Texas Artists and Art Movements

Edgar Byran Davis – Philantropist

From “Texans Always Move Them: A True History of Texas”

When Texas wildcatter, Edgar Byram Davis struck oil near Luling, Texas, everyone benefited. After making profits on his discovery, he used his funds to improve Texas. Davis celebrated by hosting a huge free barbecue. He invited friends, employees and associates in Luling, Texas. He shared his profits by contributing to charitable organizations, purchased golf courses for Luling, improved hospitals and supported the arts. Among his patronage was supporting the Broadway play, “The Ladder” for two years and the controversial figure Edgar Cayce. Davis personally paid for tickets to the play due to his belief in reincarnation which the play emphasized and that it was written by a friend of his.

Texas Impressionism

Edgar B. Davis also underwrote the Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions of art. The $5,000 prize money awarded in the competition was the richest art award offered in the United States. Prizes were given for national and state-wide competition. Davis liked the Texas wildflowers, and had possibly been inspired by Texas artist Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922), who was known as the “Bluebonnet Painter” and “Father of Texas Painting”. His paintings of the Texas landscapes often portrayals of areas near his home in San Antonio gained him a national reputation. His father, Robert Jenkins Onderdonk (1852-1917) was also an established artist.

These art competitions brought painters to Texas along with encouraging native born artist to pursue painting. These competitions almost single handedly brought about a painting style known as “Texas Impressionism”. Texas Impressionism sought to portray the effects of sun and light on outdoor subjects. The Impressionist movement, which began in France, was brought to Texas through this movement. Texas born artists Jose Arpa (1858-1952), Robert Wood (1889-1979), Rolla Taylor (1871-1970), and Porifirio Salinas (1919-1973). and Dawson-Dawson Watson (1864-1939) was born in England, yet his close association and similar style with the Texas painters lumps him in with the Texas impressionists.combined the popular painting style of impressionism with Texas landscapes. The artist Porifirio Salinas met fellow artists Robert Woos and Jose Arpa by selling them art supplies. From them he learned their unique style, even cooperating with them on some paintings. From those lessons, he mastered his own style. One of his later students, Palmer Chrisman (1913-1984), became an acclaimed artist.Chrisman provided medical services in trade for art lessons. Chrisman’s paintings were given out as gifts by President Lyndon Johnson during his presidency. This new style encouraged painters to come to Texas, with the Dallas area becoming a center of the new Texas school of artistic painting.

Modern Texas artists whose paintings reflect this style are Dalhart Windberg and Larry Dyke.Dyke’s work has hung in the White House and other prominent locations. Larry Dyke’s paintings have his signature Bible passage reference on each work, which is one of his unique markers.

Lone Star Regionalism

Davis’ financial patronage was one of the bright spots during the economic hardships of the depression in Texas of the 1930’s. Between his patronage and WPA projects encouraging the development of artists and writers, a new style developed known as “Lone Star Regionalism”. This new style gradually gained dominance over the previous movement of Texas Impressionism. The new style used darker colors to portray subjects unique to Texas. Some critics may claim that the dark colors reflected the dark mood of the times. The artists attempted making their subjects easy for the common man to understand. The ‘regionalists’ chose everyday life as subjects for their art and writing. This increased emphasis on regionalism occurred in art and literature. Writers like J. Frank Dobie were part of this regionalism movement. J. Frank Dobie and Texas native, Tom Lea pooled their talents in joint ventures during this time. Artists in the movement included Clinton King (1901-1979),Thomas Hart Benson, Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), Alexandre Hogue, Henry Nash Smith and David R. Williams. These artists were inspired by writers such as John Dewey, George Santayana and Constance Rourke. A group of the more prominent artists living in Dallas became known as the “Dallas Nine”. The regionalist artists were influential on art throughout the United States. At the 1939 World’s Fair held in New York City, after seeing the work of the Texas artists, the President of the exhibition commented, “The exhibition indicates that New York is still the art center of the nation, but it shows clearly that during the recent years there has been a marked decentralization, and that a number of cities and towns throughout the country have risen to challenge the leadership of the eastern metropolis.”

Artists during these harsh times resorted to many creative techniques and mediums. They painted on railroad cars, burlap, and almost any surface that paint would adhere to. In their resourcefulness, they made their own frames and canvas stretchers. The government program of WPA employed artists to paint murals for public buildings such as post offices. The post office and court house works often used murals to convey Texas and historic themes. Among the leading mural painters were Texas born artists Tom Lea (1907-2001) and Ruth Monro Augur.

Tom Lea’s work was featured on federal buildings and post offices throughout the nation. He also served as a military artist during World War II. At the 100th anniversary of his birth, President George W. Bush requested the Tom Lea painting of Rio Grande from the EL Paso Museum of Art would hang in the oval office. The work was eventually purchased and is currently on display in the oval office of the White House.

Texas Still Lifes

There were some Texas regionalism artists who were grouped into a subgroup of Texas Still Lifes. These are still a part of Texas regionalism, yet with works focused on still life subjects. Among this group were Lloyd L. Sergeant (1881-1934),Robert J. Onderdonk, Alexandre Hogue, Florence McClung, H. D. Bugbee, Olive Vandruff, Emilio Caballero and Isabel Robinson. Many of these artists were located in North Texas or the Panhandle sections of the state. They shared a common theme of still life painting within the Texas Regionalist style and painted their works in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Modern Artists of Note

Another modern Texas artist of note is Bruce Marshall. Marshall is known for his portrayal of Texas historic events and persons. His depictions of military uniforms and the accuracy of his detailing has earned high praises. He has written and published books on early Texas history and uniforms. His art was renowned enough to be knighted for his accomplishments, so that he is now known as “Sir Bruce Marshall”. He and his wife reside in the Austin, Texas area on land that has been in his family since colonial Texas.

JOHNNIE LILIEDAHL is another Texas artist with an international reputation. Her instruction and art are in demand around the world. People from Europe, Australia and Asia attend her classes to learn how she captures her subjects in a classic realistic stye reminiscent of the European masters. Johnnie continues teaching art classes at her studio in La Porte, Texas.

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