Death by Holga: 11.22.63

Review of Gift Exhibits Currently at Meadows Museum

Cottonwoods by Bert Geer Phillips, 1935

Cottonwoods by Bert Geer Phillips, 1935

The Collection of Calloway and Jerry Bywaters Cochran: In Honor of a Lone Star Legend
The Frances Golden Ware Gift: Landscapes of the Southwest
Meadows Museum
Through August 19, 2012

In two current and complementary exhibits: The Collection of Calloway and Jerry Bywaters Cochran: In Honor of a Lone Star Legend and The Frances Golden Ware Gift: Landscapes of the Southwest, The Meadows Museum celebrates recent gifts to SMU’s University Art Collection (which the Meadows oversees). These two exhibits offer an opportunity to view rarely seen examples of Texas and Southwest art, and in addition to adding depth to the Collection, they are nationally relevant whilst at the same time being so locally and personally pertinent to the families, the University and the wider Texan community.

The Frances Golden Ware gift was presented to SMU by her children to honor the late Frances Golden Ware, an SMU alumna whose family have featured strongly in University history since it’s founding – as teachers, dean, and board members. The collection of seven paintings of scenes from around Texas and the Southwest were collected by Mrs. Ware’s parents during visits with the various artists.

Bert Greer Phillips work Cottonwoods Oil, 1935 is characteristic of the paintings produced by Phillips in Taos New Mexico. Phillips and his friend, Ernest Blumenstein, founded the Taos Art Colony when, having set out on a painting trip west and to Mexico, their wagon broke down near Taos and they decided to stay and paint the area.  The work is filled with the warm light of a south-western summer day – imbued with pinks and gold. The washed out pale blue sky give a sense of space and airiness whilst the golden light catching on the trees is reminiscent of the earlier en plein air European movement. The thick oil paint applied in small dabs is deeply resonant of the European impressionism.

In contrast to this warm, open work is Olin Herman Travis’s piece Untitled (White River Arkansas), 1930, which is less painterly and utilizes a far more muted palate. Travis, founder of the Dallas Art Institute, and the Arkansas based Travis Ozarks Summer Art School, beautifully captures the mysterious blue and purples of the distant Ozark Mountain Range from the White River Valley. Travis depicts a cloudy summers day replete with heavily foreboding gray clouds which are so different to the clear summer sky of Phillips’ near-by piece. Travis’s composition is classical, with trees either side balancing the central view of the gently winding river which leads the eye through the picture plane.

My favorite work from the Frances Golden Ware gift is definitely Ila Mae Mcafee Turner’s Untitled (Horse and Rider in Desert Landscape), 1935. The colour pallet is so evocative of the Southwest, with its ochras, salmon pinks and muted olive tones. The white horse is contrasted against these rich colours and is simply but delicately rendered. The depiction of the horse, in what seems like only a few brushstrokes, evocatively captures the slow movement of the animal and its rider through the harsh landscape to a welcome patch of cerulean blue water and vivid green grass. This small, quiet painting is well balanced and composed making it very pleasing to the eye.

Sharecropper’s Wife by Jerry Bywaters, 1937

Sharecropper’s Wife by Jerry Bywaters, 1937

The Collection of Calloway and Jerry Bywaters Cochran : In Honor of a Lone Star Legend is a comprehensive exhibit in that it spans Bywaters entire career, covers many different media that the artist employed and shows his exploration of a myriad styles and influences. The works (from Bywaters’ daughter’s personal collection) are accompanied by those of several colleagues of Bywaters who were also part of the Regionalist Movement.

Upon graduating from SMU, Jerry Bywaters traveled to Europe, in his words, “reflecting influences from Degas through Monet”. The works from this time are clearly European in subject matter and style and are contrasted with later works in which these themes and styles are resoundingly rejected in favor of Southwestern subject matter and regionalism. These later works more clearly show Bywaters’ fascination with the relationships between people and the land.

As someone with (perhaps ashamedly!) no former knowledge of Jerry Bywaters, I was struck by his prowess across a range of media – pastels, oils, lithographs,  murals  and watercolours as well as his proficiency in capturing the essence of different subject matter:  in particular variations of landscapes and portraiture.

Bywaters’ atmospheric landscapes are particularly notable, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend, 1937, being a fine example. As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” and in this case, Bywaters and his friend artist Otis Dozier developed their own pastels after finding that water color paints dried out in the harsh summer heat and commercially available pastels did not, at the time, provide suitable ranges of ochras, siennas and grays needed to accurately depict the regional landscapes. Chisos Mountains, Big Bend shows these homemade pastels off to fine effect – superb blending and subtle gradation of colour with beautifully saturated pinks, purples and the ubiquitous sienna. Judicious use of white highlighting in the foreground gives contrast and depth.

I was almost transported to the Australian Outback when viewing Ranch Gate, 1938. The dry earth, distant mountain range and hazy, heat filled sky was so reminiscent of my home country and also of course, captures the Southwestern landscape so well. The landscape is dusty and parched – very unforgiving, and yet tamed by the human marks of a ranch gate, barbed wire fence and windmill. Even in this dry and unrelenting place, humans are attempting to mold nature in their favor and prosper – a metaphor in my mind for much of Texas and the Southwest.

Self Portrait Sketch by Jerry Bywaters, 1927

Self Portrait Sketch by Jerry Bywaters, 1927

Two portraits also caught my eye both as pleasing works in their own right, but also as a wonderful juxtaposition of style, subject and media which have the same essence at their core. Sharecroppers Wife, 1937 (a companion piece to Bywaters’ Sharecropper held by the Dallas Museum of Art) is an unsentimental and barefaced painting of a woman who has clearly lived a harsh existence. Rather than depicting a particular person, this is what was referred to as a figure type – a device used by regional artists at the time to enable their work to be “universally understood and appreciated”. The spare, realistic rendering employs a limited palate of flesh tones, browns and khakis and a flattened picture plane to so clearly evoke this woman’s rugged and hardworking existence. Her flat expression and relatively colourless face spoke to me of long term endurance and fortitude – attributes certainly required to survive living and working in this intransigent landscape.

Mexican Girl, metal plate lithograph, 1936, brought to mind the works of Picasso and Matisse with its simple, fluid line, well rounded feminine features and luscious lips. The heavy, solid black hair is contrasted wonderfully with the scant, playful lines used to depict the face and dress. This is clearly a portrait of an attractive young woman still very much in her prime. Hung as it is next to Sharecroppers Wife, it is easy to draw parallels between the two pieces. Both are posed similarly, and both have neutral expressions. However the lush features and beauty of Mexican Girl bring the severity of Sharecroppers Wife with her thin lips and stern expression into sharper focus. Perhaps there is also a comment (intentional or not) reflecting the contemporaneous European-based movements of both post impressionism and the exploration of colonialism which often romanticized the “other” or “native” persona.

I thoroughly enjoyed the insight into Texas and Southwestern art that the two exhibits provided. I found it wonderful that two families so closely involved with the development and sterling reputation of SMU were represented and were able to give back to the University and the community in such a tangible and beautiful way. These are gifts that will endure and delight for many years to come. SMU is rightly very proud of its alumni Bywaters, who was clearly a prodigious talent with a broad ranging visual language and the Golden Ware Family’s long association with the university is given added dimension by their contribution of such fine works.

Cottonwoods by Bert Geer Phillips, 1935

Cottonwoods by Bert Geer Phillips, 1935

About Melanie O'Halloran

Melanie is an amateur art enthusiast who recently moved to Dallas from Melbourne, Australia with her family. Melanie has been enjoying sampling the vibrant Dallas Arts scene. Prior to moving to Dallas, Melanie had been studying towards a Masters of Art Curatorship at Melbourne University, and hopes to pursue some study in that area whilst in Dallas. Melanie’s taste in art is eclectic to say the least ranging from medieval religious iconography, to the twentieth century modern era and contemporary works in particular street art and installations. Another specific area of interest is Australian Aboriginal art and its potential to empower indigenous communities. Melanie can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/melanie.ohalloran

One Response to “Review of Gift Exhibits Currently at Meadows Museum”

  1. Deborah Rhee says:

    What a beautifully written article.
    So informative and engaging!
    The Australian painter’s (Heidelberg School- Streeton, Roberts, McCubbin) came to my mind with the palette of Phillips ‘Cottonwoods’ too. I like how you made reference to this.
    Makes me want to go and view the works myself!