Mid-Century Austin: Photographs by Dewey Mears


Mid-Century Austin: Photographs by Dewey Mears

On view in the David Earl Holt Gallery, August 29, 2017-January 14, 2018

Westwood Country Club
Westwood Country Club, 1957, DM-57-24191

Nostalgia for retro design runs high these days, but mid-century modern architecture was more than just atomic-age shapes, funky furniture, and technicolor fabrics. Mid-century homes were designed to suit a modern lifestyle with flexible, open-plan rooms and fluid spaces. Designers embraced the understated beauty of natural elements like wood, stone, and brick. Biomorphic shapes in sculptural lamps, patterned upholstery, and large plants balanced the clean uncluttered lines of architecture and furniture.

Innovative technology influenced home design and lifestyle, too. New types of glass allowed for floor-to-ceiling windows; kitchens featured improved appliances; and new materials like Formica kept houses easy to clean. Informal and practical home design allowed for less time spent on housework and more time at leisure. The rise of car culture in the 1950s also influenced architecture and lifestyle. For example, homes now had carports, motels cropped up along highways, and banks included drive-through tellers. 

Capturing Austin’s interpretation of mid-century modern style was Dewey Mears. Mears opened a commercial photography studio in Austin in 1945 and by the mid-1950s his predilection for architectural documentation was firmly established. As an expert at lighting rooms and framing buildings in ways that accentuated architectural details, leading architects from all around Texas hired him to document their works. Mears captured iconic buildings like the Mueller Airport and the City Coliseum, as well as numerous residences, schools, churches, banks, hotels, restaurants. Some of these buildings still exist, but many have been remodeled if not demolished. In his photographs we can see them as they existed when they were fresh and new.

This exhibit features images from the Dewey G. Mears Photograph Archive (AR.2014.029). Processing of the collection was made possible with funding from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services through a TexTreasures grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Click on the thumbnails below to see some sample images from the exhibit.