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Recent gift brings new perspective to Bywaters’ work



Included in the recent gift was this sketch for his print, The Surgeons, held in the Jerry Bywaters Special Collections.

More than 250 drawings by Jerry Bywaters ’27 – a gift from his granddaughters to the Jerry Bywaters Special Collections housed in Hamon Arts Library – provide insight into the renowned artist’s creative process.

Katie Cummings of Houston and Leigh Swanson of Orlando, Florida presented the works of art to SMU in December 2013. “We are thrilled to be working with the third generation of the Bywaters family,” says Ellen Buie Niewyk ‘78, curator of the collections.

Several drawings are from the 1920s, when Bywaters was beginning his formal art training in Europe with SMU instructor Ralph Rountree, explains Sam Ratcliffe ’74, head of the Bywaters Special Collections.

“One drawing he made in Paris, France, during this period sheds light on items in the artist’s papers that have been housed at SMU for nearly 30 years,” Ratcliffe says. “For example, his papers hold a receipt from the Hotel Imperator, where Bywaters stayed while visiting Paris, and a self-portrait in this recent gift is inscribed with the name of the same hotel.”

Many of the drawings depict subjects familiar to individuals acquainted with the artist’s work, Niewyk says. These include sketches of ranches and rural scenes in Colorado and Texas, e.g., the famous Kokernot Ranch in the trans-Pecos region; small towns, such as Terlingua and Alpine; and preliminary sketches for the public library mural he painted in his hometown of Paris, Texas

Other works are preliminary sketches for two of his lithographs – False Fronts(1939) and The Surgeons(1940).

Even more unexpected are scenes of Virginia, Tennessee, St. Louis and Philadelphia, says Ratcliffe. “In all of these, Bywaters picked out elements specific to each area that made it distinctive,” he says. “Also present is how Bywaters could find inspiration from everyday objects, such as in his drawing of a Singer sewing machine on a front porch.”

Bywaters’ friendship with other artists is reflected in portrait sketches of Rountree, sculptor William Zorach and Adolph Dehn. “The latter drawing also has the touch of whimsy that sometimes characterized Bywaters’ portraits, depicting Dehn teaching a class in watercolor painting,” explains Ratcliffe.

“All in all, the drawings indicate the breadth of Bywaters’ artistic interests and also document the research activity that went into his work.”

This piece originally appeared in Central University Libraries 2013-2014 Annual Report.