Gonzales, Boyer, Jr. (1909–1987)

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: December 4, 2019

Boyer Gonzales, Jr., painter and teacher, was born in Galveston on February 11, 1909, the son of Eleanor (Hertford) and Boyer Gonzales, Sr. He grew up in an artistic milieu, particularly after his father built a summer studio in Woodstock, New York, a popular artists' colony, in 1919. In Woodstock he was befriended as the "kid down the block" by such artists as Birge Harrison, George Bellows, and Robert Henri. Gonzales attended elementary schools in Texas and New York before enrolling in Mercersburg Academy, a private boys' school in Pennsylvania, in 1924. He received a B.S. in architecture from the University of Virginia in 1931.

He subsequently spent four years studying painting in Woodstock under Henry Lee McFee, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Charles Rosen, Eugene Speicher, and his father. McFee, his most influential teacher, introduced him to the abstract landscape painting developed by Paul Cézanne, and painted abstractions of natural forms became a primary means of artistic expression for Gonzales. His talent was quickly recognized: in 1935 he participated in the Fourteenth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, and in 1936 he exhibited his work in group shows at Rockefeller Center, New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and the Texas Centennial Exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art).

Gonzales moved in 1937 to San Antonio, where he and McFee established the Museum School of Art under the auspices of the Witte Museum. Gonzales taught there until 1939, when he accepted a faculty position in the art department at the University of Texas in Austin. He continued to build his national reputation by exhibiting his work at the Corcoran Gallery (1939), the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco (1939), and the New York World's Fair (1939). At the regional level he participated in the Southern States Art League and Texas General competitive exhibitions, and in 1937 his first two solo exhibitions were presented by two Texas museums, the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

World War II interrupted Gonzales's art career; from 1942 to 1946 he served in the United States Army Air Corps and was stationed at bases in the United States, the Philippines, and Japan. After his discharge he married Elizabeth Cullyford Bole, on December 28, 1946, in Los Angeles; they had no children. The couple returned to Austin, where Gonzales chaired the university's art department for two years and resumed exhibiting his work in regional and national exhibitions. In 1954 he accepted a position as director of the School of Art at the University of Washington in Seattle, a post he held until 1966. Under his leadership the school became one of the largest in the College of Arts and Sciences. Gonzales was a member of the Seattle Municipal Art Commission from 1957 to 1960 and served as vice president and director of the National Association of Schools of Art. In 1975 he received the Governor's Award of Special Commendation "For a Distinguished Artistic Career as a Teacher and Inspiration to Young Artists in the State of Washington." He continued to teach until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1979.

During the course of his career Gonzales's style evolved from realism to bold abstraction of forms, patterns, and colors found in nature. Rocks, trees, sky, and shadows on a wall were some of the visual stimulants for his abstractions, which typically obscured any relationship to these objects. Gonzales used oils on canvas or panel and ink, pencil, or conté crayon on paper; he worked on a modest scale in order to imbue his works with intimacy. He claimed an interest "in personal responses that combine observation with intuition and imagination." He defined a successful work as one with "an inner spirit and life of its own." At his career's end Gonzales had participated in over forty group exhibitions and thirteen solo exhibitions. Three of the latter were retrospective exhibitions, mounted by the Whatcom County Museum of History and Art in Bellingham, Washington (1978); the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle (1979); and the Rosenberg Gallery in Galveston, Texas (1981).

Gonzales was a member of the Woodstock Art Association, the Southern States Art League, the Scarab Club, the College Art Association, and Tau Sigma Delta. He died on July 27, 1987, after a short illness. Examples of his work are in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Witte Memorial Museum, the Henry Art Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum.

Artists' Files, Dallas Museum of Art Library. Gonzales Family Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Cecilia Steinfeldt, The Texas Collection: Regional Art in the San Antonio Museum Association (MS, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Subject Files, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Victoria Advocate, April 12, 1981. Who's Who in America, 1974–75.

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  • Mexican Americans
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting

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

Kendall Curlee, “Gonzales, Boyer, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gonzales-boyer-jr.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995
December 4, 2019

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