TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dewey G. Mears Photograph Archive
An Inventory to the Collection
Dewey Gerald Mears was a noted architectural photographer based in Austin, Texas from the 1940s through 1990s. He was born in Lamesa, Texas on January 7, 1922 to Joe and Ida Mae Mears. His family moved to a farm near Levelland when he was four, and he attended Levelland High School. His interest in photography began at this time as he photographed school activities and groups. His first foray into professional photography was as an apprentice at the Art Studio in Lubbock. Then he opened his own studio in Levelland. During World War II he was stationed at Camp Swift where he worked as an official U.S. Army photographer. Working alongside other more experienced photographers he learned a lot about commercial photography. Upon his discharge in 1945 he opened his own commercial photography studio in Austin.
Mears’ photography business initially took on a wide variety of jobs. He took portraits, documented weddings and events, shot products for advertisements and took on other commercial work. By the mid-1950s his focus on architectural photography had emerged. Numerous architectural firms based in Central Texas hired Mears to document their works. These firms designed residences, offices, churches, schools, and many other types of buildings in what has come to be known as mid-century modern style. Mears documented these structures with both interior and exterior shots. He also reproduced architectural drawings and renderings. While the architectural firms who hired him were primarily based in Austin, the buildings they designed were built across the state, and Mears’ work sometimes included working in these other locations. In the 1960s Mears expanded his business to again include other commercial photography work, especially boat, furniture and product photography. He worked into the 1990s.
Mears was recognized with many honors and awards. He served as president of the Austin Professional Photographers Guild in 1955, received his Masters’ Degree from the Photographers’ Association of America in 1956, and was appointed as a director of the Texas Professional Photographers Association (TPPA) in 1959. He was also a member of the Architectural Photographers Society of America. He served as president of the TPPA in 1965 and under his guidance the first issues of the Association’s magazine, the Texas Professional Photographer, were published. He earned 17 trophies for competitions with the TPPA and Austin Guild as well as many additional certificates. He also served as judge in 1962 and 1963 PPA conventions, and he presented at conventions in Texas, Tennessee and elsewhere. His work was exhibited in numerous venues including 1955’s First Annual Exhibition of Architectural Photography sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and circulated around the country by the Smithsonian Institution; at the International Exhibition of Photography at the Los Angeles County Fair in 1959; as well as at local venues such as the Austin National Bank. He wrote articles on technique for publications such as the National Photographer.
Mears was married to Jean Lowden in 1945; they divorced in 1948. In the 1950s until about 1962 he was married to “Fern.” Then in about 1965 he married Charity Birdwell. His children were Bill, Norma, Don, Glenda and Danny. Mears was active with the Order of the Eastern Star. He died on January 16, 2013 and is buried at Cook Walden Forest Oaks Memorial Park.
Nearly 40,000 photographic images by Dewey Mears document the architecture, commercial businesses, and people in Austin and Central Texas from 1945-1998. 39,034 black-and-white negatives, color negatives, color transparencies, and color slides and 6,995 contact prints are in the processed portion of the collection; additional finished prints have not yet been processed.
Architectural documentation and reproductions of architectural renderings by local architectural firms are the most predominant subject in the collection. The most well represented firms are: Fehr and Granger; Page, Southerland, Page; and Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven. Other firms from Texas whose projects are represented in the collection include:
Individual architects whose work is represented include:
Mears’ documentation of buildings typically included exterior views and often interior view with furniture and decoration but often without people present. Some photographs of buildings under construction are present but the vast majority are of newly finished buildings. While the client was typically the architect or firm in charge, some documentary work was also assigned by architectural magazines, such as Architectural Record and House and Home, and by construction companies such as J. M. Odom Company, Brown and Root, and Nash Phillips-Copus. Air Conditioned Village is a construction project that is very well represented. The architectural documentation also includes photographic reproductions of artists’ renderings of buildings; some of these depict works outside of Texas, such as Kuehne, Brooks and Barr’s drawings of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and an FAA building in Panama.
Other types of commercial work by Mears is present in the collection as well. The collection is very heavy in product photography, especially furniture, for businesses such as Austin Industries, Dover Manufacturing Company, Economy Furniture, Fabricon, Glastron, Lack’s furniture, Nalle Plastics and Tri Powered Corporation; as well as window displays and advertisement photos for local companies such as Connelly’s Florists, Grand Silver, and Yaring’s Department Store. The furniture photographs depict home furnishings as well as some specialty items like school, library and salon furniture. Mears’ work from the 1970s-1980s is particularly heavy in technology-related images, both products and manufacturing scenes. Many jobs in the collection were commissioned by advertising and public relations firms such as D. G. B. Advertising and Syers, Pickle and Wynn.
In addition there are photographic reproductions of artwork, especially for sculptors Charles Umlauf, Peggy Goldstein and painter Sheila Lichacz as well as for Winter Gallery and the Country Store Gallery. Some event photography is also present, especially for St. Edward’s University, St. Mary’s Academy, Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, and Texas Square Dance Association.
There are a smaller number of jobs consisting of weddings and funerals and displays for Weed-Corley Funeral Home and Cook Funeral Home. Also present are some formal studio portraits of individuals. A very small number of images in the collection are personal photos of Mears’ family.
A few major gaps in the collection are notable: from September 1967 through May 1969 and from December 1969 through June 1971. 1966 is only represented by a small amount of color work; black-and-white negatives are absent.
Most negatives are in good condition, though some early ones are showing signs of deterioration. Due to the vast quantity of materials, excessive duplicates were discarded. Many of the contact prints, especially of portraits, are in very poor condition; while the images are hard to see they were retained as many have notes on the backs. Location information was added by the archivists when possible using city directories but may need verification.
Open to all users. The collection has not yet been fully processed; negatives are available but finished prints and enlargements are not available.
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Dewey G. Mears Photograph Archive (AR.2014.029), Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2014/032
Donation Date: June 12, 2014
Processed by Jennifer Allen, Shane McClesky, and Nicole Davis. Finding aid created and encoded by Nicole Davis/2017.
Select photographs from this collection have been digitized and are available through the Portal to Texas History .