Olin Herman Travis, painter and art teacher, son of Olin Few and Eulalia (Moncrief) Travis, was born in Dallas on November 15, 1888. Upon his graduation from the Metropolitan Business College, Travis began to study art with R. Jerome Hill in Dallas. At the age of twenty-one he began his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago under Kenyon Cox, Charles Francis Browne, Ralph Clarkson, and Henry Walcott. After graduation from the Institute in 1914, Travis stayed on as an instructor and remained there until he became director of the newly established Chicago Commercial Art School. After leaving Chicago he spent a few years doing landscape sketches in the Great Lakes region, Florida, and the Ozark Mountains. During this time he married one of his former art students, Kathryne Hail of Ozark, Arkansas. They then returned to Chicago where they set up an art school. In 1923 they moved to Dallas and opened a studio. They founded the Dallas Art Institute in 1926 and Olin Travis acted as its director until 1941. The couple also established a summer colony for artists in the Ozark Mountains in 1926.
Olin Travis exhibited works in local and national shows, including an exhibition of his works at the 1923 State Fair of Texas and a first-prize entry in the 1927 exhibition of the works of Texas artists in Nashville, Tennessee, organized by the Texas Fine Arts Association. He exhibited in the Sixteen Cities exhibition in 1933 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and he had a solo exhibition at the Dallas Institute in 1934. In 1953 the Dallas Museum of Art mounted 50 Years of Painting in Dallas: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Olin Travis. His work was included in a group show, Texas Painting and Sculpture: the 20th Century, which traveled to several Texas museums in 1971. His last solo exhibition, a retrospective, was held at the Dupree Gallery in Irving in 1974 and caused one reviewer to compare his work to that of Winslow Homer. Travis is represented in the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art and of the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin. He painted landscapes, genre scenes, and portraits; his style is characterized by a thin application of paint, a somber mood, and close attention to detail. Murals by Travis provide background for exhibits at Fair Park's Museum of Natural History, Hall of State, and Wax Museum. Several other murals are in schools and businesses in the Dallas area. The artist, responding to a questionnaire in 1957, chose Red and Black (1923) and Lakeside (1955) as among his best works. Travis's works The Ozarks, The Shower, Country School House, Portrait of Fannie Kahn, and others are held by the Dallas Museum of Art. Some of his better-known works are Shelling Peas, West Texas Skies, Lincoln Park, Misty Morning, and Headwaters of the Concho. Travis was a founding member of the Southern States Art League and a trustee of the Dallas Art Association. He continued to paint and exhibit until his death in 1975.