Think you know Texas?
The pure essence of Texas—its landscape and people, shown at a defining moment in the cultural and economic development of the Lone Star State—is on display at Southern Methodist University, alive through the pen and paintbrush of Jerry Bywaters.
Bywaters (1906–89) was a true Texas Renaissance man: painter, printmaker, illustrator, muralist, essayist, art critic, editor, publisher, professor, museum director and spokesman for the Texas Regionalist art movement, which he founded along with the other members of the “Dallas Nine.” Bywaters was at ease in both the literature and fine art worlds. As director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts from 1943–64, he was instrumental in establishing a national interest in Texas’ unique style.
Through the Texas Regionalist movement, Bywaters “created a new artistic language of regional images and universal themes,” said Sam Deshong Ratcliffe, editor of the new book, Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest (Texas A&M University Press, 2007). His great talent was illustrating the interaction of people and the land, a universal theme made local through his focus on Texas and the culture of the American Southwest. His paintings effortlessly portray the dramatic panorama of its open space, the hardworking character of Texans, the development of the oil industry and the resultant changing landscape.
The book features a collection of essays by friends and colleagues who knew Bywaters well. In her essay, “First and Foremost an Artist,” Francine Carraro writes, “Ordinary structures within the landscapes were transformed by his art into icons … run-down ranch houses were biographies of stalwart Texans … abandoned railroad stations were reminders of changes in Texas; grain elevators stood for enterprise; and ranch gates and windmills were lessons in persistence.”
Through these remarkable paintings, photographs and prints of ordinary people and places in everyday circumstances, Bywaters reveals the unique character of Texas and Texans.
The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has organized two Bywaters exhibits running concurrently November 30 to March 2. Jerry Bywaters, “Interpreter of the Southwest” shows his paintings and pastels. “Jerry Bywaters: Lone Star Printmaker” will include every lithographic print he made in his long career. A companion book on the prints, written by Ellen Buie Niewyk, is available from SMU Press. The Meadows Museum is at 5900 Bishop Boulevard on the SMU campus. For information on the exhibits, call (214) 768-2516 or go to www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org.
Peg Champion is the former publisher of Texas Co-op Power.