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  • Dawson Dawson-Watson, The Texas Years

 

Dawson Dawson-Watson
The Texas Years

Dawson Dawson-Watson was in Boston in 1926 when he received a letter from an old friend announcing the Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibition. Edgar B. Davis, oil pioneer and philanthropist of Luling, Texas was offering $5,000, the largest cash prize ever to be awarded to an artist. Dawson-Watson sold a painting almost immediately to cover the fare to San Antonio, and he and his wife Dot (so named affectionately by Dawson-Watson as she was very tiny in stature) set off.

On their journey to San Antonio, the Dawson-Watsons stayed with friends in St. Louis. When asked where they were headed now, Dawson replied, “Texas.” He related that his friends were amused as they thought he was surely headed for the wild and wooly west where art was scarce, but Dawson said that he knew better as he had been to San Antonio before and knew the Texans appreciated the beauty of their land.

Dawson entered three paintings, each with a beautifully hand carved frame, for the Wildflower Competition, “The Glory of the Morning”, “Flowers of the Field”, and “Spring”. Dawson wrote that he had never been a prize winner and that the most he actually expected of the competition was to make a few sales. Can you imagine his surprise and delight when his painting, “The Glory of the Morning” won the $5,000 prize? According to his own account of the evening banquet when the winners were announced, he fell forward on the table and “passed out” so to speak. Bernhardt Wall slapped him on the back, and said, “Stand up you d—-d fool and say something.” Somehow he managed to rise to his feet, bow, and say, “Thank you.”

 

“The Glory of the Morning”, is on display at the Luling Foundation in  Luling, Texas.
The foundation’s website states, “The Glory of the Morning” is a shining example of Dawson-Watson’s landscape art.
Photo courtesy of the Luling Foundation

 

Dawson Dawson-Watson with Jury of Davis Wildflower Competition 1927 pixel sized for Article
Dawson Dawson-Watson with Jury of Edgar B. Davis Wildflower Competition 1927.
Left to Right: Henry Bayley Snell, unknown, Dawson Dawson-Watson,
Charles Curran, Edouard Leon.
Dawson Dawson-Watson Family Archives

 

It is interesting, some might say, as to why Dawson-Watson chose to paint the cactus flower, a plant that had usually been considered unworthy of attention. In his own words Dawson-Watson declared, “Your bluebonnets are lovely, graceful, but they lack the striking individuality of the cactus…It seems to me that its centuries of blooming in the Texas sun has actually transferred some of the sunshine to the golden cactus flower. For character and color it is the most interesting flower you have.”

 

Dawson Dawson-Watson at the Gallagher Ranch pixel sized
Dawson Dawson-Watson
Dawson Dawson-Watson Family Archives

 

The Gallagher Ranch north of San Antonio just off the Bandera Road was one of the first dude ranches in Texas. When visitors to this Bandera Hill Country ranch in the 1920s turned off the main road and drove through the ranch gates, they continued to drive for a couple of miles. The road gently wound its way through a landscape of cedar and live oak brush before arriving at the Gallagher Ranch quadrangle, a complex of hand-quarried limestone buildings, the living quarters and center of social activity at the ranch. The Gallagher was not only a dude ranch, but a working ranch as well with real cowboys and ranch hands tending to the cattle and goats.

 

Dawson Dawson-Watson Painting Cowboy Slick Jones at the Gallagher Ranch pixel sized
Dawson Dawson-Watson painting cowboy Slick Jones at the Gallagher Ranch
Dawson Dawson-Watson Family Archives

 

It was here at the Gallagher Ranch, out in the brush alongside the San Geronimo Creek and under the azure Texas sky that Dawson-Watson sat down on the ground, propped up his canvas and painted the cactus flowers. Always attired as the English gentleman, family photographs confirm this, he took to the hardy brush dressed in a linen suit and hat, white cravat, and spats.

 

Dawson Dawson-Watson Painting in the Texas Brush pixel sized
Painting in the Brush
Dawson Dawson-Watson Family Archives

 

“LET-‘ER GO GALLAGHER” was the newsletter of the ranch, “Published Ever-Once-In-A-While: At The Change of The Moon”. A March 1934 edition of the newsletter is filled with the comings/goings, parties and commentaries about the “dudes”.

The Gallagher newsletter may have reminded Dawson-Watson of his younger days in Giverny, France and Scituate, Massachusetts when he and his artist friends wrote, illustrated and printed news about themselves and their community in small paper booklets entitled “The Courrier Innocent”. There is no evidence that Dawson-Watson created the newsletter for the Gallagher Ranch, but he certainly contributed to it with comments, drawings and a poem or two as follows:

 

At the Gallagher Ranch, out Helotes way,
When I get fed up, I head from town
Our days and nights are always gay.
To fool around and play the clown.

Where the food is excellent, horses fine
At the Gallagher Ranch out Helotes way
And the air is tonic and acts like wine.
Where your days and nights are always gay.

D.D-W.

 

Dot, an accomplished musician, was also an active participant in the fun and festivities of the ranch. In the March 1934 newsletter, it is noted that she organized charades, cowboy songs, the Ranch Orchestra, and Spanish dances by the Mexican Senioritas at a gala birthday party for Mrs. Pancoast Kidder.

The Dawson-Watsons fell in love with San Antonio, and after the 1927 Wildflower Competition decided to make San Antonio their permanent home. And why not? San Antonio not only had historic Spanish Missions, the picturesque La Villita, but also an emerging art scene. The Davis Competition had called attention to San Antonio, and artists were responding by moving there, with some establishing art studios and schools.

The Witte Museum was opened in 1926. At some point, when the museum ran into difficulty, possibly during the Depression, Dawson -Watson did not hesitate in writing to a newspaper editor of his adopted city, “So I appeal to my brother artists to step forward and back me up and I will start the ball rolling with a $5 subscription. There are a large number of clubs and other organizations in the city that can well afford to subscribe something, no matter how small to support an institution whose main idea is to teach the appreciation of the beautiful, of which life is so full, and yet has to be demonstrated to bring it home to us in the full meaning of the word. There isn’t an artist here who hasn’t benefited directly or indirectly through the art appreciation created by the museum.” DAWSON-WATSON.

 

The Dawson Dawson-Watson Family

Cheri Dawson Hamilton
Shannon T. Aaron
Derrek C. Aaron

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