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‘Hotel Texas’ Reconnects Artist, 50-Year-Old Work

Small Bound Goat, by Jack Zajac. Photo: Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Small Bound Goat, by Jack Zajac. Photo: Amon Carter Museum of American Art

When President Kennedy and the First Lady spent the night of Nov. 21, 1963, in Fort Worth, they were surrounded by art on loan from the city’s prominent collectors. Those pieces have been reassembled in the exhibition “Hotel Texas” at the Dallas Museum of Art. And one of the artists whose work was in the room only just heard about its inclusion.

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In the early 1960s, American sculptor Jack Zajac was living and working in Rome. It’s where he made a small, bronze sculpture of a sacrificial goat.

“I made it in … it says ’62, it could’ve been ’59,” he said while looking the piece over. “So it’s over a half a century.”

Last week, Zajac found himself face-to-face with the sculpture for the first time in more than 50 years. The 83-year-old attended a preview of the “Hotel Texas” exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. In fact, Zajac only found out two months ago that his sculpture had been in Kennedy’s hotel room on the last night of the president’s life. That’s when the DMA called to invite him to come to the show.

So how does the piece – called Small Bound Goat – hold up?

“It’s OK!” Zajac says. “There could be times where you’d like to pocket it and put it back in the crucible – and I’ve done that. But, no, this is OK. And the relief! It’s not pride or pleasure – it’s a relief that it isn’t some jalopy.”

The Fort Worth collectors gathered the best artwork they could get their hands on for the president’s hotel room. Also included were works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Henry Moore. All this for a show that was for one night for two people.

Ruth Carter Stevenson, the founder of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, was one of the collectors who contributed. She owned Zajac’s piece, and including it in the room made a statement.

“Having known Ruth Carter Stevenson – Ruth Carter Johnson at the time … It didn’t matter to her that works of art would be easy as long as the quality was high,” Amon Carter director Andrew Walker says. “There’s always an assumption – whether it’s Boston or Philadelphia or New York – that there’s a level of cultural maturity. I think what the leaders in Fort Worth were saying is, ‘It’s here, too.’”

And soon, these symbols of cultural maturity will return to the city. “Hotel Texas” will be on display at the DMA through Sept. 15. Then it heads to Fort Worth for a run at the Amon Carter. The exhibition also has an accompanying book. The art outfront is from the cover.