Every Friday morning, a group of artists gather at the historic Blue Front Cafe on Sixth Street to chat over a steaming cup of coffee and a hot breakfast. Invitations are not required; there are no rules or prerequisites to pull up a chair. Age, skill level, artistic mediums, philosophies and political bents are left at the front door – most of the time. Like many creative souls before them, these kindred spirits have formed a peer group, an open forum where they can safely share their work without scrutiny, stimulate each other’s minds and drive the burgeoning arts community into the years to come.
Jacob Breeden remembers his homecoming, recalling a sense of surprise when he returned to Amarillo 10 years ago. The versatile artist expected his arrival to be bittersweet after graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in sculpture. Instead of grudgingly dragging his feet back to the place of his childhood, apprehensive about how to make a living as an artist in a small city, Jacob was pleased with the nascent arts community and saw Amarillo as a “beautiful challenge.”
“It’s exploded,” he exclaims. “The energy level is amazing and it just keeps getting better. People keep pushing.”
Jacob is just one of the many creative minds that have settled in a city rapidly edging toward a population of 200,000. Along with his family and friends, Jacob has found a group of men and women like himself that he convenes with every Friday morning. Sitting amongst nationally-renowned, locally-revered and budding artists that understand and accept him while discussing work and the art industry is a weekly ritual he refuses to pass up.
“Honestly, for seven years, I don’t miss it,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough that every job I’ve had even when I was working full time has allowed me to attend that breakfast. It’s just the one time out of the week out of my own home that I feel normal... If you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere else, there’s a good chance you might fit in at the table.”
After holding jobs at the Amarillo Museum of Art and High Plains Public Radio, the Amarillo High alumnus now fully commits to his craft while still finding time to spend with his wife of four years, Rhoda, and his two daughters, Morgan and Arianna, plus another baby on the way. He began at a space in Western Business Park, a dry wall shop on one side and a garage door installation company on the other. Today, he works out of his home and is currently building Process Art House, a center scheduled to open this fall, that will offer a hodgepodge of creative services from art education and design assistance to a rotating gallery showcasing a diverse collection of artists.
Jacob’s style is best described as “industrial chic” with “a blue collar sensibility.” He prefers using primary and secondary colors, bright hues that best represent his life and vast imagination.
“I have a good life. I have family, I have friends…my art comes from that,” he explains in his studio, flinging orange acrylic paint across a canvas. “At this point in my life, I don’t have a dark place to work from.”
While Jacob is not necessarily a newcomer to the table, he is not a veteran. The exact origin of the group’s first meeting is a tad hazy, but the beginning is not so much important as the present and future.
The breakfast began in the 1990s, organized by a few men pursuing a common passion, looking to mingle and mull over the art world at a casual cafe. Over the course of 15 years, the Friday crew has grown into a congregation of artists, spanning from the Silent Generation to the Baby Boomers to Generations X and Y, all touting a range of mediums and skills. Whether a visual or performing artist, a creative novice or artistic giant, all are welcome. These men and women’s lives are unconventional; they don’t carry regular hours, their work revolves around deadlines and these characteristics connect them.
“Artists have their own language and their own way of thinking about things that’s different from people you find in other circles,” says Mary Emeny, wife of the late art advocate, Hunter Ingalls. “To have a place and a time that’s set just for [artists] to talk about the stuff that’s really on their minds is really encouraging and good all the way around.”
When asked who initiated the breakfast, the artists all seem to point to Hunter, a Globe-News art columnist who, in the late 1980s, helped establish Amarillo’s first co-op gallery, The Lost Circus. The sudden loss of Hunter hit the group hard, but the artists did not waver from the Friday morning breakfasts, meeting at the Cafe the first Friday after his passing.
“Hunter was such a champion for local artists, local art and local creativity and for people following their own vision,” Mary emphasizes. “And this was his group because that’s what these folks do.”
Two of the original breakfast pioneers, Lightnin’ McDuff and Scott Hyde, along with a continuous stream of artists, carry on the legacy of their good friend by remaining active in the group today.
Before Scott ordered his regular wheat toast, scrambled eggs and tomatoes plate every Friday, the photographer lived in New York City where he freelanced for more than 30 years. His photographs appeared all over the Big Apple from the pages of House & Garden and Aperture to the cover of Miles Davis’ vinyl album, “Quiet Nights.” A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Scott’s work hangs in the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif. He did curatorial work for the Brooklyn Museum and International Center of Photography before he and his wife, Phyllis, moved to Amarillo in 1987. Despite his plethora of honors and acclaimed photographs, Scott’s intention was never to make large sums of money for his artwork. For the Minnesota native, it was and still is simply about an appreciation for pictures. He only recently made a website, but that was a result of pressure from fellow artist, Jon Revett.
“I like to make pictures,” Scott states, sitting in front of his ‘Ephemeral Museum,’ a mélange of vintage Harper’s Bazaar spreads and copies of abstract images spontaneously scattered on his dining room wall. “I don’t care about selling them. I just love to make pictures… I use the model of music. People buy a CD to enjoy the music and I like to sell pictures for the picture. It has no value as an object. It only has value as an image or a picture.”
Scott’s interest in photography began when he was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Portland, Ore., he says. After a short-lived period at a neighborhood portrait studio, a large commercial photography studio hired Scott. He admits he wasn’t a fan of being told what to do, so school did not appeal to him. However, in 1944, he was accepted into the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, which was good timing, he says, since the school was in dire need of students as a result of the World War II draft. One particular class at the Art Center triggered Scott.
“One of our teachers, he knew a tremendous amount about color but he didn’t know much about photography,” Scott divulges. “But he just talked color, which was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Everybody else slept through it and I was fascinated because I loved colors. He remarked colored pictures wouldn’t be around forever, but black and white pictures would be… It always bothered me and I kept looking for ways to make pictures that would be stable and permanent.”
Scott found his solution in a printing method called offset lithography, a time when he entered a long period of inventing techniques, he says. Scott’s lithographic pictures are best described as metaphotomontages, in which Scott combines multiple subjects to produces a single, original image. Examples of Scott’s work can be seen in “The Real Great Society Album,” a book of his original photomontages, published in 1979.
Scott would never admit this himself, but he has made an impression on the photography world, an impact acknowledged by his fellow breakfast-goers. He doesn’t consider himself a mentor or even a teacher.
“He’s just the sweetest, most humble, loving human being you could ever meet,” Jacob praises. “Being around Scott has been, you just can’t ask for better as far as a guy to bounce ideas off of and sort of see how you do it right. To make a career of it, to keep your health and your attitude good, to just stay humble and sort of be who you are. That’s just Scott in a nutshell.”
Scott wants others to learn, to soak up the pool of knowledge brimming in his mind, a geniality recognized by his peers when he brings books to the breakfast after scouring library shelves and sorting through his own vault of books. When Scott sees a moment worth capturing, he pulls out his digital camera and snaps pictures. Days later, he’ll show up with an envelope with that subject’s name on it, filled with photographs.
Books and snapshots are not the only items shared at Friday morning breakfast. Artists present their personal work at their assemblage, seeking approval, constructive criticism, but most of all honesty from the friends they trust. They support one another, whether it requires showing up at a show or bouncing ideas off each other.
“We always encourage show and tell where people will bring in their work,” says photographer Dusty Reins. “And we really encourage people who want to get started, to show some of their creative works, to bring it down and share it with the rest of us.”
When artists present examples of their work or ideas, Dusty says the group tries its best to spout critiques in a positive manner, but sometimes they won’t sugarcoat it, a frankness Jacob thoroughly values.
“That crowd is brilliant and beautiful in a lot of ways because not only will they compliment your good ideas, but they’re the first ones to tell you when you’re full of it,” Jacob exclaims. “They’re the first ones to look at you and say, ‘Well that sort of sounds like a good idea but it also sounds like a really bad idea.’ I have my wife and that breakfast table to tell me it’s not a good painting because everybody else is too nice; everybody else doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. At that table, they’ll look at it and tell you it’s crap.”
Dusty, who has been attending the breakfast for around six years, unearthed an enthusiasm for photography when he was a young boy, living on his family’s cotton farm in Pecos, Texas.
“I like to tell people I’ve been trying to improve my photographs since I was 5 years old,” he says with a childlike grin. “That’s really when I started taking a passion for it.”
During the hot summer months, migrant workers came to work at the small-town farms. While the adults were off laboring in the fields, Dusty would play with the other children, picking up Spanish and developing an appetite for homemade Mexican food. He became fascinated with the culture and yearned to introduce his new friends to his parents.
“It was so primitive and the people were so wonderful that I wanted to share that with my mom and dad,” Dusty explains. “They refused to go down there so I grabbed our Kodak Browning camera and took some photographs so at least they would know who I was talking about. The photos didn’t turn out very good.”
A parishioner at Dusty’s church who enjoyed photography offered him shutterbug tips and techniques on how to improve his next round of film.
“Ever since then I’ve been trying to take better pictures,” Dusty says. “And then too, it was that initiative to try to share what I was seeing with people who didn’t have the opportunity to actually see it for themselves. That was my primary motivation in trying to do photography.” Dusty’s other reason for delving into photography is to preserve history and meaningful instances in time. When the original Amarillo High building burned on a Sunday morning in 1970, Dusty, much to the chagrin of his parents, skipped church and took his camera downtown to capture the devastating scene.
“That heightened a concern for me that I had at that time that a lot of our old, downtown buildings that had been built in the teens and ’20s were being demolished,” he says of the fire. “I just photographed every building, straight on, to preserve their time Reinsand place… My real hope is that some of my work will continue to live on well after I’m gone.”
Dusty actively participates in the Amarillo arts community and recently completed a project with the “15 & One” challenge, a venture designed by photographers David Alan Corbin, Ralph Duke and Del Maldonado that calls for contestants to take a photo in secrecy, using a common theme such as the same model or prop, and reveal the results at an art show.
“15 & One” is just one example of how artists are devising new and inventive ways to enrich the arts community and drive it into the future. Members of the breakfast group concur that the emergence of artists that have prospered at The Galleries at Sunset Center has been paramount to the arts. “We’ve seen a huge growth in the number of artists and galleries,” Dusty says. “Sunset Center is phenomenal. There’s a huge amount of talent here to begin with already.”
Since the first Friday morning breakfast, the artists have watched their colleagues come and go, on to another city or another life. They’ve witnessed their peers’ victories and failures and observed periods of prosperity as well as harsher times when they didn’t have commissions. However, through it all, they’ve seen a community’s appreciation for the arts and a respect for its artists escalate.
“The whole arts scene in Amarillo has gotten more sophisticated, more recognition,” Mary says. “I hope it continues to grow and thrive and become more and more a real part of Amarillo. It’s gaining some traction.”
For Jacob, Amarillo’s size and location are trivial details. He believes the arts’ success doesn’t depend on the city, but is rather contingent upon members of the community that crave visual and performing arts, a town like Amarillo.
“What you have in Amarillo is an amazing symphony, a fantastic ballet, a really fantastic opera. You have an art museum, you have a historical museum and you have a crew of working artists,” Jacob declares. “And in a town the size of Amarillo, to have those things, it takes something special.”
by Drew Belle Zerby
After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.