PaperCity Magazine

May 2014 - Houston

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NATURAL WONDERS I t's hard to imagine three more divergent entities: Hermès, the storied Parisian retailer … Kermit Oliver, the native Texas artist adamantly under the radar, working for the post office while making old-master-like masterpieces in his Waco home … And the Caesar Kleberg Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, founded in 1981 with an endowment left by its namesake, a member of the King Ranch family who toiled to implement hunting restrictions and save endangered species. Yet, their coming together to create the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute scarf, La Vie Sauvage du Texas, reveals how truly similar they are in their pure, uncomplicated appreciation of the natural world. CONSIDERING KERMIT How does a postal worker from Waco come to be commissioned by one of rue St. Honoré's most famous retailers? Stanley Marcus, naturally. He, along with his brother Lawrence, introduced Jean Louis Dumas, then chairman and creative director of Hermès, to Oliver and his work in the early 1980s, resulting in an Hermès commission to design a scarf, Pani La Shar Pawnee, which came to fruition in 1984. Now, as then, the design succulently imparts the grandeur of what came to be the hallmark of all Oliver's work with the French house: Southwestern themes. Owing to the silk twill's capacity to deeply absorb the colors screened upon it, the stoic chieftain — the scarf's focal point — appears noble, wise and exotic, his face rendered in a symphony of browns and tans. Making the creation all the more impactful are its extraordinary details (luscious eagle feathers, a billowing red tunic, bone breastplate) and an appreciation of classical notions of harmonious compositions — a reassuring gravitas that seems as true now as in the age of the Pawnee. Oliver's ensuing 16 designs for Hermès scarves (with themes running the gamut from The Pony Express to a dreamy meditation on Kachinas, a mythological figure in Pueblo cosmology) further illustrate that his aesthetic was a perfect complement to the medium Hermès revolutionized. In 2010, when it once again felt like an opportune moment to consider what Oliver would dream up next, there was a special interest in his creating a scarf with a uniquely Texan theme. In fact, his second design for the house, Faune et Flore du Texas (initially released in 1987), had shown how enormously substantive Texas could be as the subject for a scarf. A bit of pondering resulted in Hermès president and CEO Robert Chavez flying to Dallas to meet with friends Alexandria and Robert Lavie, who "very kindly arranged a dinner and invited Stephen J. 'Tio' and Janell Kleberg," Chavez remembers. The Klebergs, of course, were perfectly positioned to propose a subject around which their life revolves: the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. THE KLEBERGS: THE KEYSTONE There's a glory and splendor to the earth of South Texas, the terrain so varied and nuanced that one senses it should remain that way for eternity. This mandate — to preserve as a custodian and caretaker — motivated Caesar Kleberg, who died in April 1946, to create a namesake foundation for wildlife conservation in his will. The endowment served as the basis for the founding of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute 35 years later. Such stewardship is hardly surprising, considering Caesar's forebears. His father, Rudolph Kleberg, part of the King Ranch dynasty, was a member of the confederate cavalry, a Democratic Texas senator (appropriating the first fiscal subsidy for The University of Texas as well as securing the money necessary for Texas to purchase the Alamo) and a United States congressman who called Caesar to Washington to serve as his congressional secretary. Serving others was an unspoken duty. In 1900, Caesar returned to the King Ranch; its surrounding areas came to be known as Kingsville four years later. Here, he would assist his aunt Henrietta Kleberg and her brother, Robert Kleberg (two of the original five King Ranch stockholders), in its transition to breeding cattle more suited to the production of beef. Caesar's legacy, however, would be wildlife preservation. He took action early on to save endangered animals including the white-tail deer, turkey and bobwhite, and also introduced the Nilgai antelope, native to southern Asia, to the area. This is the mantle that Janell and Tio Kleberg have assumed. And so, on that evening in 2010 when they found themselves having dinner with Chavez, there was no question that if he wanted to do a Texas-focused scarf, no place was more significant, both historically and naturally, than the land the Institute preserves through scientific research. Tio's father, Richard M. Kleberg Sr., had done a great deal to further the work of his cousin, Caesar, as a U.S. congressman, enacting wildlife conservation legislation establishing hunting licenses, bag limits and the Duck Stamp Act; the same committed determination to ensure the health of the environment for all living creatures was the stimulus — and the message — of the scarf. Specifically, Janell and Tio sought to show the beauty of the The Wild Horse Desert, which the Federal government at that time was attempting to designate as a depository for toxic dredge materials. He longed for the supporters of such a plan to understand the larger implications and ecological necessity of the area. He was already familiar with Oliver's work, which he found capable of expressing the pure, essential beauty of the plant and animal life of the area. And so his hope was that Oliver's work be integrated into an item people could experience, just as they might experience the place, which is inhabited by some 350 migratory species and 600 known winter resident species, as well as an equally numerous marine ecosystem. HERMÈS' SILKEN HOMILY It's uncanny to what extent the values of the Klebergs mirror those of the Hermès family. Both strive to accomplish great things that involve ensuing generations, cognizant that when running a family business, one must continually rethink the terms by which business is conducted. Thus, in the spirit of solidarity and shared beliefs, Hermès top brass and Oliver himself were brought down to the Institute to make Kleberg and Chavez's hopes for a new Texas-themed scarf a reality. An extended period was arranged for the team, most of all Oliver, to spend time in and around the Laguna Madre estuary. The eternally sensitive and stoic Oliver opted to forgo a camera and took in the awe-inspiring biological convergence with his senses alone, trusting his eyes to remember everything. Once at home in his studio, he simply painted, turning inward to compose. The result was the biological cornucopia that reveals itself on the scarf, including the northern bobwhite, the Rio Grande turkey, the puma, the collared peccary and even the Nilgai. Once he had finished, in his modest and mild manner way, the retired postal worker carefully packaged his painting and mailed it to France. There it was received by Bali Barret, Hermès Women's Universe artistic director, who oversaw the process of recreating his artwork as a silk scarf, on silken threads in Hermès' Lyon factory. Once approved, the bolts of fabric, screened with his depiction, were cut into carrés, or squares, and dispatched to Limoges to have their edges rolled by hand and stitched into place. The resulting scarves were then sent to the Texas boutiques, where they have been exclusively available since their launch in early 2014 with a percentage of proceeds benefitting the Institute. How fitting — and quintessentially Hermès — it seems that in raising awareness of the ecological resources we are called to value and protect, it's necessary not only to inwardly consider them (as Kermit does in his work) and to share an inclusive message (as Kleberg sought through his preservation efforts) but to create objects that give tactile expression to both. "WE SHARE THE SAME PASSIONATE … OBSERVATION OF FAUNA, FLORA AND HUMANITY. THE ENDLESS QUEST FOR BEAUTY AND EXCELLENCE IN DESIGN AND CRAFT." — BALI BARRET, HERMÈS WOMEN'S UNIVERSE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR HERMÈS PAIRS ARTIST KERMIT OLIVER WITH THE UNTAMED BEAUTY OF THE CAESAR KLEBERG WILDLIFE RESEARCH INSTITUTE. THE RESULT: A SILKEN TEXAN TABLEAU. SETH VAUGHAN CONSIDERS IT ALL. LIZ COLLINS The man himself. Kermit Oliver's Mirror, 2006. THOMAS LEATH COLLECTION, CARE OF HOOKS-EPSTEIN GALLERIES. Caesar Kleberg COURTESY CAESAR KLEBERG WILDLIFE CONSERVATION FOUNDATION Caesar Kleberg adrift in Texan brush Kermit Oliver's Kachinas, 1995 Caesar Kleberg in a rare moment of repose. COURTESY CAESAR KLEBERG WILDLIFE CONSERVATION FOUNDATION Bali Barret, Hermès Women's Universe artistic director Kermit Oliver's The Pony Express, 1993 FULTON DAVENPORT/PWL STUDIO Tio & Janell Kleberg, Kermit Oliver, Robert Chavez Kermit Oliver's La Vie Sauvage du Texas scarf, at the Hermès boutique

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