TAMIU Celebrates Famed Laredo Artist’s Life, Legacy with The Helen Richter Watson Art Gallery
The late Laredo-born artist and educator Helen Richter Watson firmly believed that with determination, local students wishing to pursue a career in the arts could accomplish their dreams and make a contribution to the art world.
Her legacy and love for her community will be permanently celebrated through a magnificent glass structure that will soon encase the two-story breezeway under Texas A&M International University’s Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library.
The Helen Richter Watson Art Gallery, as the glass-enclosed gallery will be known, will be constructed thanks to a generous gift of $1 million from the Dolly Richter Watson Foundation.
Located at the University’s center of activity and connecting two sides of the Killam Library, the Gallery will showcase the late artist’s monumental ceramic work and serve as a reception area for the University. Also, a space next to the reception area will replicate a room in Watson’s home, featuring her smaller artwork and furniture.
“We are tremendously grateful to the Dolly Richter Watson Foundation for this generous gift that will allow us to build a gorgeous glass gallery featuring some of the most thought-provoking and enormous ceramic sculptures made by a revered artist and one of Laredo’s own, Helen Richter Watson,” TAMIU president Dr. Ray Keck said, “TAMIU is a beacon for the arts and cultural events in Laredo and the Helen Richter Watson Art Gallery will further this for generations to come.”
Julia Watson Jones, president of the Dolly Richter Watson Foundation and sister of the late artist, said that the Foundation made the gift because it supports projects aimed at enhancing the quality of life in Laredo and scholarship in the arts.
“A few years ago, the University held a beautiful exhibit of the ceramic artwork and designs of my sister at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts,” said Julia Watson Jones, “With the passing of my sister, we felt that many more people would be able to see her artwork through a permanent exhibit here. We hope seeing her artwork will encourage young people to become interested in a future in ceramics.”
James Jones, Foundation trustee and Helen Richter Watson’s nephew, said that if she were alive, Watson would have enjoyed the gallery design.
“She would have loved it,” James Jones said, “The first art exhibit at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts exhibited her artwork. The exhibit and her passing came together almost at the same time.”
He noted that besides being a recognized artist, Watson was known as a tireless educator of
“She was aware of her responsibility towards teaching and her profession,” he said, “She was an organized teacher and kept records of lessons, her development as an artist and correspondence.”
A Laredo native whose childhood art works were made from clay dredged from the banks of the Rio Grande, Helen Richter Watson was educated in Laredo public schools.
She earned her BA at California’s Scripps College and her MFA at Claremont Graduate School. In addition to serving on the faculty at California’s Chaffey College and Mount San Antonio College, she was the Chair of the Ceramics Department at the famed Otis Art Institute from 1958-1979.
She exhibited and lectured nationally and won a prestigious fellowship from the Swedish government to conduct research there. She also taught and served as an administrator at prestigious art institutes including the Los Angeles Art Institute; Parsons The New School of Design; The Art Institute of Chicago and Claremont McKenna College. Her commissioned works dot the country, with several finding homes in Laredo and area businesses, churches and private collections.
Jonathan Watson, a Foundation trustee and also Helen Richter Watson’s nephew, said that the University gift includes Helen Richter Watson’s teaching records and closely-guarded ceramics formulas.
“These archives, including formulas for ceramics glazing, will be available at TAMIU for students and scholars to see,” he said.
Julia Watson Jones said the gallery will bring the majority of her sister’s artwork to one location, at home in Laredo.
“The first art exhibit at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts featured just a portion of what we will be able to show through this new project,” she said.
Gallery construction completion is expected late this summer.
Project architects are Frank Architects Inc. of Laredo and Pfluger Associates of San Antonio. Construction is by Alpha Construction of San Antonio. Gallery consultant is Ethel Shipton of San Antonio.
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