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Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest and Jerry Bywaters: Lone Star Printmaker

November 30, 2007 - March 2, 2008


From oil field girls to the big skies and terrain of Texas, works by artist Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989) captured the eye of the nation and the spirit of the Southwest. He played a major role in establishing the Texas Regionalism movement of the 1930s and 1940s, whose proponents depicted the many aspects of the natural world as well as rural, small town, and urban life, conveying the beauty and diversity of the Lone Star State to the rest of America.

Now, following the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University presents two exhibitions celebrating Bywaters' artistic achievements as painter and printmaker. "Interpreter of the Southwest" showcases 42 paintings and pastels, from stunning landscapes and murals to intimate genre scenes and portraits, which illustrate the artist's lifelong interest in the land and culture of the American Southwest. "Lone Star Printmaker" is the first definitive examination of Bywaters' 13-year printmaking career. All 39 of his prints will be shown together for the first time -- a grouping Bywaters himself never experienced -- tracing the history of his important role in the development of Texas printmaking. The exhibits have been organized by the Meadows Museum in collaboration with the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest at SMU's Hamon Arts Library, with major funding provided by The Meadows Foundation.

"What Stanley Marcus was to retail, Jerry Bywaters was to the fine arts in Dallas," said Mark Roglán, director of the Meadows Museum. "He was renowned as an artist, a writer, a professor, a critic, a printmaker and an arts administrator. As director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art in the 1950s, he bought works by Picasso when he was shunned as a Communist and initiated a trend of very insightful and popular exhibitions, or what today we would call blockbusters. At the same time, Bywaters tirelessly and successfully promoted Texas regionalism and Texas printmaking. His artworks depict the humor, beauty, and austerity of Texas and the Southwest. We are very pleased to present this comprehensive exhibition of his work, which we hope will introduce him to a much wider audience and further appreciation for his gifts."


Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest


Featured in the museum's first-floor galleries, "Interpreter of the Southwest" will explore different facets of Bywaters' paintings -- landscapes, architecture and urban themes, portraiture, and genre scenes -- as well as Bywaters' career as a mural painter. It also will draw on his historical ties with SMU and Dallas. Bywaters was a student at SMU in the 1920s and maintained a long association with the University's art journal, Southwest Review. He also served for more than 40 years as a faculty member in SMU's Division of Fine Arts and as director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art from 1943 to 1964. The exhibit will include archival holdings from the artist's personal papers, the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest, housed in SMU's Hamon Arts Library.

Underlying all of Bywaters' work was a profound perspective on the interaction of people and the land, whether the land served as a source of livelihood, a stage for historical events, a backdrop for architecture, or, as in the landscape section that opens the exhibition, simply as a source of artistic inspiration. For Bywaters, familiarity with the natural world and incorporating it and its effects were basic to his art. In a 1928 letter to his father explaining his decision to work as a studio -- instead of a commercial -- artist, Bywaters wrote, "I must be out of doors." Landscape afforded him an avenue of experimentation with media and he worked with equal ability in oil (Ranch Gate), watercolor (Near Abiqui), and pastel (Chisos Mountains). Although his heyday was the ten-year period from 1933 to 1943, when he was able to travel frequently to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and West Texas, Bywaters continued depicting landscapes long after he had turned away from other subjects.

Bywaters' fascination with landforms and other aspects of the natural world led him to an equal interest in human traces on the landscape (one of his most important relationships was a friendship with noted Texas architect O'Neill Ford that began in the 1920s and lasted throughout their lives). Cathedral in Burgos, Spain (1927) and House in Old Lyme, Connecticut (1928) are evidence of Bywaters' short-lived experimentation with impressionist techniques but also his far more enduring interest in architectural forms, which lasted until the end of his artistic activity, as exemplified by Adobe House in Taos (1974). Bywaters utilizes architecture as a lens to view the Southwest's past in an almost wistful way in The New Highway Passed 'em By (1938) and its future with gentle humor in Texas Subdivision, executed in the same year.

In portraiture, Bywaters painted subjects from all walks of life, including nuns he observed on a boyhood train trip, a member of the Navajo tribe encountered during a visit to Shiprock, Arizona, and prominent Dallas architect David Williams. Regardless of the cultural background of any given subject, though, Bywaters wanted to convey a sense of the character of the individual sitter. Similarly, his genre scenes depict individuals in various tasks of everyday life -- cowboys at a rodeo, oil field workers wrestling with a drill bit, Mexican women washing clothes in a stream, or mourners at the funeral of a child.

In the late 1920s, Bywaters became fascinated with the burgeoning Mexican muralist movement and spent several months in Mexico getting to know the work of two of its leaders, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. A few years later he undertook his first mural project with his close friend, Alexandre Hogue, executing 10 panels for the Dallas City Hall. The Meadows exhibition will give visitors a glimpse of Bywaters' work as a Texas muralist by displaying creations related to his murals in Farmersville and Quanah and his submissions for the Amarillo and San Antonio competitions.


(above: Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), Carnival, n.d., Pastel on paper. Private collection)


(above: Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), City Suburb at Dusk, 1978, Oil on masonite. Collection of G. Pat Bywaters. Photo by Michael Bodycomb)


(above: Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), Mexican Women, 1933, Oil on canvas. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joe W. Fly, Jr.)


(above: Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), Oil Field Girls, 1940, Oil on board. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1984. Photography by Rick Hall)


(above: Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), Where the Mountains Meet the Plains, 1939, Oil on masonite. University Art Collection, Southern Methodist University; UAC .1940.01. Photo by Tom Jenkins)


Exhibition catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, published by Texas A&M University Press, reproduces more than 40 of Bywaters' paintings and includes essays by three scholars who knew and worked with Bywaters: Dr. Samuel Ratcliffe (exhibition guest curator and head of the Jerry Bywaters Collection of Art of the Southwest), Dr. John Lunsford (retired senior curator at the Dallas Museum of Art and former director of the Meadows Museum), and Dr. Francine Carraro (executive director of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine, and author of Jerry Bywaters: A Life in Art). These essays examine the roles that Bywaters played as an archivist/historian, museum professional, and artist and are preceded by an introductory essay by the premier historian of American regionalist painting, Dr. William H. Gerdts (professor emeritus of art history at the Graduate School of the City University of New York). In addition to the paintings, the book is illustrated with drawings, photographs, letters, documents, and ephemera from the artist's papers. (right, image of catalogue front cover courtesy of Texas A&M University Press)


Please click here for "Jerry Bywaters: Lone Star Printmaker."


About the Meadows Museum

The Meadows Museum, a division of SMU's Meadows School of the Arts, houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain, with works dating from the 10th to the 21st century. It includes masterpieces by some of the world's greatest painters: El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, Miró and Picasso. The museum is located at 5900 Bishop Blvd. on the campus of SMU, three blocks west of the DART light rail Mockingbird Station. Please see the Museum's website for admission fees and hours.

Resource Library readers may also enjoy:

and this book: Jerry Bywaters: A Life in Art, By Francine Carraro. published by University of Texas Press, which says of the book:

As an artist, art critic, museum director, and art educator, Jerry Bywaters reshaped the Texas art world and won national recognition for Texas artists. This first full-scale biography explores his life and work in the context of twentieth-century American art, revealing Bywaters' important role in the development of regionalist painting.
Francine Carraro delves into all aspects of Bywaters' career. As an artist, Bywaters became the leader of a group of young painters known as the Dallas Nine (Alexandre Hogue, Everett Spruce, Otis Dozier, William Lester, and others) who overcame the limits of provincialism and attained national recognition in the 1930s.
As director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, art critic for the Dallas Morning News, and professor of art at Southern Methodist University, Bywaters championed the arts in Texas. Carraro traces his role in professionalizing Texas art institutions and defending the right to display art considered "subversive" in the McCarthy era. (right, image of catalogue front cover courtesy of University of Texas Press)

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