Who is Jerry Bywaters?

The Jerry Bywaters Special Collections at the Hamon Arts Library is an archival collection of art, documents, and other rare or unique materials largely from the Southwest region. But who is the man for this eponymously-named collection, Jerry Bywaters?

Jerry Bywaters (1906 – 1989) filled many roles in the development of the arts in Texas and the Southwest.  He was, in addition to being an artist, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, chairman of the Division of Fine Arts at Southern Methodist University and director of its Pollock Gallery.  Throughout his career, Bywaters worked to strengthen awareness of Texas and the Southwest art arena, and to define the unique qualities that set it apart from other regions.  He taught and influenced many people, including other artists, art historians, those associated with Texas and Dallas museums, SMU art department faculty members, and countless students.  Bywaters donated his archival material to SMU at intervals from 1980 until his death in 1989.  Later the Bywaters family decided to give the rest of his archives, which had been stored in his home, to SMU.  In 1990, the collection was relocated to the new Jake and Nancy Hamon Arts Library and housed in the appropriately named Jerry Bywaters Special Collections Wing, constructed with funds from the Margaret and Eugene McDermott Foundation of Dallas.

Bywaters graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism in 1926 and the following year received another Bachelor of Arts degree in General Literature.    It was not until his last year in college, when he took an elective course in painting from Ralph Rowntree (1889 – 1992), a respected artist and art instructor at SMU, that Bywaters began to think about a career in art.   In a 1940 letter to Carl Zigrosser, then director of the Weyhe Gallery in New York and soon to become curator of Prints and Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bywaters writes:

Last year in college I took an elective art course and that set me off into the unknown field.  Still evading things I went to Europe and liked the wrong kind of art, studied under the wrong teachers at the League in N. Y. (except Sloan).  I was still too young to know what I wanted (21) and my folks were too good to me about travel.  Trip to Mexico in 1928 started me thinking at last.  Rivera and Orozco etc. were just starting. 

In the early 1920s Bywaters began collecting art and museum catalogs, clippings, correspondence and photographs focusing on the cultural history of Texas, Dallas, and the Southwest, and continued to do so during his career as an artist, critic, curator, museum director, and teacher.  This material helps shed new light on the historical development of Bywaters’s career and the development of the arts in Dallas.  The Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest also contains works on paper by Bywaters and a few of his contemporaries  including Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Bowling, Don Brown, Mary Doyle, Otis Dozier, Edward G. Eisenlohr, Alexandre Hogue, DeForrest Judd, William Lester, Blanche McVeigh, Merritt Mauzey, Perry Nichols, Boardman Robinson, Everett Spruce, Thomas M. Stell, Jr., and Janet Turner. This collection and many others are located in the Bywaters Special Collections Wing, named in his honor.

To view the online holdings and artists represented in Bywaters Special Collections, please visit https://www.smu.edu/Libraries/hamon/bywaters.

Image: Jerry Bywaters, self-portrait, 1969, pencil on paper; Paper: 30 x 24 inches, Gift of Pat Bywaters, Katie Bywaters Cummings, and Leigh Bywaters Swanson (JB.09.2).

Courtesy of the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.


3 thoughts on “Who is Jerry Bywaters?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *