Texas may not be first in line in terms of American art destinations, but the Lone Star State is rich in art world credibility. It is the former stomping grounds of Robert Rauschenberg and Donald Judd, among many major artists, and serves as home to a myriad of cultural institutions and private collections from the established Dallas Museum of Art to the trendy Ballroom Marfa. Texas is also the site of almost one hundred Work Progress Administration murals, created in Post Offices in the mid-1930s and early ’40s by unemployed artists—many of whom crossed paths with Diego Rivera and the Mexican Muralists. We take a look at five American Modernists and regionalist painters who were working in Texas during the Depression era.
Olin Travis(1888–1975): Born in Dallas in 1888, Travis Studied painting and taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, before founding the Dallas Art Institute in 1926, and his own artist colony in the Ozark mountains thereafter. Travis created genre scenes and landscapes marked by thin layers of paint, melancholic themes, and careful details. He completed many murals for Dallas businesses and schools, and was commissioned by Howard Hughes Jr. to create a set of murals exalting the oil industry for the Hughes Tool Company in Houston, which are now available through Russell Tether Fine Art.
Otis Dozier (1904–1987): Born in Forney, Texas, Dozier is known as one of the “Dallas Nine,” a group of regionalist artists working in Texas in the 1930s and ’40s who created naturalist works inspired by the landscapes and people of the Southwest. By the mid-1940s, Dozier had refined his style and took on a muted, earthy palette, focusing on scenes depicting the troubles of farmers during the Depression. Dozier and his wife, Velma, a jeweller and ceramist, became major cultural figures in Dallas and were celebrated in an exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1974, “A Salute to the Doziers of Dallas.”
Seymour Fogel (1911–1984): Fogel was born in New York but worked extensively in Texas; a member of the Art Students League, early in his career he met Diego Rivera, who invited him to be an assistant on his controversial Man at the Crossroads mural at Rockefeller Center. Fogel went on to create many murals for the WPA, seven in Texas, in a Social Realist manner like Rivera. Fogel moved to Texas in 1946, where he taught at the University of Texas at Austin.
William Lester (1910–1991): Born in Graham, Texas in 1910, Lester moved to Dallas in his teens and studied among other notable Texan artists including Perry Nichols, Alexandre Hogue, Thomas Stell, and Olin Travis. He too is considered a member of the “Dallas Nine” and chose to portray regionalist scenes, often creating landscape paintings and prints with a touch of Surrealism. Lester was widely exhibited and recognized during his lifetime; in 1936 he was featured in the Texas Centennial and the First National Exhibition of Art at Rockefeller Center.
Everett Spruce (1908–2002): Another Texas Regionalist artist, Spruce was born in Arkansas, and like Fogel, he spent many years as a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His artistic career began at a young age, when a traveling sign painter gave him a few tubes of oil paint; he was influenced by growing up near the Ozark Mountains on his father’s farm. Word of his skill reached Olin Travis at his nearby summer colony, where Spruce was invited to take up a residency. He exhibited with Dozier and Lester, and became known as one of the Texas Regionalist painters, painting scenes from his daily life that earned him inclusion in exhibitions from New York to San Francisco in the 1930s.