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Oklahoma Town, 1933 - painting

Oklahoma Town, 1933. “We Feed the World” is written on the side of a building on the left.

Jerry Bywaters Special Collections in the Hamon Arts Library announces a gift from the James and Charlotte Brooks Foundation of 24 works of art executed by noted American abstract expressionist artist James Brooks (1906-1992). The gift includes three paintings and 10 lithographs dating from Brooks’ career before and during World War II as well as 10 post-war lithographs and one silkscreen print.

SMU was initially contacted about the gift by John R. Lane, former director of the Dallas Museum of Art, who now chairs the Foundation’s art committee.

Born in St. Louis, Brooks moved to Dallas with his family at a young age and studied art at SMU as well as the Dallas Art Institute. In 1927, he moved to New York City, where he attended night classes at the Art Students League and worked as a commercial artist. During the Depression, Brooks worked as a muralist for the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. He painted his best-known work from that period, Flight, on the walls of the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport.

During World War II, Brooks served with the United States Army as an art correspondent. After the war, he returned to New York City and became one of the leaders of the abstract expressionist movement, along with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston, among other artists.

Although Brooks was identified primarily with New York City, his ties to Dallas are reflected in the fact that the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the DMA) was the first museum to exhibit his art. In addition, the Foundation has a number of Dallas and SMU connections, including its president, SMU graduate Kathryn Brooks Dodson ’87. The silkscreen was given in memory of Helen Brooks Lawrence, who served for many years as SMU’s art librarian. Other works in the gift were made in memory of SMU alumni Julie Lawrence Cochran ’94, Steven K. Cochran ’62 and Patricia Floyd Lawrence ’90. Also, one of the lithographs was given in memory of Mary Nell Brooks Nichols, sister of James Brooks and wife of Dallas artist Perry Nichols, whose papers are housed in Bywaters Special Collections.

Jerry Bywaters Special Collections serves as a repository for archival materials and works of art on paper illuminating the cultural history of the Southwest, especially in the 20th century. For more information, visit

Artwork by Brooks Artwork by Brooks

Top left: Concord, 1975. Silkscreen.
Top right: Portrait of Mary MacDonald. James Brooks painted this portrait of his first wife in 1934.
Bottom Comac, 1970. Lithograph.