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

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

Dow, Arthur W. (Arthur Wesley), 1857-1922

Landscape painter, Educator, Printmaker

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

The papers of Arthur W. (Arthur Wesley) Dow in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2008. The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 1,378 images.

Collection Information

Size: 1.3 linear ft.

Summary: The collection documents aspects of the life and work of the landscape painter, printmaker, photographer and educator. Papers include correspondence, diaries, writings, lecture notes, clippings, catalogs, ephemera, artwork, and photographs.

Biographical/Historical Note

Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) was a landscape painter, teacher, and printmaker from Ipswich, Mass. and New York, N.Y. Dow taught art at Pratt Institute, 1895-1904, and at Teachers College, Columbia University, 1904-1922. Influenced by Ernest Fenollosa, Dow introduced principles of Japanese art to Americans and made a major impact on art education. Published COMPOSITION 1899 and wrote many other books and articles on art. Max Weber and Georgia O'Keeffe were among his students.

Provenance

Material on reels 1027 and 1033-34 lent for microfilming by the Ipswich Historical Society, 1975. The diary on reel 1079 was lent by the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1976. Dow's grand-niece, Mrs. George N. Wright, donated material on reels 1208-1209 in 1976, and lent the photographs on reel 1271 the following year. Unmicrofilmed papers were received from Frederick Moffatt in 1989, who had obtained them in preparation for his book Arthur Dow (1977).

Related Materials

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.

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.

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.

A Finding Aid to the Arthur Wesley Dow Papers, circa 1826-1978 (bulk 1879-1922), in the Archives of American Art
AAA.dowarth
Author
Finding aid prepared by Kathleen Brown
Biographical Note
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 Académie 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.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 6 series:
Series 1: Correspondence, circa 1885-1934 (Box 1; 3 folders)
Series 2: Diaries, 1861-1904 (Box 1; 6 folders)
Series 3: Notes and Writings, circa 1904-1977 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 4: Printed Materials, circa 1826-1978 (Boxes 1-2; 5 folders)
Series 5: Photographs, circa 1880-1977 (Boxes 1-2; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 6: Artwork, circa 1879-1906 (Box 1; 3 folders)
Scope and Content Note
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 fiancée) 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 Käsebier 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 Académie 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.
Provenance
Material on reels 1027 and 1033-34 lent for microfilming by the Ipswich Historical Society, 1975. The diary on reel 1079 was lent by the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1976. Dow's grand-niece, Mrs. George N. Wright, donated material on reels 1208-1209 in 1976, and lent the photographs on reel 1271 the following year. Unmicrofilmed papers were received from Frederick Moffatt in 1989, who had obtained them in preparation for his book Arthur Dow (1977).
Separated Material
Additional photographs of Dow, members of his immediate family, group photographs taken at the Académie 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.
Related Material
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.
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.
Processing Information
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.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of this collection was digitized in 2008 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. 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.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

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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