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‘Wild Rivers Wild Flowers’ and a ‘Lady Bird’

An iconic photo of former first lady Claudia Alta ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson taken by photographer Dennis Fagan. Fagan’s work will be on exhibit at the Llano Fine Art Gallery from April 1 through June 28. Photo courtesy of Dennis Fagan

Photographer Dennis Fagan has spent decades capturing Texas on camera, most notably documenting the formative wildflower years of former first lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson and the wild rivers of the Lone Star State. His work will be exhibited at the Llano Fine Art Gallery from April 1 through June 28. An opening reception is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, with an artist talk following at 7 p.m. at the gallery, 503 Bessemer Avenue in Llano.

Fagan’s photos can be found in esteemed venues such as the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Whittliff Collections, and the Harry Ransom Center. Lucky for the Highland Lakes, the Llano Fine Art Gallery has been added to that list for the next three months.

A selection of Fagan’s work will be part of the Llano gallery’s ongoing exhibition series featuring acclaimed artists with Texas roots. This particular selection is titled “Wild Rivers Wild Flowers” and contains portraits of the state’s rolling waters, ample blossoms, and the woman who beautified America’s highways. While the collection focuses on Fagan’s river photography, he will give a lecture on his years working alongside First Lady Johnson and her wildflowers.

“These different waves of color would wash across the state in their marching order, and she would know where to go,” Fagan reminisced with

He spent nearly 20 years as the personal photographer to Lady Bird and helped document her efforts to line the country’s roadways with wildflowers through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Some of the most iconic photos of Johnson are Fagan’s handiwork.

“In the very beginning, she was just this giant celebrity to me. I was just this kid from the Midwest,” he joked.

Fagan grew up around Chicago and attended the University of Iowa before getting a job at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin at 22 years old. During a fateful poker game in 1976 with his colleagues at the library, he ended up with an appointment for a photoshoot with Mrs. Johnson herself. That shoot led to decades of work.

“It got to be a very warm relationship,” Fagan said. “She would call me at five in the morning and say, ‘Dennis, do you have any plans today?’”

Those calls would lead to country drives to see hidden patches of wildflowers as well as portraits that would help fuel the first lady’s efforts to plant the long-term seeds of native wildflowers across America, especially in Texas.

Fagan’s body of work isn’t limited to his pastoral portraits of Johnson. The collection at the Llano gallery will also embody his love of rivers and the natural world.

“The Pedernales and the Llano are the two that I love the most, and, of course, they both feed into the Colorado,” he said.

His river photography is an extension of a genuine appreciation for the outdoors and the waterways that wind through the heart of Texas.

The coming opening reception is a rare opportunity to see the man behind the lens and engage with Fagan’s work on an eye-to-eye level. Don’t miss out.


WHAT: Dennis Fagan “Wild Rivers Wild Flowers” exhibit

RUNS: April 1-June 28 at the Llano Fine Art Gallery, 503 Bessemer Ave.

OPENING DAY: Reception at 6:30 p.m. and artist talk at 7 p.m. April 1

GALLERY HOURS: The Llano Fine Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Call the Llano Art Guild at 325-247-4839 and keep up with its events via its website and Facebook page.

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