Honorary Life Member - 1975
Williamson Gerald Bywaters’s emergence on the Dallas art scene began after he graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1926, with a degree in comparative literature. He traveled for two years in France, Spain, Mexico, and New England, and studied at the New York Art Students League. When he returned to Dallas, Bywaters found that his contemporaries had similar interests in depicting their native region in art. He became a central figure and spokesman for a group of young artists including Alexandre Hogue, Otis M. Dozier, William L. Lester, Everett Spence, and others who found inspiration in the Texas landscape. This group became well known as the “Dallas Nine” Regionalist painters.
Bywaters was recognized as an artist of national importance in 1933, when Art Digest announced that he had “arrived.” He produced a significant body of landscape, still life and portrait paintings, as well as lithographic prints and public murals. Stylistically and aesthetically, his work paralleled the national movement known as the American Scene. He produced most of his important paintings and murals between 1937 and 1942. His paintings in museum collections include Self-Portrait (1935), Sharecropper (1937), and On the Ranch (1941), at the Dallas Museum of Art, Where the Mountain Meets the Plains, at Southern Methodist University; and Oil Field Girls (1940), at the Arthur M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin. Other important paintings include Texas Subdivision (1938), Century Plant, Big Bend (1939), Autumn Still Life (1942), and Houses in West Texas Big Bend (1942). His original lithographs include Gargantua (1935), which won a prize in the 1935 Allied Arts Exhibition; Ranch Hand and Pony (1938), which was exhibited at the 1938 Venice Biennial Exposition; Texas Courthouse (1938), purchased by the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1938; and False Fronts, Colorado (1939), which received a prize from the Dallas Print Society in 1941. Bywaters was a founding member of Lone Star Printmakers, a group of artists in Texas who produced and published editions of original prints and circulated touring exhibitions of prints from 1938 to 1941.
He and other Dallas artists benefited from the art programs of the New Deal. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Bywaters successfully competed in federally sponsored mural competitions and completed six projects in Texas, including a series of panels in regional art, as well as serving as art editor and illustrating articles by other authors. After retirement from Southern Methodist University, he served as regional director of the Texas Project of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and he continued to curate exhibitions including The American Woman as Artist, 1820-1965, and Texas Painting and Sculpture: Twentieth Century for the Pollock Galleries and Seventy-five Years of Art in Dallas for the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. In 1981, Bywaters presented Southern Methodist University a gift of his papers on the art and artists of the region to form the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest. In 1972 he was selected as an Honorary Life Member with the Dallas Chapter of the Texas Fine Arts Association, now called the Texas Visual Arts Association. In 1987 Southern Methodist University 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.