Perry Nichols art work and papers
A Guide to the Collection
Perry Boyd Nichols, a Dallas native, was born on November 9, 1911. His interest in art began while attending Vickery Place School where his teachers and principal noticed the young student’s art capability and secured a scholarship for him to study with Frank Reaugh. In 1925 the young Nichols entered Bryan Street High School where he met fellow artist William Lester in an art class taught by Eleanor Benners. In June, 1927 Nichols attended a Y.W.C.A. sketch camp near Glen Rose, Texas taught by Alexandre Hogue. Showing a strong aptitude in art, Nichols had two works, Under Construction and My Red Barn, selected for inclusion in the First Allied Arts Exhibition of Dallas County in 1928.
In the fall of 1928, Nichols transferred to Woodrow Wilson High School where his former art teacher, Eleanor Benners, was then teaching. Benners had just completed a 7-month study of advanced work in art at Columbia University in New York. In June of that year she was a member of the sketch class of the American modernist artist Charles James Martin at the Provincetown Art Colony in Massachusetts and in the summer of 1930 she was a member of the faculty of the fine arts department of the North Texas Teacher’s College in Denton. Benners had a great influence on Nichols during these formative years.
While at Woodrow Wilson High School, Nichols served as art editor of the school’s yearbook, Crusader, and in 1929 several of his works were accepted in the Second Annual Allied Art Exhibition of Dallas County, including Rock House at Glen Rose, Sunset, Country Road, A Country Barn, Fall, and Morning. In that same year, after graduating from high school, Nichols enlisted in the United States Army, signing up for three years. Always interested in airplanes, the young Nichols was stationed at Kelly Field in San Antonio. According to a contemporary press report, after one year, Nichols was ready to leave and staged a one-man show in the Highland Park Town Hall galleries in Dallas in order to raise money to buy his way out of the military. In March, 1931 he was granted an Honorable Discharge.
Nichols returned to Dallas and reinstated himself in the Dallas art world. In April of that year, two of his works, Farmstead and Animal Composition, were accepted in the Fourth Annual Allied Arts Exhibition of Dallas County and in January, 1932, his wall hangings were shown at the Joseph Sartor Galleries in Dallas. He also exhibited with eight other Texas artists at the Dallas Public Art Gallery in the Exhibition of Young Dallas Painters (All young men under thirty years of age). It was from this exhibition that the term "The Dallas Nine" originated. During this same period, Nichols worked with local theatres in designing sets and costumes. In December 1931, Nichols assisted with the set designs for the Dallas Little Theatre’s production of Clarence, which began his career in theatre set design. In 1932 he designed the sets for the Dallas Little Theatre’s production of Once in a Lifetime and in 1933 designed the sets, masks, and properties for the Theodore Kosloff production of David Guion’s Shingandi, performed in the Fair Park Auditorium in Dallas.
The 1930s were productive years for Nichols. He was a member of both the Dallas Artists’ League and the Frank Reaugh Art Club, and he participated in the popular local art carnival known as the Alice Street Carnival, serving as chairman of the decoration committee in 1933. In 1934, he painted the stage properties for the newly redecorated Dallas City Hall auditorium. Nichols also took up the art of woodworking, resulting in an exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1935, Perry Nichols: Modern Furniture. In the same year he received an honorable mention for his painting, Apparition, in the Seventh Annual Allied Arts Exhibition of Dallas. Nichols assisted with art projects at the Texas Centennial in 1936, and his work, Portrait of Nell, was included in The Centennial Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts. A year later Nichols, married Mary Nell Brooks, who herself was a respected artist in the Dallas art community.
Printmaking was another medium the young Nichols mastered. In 1938, he was one of the founding members of the Lone Star Printmakers and participated in the group’s first circuit of prints with his lithograph Post Oak. In the same year his painting, Flood Stage, received the Kiest Purchase Prize in the Ninth Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. The decade ended on a high note when Flood Stage was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.
Perry Nichols was also well known as an accomplished mural painter. During the 1930s and 1940s he painted murals for theatres and businesses. He first began painting murals for the Public Works of Art Project in Dallas. In 1936 the Baker Hotel opened in downtown Dallas, where his murals of classical figures of Greek mythology were showcased in the popular Mural Room. By 1940, Nichols had executed thirty murals, in cooperation with Dallas decorator Eugene Gilboe, for theatres and public buildings in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Mississippi. The most notable of those in Dallas were for the Arcadia, Inwood, and Lakewood movie houses. In 1941, Nichols returned to the Baker Hotel where he painted a sixty-two foot panel depicting Texas plants and animals in the hotel lobby. In 1947, Nichols painted five large murals for the Sears department store on Ross Avenue in Dallas depicting the history of the agriculture, oil, and cattle industries surrounding the city. A year later, he executed a large mural depicting a modern version of Mexico since the days of the Revolution of 1910 for the Lone Star Gas Company Exhibits Building at the State Fair of Texas. But Nichols is probably best remembered for the immense mural he completed in 1949, assisted by eight other artists, in the lobby of the Dallas Morning News Building, using his son, Christopher, as the model for the image of a newsboy.
Nichols art career continued to flourish in the 1940s. In 1941, two of his tempera paintings received awards: Texas Spring received a $100 prize in The Second Texas – Oklahoma General Exhibition and West Texas Snow received the $500 Hopkins Memorial Purchase Prize in the Twelfth Annual Dallas County Allied Arts Exhibition. The latter was also exhibited in the 52nd Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, October 30, 1941 – January 4, 1942, at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1945, his tempera painting, The Fight in the Corral, was the winner of the Ted Dealey Prize - a $300 War Bond - for best southwestern subject in the Sixteenth Allied Arts Exhibition, also held at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Nichols joined the faculty as Head of the Art Department at the Hockaday School in Dallas in 1945, a position he maintained until 1948 when he resigned to concentrate on his art career. Nichols opened his own gallery in 1950 in an old church building located at 4501 Cole Avenue in Dallas where he kept an art studio and taught art classes. He was affectionately dubbed "Reverend" Nichols by his friends and students. During the 1950s and 1960s Nichols began experimenting with the painting technique called "trompe l’oeil" [French for "trick the eye"]. Excelling in this technique, one of his best known "trompe l’oeil" paintings, The Red Queen, received the top State Fair of Texas Purchase Prize in the Fifteenth Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture in 1953 at the Dallas Museum of fine Arts. The $1000 dollar prize was divided between Nichols and Fort Worth artist, James W. Boynton, for his work Limestone Edge.
Nichols continued to produce and show his work during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1960, he created a 17 x 80 foot stone mosaic for the outside wall of the newly constructed Frisco Community Center. Nichols’ works were shown at the Joseph Sartor Gallery in 1961, the Atelier Chapman Kelly Gallery in 1962, and Leone Kahl Associates beginning in 1966. In 1968, Nichols exhibited his work alongside that of his son, David Nichols, a sculptor, in the newly constructed Kahl exhibition space "2719" located on Routh Street. In 1971, Nichols’s work was exhibited with 17 other artists in the Fairmount Gallery located on Sherry Lane in Dallas.
A renewed appreciation of the Texas regionalist artists of the 1930s and 1940s and their importance to the Texas and Dallas art world developed during the 1980s. Perry Nichols was among the artists whose work benefitted from this resurgence in Texas art. In 1985, his work was included in the Dallas Museum of Art exhibition Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and Their Circle, the inaugural exhibition in the newly constructed museum relocated to downtown Dallas, and, in 1986, the Dallas Morning News murals were restored in celebration of the newspaper’s sesquicentennial.
Perry Nichols died in Dallas, October 30, 1992, survived by his sons and fourth wife, Martha Denious Hawn Nichols.
Powers, John and Deborah. Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists: A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas before 1942. Austin: Woodmont Books, 2000.
Conversation with Dorothy Garland, Dallas, Texas, on January 29, 2010.
The Nichols collection consists of 11 works of art on paper and archival materials that include clippings, correspondence, documents, ephemera, photographs, publicity, and published works. The Nichols scrapbook contained artwork and archival material relating to the artist’s life and career. The items were removed for preservation purposes and placed in archival folders and boxes. A digitized copy of the scrapbook is available for viewing in Bywaters Special Collections. The archival material reflects Nichols’s diverse and multifaceted art career which included painting, printmaking, woodworking, and teaching. Supporting material consists of invitations to gallery openings, photographs of his family and friends, including some from his military days in San Antonio, and images of his paintings, murals, and "trompe l’oeil" work.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use. Appointment with curatorial staff at Hamon Library is required.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the staff of Jerry Bywaters Special Collection.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Perry B. Nichols Collection, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.
Gift, Estate of Mrs. Martha D. Nichols, 2004.
The Perry B. Nichols Collection was donated to Bywaters Special Collections in 2004 (two gifts), by the family of Mrs. Martha D. Nichols.
The Perry Nichols’s scrapbook was scanned prior to the removal of paper and photographic items for preservation purposes due to the acidic content of the scrapbook pages. A complete copy of the scrapbook was duplicated and is available for researchers. The scrapbook page number for each item removed was recorded for archival purposes. Photographs were separated and stored in archival boxes.
Processed by Ellen Buie Niewyk, 2010.
Ellen Buie Niewyk, 2010.
Lara Corazalla, 2010.
Detailed Description of the Collection