About the Artist
William Lewis Lester was born on August 20, 1910 in Graham, Texas to John Lewis and Mildred Matilda Lester. In 1924, the Lester family moved to Dallas where William attended Bryan Street High School for three years. There he met fellow artist Perry Nichols. In the fall of 1927, while on a sketching trip with Nichols, Lester picked up crayons and began sketching in color for the first time - an experience that opened his eyes up the world of color on an autumn day in Texas. Lester spent his senior year at Woodrow Wilson High School where he graduated in 1929. His interest in art thrived during his high school days when he drew cartoons and art work for the school newspapers and annuals. In 1927, he spent the summer at Alexandre Hogue’s art camp in Glen Rose, Texas, and attended classes at the Dallas Art Institute where he took classes from Tom Stell, who had arrived at the school in 1929. During the summers of 1931 and 1932 he studied painting at Olin Travis’s farm in Arkansas.
In 1931 Lester was already showing his work with other Dallas artists such as Jerry Bywaters, Alexandre Hogue, and Reveau Bassett at the Joseph Sartor Galleries in Dallas and would later, in 1932, have a one-man show at the gallery. In that same year, Lester exhibited with eight other Texas artists at the Dallas Public Art Gallery in the Exhibition of Young Dallas Artists (All young men under thirty years of age). Several of these Texas regionalist artists formed a solid bond and promoted their interpretation of austere Texas and Southwest landscapes and everyday scenes through their paintings and prints. Lester supported himself during the hard economic times of the 1930s by working at art-related jobs. From 1934 – 35 he served as a staff artist for the Civilian Conservation Corps stationed at Palo Duro Canyon and at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and from 1935 – 1936 and in 1942 he worked as a draftsman for Dallas Power and Light Company. While spending time in the remote areas of the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, Lester studied the rocky landscapes, a particular subject of interest for the young artist that he would later incorporate into his art work including his painting Oklahoma Rocks, which was exhibited in the Centennial Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts in 1936 at the newly opened Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. In that same year, Lester exhibited his painting, In Oklahoma, in the First National Exhibition of American Art at Rockefeller Center in New York City and in 1939 showed two paintings in two major American exhibitions: The Three Crosses in the New York World’s Fair Exhibition American Art Today and Empty Silo in San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. Lester was also interested in printmaking, mainly lithography, and always included prints in the Lone Star Printmakers annual shows from their founding in 1938 through the group’s last circuit in 1942.
Lester’s private life also changed during this time when he married Sylvia Bachrach. Her friend at Southern Methodist University, Madge Schooley, who socialized with Dallas artists, including William Lester, introduced him to Sylvia. Three months after they met, Sylvia left for New York City with her friend, Madge, where she worked for a publisher of home-making pamphlets until Lester’s letters persuaded her to return to Dallas where they married in 1938. Together, they had a daughter, Edith, born in 1939 and a son, Paul David, born in 1942. Aside from art, Lester was also interested in classical music and was an avid collector of music albums.
From 1940 to 1942, Lester worked as a teacher in the museum school at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and had solo exhibitions at the museum in 1940 and 1947. His reputation as artist and teacher grew in the Texas art community. In 1942, Loren Mozley, chairman of the department of art at the University of Texas in Austin, offered Lester a position as an instructor in art. Lester served as the department’s chairman from 1952 – 1954 and, in 1956, was appointed professor of art. Lester continued to teach at the university until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1972. During the summers of 1949 and 1950 he taught at Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas, and beginning in 1952 through the 1970s began traveling to other countries to study art, including Mexico, Guatemala, France, and Italy. It was also during this time that Lester’s paintings began to take a turn toward the abstract with a bolder use of color – a trend which Lester continued through the 1960s and 1970s.
Amid his teaching responsibilities, Lester continued to show his work in museums and galleries including the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Austin’s Laguna Gloria Art Museum, faculty exhibitions at the University of Texas, the Shook-Carrington Gallery in San Antonio, and the Passedoit Gallery in New York City. He was also accepted into several annual exhibitions, including the Dallas Allied Art Exhibition, the Texas General Exhibition, and the Texas Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture (which toured the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, and San Antonio’s Witte Museum). Lester‘s exhibitions included the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1970, the Texas Painting & Sculpture: 20th Century exhibition which opened at Southern Methodist University in 1971 and traveled to the Witte Museum in San Antonio, the University Art Museum in Austin, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, and The Museum on the Texas Tech University campus in Lubbock, and in 1974, a joint exhibition with fellow art department faculty member Constance Forsyth at the Archer M. Huntington Galleries at the University of Texas in Austin.
The 1980s brought a revival of interest for the Texas regionalist artists with the opening exhibition in the newly constructed Dallas Museum of Art, Lone Star Regionalism - The Dallas Nine and Their Circle, curated by Dr. Rick Stewart – an interest that remains strong today. In 1993 both Lester and his longtime UT art department colleague, Everett Spruce, were honored with an exhibition curated by Dr. Francine Carraro at the Laguna Gloria Art Museum: Companions in Time: the Paintings of William Lester and Everett Spruce. Lester died in Austin on November 27, 1991, yet his legacy continues through the many artists he taught at the University of Texas at Austin and the many artists he influenced throughout the state of Texas.
Carraro, Betty Francine. Painters of the Southwest Landscape; Otis Dozier, William Lester, Everett Spruce. MFA Thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1976.