History Department
History Department

Professor Ron Tyler completes bird's-eye views of Texas cities project

Tue, August 2, 2005

"The effect is as if the artists' were drawing while being suspended in a hot-air balloon," Tyler explained. "In fact, they were drawn by hand with the artist most often using two-point perspective to produce a three-dimensional rendering. The city views are surprisingly accurate and represent a much neglected yet ubiquitous source for understanding the history of cities as well as larger issues in American history, such as expansionism and capitalism. One of the dominant themes in U.S. history is expansionism--how did we expand to settle and possess this continent? what was the actual process? In Texas, the epresarios such as Stephen F. Austin (and, before him, JosA(C) de Escandon in South Texas) brought settlers into the region. We would probably call them 'developers' today."

It was these artists' renditions of the cities with lots of open and unspoiled land surrounding them, that were used to entice settlers to move to these cities. These pieces of art work, though not particularly widely known about today, were at one time ubiquitous and mailed practically to all parts of the continent to promote the cities and individual businesses.

The artists, sketchers, and writers of the 19th century were basing their art work on 15th European models. This type of image became very popular after the Civil War in the United States. "Nineteenth-century Americans proved to be insatiable consumers of images of their country, from portraits of leaders to depictions of railroads, sailing ships, flowers, birds, and animals, but portraits of cities probably was the most popular genre," he added.

There are approximately 50 itinerant artists that produced views of more than 2,000 American cities during the 19th century, and Tyler has been able to locate more than 70 views of Texas cities by a dozen different artists.

Tyler sent out letters to local organizations and collectors to put the word out that he was looking for such material years ago. He found the drawings in museum collections, local historical societies, public libraries and in the private sector. The Amon Carter Museum has been collecting these drawings for at least 40 years. He is still finding treasures tucked away in local history museums and recently a view of Luling in a genealogical society collection at the Luling Public Library.

The result of this work is the Texas bird's-eye views web site produced by the staff of the Amon Carter Museum of Ft Worth, Texas. The web site is part of an exhibition that will open in February, 2006 that will showcase 59 Texas views, documenting 44 different cities. Each view is accompanied by a brief essay, pertinent links, and supporting illustrations.Educational materials will be added to the site as they become available.

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