The papers of Arthur Wesley Dow measure 1.3 linear feet and date from 1826-1978, with the bulk of the material dating from 1879-1922. 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reels 1027, 1033-1034, and 1079) including biographical material, correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, and one diary. Reel 1271 contains group photographs taken at the Académie Julian, Paris, as well as unidentified group photographs, some of the photographs and are available at the Ipswich Historical Society. All other loaned materials were returned to the lenders and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Material on reels 1027 and 1033-1034 were 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 in 1976, and lent the photographs for microfilming in 1977. Additional material was received from Frederick Moffatt in 1989, who had obtained them in preparation for his book Arthur Dow (1977).
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.