Nichols, Perry Boyd (1911–1922)


By: Camila Ordorica Bracamontes

Type: Biography

Published: January 24, 2022

Updated: February 8, 2022


Perry Boyd Nichols was a Dallas artist and accomplished mural painter who was part of the Dallas Nine, a group of Regionalist artists active in the 1930s and early 1940s. He was born on November 9, 1911, in Dallas to William Lemmon Nichols and Mary Solena (Smith) Nichols. He developed his interest in art at an early age while attending Vickery Place School in East Dallas, and he received a scholarship to study under Frank Reaugh, known as the “Dean of Texas Artists.” In 1925 Nichols began attending Bryan Street High School in Dallas. In 1927 he attended sketching classes taught by Alexandre Hogue in Glen Rose, Texas. In 1928 Nichols transferred to Woodrow Wilson High School, where Eleanor Benners was an art teacher. Benners, who had previously instructed Nichols at Bryan Street High School, was a major influence on the young artist, and he served as art editor for the school’s yearbook. He exhibited art at the Dallas Art Association’s First Allied Arts Exhibition of Dallas County in April 1928. Nichols regularly contributed artwork to the annual exhibition until 1948 and won major prizes several times.

After graduating from high school in 1929, he enlisted in the United States Army to be trained a pilot. He signed up for three years and was stationed at Kelly Field in San Antonio. After a year of serving Nichols already wanted out and obtained a discharge by purchase. To raise the money he staged a solo exhibition at the Highland Park Town Hall art gallery. He was honorably discharged in March 1931. He also studied under Frank Klepper

In February 1932 Nichols exhibited his work, alongside eight others, at the Free Public Art Gallery of Dallas in an exhibition entitled Exhibition of Young Dallas Painters. This showing gave the name to the Dallas Nine. He was a member of the Dallas Artists League and the Frank Reaugh Art Club; designed sets for the Dallas Little Theater and other productions; participated in the Alice Street Carnival, serving as chairman of the decoration committee in 1933; and assisted with murals and sculptures for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. In 1938 he became one of the founding members of the Lone Star Printmakers, an organization established to collect prints and promote the art of printmaking. His work was included in the American Art Today Exhibition at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939. Nichols began painting murals in Dallas for the Public Works of Art Project during the Great Depression. By 1951 he was credited with decorating some 300 buildings from Mississippi to New Mexico. Some of his major Dallas commissions included murals for the Baker Hotel in 1936 and 1941, a Sears department store on Ross Avenue in 1947, the Lone Star Gas exhibit building at Fair Park in 1948, and the lobby of the Dallas Morning News building in 1949. According to the Dallas Morning News, his work on public and private buildings reflected his belief in the functionalism of art. Nichols also had interests in engineering and architecture. He built model planes, took architectural and interior design commissions, and even designed and built his own home in the early 1950s.

During World War II Nichols worked at the North American Aviation plant in Grande Prairie. After the war he co-founded a furniture company. Nichols had experience building furniture, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts had even hosted an exhibition of his furniture in 1935. He left the company after a short time, though he continued to make furniture. In 1945 Nichols joined the faculty of the Hockaday School in Dallas and filled the position of his old instructor Alexandre Hogue as the head of the art department until 1948, when he quit in order to concentrate on his art career. That year he rented an old frame church building in Dallas and turned it into an art studio. Through this he earned the sobriquet “Reverend Nichols.” Nichols turned the building into a “mecca for assorted artists and craftsmen,” where he also taught art classes. He stated that his studio made a profit of $3,000 to $7,000 a year. In this building Nichols also held exhibitions, such as one that he presented in 1950 on Japanese prints, ceramics, and books. Nichols continued to show his work at exhibition spaces located primarily in Dallas, including the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Joseph Sartor Galleries (1961), the Atelier Chapman Kelly Gallery (1962), and Southern Methodist University (1971). Later in his career he became well-known for his trompe-l’oeil paintings.

Nichols married several times. He married fellow Dallas artist Mary Nell Brooks, sister of James D. Brooks, in 1937. They had two children, Christopher Perry and David Trelawney Nichols, prior to their divorce in 1947. On October 20, 1950, he wed Maude Elizabeth Akin in Dallas. They divorced around 1956 when Nichols left her for his third wife, Diana Nan (Hamon) Fisher, daughter of Jake Louis Hamon. The couple had a son, Carlos “Pepe” Hamon Nichols, but later divorced. On May 17, 1968, Nichols married Martha “Marty” (Denious) Hawn. Their marriage lasted until January 28, 1982, when they too divorced. Perry Nichols died of cancer in his hometown of Dallas on October 30, 1992.

Dallas Morning News, August 22, 1938; September 15, 1948; August 13, 1951. Christopher Perry Nichols Oral History Interview, University of North Texas, Oral History Collection, No. 1487, February 22, 2003. Perry Nichols Art Work and Papers, 1931–2003, Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Southern Methodist University. John E. Powers and Deborah D. Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists: A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas Before 1942 (Austin: Woodmont Books, 2000). Robert Stuth-Wade Oral History Interview, University of North Texas, Oral History Collection, No. 1499, February 19, 2003. Donald Stanley Vogel Oral History Interview, University of North Texas, Oral History Collection, No. 1493, March 13, 2003. 

Categories:
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Camila Ordorica Bracamontes, “Nichols, Perry Boyd,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/nichols-perry-boyd.

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January 24, 2022
February 8, 2022

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