Lone Star Regionalism
On a visit to Mexico in 1928, Jerry Bywaters made the acquaintance of the great Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. Bywaters was profoundly affected by the older man's views on the role of the artist and the society in which he worked. ''What matters is that Diego Rivera has taught me a lesson I had not learned elsewhere in Europe or America," Bywaters wrote later that year in The Southwest Review, "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 part of a people's thought." The young artist would dedicate his life's work to that very premise.
For Bywaters, as for his colleagues, local subject matter was simply the result of painting "what they knew best." These attitudes were fully shared by the artists in the Texas regional group, since they had arrived at similar conclusions of their own much earlier. One of the more important aspects of the Dallas group of artists was the fact that no single individual had dominated the development of the group as a whole. There were at least a half-a-dozen strong painters, each with their own unique style. In fact, the cohesiveness of the group and its stylistic diversity was recognized as a powerful source for the establishment of a "vital local tradition" by several Texas commentators in the period.
An interesting and astute assessment of the "growing importance of the Dallas colony of painters" was made by Donald Bear, then Director of the Denver Art Museum, "I think that certain names such as Alexandre Hogue, Jerry Bywaters, William Lester, Everett Spruce, Otis Dozier, Perry Nichols and of course others have defined the colony in terms of national as well as regional importance... these Texas artists whose work has interested a wide exhibition audience have not only caught the breadth of the country which they paint but have conveyed in terms of true social meaning something of the character of the people and their relation to the land. They have created Texas art."
The period after the Centennial brought an unprecedented level of art activity to Dallas, which proved difficult to sustain during the massive war effort of the 1940s. The major issue seemed to be whether or not the individual artists, who had done so much to bring national attention to the art of Texas, could continue their aesthetic modernism in a period of change. By the end of the war those changes had occurred, and the art of the Texas Regionalists, which had been born in a period of great social upheaval, left its legacy at the close of another.
"The moment you step in Texas," wrote the renowned art critic, Carl Zigrosser, "you have the sense of vast potentiality." He felt that the land itself brought the Texas Regionalist artists "close to nature's primitive rhythms," which resulted in a form of expression "almost epic in its simplicity and grandeur."
Patrick Stewart, excerpt from the exhibition catalogue, Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and Their Circle, 1928-1945 (Texas Monthly Press, 1985), in Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art Bulletin (1984 Winter), 11-12.
Read more about this group on the Handbook of Texas Online (published by the Texas State Historical Association).