Southern Methodist University

Esther Webb Houseman art work and papers

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Houseman, Esther Webb
Title: Esther Webb Houseman art work and papers
Dates: circa 1780 – 1977
Abstract: Esther Webb Houseman (1910 – 1992) lived most of her life in Dallas working in the fields of crafts and design. In 1933, with Velma Davis [Dozier], she established the Dallas School of Creative Arts; together they were referred to as "The Lady Blacksmiths." Their school served as a working and teaching studio and offered instruction primarily in metalsmithing with the addition of other art disciplines including photography, printmaking and creative design. The school was also a social gathering place for Dallas artists during the Great Depression of the 1930s. World War II brought an end to the school due to the shortage of metal, but soon after the war Esther and Velma reestablished their school as the Craft Guild of Dallas, which continues today. The collection includes artwork, clippings, correspondence, documents, photographs, publicity, and published works relating to Esther’s own personal work and that of the Dallas School of Creative Arts and the Craft Guild of Dallas.
Extent: 7 boxes including 5 oversize boxes (7 linear feet)
Language: Material is in English
Repository Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

Esther Webb was born in 1910 in Denver, Colorado. Her parents moved to Dallas when Esther was 1 ½ years old. At an early age, Esther became interested in art and took art classes at the Aunspaugh Art School in Dallas. She continued her studies in art at the College of Industrial Arts (now Texas Woman’s University) in Denton where she was graduated in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science degree. While attending CIA, Esther took a metalworking class from Thetis Lemmon, herself a talented artist, and met her life-long friend and colleague, Velma Davis. While driving back and forth together from Dallas to Denton the two would talk about having their own studio and gallery space where they could do their own work at their own pace and without the disruption of a class bell. In 1933, they opened the Dallas School of Creative Arts located at 2714 Greenville Avenue in a building owned by Velma’s father. With the help of Lyn Ford, brother of Texas architect O’Neil Ford, they learned to make their own furniture for the reception area. The first year of operation did not show much profit but Esther and Velma were determined to make their new school a success. Excellent instruction, a well-equipped classroom, and creative advertisement soon gained the attention of the Dallas community. In 1934 the Dallas Times Herald reported: "Miss Velma Davis and Miss Esther Webb are two young Dallas women who have established the Dallas School of Creative Arts on Greenville Avenue, and have equipped it with one of the finest laboratories in the Southwest for the practical making of jewelry, textile designs and all sorts of hand-wrought articles in silver, copper, pewter and other metals."

In 1935, the school was moved upstairs to 2714 ½ Greenville Avenue, and on September 29, 1935, the Dallas School of Creative Arts held its first open house and invited the public to visit the facility, complete with laboratory and gift shop. It did not take long for the school to become a center for all sorts of activities – classes, exhibitions, parties, and in general, good times with other artists. In addition to the classes and social activities, Esther and Velma continued to do their own work. Jerry Bywaters, art critic for The Dallas Morning News, announced that they received first prize in metalwork at the first annual Dallas Decorative Arts Exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1935.

In order to improve their metalworking skills and learn new techniques, Esther and Velma decided to attend the Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin in the summer of 1936. There, the otherwise all-male class, nicknamed them "The Lady Blacksmiths" – a name they would later use in advertisements for their work. Both participated in the popular Dallas Art Carnivals during the 1930s and Esther had one of her enameled boxes accepted into the 8th Annual Allied Arts Exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Esther was also an active member of the Dallas Artists’ League.

On September 25, 1939, Esther married John Houseman, a structural engineer for the Army, in Denton, Texas, at the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods. Their marriage was the first one performed in the newly constructed chapel designed by O’Neil Ford. A year later, Velma married Texas artist Otis Dozier in the Dallas School of Creative Arts. Esther and Velma decided to close their school, especially since wartime prices were making it difficult to find metals for their work. The Housemans moved to Iowa during the war years but returned to Dallas in 1945. Esther taught design at Southern Methodist University in 1947, 1949, and 1950. The Doziers also returned to Dallas in 1945 after Otis’s left his teaching post at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Urged by local crafts people to reopen their school, Esther and Velma decided to do so but with a new name – The Craft Guild of Dallas – a school that continues to operate today. In 1957, Esther began working at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts with several job assignments including that of registrar, crafts coordinator, and curator of numerous craft exhibitions. Esther’s reputation as a professional craft artist earned her the title as the South Central Regional representative of the American Craftsmen’s Council of Trustees in 1962. Though she retired from the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1975, Esther continued to work as an adjunct exhibition curator at the museum until her health began to decline. In 1979 she assisted with the blockbuster exhibition, Pompeii, A. D. 79, and during the early 1980s she worked with Barney Delabano, exhibition designer for the museum, in designing and positioning over 1,500 objects for the new museum building being planned for downtown Dallas. She died in Dallas in 1992.


Niweyk, Ellen Buie. "A lady blacksmith. The jewelry and metalwork of Velma Davis Dozier." Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, vol. 16, no. 2, Fall 2004, pp. 24-36.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Houseman collection consists of two print engravings, two pewter plates, one scrapbook, one "Lady Blacksmiths" poster, and archival materials that include clippings, correspondence, documents, ephemera, photographs, publicity, and published works. The scrapbook, entitled "Dallas School of Creative Arts, 1933 – 1935," contains additional photographs of the following – Dallas School of Creative Arts interior and exterior, metal work produced by Esther Webb Houseman and Velma Davis Dozier, Esther’s and Velma’s trips to the Big Bend in Texas during the summer of 1935 and the Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin during the summer of 1936. Correspondence, class brochures, and guests’ "sign-in" pages for the school’s open houses also comprise the scrapbook. The two archival boxes contain additional archival material and photographs relating to the School of Creative Arts.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized alphabetically into 9 series:
Series 1: Artwork
Series 2: Clippings
Series 3: Correspondence
Series 4: Documents
Series 5: Ephemera
Series 6: Photographs
Series 7: Publicity
Series 8: Published Works
Series 9: Scrapbooks


Access to Collection:

Collection is open for research use. Appointment with curatorial staff at Hamon Library is required.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the staff of Jerry Bywaters Special Collections.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Houseman, Esther Webb.
Dozier, Velma Davis, 1901-
Craft Guild of Dallas -- History.
Artists -- Texas -- Dallas -- 20th century.
Blacksmiths -- Texas -- Dallas -- 20th century.
Dallas (Tex.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.

Related Materials

This is one of the visual art collections in Bywaters Special Collections that concentrates on the art of Texas and the Southwest. Related materials are located in the Bywaters Special Collections of the Hamon Arts Library of Southern Methodist University.

Digitized items from this collection can be viewed at

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Esther Webb Houseman art work and papers, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

Gift, Miss Carisa Houseman, 1995.

Gift, Mrs. Barbara Antle, 1997.

Custodial History

The Esther Webb Houseman collection was donated to Bywaters Special Collections in two parts, 1995 and 1997, by her daughter, Miss Carisa Houseman, and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Barbara Antle.

Processing Information

The Esther Webb Houseman art work and papers were donated in two parts beginning in 1995. The contents of each gift were divided into separate archival files for clippings, correspondence, documents, ephemera, photographs, publicity, published works, and scrapbooks. The photographs were housed separately in an archival box. The newspaper clippings were copied onto acid-free paper and placed in an archival box. The original newspaper clippings were stored in a separate archival box. Several items were placed in flat archival storage boxes including artwork, publicity, published works, and a scrapbook.

Processed by: Ellen Buie Niewyk, 2009.

Finding aid written by

Ellen Buie Niewyk, 2009.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla, 2009.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Artwork

The artwork consists of two engravings and two pewter plates. The late 18th century engravings were published by Italian engravers, Alessandri and Scattaglia, and are of images of metalsmiths at work and metalsmithing tools. The slightly revised images are taken from Encyclopédie; ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers published by Briasson (France), 1751 – 65. One of the pewter plates has a jackrabbit design in the center and was possibly made by Velma Davis Dozier’s husband, Otis Dozier. The other pewter plate has a large star in the center and was mostly likely made by Velma Davis Dozier and possibly Esther Webb Houseman. "Velma Davis" is written on the back and the following stamps are also located on the back of the plate: "700," and "Webb-Davis, Hand-Wrought."
1 Print (engraving): Ciseleur – Damasquineur (image of metalsmiths and metalsmithing tools) by Alessandri and Scattaglia, c. 1780, Image: 8 ½" (H) x 6 ¼" (W), Paper: 12" (H) x 9" (W). EWH.95.1.
Print (engraving): Orfevre Grossier (image of metalsmithing tools) by Alessandri and Scattaglia, ca. 1780, Image: 8 ¾" (H) x 6 1/8" (W), Paper: 12" (H) x 9" (W), EWH.95.2.
Handmade catalogues (two copies): THE LADY BLACKSMITHS, Presenting their 1940 - 1941 Catalog; 7 pages of items made by Esther Webb and Velma Dozier for sell to retail dealers only. The two hinges are made from copper. One mailing envelope is included, EWH.95.3 and EWH.95.4.
Article: "This is Work at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center" (two pages from an unknown magazine)
2 Round pewter plate with large star in center, signed on back: "Velma Davis," Stamped on back: "700" and "Webb-Davis, Hand-Wrought," Diameter: 12", EWH.97.1.
3 Round pewter plate with jackrabbit in center and stamped designs around edge, plate design attributed to Otis Dozier. Diameter: 7", EWH.97.2.

Series 2: Clippings

The one newspaper clippings file contains articles relating to the Dallas School of Creative Arts, Esther Webb Houseman, Velma Davis Dozier, and other Dallas artists including Velma’s husband, Otis Dozier.
Box Folder
1 1 Clippings - no dates, 1921 – 1976

Series 3: Correspondence

The one correspondence file contains 12 letters and telegrams regarding the Dallas School of Creative Arts and to Esther Webb Houseman regarding her participation in the Student Vocation Conference at the Texas State College for Women.
Box Folder
1 2 Correspondence - no dates, 1936 – 1940

Series 4: Documents

The one documents file contains 5 items including Esther Webb Houseman’s tuition receipt from The Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin, and two interviews with Houseman. One interview is from the WFAA Radio in Dallas, Texas between Houseman and Barbara Brent in 1939 and the other interview is entitled "A Conversation with Esther Houseman" by Susan Brown, c. 1977.
Box Folder
1 3 Documents – 1936 – circa 1977

Series 5: Ephemera

The one ephemera file contains 6 items with handwritten notes on them.
Box Folder
1 4 Ephemera – no dates

Series 6: Photographs

The four photograph files contains 34 photographs of Esther Webb Houseman, Velma Davis Dozier, metal work by Houseman and Dozier, the Dallas School of Creative Arts, The Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin, and photographs of other Dallas artists.
Photo-SlideBox Folder
1 1 no dates
2 1930s
3 1940s
4 1950s

Series 7: Publicity

One flat box flat contains two handmade catalogues advertising "The Lady Blacksmiths, Presenting Their 1940 – 1941 Catalog"; another flat box contains a poster advertising "The Lady Blacksmiths." The archival box contains two files containing publicity items relating to the Dallas School of Creative Arts and art events and personalities in Dallas including the opening of the A Salute to the Doziers exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.
1 Two handmade catalogues with copper hinges: The Lady Blacksmiths, Presenting Their 1940 – 1941 Catalogue"
4 Poster: "The Lady Blacksmiths," WEBB – DAVIS, 2714 ½ Greenville Avenue, Dallas, Texas, no date
Box Folder
1 5 Dallas School of Creative Arts: no date, 1937 – 1940
6 Art Events and personalities in Dallas: no date, 1935 – 1974

Series 8: Published Works

One magazine article from unknown magazine entitled "This is Work at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center"
1 Newspaper article: "This is Work at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center"

Series 9: Scrapbooks

One flat box contains the scrapbook "Dallas School of Creative Arts, 1933 – 1935" with photographs of the interior and exterior views of the school, correspondence, class brochures, guest "sign-in" pages for the school’s open houses with additional photographs of Esther Webb Houseman’s and Velma Davis Dozier’s trip to the Big Bend of Texas in the summer of 1935 and photographs of their metalsmithing class room and friends at the Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin during the summer of 1936.
5 Scrapbook: "Dallas School of Creative Arts, 1933 – 1935"