Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
Kelly Fearing
Charcoal on paper

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” —from Genesis 32 (Masoretic text)

Printmaker and painter Kelly Fearing (1918–2011) was born in Fordyce, Arkansas, raised in Monroe, Louisiana, and beginning in 1941 studied art under Elizabeth Bethea and Mary Moffett at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute in Ruston while teaching in Louisiana public schools. He taught as guest professor from 1943 to 1945 at Texas Western College in El Paso. During World War II Fearing moved to Fort Worth to train as a draftsman and graphic designer at the Consolidated Vultee heavy bomber plant. It was with the introduction of coworker Dickson Reeder that Fearing became active in an influential group of artists, the Fort Worth Circle, that veered away from the pervasive regionalism overlaying the work of the Dallas Nine, and more toward avant-garde directions of the urban northeast and centers in Europe.

From 1943 Fearing taught at Texas Wesleyan University entering the Master of Arts program at Columbia University in 1945. He graduated in 1947 and accepted the invitation of painter Loren Mozley (1908–1989), who in 1938 had organized the new art department at the University of Texas, to join the faculty as the Ashbel Smith Professor of Art. As Fearing continued to create art he was also a lauded educator. During the 1960s he pioneered the University of Texas Junior Art Project, an outreach that provided children from all economic backgrounds a tuition-free introduction to visual art. Fearing was coauthor of a series of art education books published by W. S. Benson, Austin, from 1960 to 1986. He remained at the University of Texas until his retirement in 1987.

Throughout his life Fearing’s work was figurative using landscapes, rural scenes, birds—especially owls, saints, circus folk, mythological and all manner of creatures and characters to his own surrealistic and allegorical ends. This drawing, Jacob and the Angel, is related by subject to other works by Fearing. Dream of Jacob was painted in 1947 and Tobias and the Angel from the apocryphal Book of Tobit was painted in 1953. An undated etching depicting Jacob Sleeping while leaning upright against a rock is similar to other compositions by Fearing that show unnamed sleeping philosophers seated in rocky terrain.

Upper Basement Open Study
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel