Five years ago, SMU hung in the Hamon Arts Library a heretofore little-known collection of works by a former Hilltop art student -- and then professor -- named Ed Bearden. The occasion garnered press then, and continues to generate interest, because of the subject matter: portraits from the set of George Stevens's adaptation of Edna Ferber's novel Giant. As SMU noted then, in an online exhibit you can still peruse today:
Before shooting Giant, director George Stevens asked the late Dallas artist and SMU art professor Ed Bearden to draw the film's storyboards. Stevens wanted a Texas native to conceive the characters visually in order to capture their authenticity. Bearden's pen portraits were enlarged and displayed on the set as a guide to makeup and costume crews. The artist also went to Marfa during shooting to sketch on the Giant set. Several of his drawings appeared with John Rosenfield's article on the Giant shoot in the Autumn 1956 Southwest Review.Bearden, born here in 1919, is no small footnote in Dallas's art history: He was among the misleadingly monikered Dallas Nine, a "small group of Dallas painters whose seminal body of art works is regionalist art in the best sense -- works that serve as description and definition of a particular time and place," as Patsy Swank wrote in this 1996 history-of that ran in D. Bearden wasn't among the initial group that showed at Fair Park in the early '30s, but his mentor, the legendary Jerry Bywaters, was. Bearden, who studied under Bywaters at SMU in the early '40s, would show at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts at Fair Park in '44, when Bywaters served as the museum's director. Four years later, Bearden himself began teaching art on the Hilltop.
Ed and wife Fran were also among the group of modern artist who hatched the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts in the mid-'50s, when local bigwigs began equating modernism with Communism and demanded the DMFA's board "disallow the exhibition or
acquisition of work by artists who were known to be communists or communist sympathizers," as John Lane wrote. In time, according to brief bios here and there, Bearden went into the advertising business, painted portraits of presidents and took other private commissions and continued working up till his death in Dallas in 1980.
Only last fall, the David Dike gallery on Fairmont displayed a "never-before-seen collection" of his works, dating from '40 to '80. And they continue to show up at auctions, here and abroad, his pieces going for a few to a couple thousand. And then there are these two pieces: An eBay seller from Brownsville has available, for the next few days, a skyline sketch dating back to the 1960s, available at the low, low price of $395. It was found at an estate sale; how lucky. It would make a nice accompaniment to this '66 offering: a panoramic view of the city painted for Arthur's, back when the Addison steak house was in its original McKinney Avenue location.