Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

BYWATERS, JERRY (1906-1989)

As an artist, art critic, museum director, and art educator, Williamson Gerald Bywaters, known as Jerry Bywaters, reshaped art in Texas. The son of Porter Asburn and Hattie Williamson Bywaters, he was born in Paris, Texas, on May 21, 1906. After graduating from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 1926, he traveled in Europe, Mexico, and New England and studied at the New York Art Students League. Upon his return to Dallas, Bywaters became a spokesman for a group of young artists, including Alexandre Hogue, Otis M. Dozier, and Everett Spruce, who found inspiration in the Texas landscape.

Bywaters produced a significant body of landscape, still life, and portrait paintings, lithographic prints, and public murals. Most of his works were produced between 1937 and 1942. His paintings include Self-Portrait (1935), Sharecropper (1937), and On the Ranch (1941), now at the Dallas Museum of Art; Where the Mountain Meets the Plains at SMU; and Oil Field Girls (1940) at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas. A regionalist, Bywaters's work is characterized stylistically by a cohesive concern for local subjects portrayed with strong compositions, clear light, and earthy colors.

Bywaters successfully competed in federally sponsored New Deal mural competitions: he completed six projects in Texas, including a series of panels in collaboration with Alexandre Hogue at the Old City Hall in Dallas; a series of panels at the Paris Public Library; one mural each in the post offices of Trinity, Quanah, and Farmersville; and three murals in the Parcel Post Building in Houston. As art critic for the Dallas Morning News, Bywaters wrote hundreds of articles in the 1930s. He served from 1943 to 1964 as director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts while teaching at SMU. As director, Bywaters recognized the educational possibilities of the art museum and produced several excellent exhibitions. In the mid-1950s he faced accusations that the museum was exhibiting works by Communists; undaunted, Bywaters and his colleagues upheld the standard of freedom of expression. At SMU he served as chairman of the Division of Fine Arts and director of the Pollack Galleries at the Owens Fine Arts Center.

Bywaters wrote and produced catalogs for exhibitions, published an art magazine, and edited art books. His work with the Southwest Review included writing articles on the development of regional art as well as serving as art editor and illustrating articles. After retirement from SMU, he served as regional director of the Texas Project of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and continued to curate exhibitions. In 1981 Bywaters presented SMU a gift of his papers to form the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest. In 1972 he was elected a life member of the Dallas Art Association; in 1978 he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from SMU; in 1980 the Texas Arts Alliance recognized him for distinguished service to the arts in the state; and in 1987 SMU acknowledged his distinctive career with an honorary doctorate. Until his death on March 7, 1989, Bywaters lived in Dallas with his wife of fifty-eight years, Mary McLarry Bywaters.

Francine Carraro Texas State University-San Marcos

Carraro, Francine. Jerry Bywaters: A Life in Art. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

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