By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Bound by blood and driven by complementary artistic visions, brothers Scott and Stuart Gentling shared a creative energy and a unique path throughout their artful lives. A retrospective at the Amon Carter looks at their body of work.
The Gentling brothers weren’t from Fort Worth — they were born in Rochester, Minnesota — but there’s no doubt Scott and Stuart were native sons. They moved to Texas with their family at the age of 5 and lived and worked together for the rest of their lives — rarely apart.
Growing up on Fort Worth’s Westside, the twins shared a love of art, history and adventure. They built both a working guillotine and a three-stage rocket, which they launched with minimal injuries (singed eyebrows). Wanting to know more about taxidermy, they took a correspondence course. They read, they studied, they immersed themselves in topics ranging from classical music to the Aztec civilization. And they became the city’s most accomplished artists.
Clients included George W. Bush (they did his official portrait that hangs in the state Capitol in Austin), Amon G. Carter Sr. (the result hangs in the Amon Carter Museum of American Art) and his daughter, Ruth Carter Stevenson. Ed Bass commissioned them to paint the ceiling frescoes at Bass Performance Hall.
Yet they are not that well known outside of Texas, owing to the fact that they rarely left Fort Worth save for attending Tulane University in New Orleans and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Their massive portfolio book, Of Birds and Texas, was self-published in 1986 and remains their best-known work. And countless visitors have gazed upon their work inside the Bass Hall dome.
But the Gentlings themselves did little to venture outside of their comfort zone and promote themselves. In a 2011 interview Scott did with writer Marilyn Bailey for 360 West, he acknowledged he had visited Mexico and the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, but other than that, had rarely strayed from Fort Worth. Stuart died in 2006 and Scott in 2011.
It’s only fitting that 10 years after Scott’s death, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art opens a retrospective this month, “Imagined Realism: Scott and Stuart Gentling.” Jonathan Frembling, the Gentling curator and head museum archivist who put the show together, notes that in visiting local collectors’ homes to select pieces for this exhibit, he often saw the brothers’ works hanging alongside pedigreed paintings of international note.
The museum’s second-floor exhibit walks visitors through 150 objects and paintings ranging from portraits of famous and everyday people (there’s a rhino, too) to Texana art and lesser-seen works, such as their etchings, plus a music room. Another room is devoted to the large and detailed pen and ink Aztec murals and incredible 3D models. There are also historical costumes, which were donated after Scott’s death to a local university for preservation. The final room showcases pieces from late in their career and when Stuart was near the end of his life.
One of the biggest items is the concept piece they did for their Bass Hall work. And because the Carter did focused exhibitions from their Birds portfolio in 2019, expect to see only a nod to the avian art. Unfortunately, much of the taxidermy was in too poor a shape to be included, according to Frembling.
As head of the Gentling Study Center, which was established in 2019 at the Carter, Frembling’s mission is to advance the Gentlings’ legacy and help raise their profiles as leading American painters — another reason for this long-awaited retrospective.
He has also put together an amazing resource for scholars and members of the general public who want to know more about the Gentlings. This includes their writings, journals, paperwork and much more thanks to Suzanne Gentling, their sister and executor of their estate. Fort Worth’s Ed Bass is also a champion of the Gentlings and saw to it that the Carter received a significant amount of their artwork.
“The exhibit title, ‘Imagined Realism’ — which we thought about very carefully — alludes to the idea of the artists’ vision and how it shapes specific moments in time,” says Frembling. “They were such an important part of the local art scene and so deeply engaged in Texas.”