportunities is like rain on a dry prairie…everything benefits.
What part of the pandemic surprised you as a creative asset?
During the pandemic shutdown, many museums have been forced to shift their reach to various digital platforms to provide access to their collections, exhibitions and working artists. Given OJAC’s remote location, we’ve already made virtual content available to numerous families and schools. Since our digital delivery platforms were already in place and being used successfully, we focused on improvements and deeper insights into the art and the artists rather than getting acquainted with the technical stuff.
What place in Texas would you like to visit but haven’t been yet?
I’ve never been south of Marfa in the Big Bend area. I’ve made several attempts, but my plans keep getting interrupted.
The Old Jail Art Center is located at 201 S. Second St. in Albany, Texas. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; closed on major holidays. Admission is always free. ojac.org