Editor’s Note: Below are remembrances artist and writer Hills Snyder collected about Frances Colpitt, the renowned art historian, writer, educator, critic, and curator who died earlier this month.
Wendy Atwell, San Antonio, TX
1. What I first learned from Fran happened in the dark over a humming slide projector as she clicked through Modernism — Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, Manet’s Reclining Odalisque, Pollock’s drip paintings, and the delicate determination of Mondrian’s hand-drawn lines. Like the jazz that inspired him, she taught art history with an asynchronous beat: some fast, others slow and random — thrills and unexpected thrums: the surprise of a carrot nose on a snowman dehydrating in a freezer and lush colored velvet piled upon the floor.
2. In the daylight, breaking from cerebral acrobatics and marathon cogitations of Rosalind Krauss and Michael Fried, over a Diet Coke and cigarette, her dry voice rippled into laughter, bold equal to Dave Hickey’s cocky brilliance.
3. How to sense Donald Judd or the sparkly cherry red illumination of a John McCracken plinth leaning against a wall:
Give it time
look closer but
no, don’t just look
how sculpture can elicit a visceral response,
how light illuminates a room
(she didn’t instruct this, she lived this, and on the page her clarity sliced, economical, sharp, and assured).
Art is having one long conversation with itself — arguments, bets, standoffs, one-liners and epiphanies. She took her students to the table.
I like to imagine who she’d invite to those imaginary dinner parties where we’re asked to invite whoever we want, living or dead: Jackson Pollock, Ed Ruscha, Joan Mitchell. Robert Irwin….
4. She taught how the art’s moment may persist: Douglas Huebler’s Duration Piece #5 (1969), a black and white photo documenting where he heard birdsongs in Central Park, showing the empty sidewalk crossing through, accompanied with the instructions:
Each photograph was made with the camera pointed in the direction of the sound.
The direction was then walked toward by the auditor until the instant that next call was heard at which time that next photograph was made and the next direction taken.
5. What I last learned from Fran reverberates in the presence of any art: a moment of clarity and the echo of her voice:
God, those brushstrokes
listen for the song.
Richie Budd, Ft. Worth, TX
Professor, mentor, colleague, supporter, critic, friend, and being physically around her felt like family.
She always had a smile even when she wasn’t feeling so great. She always asked how your partner was doing. Even though her body was seemingly frail she was tough as nails. She had a lot of love in her heart for others. Not the gushy squishy kind but she had that genuine concern for the wellbeing of others. She was always curious and willing to talk about most anything. She had an openness about her that I’ve experienced with few people. She loved her cats and was so sweet with her husband Donny. It was so fun seeing them together.
She was extremely supportive of local artists nationally.
I met Fran in 2003 in San Antonio, Texas when she was chair of UTSA Department of Art and Art History. Through an office visit she accepted me into the grad studio program with a 3 x 5 inch album full of photos of sculptures I made. The worst photos ever. I had been in an art collective and taken painting and Hybrid Forms classes with Vernon Fisher at UNT during my bachelors. So, I think his name really sealed the deal, ha ha!
From that first meeting she was fair, forthright, and genuine. She really had no reason to be otherwise, because it was impossible for her and that was so refreshing and rare in the fine arts field.
While at UTSA, Fran and her husband Donny would host a Spring graduate potluck party. Well, San Antonio was pretty bohemian at the time with The Bower, Unit B, Fl!ght, Blue Star, Fine Silver Gallery, Artpace, Mike Casey’s Compound, Sala Diaz, SAMA, The McNay, Cactus Bra, Emvergeoning, Southwest School, Three Walls, and lots of great writers, musicians, and performers. All of this was in what seemed like a mile or even a few feet of each other. Almost every night was like a family reunion. There was always something fun going on with the best people. If you were lucky, you stayed up late enough to taste the great artist Chuck Ramirez’s Abuela’s recipe for chicken mole. I mean, that was heaven. I really and truly miss San Antonio. I’ve never felt so welcome in any place in Texas like I did in San Antonio. Maybe it’s nostalgia and I’m ok with that. One could go to an art opening and see the Janitor and the Mayor of San Antonio chatting away. Try seeing that in any other large city in Texas.
Anyway, Fran and Donny’s party would start around dinner time and previous students and other professors would show up with all sorts of delicious plates. And before you knew it, it was five o’clock in the morning. All the history grads and professors had long ago vanished and Donny and Fran had been talking with everyone about art, life, and all. There’d be a splash from the pool, Fran and Donny always had a house with a pool, and one of the remaining studio grads would announce people were now skinny dipping. Fran would look up, laugh, and say, “That’s so fun!” and go right back into whatever deep conversation she was having. Ha ha! It was so great.
Towards the end of my grad work Fran moved to TCU and became the holder of the Deedie Potter Rose Chair of Art History. A huge honor. The South Texas art community was so sad to see her go and the university culture changed. At TCU she included me and a number of other great Texas artists in the first exhibition (I believe) at the TCU Center for Visual Research, now Fort Worth Contemporary Arts. The show was titled Material Culture, with a book of the same name. Pick one up if you can. It has Fran’s writing as well as Jennifer Davy and Kirstie Skinner.
I found myself in Fort Worth a few years after graduating and was fortunate enough to see her on a somewhat regular basis. Another of her former students, longtime friend, and now Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth curator, Alison Hearst, and I would meet Fran at Baker St Pub & Grill off Camp Bowie. We’d all sit, have drinks, talk about the art world for hours, and really just check in on each other. Kool cigarettes with gin and tonic was a favorite. Malibu Rum made appearances as well. We did this off and on and we saw Donny when visiting their home a few blocks away.
Before I forget, there’s recorded conversations of Fran, including one with Vernon Fisher on the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth website. You should go listen because it’s inspiring.
I remember eating lunch with Alison Hearst, Jennifer Davy, and Fran at Fran’s favorite lunch spot in Fort Worth — Carshon’s Delicatessen. It’s an old school kosher-style deli that serves NYC-style sandwiches. Pretty decent.
Well, the last time I saw Fran was less than a year ago. She was retired from TCU, Donny had passed away a couple of years before, and she was cleaning out a room in the house full of Donny’s stuff. She wanted to begin remodeling that side of the house. Her body wasn’t quite where she wanted it but she was working on it and her mind was as sharp as ever. She said I can have Donny’s bass and amp if I find someone to give them to so they will be played. So, I’ll be on the lookout for someone. I believe his guitars grew legs during their kitchen renovation, but she didn’t care. I think she may have even said something like I hope they’re being used.
Fran never wanted or needed much. Except for a hand now and then with something heavy or awkward. Like her authentic Japanese Futon, she slept on and swore by. I think Alison and her husband Kris Pierce and I drug that heavy beast out of her home and then unwrapped a brand new one and set it up. That thing was heavy! Ha ha! Otherwise, when you’d ask her if she needed anything it was usually “No, I’m ok. Thanks for asking.” Thinking about it now, I realize she was more of a people person. I guess with those types of people you really just watch out for them, ask them what they need from time to time, and give them love.
I’m unsure of how to end this. I guess because I don’t want to. I’ll just remember her sweet smile, her sparkly eyes, and her kind heart.
I and a lot of others miss you dearly, Fran.
Nate Cassie, San Antonio, TX
My two favorite Fran quotes. In a class, “Do you really think that?,” said without irony, and with genuine curiosity and regularly. The day after a party at her and Donny’s house in San Antonio, “There was naked swimming?,” said with innocent surprise and also with genuine curiosity.
Margaret Craig, San Antonio, TX
She was the best, I took all my art history with her!
Bill Davenport, Houston, TX
She loved her swimming pool.
Jennifer Davy, Berlin, Germany
I listened to you today. An old podcast from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Problems and Possibilities for Abstract Painting in Postmodernism. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking to hear your voice. I love listening to you lecture, how you lecture with us rather than to us. How, while you’ve rigorously thought through it all even if still thinking it through on the page, you also actively think it through with us. Your lectures were always conversations. No matter how difficult or challenging the content, I always felt invited, personally invited, along with everybody else, to participate, to actively think of possibilities together with you. It’s one of the many ways in which you are so critically and crucially generous.
I miss that I didn’t get to see you again. Coming home, again, I really wanted, and needed, to talk to you. In the most selfish of ways, I needed you to be there so we could talk about everything through art, theory, and talking shit. I miss straight talk and no bullshit, unless bullshitting. Calling a spade a spade, with love.
I want to have another conversation with you. I suppose I will as I carry you with.
Soon after I heard about your passing, I shared, “when your heart is so full of gratitude it ends up in your mouth and swallows your words.” Still full of gratitude, some words have dribbled out however always insufficient. Thank you fierce, fiery, beautiful, teacher, mentor, friend.
I miss you.
It’s funny how time is, or isn’t. How it’s so amorphous, “really,” however one may mark the minutes past, cross the calendar days. I remember sharing with Fran about something I was working through via some semiotic, post-structuralist, continental philosophical position positing a signifier without a referent. In good Fran fashion, she said something like: “Wait, what? How is that possible? Maybe I’m just too Cartesian, but that doesn’t make sense.” In some sense, she’s right, it doesn’t make sense — according to a particular logic that has governed “Western” language and semiotics. In another sense, or other senses, it makes perfect sense, without “sense.” In any case, I mention this not because I think Fran would ever want to be associated with anything “amorphous,” but because it doesn’t take much at all, takes no time at all really, to be anywhere in that “timeline” with her, to be “there,” to be sitting in her office or on her sofa inquiring, laughing, kvetching, exploring, and most of all learning. With Fran, I was always learning.
I’d always known how important she was to me and my development, but it wasn’t until more recently in the ebbs and flows of time that I realized how profoundly she impacted me. She was my foundation. More than anyone, she taught me how to see, how to think critically, how to question everything. How to think critically of myself, my thoughts, my words, my work. Talking to Hills Snyder years ago about learning, talking, and writing with and for Fran, we both realized how we came to writing more prominently through Fran and through wanting to impress Fran, not for our egos, per se, but more because that’s what she incited in us. Her passion, her commitment, her attention and the rigor she brought to her own work, including her work with us/students, made us want to do the same, meet her “there” or as close as we could. She made me care about art in such a profound way, and care about what I had to say about it in an incredibly responsible way.
As many have recollected as of late, one of her infamous retorts in seminar: “do you really believe that?” I loved that no matter what the topic or theme or time period or theory, Fran was committed. She’d figuratively board your bus — all in. And when, along the way, she’d ask you where you’re actually going: do you know where you are going, but do you really know where you’re going, do you honestly think this is the way to go…? She’d be fine if you really did think that was the way, but at pivotal, necessary points along the way, she’d really need to know that you do, because you’d really need to know. Her ability to be so grounded and open, allowing her students to go wherever they needed or wanted with grounding critical and nurturing support, was the greatest gift.
Of course, she was also hilarious and her laugh will never go silent. She and her husband, life partner, best friend, Donny, were also infamous for their gatherings and parties. Whether it was grad parties for students to let loose or their annual New Year’s Day party where they’d spend New Year’s Eve making bounties of food for all their friends who’d gone out the night before to come graze through, nurse hangovers, and start the new year with a community family and lots of music, laughter, and love — Fran, and Donny, were magical gifts to all of us.
“Play it again Donny!” on Fran’s request.
Jessica DeCuir, Belleville, IL
I’m so saddened to hear of the passing of a great scholar, professor, writer, and curator, Frances “Fran” Colpitt. One has only to look at her online c.v. to see her phenomenal scholarly and career accomplishments, too many to name here. As a graduate art history professor, Dr. Colpitt was so unpretentious, real, and awe-inspiring as all get out. Frances Colpitt inspired critical thinking through lively discussions in her art history topic courses, my favorite of which was “The Legacy of Duchamp.” Fran was a natural and knew how to communicate with her students and lead challenging discussions. She influenced countless artists and art history scholars in San Antonio, Texas and beyond. I recall that she gave me an extension on a paper that I spent a great deal of time and enthusiastic research on. She awarded me with an A, including thoughtful, handwritten notes throughout the paper. I still have that paper, along with a copy of a letter of recommendation she wrote for my first teaching position and a residency I applied for. Several years after graduating, a student in one of my courses excitedly told me that she happened to sit next to Frances Colpitt on an airplane trip. They got to talking and the student told her all about my class. Fran sang praises about me and told her I was one of her best students. Perhaps she was just being polite, but this meant the world to me. I will never forget her awesome voice, raucous laughter and quick-witted humor, her genuine love of art and mind-blowing knowledge. She is the sole reason many of us appreciate and dig minimalist painting and sculpture. I will always remember her wild orange hair, freckled face, and wide-eyed look of wonderment. Her pool parties at her home in San Antonio put us “wet behind the ears” kids at ease and made us feel welcome after moving to Texas for graduate school. Thank you, Fran Colpitt! Rest in peace.
Sharon Engelstein, Houston, TX
Fran was the first curator to reach out to me when I was a freshly hatched artist, and living in Houston. She had seen my work and asked if I would show it at the UTSA Satellite Space. I was so green I embarrassed myself, but she made it easy, and let me learn from her. She clearly had no judgments — just an intense love and curiosity for art and artists. We became fast friends, as she and Aaron discovered each other to be kindred spirits in art. She came to include him in a number of shows, and wrote about his work beautifully. Over the years we stayed with her and Donny many times in San Antonio and Fort Worth — always the best hosts. I am sure many will attest to that. When we stopped in to see her in July she was as bright and vibrant as ever…regaling us with stories and inquiries. There will never be another like her.
Francesca Fuchs, Houston, TX
The amazing Fran Colpitt. Astute and archival art historian, kind, forceful, fearsomely wicked and fun, and always true. So honored to have worked with you and your students in the exhibition Wallpainting at UTSA in 2005, and so honored you gave a lecture at my solo exhibition, Francesca Fuchs, at The Contemporary Arts Museum in 2007.
I first met you through your writing at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1995, with the only book I could find on minimal art at the time: Minimal Art: The Critical Perspective. It was. I met you in person in 1997 during visits for the Core Fellowship. Sending you all my love, Fran, semi-namesake. Rest in power.
Gordy Grundy, Oahu, HI
Frances Colpitt’s book Minimal Art, The Critical Perspective serves as the de-facto authority on the subject. As an educator, Fran was greatly loved by her students. My relationship with her was personal and deeply felt. Quite proudly, I was the best man in her wedding to Don Walton. There are a lifetime of stories that can be told. She was smart as a whip and had a great sense of humor. So many of my most cherished friendships revolved around her. If she was ever challenged by her considerable health issues, I have never heard a word on that subject. Fran was effortlessly tough.
Alison Hearst, Ft. Worth, TX
Fran was so brilliant, supportive, tough, quick-witted, a little salty, fun, and loving. My life would not be what it is without her, and I can’t overstate the huge impact she had on me and those of us lucky enough to know and learn from her. I met Fran in 2005 when we both moved to Fort Worth for TCU (I went because of her). I liked her so much that I spent a summer digitizing her slides. It was a very boring task that was worth it in the end, as each day usually ended with us talking about art and life for hours, often with her late husband Donny joining in. As others have also mentioned, I will always remember her challenging yet enthusiastic quip “you don’t really believe that, do you?!” Always open-minded and intellectually curious, if you could argue whatever point you were trying to make well enough, she would often end up agreeing with you.
We stayed close after I graduated, and we would often go for lunch or drinks after work, meet up at the Modern, or hang out at her house. She always remained a mentor to me, but most importantly, she was also a dear friend.
One of my favorite memories of her is from graduate school where she had somehow — miraculously — volunteered to take five of us art history grad students to Marfa during our winter break. This wasn’t part of our curriculum, but she was game and I think maybe even a little excited to take us (none of us had been before). We all chipped in to rent a giant, white minivan that Fran graciously drove the whole time, and we rented three rooms at the cheapest roadside motel we could find (where Fran OF COURSE would later get busted for smoking in her room.)
She was always so humble. As her students, we knew about her scholarship on minimalism and Donald Judd, but I guess you could say we didn’t know the full extent at that point. Arriving at Chinati and the Judd Foundation with Fran was like none other — they rolled out the red carpet! People came out of the woodwork to say hello to her, and we got access to every private Judd-owned space and studio in Marfa. It was revelatory to hear her speak about the work and to hear her firsthand accounts (including the lesser-known story of when she turned down Judd’s offer to appoint her as the founding director of The Chinati Foundation). We all loved it when we saw her book, Minimal Art: A Critical Perspective, on a prominent shelf in Judd’s private library.
Being that it was January in Marfa and nothing was open after 4 pm, we ended our days sitting in the empty, desolate parking lot of the Riata Inn over cigarettes and drinks. That scene always makes me laugh, but I’m really grateful (and partly astonished) that she would continuously choose to spend her time with us no matter the place.
Despite the challenges she faced, she always remained positive, engaged, and totally passionate about art. Love always.
Kathryn Kanjo, San Diego, CA
I was fortunate to have Fran Colpitt in my life, first, as a professor and advisor at USC and, later, as a member of San Antonio’s vibrant art community. A scholar, professor, colleague, and friend, she embodied all of these roles with a purity: always wise, always instructive, always cooperative, and always caring.
Tulsa Kinney, Los Angeles, CA
Memories of Fran
I was so jealous of Fran. She was gorgeous with intense blue eyes and a bright red full mane. She had a raspy Southern drawl that sounded intoxicating as she dragged on her Kool cigarettes. Her knowledge of art was mind-boggling; she was working on her doctorate degree and lived in Los Angeles.
How could I not be jealous? This was the mid-80s, I still lived in Tulsa, and she was my husband’s ex-girlfriend. When it came time to meet her, she could not have been more gracious and generous in spirit. She even offered to look at my paintings, as she knew I was an art major at Tulsa University. To my surprise she was encouraging and even said to reach out to her if I ever decided to get my MFA, as she was teaching at USC and could make the necessary introductions.
A few years later I found myself taking her seminar on contemporary art in the MFA program at USC. Fran was the best teacher. She had lots of fascinating insider-knowledge about the art world and her lectures were enriching and informative. One such lecture was on Marcel Duchamp and his last piece, Étant donnés (1946–1966). She went into great detail with this piece, explaining the significance including many anecdotes. I was familiar with this important work but felt like I was discovering it for the first time in Fran’s class. Slide after slide, she went on with high enthusiasm. At one point, I raised my hand to ask a question. I told her I was confused as to why the work of art took so long to make — 20 years! I asked her if the artist just took his time, assembling brick by brick, rearranging every day. Why on earth did it take that long to make?
Fran was baffled by my question. She couldn’t help but start laughing, as the other students chimed in. I didn’t understand what was so funny. She explained to me that the concept developed over that amount of time (that, still to this day, did not satisfy my curiosity).
Our friendship endured until her passing, with periodic phone calls and visits to each other’s homes. She even became a contributor to Artillery, and I was always honored to have her brilliance included in the magazine.
One time when we were gabbing on the phone, she revealed that whenever she lectures on Duchamp and comes to his last piece, she includes my question. She cackled with her infectious laugh saying the students always get a big kick out of that story.
I’m glad I could make Fran laugh — even if it was at my expense! Mainly because hearing Fran laugh would just make anyone’s day.
Meg Langhorne, San Antonio, TX
One of many ways I knew Fran was through my job as archivist at Artpace. She often came by to talk to the artists or to ask for information for the Artpace catalogs. During one residency, an artist borrowed the Artpace truck, disappeared for a few days, and returned with a gregarious teenage kitten. The artist had some confusion about how to care for this kitten. The kitten had a litter box but the litter was submerged under water. There was a giant food bowl but it was filled with a wet gruel that did not smell like cat food. I got nervous. I asked if I could keep the kitten until I found him a home. He came to live in the archives that day. The same day, a few hours later, Fran came by. While Fran and I were talking, the kitten hopped up on the table, head butted Fran, checked out her hair, demanded pets, and then settled into her open purse. She said, I think this is a sign. He left in her purse. Fran and Donny named him Homer. He lived a long happy life. Many of you must have met him.
Fran was a brilliant scholar and teacher. She was a loyal friend, and Fran’s charisma had no limits.
Thank you Fran.
Jayne Lawrence, San Antonio, TX
Oh my gosh, the first time I met Fran was in undergraduate school. It was in an art history lecture hall with 100-300 students. Wanting to learn as much as possible, I was one of those students who sat up front. I think I was third row, center. A slide of Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss came on screen. Fran declared it was a “passionless embrace!” Then, she asked what we thought! I had never been in a large lecture hall where the professor solicited opinions from the attendees. I suddenly found myself standing up and responding to what turned into a rather heated debate. I argued that the sculpture was capturing the moment passion begins, when things between two lovers begin to get heated. Rodin’s lovers may not be in “the throes of passion,” but that did not mean the embrace was passionless. Hopefully, your readers can see that this topic created a wee bit of excitement in classroom and high level of commentary. That foray was my true introduction to world of art and Fran Colpitt!
When Fran lectured, you had to listen! Her devotion and commitment to her subjects was contagious. Fran encouraged discourse amongst her students. I am grateful to have had the opportunities to know her as a mentor, colleague and friend. I will never forget the woman who challenged me to delve deeply, learning to use my research, and experiences to form opinions that should, no MUST, be shared in an open, healthy exchange of ideas.
Casey Leone, Ft. Worth, TX
Dr. Frances Colpitt made everyone around her feel loved. And in turn, she was loved by all. She was one of a kind. She was bright and bold. She lit up every room she entered. I will miss her mentorship and friendship immensely. I will miss our long conversations about life and art, as well as all her advice and guidance. I know that I will continue to take all of that with me for the rest of my life. I love you, Fran.
Ken Little, San Antonio TX
Fran Colpitt was an amazing human being. She was an extraordinary scholar, a valuable colleague, and an articulate art critic. She was generous, hard working, and had a great sense of humor. I will be forever indebted to her as an art historian, an art critic, and a friend. You are sorely missed. Thank you Fran!
Connie Lowe, St. Louis, MO
Remembering Fran (a small selection of stories…)
- Fran had a huge influence on my decision to accept a position at UTSA. During my interview visit, I asked to meet with Fran in her office, wanting to get her viewpoint as one of only two tenure-track women on the art faculty (both art historians). Her first words to me were “I can’t believe they let you talk to me!” delivered in her characteristic straightforward manner. Her arrival in San Antonio from LA the year before — with her impressive intellect and passion for both the history and present moment of modern and contemporary art/works, was a welcome addition (and sometimes a provocation) to the department and an already-active art community. She contributed to a number of new developments in this landscape, including an M.A. program in Art History and Criticism at UTSA, and the establishment of Artpace and Sala Diaz. As a writer for Art in America, and as a curator and critic at-large, she brought attention to San Antonio artists and institutions, connecting the regional community to a larger art-world.
It was an incredible luxury to have access to her perspectives and her wealth of knowledge through both our intersecting professional activities and my friendship with both Fran and Donny during their years in San Antonio. It was particularly a joy to work with MFA students who were connecting the intellectual challenges of Fran’s classes to the development of their own artistic practices. Observing her curatorial process to see how a premise evolves from conception to exhibition was enlightening to me as an artist, and prompted me to ask my MFA students to imagine their own curatorial projects. While the move to Fort Worth and TCU certainly left an empty space in my own work environment, I am very grateful that we were able to continue our friendship and conversations for so many years.
- I often felt as much like Fran’s student as her colleague and friend in the way that she expanded my own knowledge. In our discussions she never lectured or presumed to know more. She would often say “you know that essay by so-and-so…?,” never assuming that I might not know (I often didn’t know, and sometimes admitted that, but sometimes just nodded and learned more by looking it up later). She seemed to believe that her knowledge was common and shared, not possessed, but something she continually gathered from looking as well as reading, then formed according to her interests at that time. And as a scholar, former painting student, critic, educator, and passionate spectator, Fran had definite interests (that others sometimes misunderstood as ideological loyalties). In actuality, Fran never expected that you (or her students) would agree with her, and our exchanges might deepen my opinions and feelings for my own, differing views. I was truly flattered that when she was writing an article or essay, she would sometimes ask me to read early drafts.
- I still seldom go to an exhibition or artist’s talk without considering what Fran might think. Although she can no longer give me an answer, I will continue to ask the question, and imagine what she might say, often expressed as a question more than a statement, and with a typical mix of sincerity, humor, and irony. Earlier this year, I sent her a text from the St. Louis Art Museum when a museum guard apprehended a young boy who was attempting to walk through a Donald Judd sculpture that certainly might look like an inviting tunnel to child, and as you might imagine, her reaction was both bemused and horrified. She looked at art works, especially non-objective abstraction, with an eye for detail and relationships — how the paint was applied, surface qualities, construction, the masking or hand-painting of an edge, etc. — Influencing my attention to the details of my own and others’ works to this day.
- Early on, I was surprised to learn that Fran applied the same attention to detail that she gave to art works to fabric and sewing technique, proficiently making her own clothes in (what seemed to me) the blink of an eye. The woman who guided so many grateful students to their own careers and authored original, insightful texts on art and criticism, also enjoyed watching episodes of the Andy Griffith Show with Donny, and might transform into a chanteuse as evenings grew late, sharing her renditions of “Non, je ne regrette rien” and “T for Texas” with gatherings of friends (I imagine many will remember and remark on their legendary parties…).
Libby Lumpkin, Santa Fe, NM
My late husband, Dave Hickey, should be the one writing this remembrance. He and Fran were fast friends long before I met her. He adored her. For me, she was a warm and intelligent voice on the phone until we finally had occasion to visit her in Fort Worth. The first thing I noticed was that she and Dave drove the same car. Not exactly the same year or color, but both were large Cadillac sedans, of the kind West Texas ranchers used to drive before monster trucks came into vogue. Both cars had exactly the same comfortable, “lived-in” look, with dirty outsides, and interiors coated with a light snow of cigarette ashes, and littered with dusty literary debris. I took to Fran right away. For me, meeting Fran was like finding a long-lost member of the tribe. The three of us talked non-stop about art, artists, museums, and art education. Dave and I made ugly comments about university art programs. Fran was more optimistic.
At this sad moment, it feels as if a generation is evaporating away. Whatever is the art discourse that Fran’s generation leaves behind was made sharper and brighter for her contributions to it. For the city of Fort Worth, with its unlikely legacy of masterpieces, which largely were collected by those ranchers who drove the Cadillacs and generously bequeathed by them to the city’s stunning array of elegant art museums, Frans’s presence was essential. Fran could make sense of it all. She could explain the necessity of art in plain-spoken language, and without recourse to so much as a hint of the east-coast nasal inflection adopted by so many posturing scholars in Western states. Fran will not disappear into the fog. She is lodged in our hearts and our minds. We will keep her there.
Yunhee Min, Los Angeles, CA
Do you remember our last phone conversation? After being out of touch for many years, we talked for a long time catching up. You sounded, as always, energetic with laughs that were always full. You were going through physical therapy, told me about getting around, school, and other details which now seem faint, and I talked about how things were going in the studio and teaching, among other changes in my life. We hadn’t seen each other for quite some time. I remember feeling so good hearing your voice. And I can tell you felt the same to hear mine. We also talked about Donny. Even though you had moved away, in my mind, the image of you with Donny in San Antonio in that breezy 50’s ranch-style house and the dog, whose name escapes me now, is forever fixed. It will always stay that way for me. I remember many occasions of gatherings in that house. You had your collection of paintings, most with stories. Of course, everyone in San Antonio knew you and Donny. If it wasn’t for you bringing me out to UTSA, I would not have seen the darkest and quietest nights in the Texas Hill Country of Boerne. I stayed on for months after in San Antonio. Do you remember?
I wish I had called again.
Still, I am so grateful to remember all the years of your voice and our last conversation.
Thank you, Fran.
Michele Monseau, San Antonio, TX
Fran was a force to be reckoned with. As one of her grad students, I learned more from her than I had learned up to that point in my development, and she was singularly responsible for making me think about art and my own work (and writing about it) in ways I had not before. In class, if a student said something she thought was ridiculous, she would smile, laugh and say “Do you really believe that?” in some inimitable way that would make the blood run out of anyone’s face, including mine. You wanted Fran to think highly of you. I think I can speak for all of my fellow students who studied with her in saying she was incredibly loved and respected by all of us. She was an important influence in my life. I’m really glad I told her in the years since what an important part of my development she was.
My best memories of her are of being awed in her classes, and of the many parties at her and Donny’s house in San Antonio, which were always filled with music, great friends, great conversation, swimming, and sometimes mayhem. I house-sat for them on numerous occasions, she knew I loved hanging out with Belle, their sweet Aussie shepherd. Donny got mad at me once for having a party while house-sitting. Fran laughed and told me not to worry about it, hahahaha. She was very understanding, really.
Her laughter was the thing. When I made her laugh, I felt like a million bucks. Under her tough exterior, she actually was a big softie. I have so many Fran stories, but for now I’d like to keep most of them for myself. She was private, and I respect that even now. She really was the best.
Aaron Parazette, Houston, TX
I met Fran Colpitt by chance in 1994. Fran had organized a show of sculpture by my partner, Sharon Engelstein, for the UT San Antonio Satellite Space, and I went to the opening with Sharon, knowing little of San Antonio, and having no idea who Frances Colpitt was. At the end of the opening, we were invited to stay at Fran’s house, where the festivities and rich conversation went late into the night. That moment was the beginning of an easy and enormously meaningful friendship that would span nearly three decades. Though we always lived in different Texas cities, Fran was the single most important advocate for my work and ideas. She wrote about my work a number of times, but just as importantly she was genuinely interested in seeing the work as it went forward, and was always an honest and clear appraiser of what she saw. Fran’s intelligence, and her frame of reference as an art historian, were of the highest order. She never looked at anything without giving it sincere consideration, and all the artists who caught her attention are the better for it. I count myself fortunate to have been one of those artists, and I feel very lucky just to have known her. Fran was a kind and curious person in our strange world. I miss her already.
Sharon and I did have the good fortune to visit her about a month ago, and I was quite amazed that, while her mobility had diminished, she was very much as there as she’d always been, in the swim for any and every topic in our freewheeling collage of a conversation — nearly 3 hours (with cocktails, of course). Hard to believe that she’s gone, but I’m very glad to be one of the people who had the good luck to know her.
Juan Miguel Ramos, San Antonio, TX
Patricia Ruiz-Healy, San Antonio, TX
Thank you for asking me to share stories about Fran.
She was such a meaningful mentor to me. She taught me how to think critically about art and did it always in such a way that I never felt stupid. Here I was, a mother of two and getting back to school in my mid-thirties — she embraced me. I felt very honored when she accepted to be my master thesis director, and we spent many mornings/ afternoons talking about geometric abstract art from Mexico.
Her seminar classes were the best and gave me all the intellectual food that I needed at that time.
She graciously revisited an early essay when I published the post-mortem catalog of Chuck Ramirez’s oeuvre. The last time I saw her was when she came to see Connie Lowe’s exhibit, in 2012, at my by-appointment gallery. She was always at ease, with an infectious smile, and never took herself too seriously — a sign of the greatest minds.
Gregory Ruppe, Dallas, TX
Rest In Peace Dr. Frances Colpitt. You were one tough, brilliant bird. You shaped the way I think critically about art, and if I had to point to the one greatest thing in my educational experience, it would be you. This may have been the last time I saw you, thanks for attending and I’m sorry I wasn’t in touch more. I will always hear your retort in critical debate “you really believe that??,” half steadfast and astonished, half open to the prospect of a new perspective. I still have your copy of America. I’ll keep your philosopher king safe, love you bunches.
Ethel Shipton, San Antonio, TX
In 2000 I had a show at Sala Diaz titled Choices. It was two rooms full of framed, upholstered arrows that pushed out of the frames like a pillow.
I had invited Fran to come see the show and wanted to hear what she had to say about my work. We walked in and the first thing she said was why didn’t you paint these? I turned to her and said can I buy you lunch. This was the beginning of years of exchanges and thoughts about art, community, and moving the arts in San Antonio forward.
Fran and her husband Donny had large gatherings and hosted artists at their home that always resulted in evenings of music, creative thought, and bonding of friends. She made us all better artists and better people.
Hills Snyder, Magdalena, NM
I was so very lucky to see Fran last June. Neither of us figured it was to be the last time, but there was an extra zing to the I Love You things we shared and I did take the opportunity to tell her that she was a huge figure in my life. I know she recognized and appreciated this — she had a way of giving away grand feelings generously.
I met Fran because somehow at the age of forty I became her student. She was thirty-eight. She loved swimming in her pool, and every Friday before coming to her seminar from Austin I would swim for an hour at the UT swim center. One time we both showed up at seminar with wet hair.
Her teaching style was generous and supportive. For me, it was writing for Fran that became what being a student was for. She didn’t just encourage my writing — she had the edge of a puzzle piece that matched my puzzle. I don’t honestly know if writing would have become as much my way as it has without her. Reading for her seminars was the root of performance for me too.
Someone in seminar referred to the content one day as “big city ideas.” Another seminar comment: “people who take drugs do it to escape reality.” Fran’s sense of humor and natural gentleness deflected both of these absurd comments with a grace that put everyone at ease — including the person who said them.
I can’t think of anything more the essence of San Antonio in the nineties than hanging out at Donny and Fran’s house.
A story Fran and Donny told me together and with glee: It was common knowledge in the early seventies that the Der Wienerschnitzel in Tulsa was the place to go to deal weed. They were there one evening, sitting outside with the dealer when a police car pulled in with siren burping and red lights flashing. Their friend knew what was what and immediately leaped to his feet, running to make a getaway over the tall fence bordering the parking lot. The cops, clocking his movement, got on the bullhorn: “You in the jean jacket, stop where you are.” Right then — that’s when he stripped off the jacket without breaking stride and disappeared over the fence. There is something in that story about Tulsa in the seventies and something about their friend, but most of all it is revealing of Donny & Fran’s good humor.
I’ve observed Fran on panels with Dave Hickey three times that I can think of. She had the best side-chuckle around him. She could kind-of give him what for without him knowing it. Or with him knowing and not minding because it was Fran.
I don’t recall the publication or the interviewer, but I’ve never forgotten Fran’s answer to the question, “What would you be doing if you could do anything you wanted to?” Fran: “I’m doing it.”
That is the Fran I know and love.
Wait, I haven’t even mentioned The Stones. I always figured that Fran was the Janis Joplin of Modern and Contemporary Art History. She just brought something that was a little dangerous in a no-nonsense, Red-head kind of way. And we all knew that Donny could have ably replaced Bill Wyman.
Love you, Fran, always and forever.
Gary Sweeney, San Antonio, TX
Kate Terrell, San Antonio
Memories about Frances Colpitt as her student:
About her monochromatic-red horse painting… She once said to us in class that she originally aspired to be a painter, but she felt she lacked the dexterity for what she wanted to achieve. But this painting is so smart, the way she made it monochromatic, and her deft hand is evident. Her standards were high.
We were so fortunate as her students to have traveled to LA and Houston to see art with her. She took us to the “back,” where the gallery owners would pull out paintings from the racks so she could teach us about them.
She hosted a New Year’s Day party and invited us all. Her house was sophisticated but welcoming, with a black John McCracken sculpture in her living room that at first looked like a shiny television, and a coral pink love seat made to look like two swirls. She had sewn these big, brightly colored vinyl pillows for her sun room in the back. They were so delightful and mod.
At their annual gathering she made black-eyed peas for good luck — something I picked up from her and have made every New Year’s since. One year we were a bit imbibed, and Fran and I were under the table having a laughing fit. Though she could be stern and direct, she was still relatable and humorous.
She encouraged our writing. With a show she curated, students were paired with an artist to write a piece about their work for the catalog that accompanied the show, which was titled Chromaform: Color in Sculpture.
My favorite piece that she wrote was about John McCracken in Art in America. We used to keep our eyes out for her reviews in the back section, but this was a big article with beautiful photos of his pieces out in the desert. She wrote about his experience as a child, feeling like someone was watching him from above, then later when he was an adult, he had an experience looking downward towards a young boy, and realized the two moments were one in the same.
She had a hearty deep laugh and her cheeks would turn pink.
Fran was a valued colleague and dear friend. It’s quite possible I would have never come to Texas had I not known Fran. We met at a College Art Association conference in San Antonio in 1995. I was accepting an award for art criticism on behalf of my friend, Jan Avgikos, and Fran was the chair of the committee that awarded the prize. At the time, Fran was teaching a UT San Antonio. Knowing that I would be in the area for a few days, Fran invited me to give a talk on Conceptual Art to her class. Some years later I invited her to contribute an essay to a book on that same subject, which she did, to my great pleasure. Some years later, Fran extended an invitation to invite me to talk at TCU, her new academic home. I loved staying with her and her partner, in their fabulous ranch-style home, perfectly furnished with mid-century modern furniture. A year later I relocated to Dallas, and every so often Fran would ask me if I’d like to apply for the Chair of Studio Art there, noting with her characteristically sly pragmatism, that the traffic in Fort Worth was much less congested than Dallas. I stayed put, and Fran continued to brave the Dallas snarl to visit, conduct public conversations with me, and to be a dear friend. Her book on Minimal Art remains a fixture in bibliographies on the subject. Originally from Oklahoma, her intellect and love of teaching are legendary throughout the field. She will be missed but thankfully a little bit of Fran will continue to exist in the hearts and minds of the multitude of friends, colleagues, and students that were fortunate enough to know her.