The Collection of Calloway and Jerry Bywaters Cochran: In Honor of a Lone Texas Legend
Thanks to the most generous gift of Jerry Bywaters Cochran, the Meadows Museum has recently added more than forty works by Mrs. Cochran’s father, Jerry Bywaters, to its collections. These works, which span the length of Bywaters’s career, demonstrate an array of subject matter and a range in medium, from oil paintings and watercolors to pastels, graphite drawings, and prints. “This tremendous gift,” said Director Mark Roglán, “will enhance SMU’s role in preserving the art of this region, and will make us the largest depository for the work of Bywaters, one of Texas’s most renowned artists of the twentieth century. We are deeply grateful for this most thoughtful gift given by Mrs. Cochran.” The Museum has recently recognized Bywaters’s contributions to the art world through two concurrent exhibitions, held in 2007, the centennial of the artist’s birth: Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest and Jerry Bywaters: Lone Star Printmaker. Now, a more tangible acknowledgement of Bywaters’s significance will become a part of the Museum as well. The gifted works will join with other works already in the University Art Collection, including Bywaters’s painting Where the Mountains Meet the Plains (1939), which is considered one of his greatest landscapes, and will significantly augment the University’s holdings of Texas regionalist art.
Williamson Gerald (Jerry) Bywaters (1906-1989) was born in Paris, Texas, and spent his childhood there until his parents moved the family to Dallas in 1917. Bywaters attended SMU as an undergraduate student from 1922 to 1927, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism in 1926, and another Bachelor of Arts degree in General Literature in 1927, and unwittingly started what would be a lifelong relationship with the University.
In 1936, at the age of thirty, Bywaters began teaching at SMU, and he would continue to teach art without interruption, along with art history courses, for the next forty years. From 1943 to 1964, when Bywaters served as the Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art), he continued to teach one class per semester at SMU, and in 1965, no longer at the DMFA, Bywaters resumed teaching fulltime. In addition to his classes, Bywaters also served as the chairman of the Division of Fine Arts at SMU from 1965 to 1967, and as Director of the Pollock Gallery on campus from 1965 to 1971.The SMU sponsored accolades continued for Bywaters when he was appointed professor emeritus in 1971, bestowed with the Distinguished Alumni award in 1978, and received an honorary Doctorate of Arts degree in 1987.
With his dedication to teaching and devotion to the University throughout his life, in conjunction with the many years he spent at the helm of the DMFA, it is surprising that Bywaters found additional time to produce art. But art was a passion for him from an early age, and when he was not promoting the work of others, Bywaters was creating his own.
Following his graduation from SMU, Bywaters spent two years traveling and living outside of Texas, the only time in his life when he would do so. He first traveled to Europe—to France and Spain—in July of 1927, beginning his trip in Paris. The artist later remembered this time, saying, “As soon as possible I grew a scraggly beard and walked the streets, night and day, painting some small pictures reflecting influences from Degas through Monet…” Bywaters’s recollection of his Parisian time is substantiated with a small self-portrait sketch, Impressionistic in style and complete with beard, which he completed during this period. Likewise, other works inspired by this trip present various Spanish locales in the same manner, such as San Millán Iglesia, Segovia, Spain (1929). These sites were visited after his time in France, when Bywaters traveled to Spain, first visiting Burgos, Segovia, and Madrid, and then moving further south to Cordova, Seville and Granada, cities that supposedly reminded him of West Texas.
Bywaters also traveled to Mexico during these two years of exploration, in February of 1928, to study the work of Mexican muralists, such as José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and above all, Diego Rivera. Writing about the experience a few months later, in the July edition of the Southwest Review, Bywaters remarked, “…I know now that art, to be significant, must be a reflection of life; that it must be understandable to the layman; and that it must be a part of a people’s thought….” With this inspiration Bywaters returned to Dallas where he quickly re-settled and began working on what would become his signature artistic language.
This language, which portrayed Bywaters’s interest in landforms and the people who inhabited them, was also influenced by the social effects brought on by the Great Depression. Bywaters frequently produced scenes of rural life, which sometimes focused on isolated and aging buildings and other times portrayed only the desolate landscape, with mountains in the background or a storm in the distance. He also cultivated an interest in figure types—oil-field workers, Mexican women, Navajo men—which could stand in for the everyman, and in this manner, seemingly local subjects portrayed themes that were universally understood, as seen in works such as Sharecropper’s Wife (1937), Mexican Mother (1936), and Navajo Man (1941). This was Bywaters’s own version of art inspired by the layman, for the layman, just as he had witnessed Rivera doing a few years earlier in Mexico.
In this fashion, Bywaters emerged as the leading figure for the Regionalist artists working in Dallas, and for the group known as the Dallas Nine, which included artists John Douglass, Otis Dozier, Lloyd Goff, William Lester, Charles McCann, Perry Nichols, Everett Spruce, and Buck Winn. This group expanded to include, among others, Ed Bearden, Barney Delabano, Alexandre Hogue, DeForest Judd and Florence McClung. Works by many of these artists are housed within the Museum’s University Art Collection, and sixteen additional works by artists such as Ed Bearden, Barney Delabano and DeForrest Judd, are also included with Mrs. Cochran’s gift.
This magnificent gift of Bywaters works, a fairly complete collection of the artist’s oeuvre in and of itself, will join another important group of Bywaters holdings on the SMU campus: the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest, the artist’s archives. Now housed within the Jerry Bywaters Special Collections Wing of the Jake and Nancy Hamon Arts Library at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, these archives, first initiated by Bywaters himself in 1980, include full records of both his life and career. The documents maintained within vary from his many different roles—artist, teacher, museum administrator, writer, critic and historian—and serve to present a complete understanding of not just Bywaters, but also of his peers and the society at large. Together, these two complementary holdings on SMU’s campus of art and archives will provide a fully comprehensive view of the large legacy left behind by Jerry Bywaters.
This summer the Meadows Museum will celebrate this gift with an exhibition to honor the art of the Southwest and to recognize the generosity of the donors whose gifts have enhanced the Museum’s collections. The show will include many of the works given by Mrs. Jerry Bywaters Cochran, as well as seven related works given by Mrs. Elizabeth (Bettina) Ware Hennessy, Dr. John Roscoe Ware, and Dr. David Lochridge Ware, in honor of their mother Mrs. Frances Golden Ware, and her parents.
This exhibition has been organized by the Meadows Museum and funded by a generous gift from The Meadows Foundation.