Arthur Wesley Dow papers, circa 1826-1978, bulk 1879-1922

A Finding Aid to the Arthur Wesley Dow Papers, circa 1826-1978 (bulk 1879-1922), in the Archives of American Art, by Kathleen Brown

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Arthur Wesley Dow, landscape painter, printmaker, photographer, and influential art educator, was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts on April 6, 1857, the eldest son of Mary Patch and David Dow. As a young man, he showed interest in the colonial history of Ipswich and together with Reverend Augustine Caldwell, he produced the serial Antiquarian Papers from 1875 to 1880, which featured Dow's drawings of local colonial architecture. It was Caldwell who advised him to pursue formal art instruction and in 1880 Dow began studying in the Boston studio of James M. Stone.

Like many aspiring American artists of his generation, Dow traveled to Paris for further art instruction. Between 1884 and 1889, the artist alternated between spending time in Paris, where he had enrolled in the Acad�mie Julian, and in Brittany where he painted landscapes en plein air. During this period he produced landscape paintings that were accepted into the Paris Salon and exhibited to moderate success back in the United States.

Shortly after his return to Ipswich, Dow took a studio in Boston, where he hoped to attract students and began an extremely fertile and successful period as an art educator. He began studying Japanese art, particularly the compositional elements employed in Japanese prints, which he synthesized with Western art techniques and utilized in teaching composition and design. In addition to seeing students in his Boston studio, he began the Ipswich Summer School of Art, which continued into 1907. Pratt Institute hired Dow as an art instructor in 1895 and he remained there until 1904, when he was appointed the Director of Fine Arts of the Columbia University Teacher's College, a position he retained until his death in 1922. Between 1897 and 1903, he also taught at the Art Students League.

In 1899 his seminal book, Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers, was published. Composition illustrated Dow's teaching method, which focused on the compositional elements of line, notan (a Japanese word for the balance of light and dark in a composition) and color. The book underwent several printings and art schools across the United States adopted the Dow method. Max Weber, Georgia O'Keeffe and the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn were among the artists who personally benefited from Dow's instruction. Through his teaching, publications, and public speeches, Arthur Wesley Dow played an important role in shaping modern American art.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of Arthur Wesley Dow measure 1.3 linear feet and date from 1826 to 1978, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1879 to 1922. Correspondence consists of two folders, which contain a few letters from Dow to his family during his stints painting in Brittany and to and from Columbia University's Teachers College, as well as letters from his wife (then fianc�e) Minnie Pearson Dow to her mother and friend while she, too, was studying painting abroad. There is also a folder of typescript and handwritten notes on Dow's correspondence, the majority of which is not in this collection, attributed to his biographer, Arthur Warren Johnson. Diaries include travel diaries kept by Dow and his brother Dana F. Dow during their "trip around the world" in 1903-1904. Publications, clippings, exhibition catalogs, announcements for Dow's Ipswich Summer School of Art and a new edition of his book Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers are found within printed materials. Notes and writings include a substantial number of handwritten manuscripts and typescripts of Dow's lectures on art and art history during his tenure as the Dean of Fine Arts at the Teachers College of Columbia University. There are a few examples of works of art, including prints from the Ipswich Prints series, and a pencil sketch of a colonial home, similar to those that appeared in the serial Antiquarian Papers.

This collection is particularly rich in vintage prints of Dow portraits as well as family and group photographs, although it does not include any of the artist's landscape cyanotypes. Among the nineteen vintage prints are several platinum prints including a portrait by the renowned Pictorialist photographer Gertrude K�sebier and an atmospheric image of Dow taken at the Grand Canyon by Mrs. Fannie Coburn, the mother of another well-known Pictorialist photographer, Alvin Langdon Coburn. There are also three portraits by Herbert Hess and a photogravure of Dow by Kenneth Alexander that was used in the publication announcement for the second edition of Composition. Group photographs include an albumen print of fellow artist Henry R. Kenyon with Dow in his Ipswich studio, with classmates at the Acad�mie Julian in Paris, and with his own students during a crafts class at his Ipswich Summer Art School. There are also several modern copy prints of vintage photographs from other collections as well as photographs of artworks by Dow and his contemporaries.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 6 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:

  • Acad�mie Julian. -- Photographs
  • Hess, Herbert A. (Herbert Arthur)
  • Ipswich Summer Art School. -- Photographs
  • Kenyon, Henry Rodman, 1861-1926 -- Photographs
  • K�sebier, Gertrude, 1852-1934
  • Art educators--Massachusetts
  • Art--Study and teaching--Massachusetts
  • Diaries
  • Landscape Painters--Massachusetts
  • Photographers--Massachusetts
  • Photographs
  • Printmakers--Massachusetts
  • Works of art


A portion of the diaries, correspondence and photographs were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1976, by Mrs. George N. Wright, the grand-niece of Arthur Wesley Dow. The remaining diary, correspondence, lecture notes, writings, printed material, photographs, and artworks were donated by Frederick Moffatt in 1989, who had gathered them in the course of his research on the artist.

Separated and Related Materials

Additional photographs of Dow, members of his immediate family, group photographs taken at the Acad�mie Julian, Paris, as well as unidentified group photographs, were loaned to the Archives of American Art for microfilming after which they were returned to the lender, Mrs. George N. Wright, of Bernardsville, New Jersey. These photographs can be viewed on microfilm reel 1271.

Also found at the Archives of American Art are the William H. Elsner papers relating to Arthur Wesley Dow, which include color photographs of Dow's works of art and correspondence regarding Dow between Frederick Moffatt and Rudolph Schaeffer.

In 1975 the Ipswich Historical Society loaned biographical material, correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, and photographs for microfilming on reels 1027 and 1033-34. Additionally, the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities loaned one diary in 1976 for microfilming on reel 1079.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection received preliminary processing after being donated in 1975 and 1989, and before portions of it were microfilmed on reels 1208-1209. The collection was fully processed, arranged, and described in accordance with archival standards by Kathleen Brown in 2008 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Grant.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The bulk of the collection has been digitized and is available online via the Archives of American Art's website. Use of material not digitized requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Arthur Wesley Dow papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The papers of Arthur W. (Arthur Wesley) Dow in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2008, and total 1378 images.

Materials that generally have not been scanned include duplicates, negatives, and modern copy prints of vintage photographs as well as photographs of works of art. For some publications, such as catalogs, only the cover and title pages have been scanned.

Location of Originals

Several photographs, including images of Dow, Dow family members, group photographs of classes, and landscapes, are copy prints. The original vintage prints for some of these copies, particularly group photographs of classes and landscapes, are available at the Ipswich Historical Society. The location of the other original vintage prints is unknown.

How to Cite this Collection

Arthur Wesley Dow papers, circa 1826-1978 (bulk 1879-1922). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, circa 1885-1934
(Box 1; 3 folders)

Found in this series are two folders of letters sent to and from Arthur Wesley Dow and letters sent to Minnie Pearson, Dow's future wife. Arthur Wesley Dow's correspondence consists of letters from Dow to his family, primarily his younger brother Dana. Most of his letters were written during his stints painting in Pont Aven and they include references to his efforts to produce paintings for the Paris Salons. Four of these letters are photocopies and one is an original. Other letters include a letter from Dow to Dr. Russell, Dean of the Teacher's College at Columbia University. According to Dow's travel diary, he received a telegram from Russell, officially appointing him as the head of the Department of Fine Arts; this letter may be in response to this appointment. The correspondence of Minnie Pearson consists of a long letter from her mother and a friend named "Eva" that were sent to the future Mrs. Dow, while she was studying art in Brittany. Finally the file "Notes on Dow Letters" consists of an annotated chronology of Dow correspondence, which includes synopsis of letters that are no longer extant, compiled by the Dow biographer, Arthur Warren Johnson.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
1 1 Arthur Wesley Dow, circa 1885-1919
1 2 Minnie Pearson (Dow), circa 1888
1 3 Notes on Dow Letters (by Arthur Warren Johnson), circa 1925-1934

Series 2: Diaries, 1861-1904
(Box 1; 6 folders)

This series is comprised of diaries by Dow and family members. The diary of Mary Patch Dow, Arthur Dow's mother, contains entries written between 1861 and 1865 noting visits and correspondence sent and received, particularly from her nephew Charles H. Dow, who died while fighting in the Civil War. There are few references to her son, although there are brief entries concerning his early education and childhood illnesses.

The remaining diaries record a world trip undertaken by Dow, accompanied by his wife and brother Dana Fitz Dow, among others. The party departed Boston in early September 1903 and headed westward through Canada to San Francisco where they sailed for Japan, which the party explored for three months before continuing on to China, India, Egypt, Greece and parts of Europe. Dow's travel diary provides an account of the early stages of the trip, most importantly the period spent in Japan, where he visited ancient temples, tea houses, museums, art schools, viewed private collections, and purchased prints. His brother's travel diaries, four in total, document the entire trip and record his impressions of the cities and sites that the party visited, paying particular interest to landscaped gardens and native plants. Sketches and plans of garden layouts can be found amidst his entries.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
1 4 Mary Patch Dow Diary, 1861-1865
1 5 Arthur W. Dow Travel Diary ("Trip Around the World"), 1903 September-December
1 6 Dana F. Dow Travel Diary, Volume I, 1903 September-December
1 7 Dana F. Dow Travel Diary, Volume II, 1904 January-February
1 8 Dana F. Dow Travel Diary, Volume III, 1904 February-April
1 9 Dana F. Dow Travel Diary, Volume IV, 1904 April-June

Series 3: Notes and Writings, circa 1900-1977
(Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)

Found in this series are manuscripts and typescripts of Dow's lectures and writings about art, lecture notes, syllabi, price lists, as well as a handwritten fragment of his last will and testament. Most of the notes in this series document Dow's lectures on art appreciation, composition and art historical topics ranging from prehistoric art to Japanese art that he delivered to his classes at Teacher's College Columbia University. A folder of miscellaneous lectures also includes class syllabi and suggested arts curriculum. Writings attributed to others include research notes by Dow biographer Dr. Frederick Moffatt and handwritten copies of papers attributed to a Mr. Heatois on "The Spirit of the Later Renaissance" and "The Monumental Arts."

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

The Notes and Writings series is arranged into 2 subseries:

3.1: Notes and Writings by Arthur Wesley Dow, circa 1900-1922

Box Folder
1 10 Last Will and Testament Fragment, circa 1900-1922
1 11 Lectures on Art in Gardens, 1904-1905
1 12 Lectures on The Art of the Cave Men, 1913-1916
1 13 Lecture on Buddhist Art, 1905 December 11
1 14 Lectures on Color, 1904-1906
1 15 Lecture on Willow Patterns, 1904 November 21
1 16 Lectures on Egyptian Art and Architecture circa 1905-1915
1 17 Lectures on Italian Art: The Great Florentines 1905-1908
1 18 Lecture series on Italian Art, circa 1905-1908
1 19 Lectures on Japanese Art, 1905-1917
1 20-21 Lectures on Romanesque and Gothic Art and Architecture, circa 1907-1913
(2 folders)
1 22 Writings on Teaching Art, circa 1908-1912
1 23 Notes on Composition and Principle of Fine Arts
circa 1905-1922
1 24 Miscellaneous Curricula, Syllabi and Lecture Notes, circa 1905-1922
1 25 Price Lists, 1915-1916

3.2: Notes and Writings by Others, circa 1918-1977

Box Folder
1 26 Copy of Papers by Mr. Heatois, 1918-1919
1 27 Frederick Moffatt Research Notes on Dow, circa 1970-1977

Series 4: Printed Material, circa 1826-1978
(Boxes 1-2; 5 folders)

This series contains exhibition catalogs, clippings, ephemera, and pulications, including 50 volumes of Antiquarian Papers, a four page monthly serial published from 1879-1886, that focused on the history of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Dow published this serial with his mentor Augustine Caldwell and produced woodcuts of the town's historical buildings that were used as illustrations. They represent some of his earliest artistic efforts.

The bulk of the exhibition catalogs pertain to exhibitions of Dow's paintings and prints in solo and group exhibitions. However there is also a catalog of objects from the Freer Collection that were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1913. The sections "Oriental Paintings" and "Miscellaneous Oriental Objects" are heavily annotated in pencil. Ephemera incudes a postcard of Dow's summer studio in Ipswich, Massachusetts, announcements for the Ipswich Summer School of Art and publication of new editions of his book Composition, among other items.

This series has been scanned in its entirety. In most cases, only the cover and title page of exhibition catalogs have been scanned.

Box Folder
1 28 Antiquarian Papers, 1879-1885
1 29 Clippings, circa 1880-1930
1 30 Ephemera, circa 1826-1977
1 31 Exhibition Catalogs, 1895-1917, 1975
1 32 Oversize Publication, The Visitor, 1890 May
(See box 2)
2 (sol) Oversize Publication, The Visitor, 1890 May

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1880-1977
(Boxes 1-2; 0.6 linear feet)

This series includes vintage photographs and copy prints of portraits and group shots, as well as color snapshots and photographs of works of art. Notable among the nineteen vintage photographs are a platinum print portrait by Gertrude K�sebier and another platinum print of Dow taken at the Grand Canyon by Mrs. Coburn (mother of the Pictorialist photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn). Additionally there are albumen prints of Dow in his Paris studio and with a class of students from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, a carte de visite of Dow and a cabinet card portrait of his wife Minnie Pearson Dow.

Copy prints include duplicate images of the vintage photographs of in this collection as well as additional photographs of landscapes, seascapes, Dow portraits and groups including family members and students. However the majority of the copy prints are reproductions of works of art. The copy prints originally were compiled by Frederick Moffatt as part of his research on Dow, which culminated in an exhibition and catalog, Arthur Wesley Dow (Smithsonian Press, 1977).

Copy prints have not been scanned.

Box Folder
1 33 Portraits of Arthur Wesley Dow, circa 1880-1900
(1 carte de visite and 2 vintage platinum prints)
1 34 Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow by Gertrude K�sebier, circa 1900
(1 vintage platinum print; see box 2)
1 35 Portraits of Arthur Wesley Dow by Herbert Arthur Hess, circa 1900-1903
(3 vintage platinum prints)
1 36 Dow in Studio, circa 1900
(1 vintage print; see box 2)
1 37 Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow by Kenneth Alexander used in announcement for the second edition of Composition, circa 1905
(1 vintage photogravure; see box 2)
1 38 Dow at the Grand Canyon by Mrs. [Fannie] Coburn, 1911
(1 vintage platinum print)
1 39 Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow attributed to James S. Radcliffe, 1913
(1 vintage platinum print; see box 2)
1 40 Portrait of Minnie Pearson Dow and Group Photographs with Dow and Others, circa 1894-1919
(4 vintage prints)
1 41 Acad�mie Julian, Paris, France, circa 1886
(1 vintage print)
1 42 Dow and Henry R. Kenyon in Dow's Ipswich Studio, circa 1890
(1 vintage albumen print; see box 2)
1 43 Dow with Class, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, circa 1899
(1 vintage print)
1 44 Dow and Craft Class at Ipswich Summer School of Art, 1902
(1 vintage print)
1 45 Copy Prints of Vintage Photographs from Collection, circa 1977
(Not scanned)
1 46 Copy Prints of Dow Family Members, circa 1970s
(Not scanned)
1 47 Copy Prints of Family Gatherings and Classes, circa 1970s
(Not scanned)
1 48 Copy Prints of Landscapes and Seascapes, circa 1970s
(Not scanned)
1 49 Copy Prints of Dow Publications, circa 1970s
(Not scanned)
1 50 Color Photographs of Works of Art, circa 1970
(Not scanned)
1 51 Black and White Photographs of Works of Art, circa 1971
(Not scanned)
1 52-54 Copy Prints of Works of Art, circa 1970s
(3 folders; not scanned)
1 55 Contact Sheets: Works of Art, circa 1970s
(Not scanned)
1 56 Negatives: Works of Art, circa 1970s
(Not scanned)
2 (sol) Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow by Gertrude K�sebier, circa 1900
(1 vintage platinum print)
2 (sol) Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow by Kenneth Alexander (used in announcement for the second edition of Composition, circa 1905
(1 vintage photogravure)
2 (sol) Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow by Radcliffe, 1913
(1 vintage platinum print)
2 (sol) Dow and Henry R. Kenyon in Dow's Ipswich Studio, circa 1890
(1 vintage albumen print)

Series 6: Artwork, circa 1879-1906
(Boxes 1; 3 folders)

Found in this series are prints from Dow's Ipswich Prints series, a set of engraved facsimiles of his woodcuts, ink drawings, and watercolors, that were meant to be used as examples of color and composition for art students. There is also an unsigned and undated pencil drawing of a colonial house.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
1 57 Unsigned Pencil Drawing of Colonial House, circa 1879-1885
1 58 Ipswich Prints (second set), 1902
1 59 Loose Prints, circa 1901-1906