Rockport is known as one of the 10 best coastal art colonies in the country due to the rich history behind its growth, but after meeting with Kay Betz, one of the authors of The Story of the Rockport-Fulton Art Colony, we learned this was not always the case. So, just how did the neighboring city grow into a nationally recognized hub for creatives?
In the 1940s, a charismatic artist by the name of Simon Michael taught art to many local adults and children, while promoting the area as a creative community. This attracted other talented, dedicated people, who moved here to live and work as artists. By the 1960s, with the success of the oil and gas industry, more people came to the Coastal Bend to purchase new homes; many wanting to furnish them with coastal art.
However, Betz noticed gallery owners, collectors and other attendees at national and state art and history conferences were not privy to Rockport’s artistic legacy. She came across a book called 250 Years of Texas Art in which only one Rockport artist was featured. Although Betz was thrilled to see this artist in the book, she felt the larger world, including Texas art collectors and scholars, needed to know more about the area’s rich art history.
Betz and Vickie Merchant, fellow educator and author of The Story of the Rockport-Fulton Art Colony, joined forces to bring recognition to the rich Rockport legacy. They became volunteers at the History Center of Aransas County, where Merchant served as president and Betz served as secretary of the board. They decided to raise money for the history center by writing three books, including The Story of the Rockport-Fulton Art Colony, which helped raise funds and also fulfilled their desire to teach students the artistic part of their heritage.
The process to bring this book into fruition was lengthy. It took a total of five years, filled with reading old newspapers and perusing memorabilia from galleries, visiting the art center and meeting with individual artists. They selected art that reflected themes representative of the culture and those that are well known in the community. In addition, they attended many art history conferences and exhibitions, and they tracked down biographies of forgotten contributors to the art world. In the midst of all this hard work, they had to contend with the decimation of Rockport by Hurricane Harvey, and three years later, the pandemic.
Their efforts were not in vain, though. In one of its forewords, prominent Texas art historians William and Linda Reaves referred to the book as “a significant contribution to Texas art history.”
Betz and Merchant hope this book brings awareness to the multi-faceted nature of the artistic creativity that continues to flourish within this art colony. So, when it comes to the question of how Rockport became one of the country’s best art colonies, you’ll have Betz and Merchant to thank for finding out the answer.