Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest Lone Star Printmaker
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, this exhibition and its companion show, Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest, focus on a lifetime spent participating in and studying the cultural life of the American Southwest by Dallas art figure Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989). The title is drawn from an unpublished essay about Bywaters by his longtime friend, Dr. John Chapman. An active painter, Professor Bywaters served for thirty-five years as a faculty member in Southern Methodist University’s Division of Fine Arts and as Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts from 1943 to 1964. This exhibition, featured in the museum’s firstfloor galleries, will explore different facets of Bywaters’s paintings—landscapes, architecture and urban themes, portraiture, and genre scenes—as well as Bywaters’ career as a mural painter. The works of art will be supplemented with archival holdings from the artist’s personal papers in the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest, housed at SMU’s Hamon Arts Library.
Underlying all of Bywaters’s work was some 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 found 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 explaining his decision to work as a studio—instead of a commercial—artist, Bywaters reminded his father that “I must be out of doors.” Landscape afforded Bywaters 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’s 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) evidence Bywaters’ shortlived 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, be they 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.
The same year that he wrote the aforementioned letter to his father, Bywaters became fascinated with the burgeoning Mexican muralist movement and spent several months touring 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 ten panels in Dallas City Hall. The exhibition will give visitors a glimpse of Bywaters’s 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. Bywaters also had a career as a printmaker, as explored in the concurrent exhibition curated by Ellen Buie Niewyk, Jerry Bywaters: Lone Star Printmaker. Between the two exhibitions, visitors will be able to compare and contrast five examples of the artist’s treatment of the same or similar subject matter with different media.
The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, published by Texas A&M University Press in collaboration with the Meadows Museum, reproduces more than forty of Bywaters’ paintings in a full-color gallery and includes essays by three scholars who knew and worked with Bywaters: Dr. Sam Ratcliffe (exhibition guest curator and head of the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest), John Lunsford, former director of the Meadows Museum and curator emeritus of the Dallas Museum of Art, and Dr. Francine Carraro, executive director of the Abbe Museum. 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. In addition to the paintings, the book is illustrated with drawings, photographs, letters, documents, and ephemera from the artist’s papers.
Jerry Bywaters: Interpreter of the Southwest and Jerry Bywaters: Lone Star Printmaker have been organized by the Meadows Museum, in collaboration with Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library at SMU. Major funding for this exhibition and publication has been provided by The Meadows Foundation.