Norman Houston Powell, Jr. lived and painted in the American Southwest and Midwest, where his brush revealed these two different cultures, climates and times as two separate worlds.
From Texas in the Sixties and Seventies to Michigan in the Eighties and Nineties, Norman’s unique contribution to his two worlds is to reflect them, to distill their essence, and to visualize their moods and seasons, people and peculiarities. While expressing his idea of the purpose of art and his belief in its value, Norman added to the aesthetic histories of both Texas and Michigan.
Early Years in Texas
Since childhood in Cuero, his South Texas home, Norman’s passion has been art.
“There were good influences in the Texas art scene for talented young prodigies to soak up, and I was like a sponge.”
Even at this early stage, Norman’s art showed meaning and purpose, his early drawings and paintings subtly attracting our attention to ideas and feelings.
“I enjoyed the notion that a good artist can make us confront our feelings; make us rethink familiar things; and present us with unfamiliar things to cause us to reevaluate our world.”
Dalhart Windberg — The Cuero Art Guild
With the encouragement of his parents and other artists in Cuero, his South Texas home, he began studying in his early teens at the Cuero Art Guild under Dalhart Windberg, a well-known regional artist. Among Windberg’s many influences was the idea that technical expertise was the foundation of experimentation in art.
“I was motivated to learn and sought out every book on art I could find. I discovered that Picasso could draw as skillfully as Michelangelo. At first, I was stunned, then excited. I wanted to learn as much about art as I could.”
Windberg recommended his mentor, Simon Michael, for Norman’s continued study, and the next summer – at Norman’s urging – his parents enrolled him in The Rockport Center for the Arts.
Simon Michael showed me what a brushstroke was capable of doing and introduced me to the work of Rembrandt and Dali. I painted, ate, slept and painted again. Live models and bold brush strokes ignited a fire in me.”
“I became confident in my art. I began exhibiting regularly and selling my art at regional shows and galleries. My works were being purchased for the collections of Texas businessmen, doctors, lawyers and friends who saw me as a young Dalhart Windberg whose work was guaranteed to appreciate in value.”
Northwood Institute & Fort Worth Art Museum
“When I was 18 and some considered me a successful regionalist, the Contemporary Arts Program at Northwood Institute accepted my application. Picasso and Rembrandt had been my heros, Simon Michael and Dalhart Windberg my mentors. Now I was thrown feet first into an experimental program co-sponsored by the Fort Worth Art Museum to bring contemporary art’s best to a few fortunate students.”
My instructors introduced me to Joseph Albers, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Larry Bell, Tom Wesselman and Robert Rauschenberg. I entered a level of the art world I had only read about. We were invited to Dallas social receptions and introduced around to the patrons of the arts. We were regulars at contemporary artists receptions at the museum, area galleries, and downtown lofts.”
Realism — a Valid Expression
While meeting artists and their patrons, Norman discovered art-world politics, including pressure to abandon realism for things mostly non-objective. He found it frustrating that knowing the right people at the right time could be a two-edged sword. In Dallas, Norman made decisions that shaped his art and his career.
“While these excursions were great fun as an experimental process it was still most satisfying for me to bring new found techniques to bear on things that could speak to the layman as well as to my colleagues.”
My Different Drummer
“Realism is dead,” spouted a fellow student.
But Norman felt that, “Realism is as valid an artistic expression as any other. And if my heart and soul responded best to images that had some figurative representations present…then that was the path for me to follow. That was my different drummer. To be true to myself was worth being labeled an outsider.”
Sam Houston State University
Norman left Dallas and finished an undergraduate major in both art and business at Sam Houston State University, where he began his career as an art educator. His love affair with learning and the creative process had no plateaus in sight. He considered variety and experimentation just as stimulating as they were when he first saw Jimi Hendricks in concert.
Career in Michigan
Norman met Rebecca Scott, his Michigan bride-to-be, while she was visiting friends in Texas. Norman left Texas in 1978 and moved to Cedar Springs, Michigan, with hopes of teaching art at Jordan College where Rebecca worked. He got the job and the girl.
Chairman, Jordan College Art Department
Norman began work at Jordan College in 1979 and by 1981 was Chairman of the Art Department. The ‘80’s, however, proved difficult for independent colleges in Michigan. Many suffered heavy financial cutbacks, and the Jordan Art Department was one of those casualties.
Studio Three Associates & Tres Cher Limited
In 1981 Norman founded the gallery and design business, Studio Three Associates. His gallery sold primarily Norman’s work and did appraisals, such as Picasso’s ceramic editions and prints for the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It evolved into a full-service advertising agency and allowed Tres Cher Limited in Grand Rapids to handle Norman’s paintings with corporate collections and art rental programs.
For a decade Norman was the Creative Director of Studio Three Associates, constantly pulled away from his painting to attend to the continual flow of crises created by studio clients. As the economy created hardships, clients began thinking of Norman as a bank loan officer, making Studio Three less appealing to Norman and robbing him of time with his family.
Like Norman’s decision to go to Michigan after Rebecca, he made another decision to follow his heart and pursue his painting. In 1991 he began to pull back from his work in the agency and devote time again to his family and his art.
Painting, Exhibiting and Selling with a Passion
By 1992 Norman was seeing results. He was painting, exhibiting and selling with a passion.
“It is like a personal renaissance.”
Gallery acceptance was good and exhibits created strong positive feedback and sales.
Gratitude to God
Norman is not shy about who he thanks for the success coming his way. The timing and results are far more sophisticated than any plan a human artist could conceive.
“My sense of gratitude is to God. I realize sharing that thought may not get me a lot of support votes with the powers that be in the art world, but I’ve made the break before from the body politic of art. Once again, it is my choice to be different and choose realism…or should I say reality.”
September 25, 1996, Norman was in a serious automobile accident and went to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He left behind his wife, Rebecca; their children Scott (age 11) and Lindsey (age 7); plus an amazing life and art legacy.
Norman drafted this biography for an art show in 1993. He died in 1996, and in 2011 Rebecca updated the content and began making his paintings available to collectors.