Dallas Artists League

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: January 24, 2022

The Dallas Artists League, a group of artists, scholars, and patrons formed during the Great Depression, became a forum for promoting the regionalist aesthetic in the Southwest. The group was founded in May 1932 by arts patron May Selley Wyche, who envisioned a contemporary version of English coffeehouse meetings. In the beginning the group met on a weekly basis at the Wyche home on Alice Street near the Dallas Art Institute. The league was led by artists Nina Peeples and Vivian Stanley.

Every Tuesday night Cyril and May Wyche offered dinner at cost to some twenty to forty artists, after which a lecture was presented by a local or visiting person involved in the arts. A wide range of topics was discussed. In some of the outstanding lectures presented in the first year, for example, C. L. Lundell spoke on Mayan excavations, Stanley Marcus lectured on contemporary bookmaking, Talbot Pearson spoke on the Little Theater movement, and David R. Williams and O'Neil Ford lectured on early Texas and contemporary architecture. The league meetings also served as an arena for debate on the nature of art; regionalist art was promoted by such members as Henry Nash Smith and John H. McGinnis, both of whom were associated with the Southwest Review, and artists Jerry Bywaters and Alexandre Hogue. The league published a magazine edited by Bywaters, Southwestern Arts (1932–33), which focused on regionalist interests.

The Dallas Artists League provided an opportunity for local painters, sculptors, and craftsmen to exchange information and discuss problems on a regular basis. Harry P. Carnohan, for example, shared his knowledge of contemporary European art and his interest in early Italian Renaissance painters in a number of lectures after his return from Paris in 1932; Bywaters described his meetings with Diego Rivera and other Mexican muralists after a trip to Mexico City; artists Edward G. Eisenlohr, Frank E. Klepper, Dorothy Austin, Ruby Stone, Lloyd Goff, Perry Nichols, and Velma Davis reported on their experiences. Speakers were frequently grilled with questions and opposing points of view in an atmosphere that Bywaters described as "stimulating" and "often rowdy."

From 1932 to 1935 the league also sponsored the Alice Street art carnivals, which were influential in building a local following for regionalist artists. Inspired by the Washington Square art festivals in Greenwich Village, the Dallas Artists League staged the first art carnival on June 29–30, 1932. Both ends of Alice Street were closed off by the city, and seventy-six artists displayed their wares. Although sales were modest, the artists were encouraged by the attendance of 7,000 people and the positive publicity generated by the event. The league sponsored fairs at Alice Street for the following three years, each year attracting more participating artists and visitors. No carnival was organized in 1936, since many of the league members were involved in preparations for the Texas Centennial Exposition.

After the new museum building was erected at Fair Park in 1936, the locus of Dallas's art activity shifted to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art), and interest in the Dallas Artists League waned. The art carnival was moved to the grounds of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1939, where it was sponsored by the Museum League. The Lone Star Printmakers and the Printmakers Guild of Dallas, established in 1938 and 1940, respectively, provided new arenas for the exchange of ideas and mutual support among artists.

Jerry Bywaters, Seventy-Five Years of Art in Dallas: The History of the Dallas Art Association and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1978). Dallas Morning News, October 1, 1933. Jerry Bywaters Collection on the Art of the Southwest, Southern Methodist University. Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985).

  • Visual Arts
  • Organizations
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kendall Curlee, “Dallas Artists League,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallas-artists-league.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
January 24, 2022

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