When I read the sad news of Mrs. McDermott’s death I was reminded yet again of the profound debt of gratitude both I and SMU owe her. Mrs. McDermott’s influence in my professional career began in the spring of 1978 when I saw a flyer for the McDermott Internship at the Dallas Museum of [Fine] Arts in the hallway at the Meadows School of the Arts. I was just completing my Master of Fine Arts Degree and taking Jerry Bywaters’s popular art history class, “The Arts of North America.” Bywaters wrote a letter of recommendation, and I was honored to receive the first-ever long-term McDermott Internship for the 1978-1979 year. It was at the Museum, then located at Fair Park, that I learned how a museum worked from the ground up. This was to prove a critical formative experience.
When later I was appointed Curator of Bywaters Special Collections, the McDermott Foundation made a major contribution for the Jerry Bywaters Special Collection Wing of the Jake and Nancy Hamon Arts Library. In planning for the new space, what I learned during my internship paid off, influencing decisions regarding vault storage, research areas, staff offices, and workroom space for gallery preparation and archive processing. Display cases were needed for the new Mildred Hawn Gallery. Known for wanting the best, Mrs. McDermott graciously donated funds for seven high-quality Guenschel display cases that are still pristine and in use today in the library.
As word got out about the wonderful archival treasures in Bywaters Special Collections, I found myself being asked repeatedly about the history of prints made by Jerry Bywaters between 1935 and 1948. His print notebook was in the archives and served as the basis for my book Jerry Bywaters – Lone Star Printmaker. Mrs. McDermott helped fund its publication. It served as the catalogue for the exhibition, using the same title, at the Meadows Museum in 2007/2008.
I am thankful to Mrs. McDermott and the Foundation for the support given to both me and to the Bywaters Special Collection; her generosity has allowed the collection to grow, and with the additional role of technology, we are able to provide information about the arts of Dallas and Texas to a greater audience.
Blog post: Ellen Buie Niewyk, Curator of Bywaters Special Collections
Featured image: Photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Jake Dean