George Grammer

As a child of the Great Depression, George Grammer (1928- ) was constrained to be creative with the scant materials on hand. No paper? Shirt-cardboards, thoughtfully saved by his grandmother, would do the trick. No canvas? Window-shade material could work. Always this resourceful and precocious, Grammer blew through school, graduating from Fort Worth’s Paschal High at just 16. He attended Texas Wesleyan University on scholarship. After only two years’ tutelage there under the influential Kelly Fearing, Grammer was off to Mexico on another scholarship. His work at the San Miguel de Allende school won him one more scholarship, this time to the prestigious Art Students League of New York. Still of modest means, Grammer’s New York study was underwritten by a Dallas patron who provided living expenses in exchange for paintings.

While in New York, Grammer fell in love - twice - with the city, and with June Amos, a former Paschal classmate who happened to be pursuing her own artistic career in New York. Grammer and Amos eventually married, and relocated permanently up north, dividing their time between the City and a weekend-house in New Jersey. The latter was actually a defunct Presbyterian church whose spacious chapel they mischievously transformed into a secular loft. “I remember our first cocktail party at the church,” June Grammer chuckled to the New York Times in 1974. Because the property’s original deed had prohibited alcoholic beverages, the Grammer’s interpreted a bat flying out of the belfry at their first toast as “a celestial voice expressing indignation.” June, a fashion illustrator and Parson’s instructor, passed away in 1993. George remains in New York City, but comes back to Texas whenever the Fort Worth Circle is commemorated.

The Fort Worth Circle was a short-lived but long-reaching movement in the late 1940s. George Grammer, still a teenager, was embraced as its last member in 1946. Fresh from his art school studies and not yet married, he was ten to twenty years younger than most of the other members. His former teacher Kelly Fearing was part of the Circle, as were Bill Bomar, Bror Utter, and a handful of other artists. The Circle was a markedly loose affiliation. Unlike the Cubists, whose works they admired (George Braque’s and Pablo Picasso’s paintings can be easily confused from this period), the Circle’s artists experimented with form and application in remarkable diverse ways. Their one uniting element was their intent to introduce Texas to a European-Modernist aesthetic that was being eschewed by the contemporaneous Regionalist movement.

The Circle’s influence, even as far as New York - where its work was exhibited and critically praised - is being unpacked by today’s art historians. Indeed, now that Grammer is the only Circle member still alive, curators and other researchers have ramped up their efforts to preserve and promote members’ artwork. In 2008, the Amon Carter Museum organized an unprecedented exhibit of Circle work under the title “Intimate Mondernism.” And, in 2017, a George Grammer retrospective was used as the inaugural show for a new Texas Wesleyan art gallery. Regrettably, the exhibit ran only a week, as Grammer’s collectors were “nervous” about parting with his paintings for any longer. Obviously, the art world has begun to sense the fragility and fierceness of the Fort Worth Circle’s legacy.