Michael Frary: In Memoriam

Michael Frary, an influential Texas modernist, painter of Texas watercolors, and longtime UT-Austin art professor, has passed away at age 87

The Texas landscape has lost one of its greatest portraitists, a master of the watercolor who was also a pioneer of Lone Star modernism and a teacher to thousands of aspiring painters. Michael Frary passed away Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the age of 87. Though he was not a native Texan and did not in fact make it to Texas until he was 31, Frary's artwork and long career as an educator here ensure that he will be forever associated with the state. The Santa Monica, Calif., native graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's of fine arts in painting and, after a stint in the Navy during World War II, joined the workforce as an assistant art director for Goldwyn Studios, Paramount, and Universal. But his love of painting led Frary to begin teaching, and he taught at UCLA, Los Angeles City College, and the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles before moving to Texas in 1949 to serve as artist-in-residence and faculty chairman for the San Antonio Art Institute. A few years later, he headed up I-35 to UT-Austin, where he spent more than three decades on the art department faculty, retiring in 1986 as professor emeritus. It was during his early years at the university that Frary joined Charles Umlauf, Everett Spruce, Ralph White, Kelly Fearing, William Lester, and Loren Mozley in exploring and promoting modernism in Texas, helping propel the state into a new era artistically. That is a large part of his creative legacy, but alongside it stands Frary's watercolors, which captured his adopted state in breathtaking style, as seen in his three books: Impressions of the Big Thicket, from UT Press (1973), and Impressions of the Texas Panhandle (1977) and Watercolors of the Rio Grande (1984), both from Texas A&M University Press. Throughout his career, Frary received more than 175 awards and more than 200 solo exhibitions. His works are housed in private and public collections ranging from the Austin Museum of Art and UT-Austin to the National Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institution. His painting Antelope Country was chosen by the National Gallery for presentation by President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson to the New Zealand prime minister and his wife, and he enjoyed the distinction of having Dinah Shore show off one of his paintings on national TV and tell her audience that he was her favorite artist. Frary is survived by his wife, Peggy, sons Mark and David, grandchildren Robert and Matthew, and many, many friends and former students. Memorial services will be held Friday, Sept. 9, 2pm, in the Colonial Chapel of Cook-Walden Funeral Home. Memorial contributions may be made to the Michael Frary Endowed Scholarship in Painting, c/o UT-Austin; attn: Professor Kenneth Hale, Department of Art and Art History, UT Station, D1300, Austin, TX.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle