Editor’s Note: This post officially kicks off a series of articles featuring special items found in artist files. The following comes from Jenny Stone, librarian at the Dallas Museum of Art. Thanks Jenny! Others who wish to contribute to the series, please contact one of the coordinators.
It’s not known when the Dallas Museum of Art’s Mayer Library artist file collection began. Based on contents found in the files, we know that major growth started in the 1940s when Jerry Bywaters, the director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, began sending out “Biographical Data” questionnaires to Texas regional artists.
Under the directorship of Bywaters, an artist himself, the DMFA turned a sharp focus towards regional art. To that end, Bywaters sought to create a centralized resource for information on artists of Texas and the Southwest in the museum’s library, which had opened to the public in 1944.
When looking through these questionnaires, it’s easy to feel a sense of connection. My favorite section is where artists are asked to identify their “best and most representative” works.
In addition to filling out the questionnaires, artists were asked to send glossies of recent work, some color slides, and a photograph of themselves at work. This material is often the only information available to researchers on some artists.
Assistance in keeping the files up to date was solicited from the artists as well. As Bywaters plainly stated, “…it is obviously impossible for our museum librarian to keep informed of the manifold of activities of the hundreds of Southwestern artists.” So true.