Allie Victoria Tennant

Allie Victoria Tennant was born around 1890 according to the 1900 Federal census. Her father was Thomas Richard Tennant and her mother was the former Allie Victoria (or Virginia) Brown. The family was living in St. Louis, Missouri in 1900 and her father was the general manager of a coal company. Allie was the only daughter among five siblings. By the time the 1910 Federal census was taken, the family was living in Dallas and her age was listed as 11. This probably gave rise to a different year of birth being used for her, 1898, though her death certificate used June 28, 1898 as her date of birth. Her father’s profession by then was listed as being an accountant for a manufacturing company. By 1920 her father had passed away the year before, and she was living with her mother and three of her brothers in Dallas.

In the next decade, she is believed to have most of her studies in art. She studied with other artists including Vivian Louise Aunspaugh and studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Tennant returned to Texas by the early 1930s. During her long career, she created many works that still stand and may be found in public places, museums and private collections. Any of them could be discussed, but the comments below deal only with two, her eleven foot tall statue at the Hall of State known as Tejas Warrior and a bas relief mural called Cattle, Oil and Wheat at the post office in Electra, Texas, both different types of work and typically viewed by different audiences.

Tennant was of the group of Regionalist artists who employed local themes in their work. She was associated with the so-called Dallas Nine, a large group of artists (not limited to nine individuals) located in the Dallas area in the 1930s and 1940s. This group was characterized by their use of regional themes along with many others and were engaged in the art of the Texas Centennial Exposition of 1936.

The Texas Centennial was to be a great and significant event in the life of the state and Tennant was selected along with several other women to be part of the group to create works for the exhibition. It was quite significant for public art and also that so many women were invited to participate and play prominent roles. Tennant was engaged to create a sculpture for the Hall of State Building, originally called the State of Texas Building. According to Light Townsend Cummins’ excellent book Allie Victoria Tennant and the Visual Arts in Dallas, The Texas Board of Control created a group of architects called the Texas Centennial Architects Association to establish and carry out the plans for the building. Tennant was known around the state and had been previously acquainted with several members of the Association.

After a number of individuals were considered, Eugene Savage of New York was chosen to paint murals for the interior of the Hall of State and Allie Tennant was chosen to create a sculpture to be installed above the main entrance in an alcove. Tennant’s work was created in her studio on Live Oak Street, several miles from Fair Park. In his book, Light Townsend Cummins relates that Tennant had considered a number of possible subjects, finally settling on a Native American warrior of the Tejas tribe from which the name of the state is derived. The name Tejas refers to an early group of native individuals who inhabited the area hundreds of years ago. Over time, they were likely either killed in clashes with other tribes and/or assimilated into them. Wanting to evoke the spirit of these early inhabitants, Tennant began working on the piece in 1936 and completed the plaster cast in early May. It was then sent to the Roman Bronze Works in Queens, New York for casting in bronze and gold leaf and returned to Dallas in early July of 1936. Since then, this beautiful work which she named Tejas Warrior has crowned the entrance to the Hall of State Building.

Image credit:

The Hall of State building was formally dedicated in early September, 1936 and the Centennial was a resounding success. Newspapers gave the number of visitors as 6,353,827 with 48,950 attending the final day. It was roughly estimated that over 1,000,000 were out of state visitors and that at least 4,000,000 were from Texas.

It has long been known that the model for Tejas Warrior was of Mexican parentage, Austin Hernandez Barbosa, a Dallas actor, model and athlete. It is unknown exactly how Tennant and Barbosa first became acquainted. Barbosa was likely selected model because he was fit and he also lived and worked in the area. Barbosa was born in Austin around 1909 and his birth name is believed to have been Agustin. His parents were Mariano and Francesca Hernandez Barbosa. Austin was the third of at least seven children (the first to have been born in America) and had moved to Dallas along with some family members between 1920 and 1930. His father Mariano was working as a barber in his own shop in West Dallas. Unfortunately, Mariano lost his life after being struck by a car near the former Eagle Ford Road and Chihuahua Street on March 4, 1943. Today, Eagle Ford is known as Singleton Blvd and Chihuahua intersects with it about midway between Sylvan and Hampton. A newspaper account of the accident said that Mariano was walking across the street to catch a bus in front of his shop to go home. Francesca predeceased him in 1924 while the family was still living in Austin.

Not a great deal is known about the life and career of Austin Barbosa other than he was an actor, athlete and model. He is shown below riding an elephant at an event in Amarillo. When Austin registered for the draft in World War II, he listed his employer as the Art Institute (probably the Dallas Art Institute) and his next of kin to be his brother, James Philip Barbosa. In 1945, Austin married the former Consuelo Correa. The couple had no children and they lived in Dallas for the rest of their lives. Austin passed away in 1996 and Consuelo passed in 2004. Both are buried in the mausoleum at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas.

Image credit: Amarillo Sunday News Globe – June 20, 1937

Allie Tennant went on to enjoy a long and varied career in art. In 1940, she was commissioned to provide a mural for a fairly new post office in Electra, Texas, in Wichita County situated between the Waggoner Ranch to the west and the Burnett Ranch to the east, along with all the private farms and ranches of the area. The main industries had historically been cattle and wheat until oil was discovered around 1910. Tennant wanted to include all three industries to encompass the driving economic elements of the area. This was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. Her creation consisted of three panels of plaster of Paris, one for each subject, to be installed in the interior of the building above the door to the postmaster’s office. She completed and installed them in March, 1940 and they have been an attractive feature of the building ever since.

Tennant was a director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts for three decades. Other works she is known for include the James Bonham statue on the courthouse square in Bonham, Texas, the José Antonio Navarro statue at the entrance to the county courthouse in Corsicana, Texas, her murals at the former Dallas Aquarium Building in Fair Park and many, many others. She was a nationally known artist and won numerous awards for her creations. She remained single as she continued to live and work in Dallas until her death in 1971. She is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Dallas, along with her parents and four brothers.

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