Dallas Nine

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: General Entry

Published: September 1, 1995

Updated: January 24, 2022

The Dallas Nine, a group of painters, printmakers, and sculptors active in Dallas in the 1930s and early 1940s, turned to the land and people of the Southwest for artistic inspiration. "Nine" is somewhat misleading, as the group expanded and contracted at various points during the period it was active. The artists most closely identified with the name seem to have been the men who lobbied the Texas Centennial Commission unsuccessfully for the privilege of decorating the walls of the Hall of State, the main building of the Centennial Exposition in Dallas (1936). They were Jerry Bywaters, Thomas M. Stell, Jr., Harry P. Carnohan, Otis M. Dozier, Alexandre Hogue, William Lester, Everett Spruce, John Douglass, and Perry Nichols. Other artists closely associated with the group were Charles T. Bowling, Russell Vernon Hunter, Merritt T. Mauzey, Florence McClung, Don Brown, and Lloyd Goff. The sculptors Dorothy Austin, Michael G. Owen, Allie Victoria Tennant, and Octavio Medellín also participated in the Dallas Regionalist movement. The Dallas Nine flourished during a period when critics and theorists such as John Dewey, George Santayana, Constance Rourke, and Holger Cahill exhorted American artists to draw inspiration from their surroundings instead of following European trends. At the local level critics such as Henry Nash Smith, David R. Williams, and Alexandre Hogue promoted the Regionalist aesthetic in the pages of the Southwest Review. In his role as art critic for the Dallas Morning News and editor of the short-lived Southwestern Arts, Bywaters emerged as the leading spokesman of Regionalism in Dallas. A number of changes and new organizations in Dallas stimulated the development of the Dallas Nine circle. John S. Ankeny's arrival in 1929 as the first professional director of the Dallas Art Association (later the Dallas Museum of Art) invigorated what had become a somewhat stodgy organization. Ankeny and his successor, Lloyd Rollins, presented exhibitions of early Italian painters, Mexican muralists, and contemporary American lithographers, all of which had a strong effect on the young artists in the area. The museum-sponsored annual competitive Allied Arts Exhibition functioned as an important source of encouragement and public recognition for the Regionalist artists. The Dallas Artists League, an informal discussion group active from 1932 to 1936, provided a forum for the exchange of ideas and heightened the public profile of its artist members with the popular annual Alice Street Art Carnivals. Organizations such as the Dallas Art Institute, the Highland Park Society of Arts, the Dallas University Club, the Klepper Sketch Club, the Lawrence Art Galleries, and the Joseph Sartor Galleries further stimulated the Dallas artistic climate by exhibiting young artists' work. Members of the Dallas Nine received much-needed financial support with the beginning in 1933 of the federal Public Works of Art Project, which awarded mural commissions to many Regionalist artists. New Deal patronage of artists continued into the early 1940s under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration and the Treasury Section federal art project. The Centennial Exposition of 1936 was perhaps the most influential event in forging a group identity among the Dallas Regionalists. Although the Nine failed to secure the mural commissions for the Hall of State, they dominated the Texas section of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts exhibition, and were praised in the national as well as the local press.

For the most part, the Dallas Regionalists eschewed the abstraction of School of Paris artists in favor of naturalistic representation. Most of the painters in the group used tight brushwork and an earthy palette, working in a hard-edged style that broke away from the misty Impressionism of the Bluebonnet School of painters that had dominated Texas art in the early part of the twentieth century. The Dallas Regionalists focused on the people, land, and wildlife of the Southwest as their principal subject matter. Positive evocations of the region can be seen in works such as Mauzey's Neighbors (1938) and McClung's Squaw Creek Valley (1937). More characteristic of the group was Hogue's grim Drouth Stricken Era (1934), in which parched brown earth threatens to engulf farm buildings, a derelict windmill, and a skeletal cow standing beside an empty water tub. Such contemporary Mexican painters as Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco were major influences on the Dallas Regionalists, particularly in their use of murals and inexpensive prints as populist tools to increase regional pride and political awareness. Italian primitive painting of the Quattrocento and American folk art also influenced the composition and draftsmanship of many of the Dallas Regionalists. Members of the Nine were familiar with the work of Thomas Hart Benton and other nationally known Regionalists, but they rejected the nativism of the American-scene movement led by Benton and critic Thomas Craven. Indeed, Harry Carnohan and several other members of the group traveled and studied in Europe and shared their experiences with their colleagues upon their return. A Surrealist influence can be detected in certain works by Carnohan, Dozier, Lester, Nichols, and Bywaters; Dozier also experimented with the contradictory perspective schemes of Cubism in his award-winning Still Life With Striped Gourd (1935).

Sculptors associated with the Dallas Regionalists experimented with direct carving, a modernist rejection of traditional processes that frequently required technical assistance, thus distancing the artist from his materials. Dorothy Austin, Michael Owens, and Allie Tennant worked in a blocky, robust style, although Tennant also produced such streamlined figures as the Tejas Warrior (1936), placed above the entrance to the Hall of State. Octavio Medellín developed a powerful style inspired in part by the art of the Maya and Toltec Indians, and exerted considerable influence over young artists through his teaching posts at the Witte Museum, North Texas State Teachers College, Southern Methodist University, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

In the later 1930s printmaking, particularly lithography, became an important medium for the Dallas Regionalists. Initially spurred by the establishment of the Dallas Print Society in 1934 and its Print Center, which opened in 1937, experimentation in that medium accelerated after Bywaters and other members of the Dallas Nine formed the Lone Star Printmakers in 1938. Approximately fifteen artists contributed prints to a traveling exhibition in which impressions were offered for sale. Hogue, Bywaters, and Dozier were the most experienced printmakers when the group was formed, but by the time of the last circuit in 1942 Bowling and Mauzey had emerged as the outstanding talents in the group. The Lone Star Printmakers prompted the establishment of the Printmakers Guild of Dallas, a group of printmakers originally limited to women, which operated a print circuit from 1940 to 1965.

The influx of European émigrés to the United States during World War II produced a ferment of art activity that culminated in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Regionalism, sullied by its association with American Scene jingoism, became dated. Dozier, Spruce, Lester, and other Dallas artists injected new life into the Regionalist aesthetic by experimenting with a semiabstract style still rooted in Southwestern subject matter. Although the Dallas Nine ceased to operate as a group after its members scattered to pursue careers throughout the state and beyond, artists from that circle continued to do meaningful work and exerted a powerful influence over a new generation of artists through their positions as teachers and museum administrators. Their achievements as artists and teachers were celebrated in the Dallas Museum of Art's 1985 exhibition Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and Their Circle.

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

  • Visual Arts
  • Movements
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 Nine,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallas-nine.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995
January 24, 2022

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