Page recipient of Carnes Fellowship

'Bones of Texas' highlights abandoned places

Page recipient of Carnes Fellowship

For the past three years, Morgan Page has used her teaching breaks to travel the back roads of Texas, looking for forgotten places with her partner, Dustin Rice. The resulting photographic documentation of abandoned ruins and relics has been displayed in museum exhibitions across the state.

Page, Associate Professor of Art at Midwestern State University, will have some time to tie up loose ends on the “Bones of Texas” project. She is the recipient of the Jane Spears Carnes Faculty Fellowship in Creative Endeavors. The fellowship, made possible by a gift from Carnes, is a support grant which rewards and refreshes faculty in creative fields so they might take a semester off from teaching to enhance their research, artistic endeavors, and teaching. It supports faculty activities and their replacement in the classroom for one semester.

“I definitely keep pinching myself,” Page said. “Since I found out, I've been imagining how life-changing this will be. In order to finish the ‘Bones of Texas’ book, there are still a lot of site visits that need to be made across the state. The fellowship will allow me the time to get to those towns, photograph, and write.”

“Bones of Texas” is the series of photographs with accompanying short stories from Page and Rice’s travels over more than 10,000 miles across Texas to document the abandonment of small towns. For each region they visit, they conduct extensive research to learn what artifacts, landmarks, and historical context might assist them in exploring that area. They developed criteria for the places they visit – the town must be in severe decline or completely abandoned, and it should have noteworthy events or people tied to it. “Bones of Texas” began with a grant from the intramural office at MSU Texas.

Using a variety of resources and a combination of nonfiction and historical fiction, they construct stories that honor the town and the people who lived there. Books, death notices, 19th century newspapers, the Library of Congress, and other data collections help them bring the towns back to life. Page’s background is in photography while Rice is a Texas history buff, writer, and photographer.

Page was especially struck by the story of Fort McKavett, a town approximately 300 miles southwest of Wichita Falls in Menard County. The site was active in the mid-19th century and is now a collection of ruins, mostly stone, of what survived a fire Dec. 7, 1941 – the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. Through oral history from the caretaker of the site, they learned that the inhabitants of Fort McKavett were gathered listening to news of the attack on a radio, unaware of the fire.

Page and Rice now have a publishing deal with the University of Texas Press to publish the book. And in early December, Page and Rice were married.

“I am very grateful to Ms. Carnes. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I hope I am able to express my gratitude to her in person at some point,” Page said. “It’s my understanding that she is an artist too, so I know she genuinely relates to the creative process.”

Old Tascosa picture from Bones of Texas
Boothill Cemetery in Old Tascosa by Morgan Page. Inhabitants of Boothill Cemetery had to die with boots on to be buried there. Ruben Juice was a cook in the town. Rice has written a short story about him to be included in the book.

Carnes previously owned an art gallery and gave lessons to children. After the gallery closed, she taught art to adults in her home and now writes. Carnes has been a longtime supporter of all the arts in Wichita Falls. She has served on boards for the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra and the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas. She also served on the MSU Texas Board of Regents from 2008-2014.

Suguru Hiraide, Professor of Art in the Juanita and Ralph Harvey School of Visual Arts, was the first recipient of the fellowship. Ruth Morrow, Professor and the Bolin Distinguished Chair of Piano, was the second.

With her teaching schedule, Page said she is only able to devote approximately 12-20 hours each week to the project, and even that is a challenge. “The time I could devote to my ‘Bones of Texas’ project and its development into a published monograph is time that must be captured now while the project is receiving a great deal of attention,” Page said. “The publication of ‘Bones of Texas’ into a book will most certainly be a significant milestone in my career as an artist and teacher.”

'Bones of Texas' on display and in the news

The exhibition has been on display at the River Valley Pioneer Museum in Canadian, Texas, the Red River Valley Museum in Vernon, and at the Museum of North Texas History in Wichita Falls.

The next exhibition will be in the Summer of 2022 at the Dallas Center for Photography. 

The Texas Standard first covered the project, which led to features by Texas Monthly and Texas Highways.