Southern Methodist University

William Lester art work and papers

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Lester, William, 1910–1991
Title: William Lester art work and papers
Dates: 1930-1994
Abstract: William Lewis Lester, a Texas native, is known for his scenes of arid landscapes and everyday life in the southwest, mainly Texas and Oklahoma. Associated with the Texas regionalists beginning in the 1930s, Lester‘s early work reflects the group’s style and subject matter which he continued through the 1940s. In the 1950s, his work took a turn toward the abstract, an approach to painting that Lester chose to develop throughout the remaining years of his career. The collection includes artwork, clippings, correspondence, documents, photographs, publicity, and published works relating to his art and teaching career at the University of Texas at Austin.
Extent: 17 boxes, including 9 flat boxes (4 linear feet)
Language: Material is in English
Repository Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

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 family also grew during this time when he and his wife, Sylvia, whom he had married in 1938, 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.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Lester collection consists of six sketchbooks and archival materials that include clippings, correspondence, documents, photographs, publicity, and published works. The clippings are located in scrapbooks prepared by Lester and in archival files organized by dates. The documents, boxes, and files include five legal-size journals containing Lester’s working notes for paintings beginning in 1942 through 1965, and documents relating to Lester’s art and teaching career at the University of Texas at Austin. The photograph files contain images of Lester and his art work and the publicity and published works files consists of invitations, brochures, and catalogues from Lester’s art exhibitions.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized alphabetically into 7 series:
Series 1: Artwork
Series 2: Clippings
Series 3: Correspondence
Series 4: Documents
Series 5: Photographs
Series 6: Publicity
Series 7: Published Works


Access to Collection:

Collection is open for research use. Appointment with curatorial staff at Hamon Library is required.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the staff of Jerry Bywaters Special Collections.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Artists -- Texas.
Art, American -- Southwest, New -- 20th century.

Related Materials

This is one of the visual art collections in Bywaters Special Collections that concentrates on the art of Texas and the Southwest. Related materials are located in the Bywaters Special Collections of the Hamon Arts Library of Southern Methodist University.

William Lester Slide Collection at the Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin (

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

William Lester art work and papers, Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

Gift, Mrs. Sylvia B. Lester, 1993, 1996, 2000.

Custodial History

The William Lester Collection was donated to Bywaters Special Collections in four parts, 1993, 1996 (two gifts), and 2000, by his wife, Mrs. Sylvia B. Lester.

Processing Information

The William Lester art work and papers were donated in four parts beginning in 1993. The contents of each gift were divided into separate archival files for clippings, correspondence, documents, photographs, publicity, and published works. The correspondence was divided into two boxes – one box contains correspondence Lester kept in an expandable alphabetic file and the second box contains correspondence received in brown envelopes. The photographs were housed separately in an archival box. The newspaper clippings were copied onto acid-free paper and placed in an archival box. The original newspaper clippings were stored in a separate archival box. The sketchbooks and scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings were placed in large flat archival boxes for storage.

Processed by

Leslie Sookma, 1993.

Ellen Buie Niewyk, 2009.

Finding aid written by

Ellen Buie Niewyk, 2009.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla, 2009.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Artwork

The artwork consists of six sketchbooks containing primarily quick working sketches by William Lester. Most of the pages have been washed with watercolor as a background color for future sketches drawn with white, brown, and black charcoal. The sketches are of city scenes, landscapes, geometric shapes, or simple line drawings.
1 Untitled, n. d., sketchbook ("The Alamo" brand sketchbook; round metal spiral missing), 18" x 12", 13 gray-colored sheets, with sketches in white and black charcoal, some sketches are on front and back and of each page. The quick sketches are of landscapes, animals, and individuals.
Untitled, n. d. , sketchbook ("Strathmore Alexis Drawing" brand spiral bound sketchbook), 14" x 11", 22 cream-colored pages, with watercolor washes in gray. Five of the washes have simple line drawings done in white highlights and dark brown.
Untitled, n. d., sketchbook ("Strathmore Alexis Drawing" brand spiral bound sketchbook), 14" x 11", 22 cream-colored pages, with watercolor washes in gray, green, and beige. 20 of the pages have city and landscape sketches in dark brown, white, and black charcoal.
"William Lester, New York, 1954," sketchbook ("Ingrés Charcoal Sketchbook" brand spiral bound sketchbook), 14" x 11", 25 cream-colored pages, 16 sketches of city scenes drawn with black charcoal against a background of beige watercolor wash, and 8 pages with beige watercolor wash alone.
2 Untitled, n. d., sketchbook ("Raritan" brand spiral bound sketchbook), 24" x 18", 10 light-brown watercolor washes painted on cream-colored paper. Two pages are detached and have black and white geometric designs painted on the watercolor wash.
Untitled, n. d., sketchbook ("Raritan" brand spiral bound sketchbook), 24" x 18", 16 light-brown, beige, and gray watercolor washes on cream-colored paper. Three pages are detached – 2 are gray watercolor washes and one is a collage with yellow ochre watercolor.

Series 2: Clippings

This series consists of three scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings, one complete copy of the Jan. 30, 1955 issue of The Houston Post, and 9 files of clippings documenting Lester’s life from the early development of his art career through his teaching career at the University of Texas at Austin.
3 Scrapbook containing newspaper clippings relating to Lester’s life and art career from 1930 – 1948.
4 Scrapbook containing newspaper clippings relating to Lester’s life and art career from 1948 – 1959.
5 Scrapbook containing newspaper clippings relating to Lester’s life and art career from 1960 – 1974.
6 The Houston Post, January 30, 1955, Sunday Edition, Near Terlingua by William Lester reproduced in Section B, page 1.
Box Folder
1 1 Clippings no dates
2 Clippings 1931 – 1937
3 Clippings 1940 – 1949
4 Clippings 1950 – 1955
5 Clippings 1956 – 1959
6 Clippings 1960 – 1969
7 Clippings 1970 – 1974
8 Clippings 1980 – 1987
9 Clippings 1990 – 1994

Series 3: Correspondence

The two correspondence boxes contain approximately 285 letters that concentrate on William Lester’s art, family, and his teaching career at the University of Texas. The first box contains correspondence kept by Lester in an expandable alphabetical file. The second box contains correspondence organized by Lester.
Box Folder
2 1 "B"
2 "C"
3 "E"
4 "F"
5 "H"
6 "K"
7 "L"
8 "M"
9 "N"
10 "O"
11 "P"
12 "R"
13 "S"
14 "W"
15 "Y"
Box Folder
3 1 1950s
2 1960s
3 1970s
4 1980s
5 "Holiday Greetings"
6 "Annual Appointments, 1942 – 1986"
7 Letters from Lester to his family, 1948 - 1959

Series 4: Documents

The flat boxes contain five legal-size journals kept by William Lester with his working notes regarding artwork in process and one journal with notes about his classical music collection. Ten documents files housed in one documents box contain information regarding Lester’s artwork, exhibitions, loans, and trips to Mexico.
7 "Journal" book containing Lester’s documentation of artwork in process from 1943 – 1948
"Record" book containing Lester’s documentation of artwork in process: "Record of Painting & Drawing," "WM. Lester, February, 1951"
"Record" book containing Lester’s documentation of artwork in process: "1948 – 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954"
"Record" book containing Lester’s documentation of artwork in process: "1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959"
"Record" book containing Lester’s documentation of artwork in process: "1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965", "WM. Lester, June, 1960"
8 Handwritten notes made by William Lester regarding his classical phonograph record collection.
Box Folder
4 1 no dates
2 1940s
3 1950s
4 1960s
5 1970s
6 1980s
7 "Biographical"
8 "Exhibition – UT Austin – 1974"
9 "Works on Loan"
10 "Map of Mexico"

Series 5: Photographs

These eighteen photographs files contain images of William Lester and his work.
PS-Box Folder
1 1 Negatives – Paintings, no dates
2 Negatives – Paintings, no dates
3 Negatives – Paintings, no dates
4 Photographs – Paintings, no dates
5 Photographs – Paintings, no dates
6 Photographs – Paintings, no dates
7 Photographs – Paintings, no dates
8 Photographs – Paintings, 1930s
9 Photographs – Paintings, 1940s
10 Photographs – Paintings, 1940s
11 Photographs – Paintings, 1950s
12 Photographs – William Lester, no dates
13 Photographs – William Lester, ca. 1980s
14 35mm Slides – Paintings, 1940s, 1950s, no dates
15 2 ¼" x 2 ¼" color transparencies – paintings, no dates
16 2 ¼" x 2 ¼" color transparencies – paintings, no dates
17 2 ¼" x 2 ¼" color transparencies – paintings, no dates
18 2 ¼" x 2 ¼" color transparencies – paintings, no dates

Series 6: Publicity

The one flat box and twelve publicity files contain posters, invitations, announcements, and brochures from Lester’s exhibitions in Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.
9 Two Posters – "Paintings by William Lester," January 7 – February 5, 1962, Regent’s Room, Main Building, Department of Art, the University of Texas
Box Folder
5 1 no dates
2 1930s
3 1940s
4 1940s
5 1950s
6 1950s
7 1960s
8 1960s
9 1970s
10 1970s
11 1980s
12 1990s

Series 7: Published Works

The one flat box and thirteen published works files contain catalogues and magazines relating to the artist’s career.
9 Life magazine, November 29, 1954 and June 6, 1955
Box Folder
6 1 no dates
2 1930s
3 1940 – 1946
4 1947 – 1949
5 1950 – 1951
6 1952 – 1953
7 1954
8 1955
9 1956
Box Folder
7 1 1957 – 1959
2 1960 – 1964
3 1965 - 1969
4 1970 - 1971