Artists & Designers

Dorothy Austin (1911-2011)

Born in Dallas, Texas, Dorothy Austin graduated from The Hockaday School in 1928 and left to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and at the Art Students League of New York under Arthur Lee and William Zorach. She returned to her hometown and began her brief yet noteworthy career in 1931 with a prize-winning entry in the Annual Exhibition of the State Fair of Texas. Working in wood, stone, and plaster to produce works which average one or two feet tall, Austin developed a style of direct carving, imbuing her figures with psychological intensity and primal strength.

In 1936, Austin was commissioned to create six bronze door panels and a life-sized wooden cowboy for the Texas Centennial. Her panels, which were made for the three sets of bronze doors at the north entrance of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now The Science Place), illustrate classic symbols of Texas life including mesquite, striped grass, corn, century plant, cactus, and thistle. The wooden cowboy, who holds his hat in his left hand and reaches for his pistol with his right hand, is housed in the West Texas Room at the Texas Hall of State. He rests upon a four-foot high wooden base bearing the Texas star and towers above visitors as a forceful icon of local history.

In addition to the schools she attended, her work has been exhibited at the Delphic Studios in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Cincinnati Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the 1939 New York World's Fair. Austin won numerous prizes for her work including First Prize in Sculpture at the Fifth Annual Allied Arts Exhibition of Dallas County and National Junior League Exhibition, the Kiest Memorial Fund Purchase Prize at the Seventh Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition , and the Neiman Marcus Prize at the Twelfth Annual Allied Arts Exhibition.

In 1944, at the height of her career, 33-year-old Austin stopped making art. She gave away her tools to fellow Dallas sculptor Michael G. Owen. When asked why she stopped sculpting, she said, "I don't really know why I quit... Maybe I shot my wad. Or maybe it was the war. Then the war ended and I got married." Whatever the reasons, Austin kept all of her unsold work. She maintained a private existence in Dallas, gently rebuffing inquiries about her art career until 1999, when the Valley House Gallery (Dallas, TX) featured a solo exhibition of her sculptures, the first display of her work since 1942.

Drawn from

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, DMA Acquisition proposal (2001.47), March 2001.

  • Alexandra Wellington, DMA research essay, June 2011.

  • Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and their Circle, 1928-1945 (Austin, TX: Texas Monthly Press, 1985).

  • Jane D. Albritton, "Dorothy Austin, Sculpture of the 30s and 40s," exhibition brochure, Valley House Gallery, Inc. Dallas, 1999.

Related Multimedia

recording of artist Dorothy Austin during visit to DMA (DMA Collection); recording made by Hillary Bober, DMA Digital Archivist

Web Resources

  • Hall of State, Fair Park
    Read Clint Skinner's essay describing this Fair Park building's architecture and artwork—including Austin's cowboy sculpture. (TexasEscapes.com)

  • Dallas Historical Society
    Take a virtual tour of the Texas Hall of State and be sure to check out Austin's work on view in the West Texas room.