Skip to main content

Dorr Bothwell papers, 1900-2006

Biographical Note

Dorr Bothwell (1902-2000) worked primarily in California as a painter, printmaker, and art instructor.
Doris Bothwell was born on May 3, 1902 in San Francisco, and later changed her first name to Dorr in order to more easily enter the art business. Bothwell began her art studies in 1916 with her parents' friend Anna Valentien, a student of Rodin. Between 1921 and 1922, she studied at the California School of Fine Art, and continued her studies at the University of Oregon at Eugene. After attending the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design in 1924, she established her own studio in San Francisco from 1924 to 1927. Also during this time Bothwell, with eight other artists opened the Modern Gallery on Montgomery Street, mounting her first solo exhibition there in 1927.
Between 1928 and 1929, Bothwell traveled to American Samoa, where she created paintings and drawings, and documented tapa (barkcloth) drawings for the Bishop Museum of Honolulu. She then spent a year of study in Europe, returning to San Diego, California in 1931 and marrying sculptor Donal Hord. Four years later, they divorced and she moved to Los Angeles where she worked for the pottery manufacturer Gladding McBean, joined the post-surrealist group around Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg and opened the Bothwell-Cooke Gallery.
Between 1936 and 1939, Bothwell worked in the mural division of the Federal Arts Project of Los Angeles, and learned the art of serigraph printing. She designed dioramas and mechanized exhibitions for the Los Angeles County Museum. In 1940 she also created murals in the Manning Coffee Restaurant in San Francisco.
After teaching color and design at the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco from 1944 to 1948, Bothwell was awarded the Abraham Rosenberg Traveling Scholarship that financed study in Paris from 1949 to the fall of 1951. In 1952 she taught textile design for mass production at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Returning to San Francisco, Bothwell taught again at the California School of Fine Art from 1953 to 1958, and at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1959 to 1960. From 1960 to 1961 she took a sabbatical in England and France, creating paintings for an exhibition. In 1962 she was asked to teach at the new Mendocino Art Center and she taught there until 1983. She was also asked by Ansel Adams to teach design and composition for photographers at his Yosemite Workshop summer sessions, which she did from 1964 to 1977.
From 1966 to 1967, Bothwell documented indigo dying techniques, strip weaving, and pottery in Western Nigeria and Tunisia. In 1968, she published her book, co-authored with Marlys Frey, NOTAN The Principle of Dark-Light Design. The book was reissued in 1991. Bothwell continued her travels from 1970 to 1971, when she studied 12th century enamels in England, France, and Holland, and conducted a symposium, "Notan Design," for the London Educational Authority. In 1974, she traveled to Bali, Java, and Sumatra, making a slide documentary on batik, woodcarving, and folk design.
In 1977 Bothwell moved to Joshua Tree, California, from Mendocino in Northern California, but moved back and forth between the two studio/residences until 1992 when she moved to her last residence on the desert at Apache Junction, Arizona. From 1979 to 1980, she taught composition at the Victor School of Photography in Colorado and a design course at the Women's Art Guild in Kauai, Hawaii. Following a tour of China with a watercolor artists' group in 1982, Bothwell conducted workshops at the Mendocino Art Center. In 1985, she traveled to Japan.
Dorr Bothwell died on September 24, 2000 in Fort Bragg, California.