William Lester

William Lester

William Lester (American, 1910-1991)

William Lewis Lester, painter and art teacher, was the son of John Lewis and Mildred Matilda (Padgett) Lester, was born in Graham, Texas, on August 20, 1910. He had nine sisters. He moved to Dallas with his family in 1924 and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School there in 1929. 

He then studied at the Dallas Art Institute with Thomas M. Stell, Jr., and Olin H. Travis, while associating with other young artists, including Alexandre Hogue, Jerry Bywaters, Otis M. Dozier, Everett Spruce, and Perry Nichols, among others.   

He was an active member of the Dallas Artists League beginning with its formation in 1932. During the Great Depression era, the members formed a nucleus of artists who led in the development of a Texas Regionalist style. At the time, Dallas was one of the strongest and most dynamic centers of the regional art movement in the country. 

In 1938 many of the Dallas artists, including Lester, formed the Lone Star Printmakers. For the next four years they created and exhibited their lithographic prints. The impetus for this activity for these young, financially poor artists was the chance to explore a new medium and to display their work without incurring the higher costs associated with crating, shipping, and insuring paintings and sculpture. 

Also in 1938 Lester married Sylvia Louise Bachrach of Dallas; they were married for fifty-three years and had two children. 

Lester spent two summers in the early 1930s painting at Olin Travis's cabin in rural Arkansas. He served as a staff artist with the Civilian Conservation Corps at Palo Duro Canyon and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1934-35. During the latter part of the 1930s, he earned his livelihood as a draftsman with Texas Power and Light in Dallas while he continued to paint. From 1940 to 1942 he taught at the school of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (later the Dallas Museum of Art). 

Lester joined the faculty of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin in 1942 and taught there until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1972. He served as chairman of the art department from 1952 to 1954. During the summers of 1949 and 1950, he was guest professor at Sul Ross College in Alpine, Texas. William Lester died November 27, 1991, in Austin. 

The Dallas movement in which Lester played a central role reflected the distinct influence of the local environment. The artists' paintings characteristically projected an intensely subjective approach to the landscapes and other subject matter around them within an American Scene and surrealist aesthetic. Their work revealed an interest in ideas and in distinct forms rather than in illustration. They rejected imitations of established artistic styles, such as impressionistic treatments of nature, and renditions of conventional local subjects, such as bluebonnet fields. 

For a time, Lester's subject matter remained allied with the American Scene movement, but his treatment became looser and more abstract. His paintings of natural scenes, buildings, and people became very personalized and gestural. Color became more vibrant and central to his work, as did his emphasis on strong composition. His admiration of certain Mexican artworks, particularly the striking combinations of brilliant color by Rufino Tamayo, influenced his own use of color from the mid-1950s onward. By the mid-1960s many of his paintings tended toward complete abstraction. 

Lester exhibited widely and achieved considerable recognition during his career. He first gained national attention as one of the exhibitors at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in 1936. In that same year, his work was shown at the First National Exhibition of American Art at the Rockefeller Center in New York. His paintings were also shown at other expositions and museums around the country, including the Pan American Exposition in Dallas (1937), the Golden Gate Exposition, and the New York World's Fair Exhibition (1939). It was also shown at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts (1940), the Brooklyn Museum (1941), the Fine Arts Society of San Diego (1941), the Art Institute of Chicago (1942), the Denver Art Museum (1944), the Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, San Francisco (1952), the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1955), and the Pan American Union, Washington, D.C. (1968). In addition, his work was shown repeatedly at major art museums in Texas. 

Some of his major solo exhibitions were at the Passadoit Gallery in New York (1948, 1950, 1953); the Dayton (Ohio) Art Institute (1949); Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (1970); and at numerous museums and galleries throughout Texas.

Selected Biographical and Career Highlights 

·       1910, Born in Graham

·       1924, Moves to Dallas

·       1928, Studies with Alexandre Hogue

·       1930-32, Studies at the Dallas Art Institute

·       1929-32, 1935-36, 1942, Draftsman for Dallas Power and Light Company 

·       1940-42, Instructor at Dallas Museum of Fine Arts

·       1942-72, Professor at University of Texas, Austin

·       1952-54, Chairman of art department, University of Texas, Austin

·       1949-50, Summer Instructor at Sul Ross State College, Alpine

·       1991, Died in Austin, Texas

Selected Exhibitions

·       1930-33, 1935, 1937-42, Annual Allied Arts Exhibition, Dallas

·       1932, 1935, 1957, 1978, 1985, Dallas Museum of Art

·       1936, 1938, National Exhibition of American Art, Rockefeller Center, New York

·       1936, Texas Centennial Exposition, Dallas

·       1939, American Art Today Exhibition, New York World’s Fair

·       1940-45, 1947-48, Texas General Exhibition 

·       1941, Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio

·       1941, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

·       1948, 1950, 1953, solo shows, Passadoit Gallery, New York

·       1949, solo show, Dayton Art Institute, Ohio

·       1950, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

·       1951, 1959, National Academy of Design, New York

·       1970, solo show, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Selected Public Collections

·       Blanton Museum of Art, Austin

·       Texas A&M University, College Station

·       Dallas Museum of Art

·       Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

·       Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

·       McNay Art Museum, San Antonio

·       Witte Museum, San Antonio

·       Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

·       Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Austin American-Statesman, November 25, 1960, January 25, December 27, 1970. Jerry Bywaters Collection on the Art of the Southwest, Southern Methodist University. Betty Francine Carraro, Painters of the Southwest Landscape: Otis Dozier, William Lester, Everett Spruce (M.F.A. thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1976). Christian Science Monitor, October 30, 1948. Dallas Morning News, February 28, 1954. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 13, 1956, January 14, 1968. Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985). The Texas Hill Country: Interpretations by Thirteen Artists (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981).


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