Cantor Arts Center

photo: John Hazeltine

Stanford University

Stanford, CA



Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts


Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts is the first exhibition to examine the far-reaching influence of Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) as both an innovative artist and one of America's greatest art educators. Organized by The American Federation of the Arts with guest curator Nancy Green, chief curator, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, it begins its national tour at the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University on July 14, 1999 and remains on view through September 19, 1999. There will be a number of associated educational programs.

The exhibition comprises eleven prints and four photographs by Dow and over 110 works in a variety of media by his students, disciples, and colleagues. Dow's influence extended to some of the leading painters, printmakers, photographers, ceramicists, and furniture-makers of the first half of the century. Those represented in the exhibition include painters Georgia O'Keeffe and Max Weber; printmaker Pedro de Lemos; photographers Alvin Langdon Coburn and Gertrude Käsebier; ceramicist Adelaide Alsop Robineau; Newcomb and Overbeck potteries; and the Byrdcliffe Colony, Woodstock, New York. (left: The Derelict (The Lost Boat), 1916, color woodcut, 5 13/15 x 4 5/8 inches, Amon Carter Museum)

In 1899, Dow produced a manual that would change the teaching of art in this country for nearly half a century. Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers became a standard text for the study of art and design, and Dow's methods inspired generations of artists in many media. It is widely recognized as having laid the stylistic foundation for the American Arts & Crafts movement. Over his thirty years of teaching at various institutions including the Pratt Institute, the Columbia University Teachers College, the Arts Students League, and his own Ipswich Summer School of Art, Dow taught his methods through the disciplines of pottery, design, photography, painting, and printmaking with equal intensity.

Dow was inspired by the aesthetics of East Asian art as well as by the British Arts & Crafts movement championed by William Morris in the mid-nineteenth century. The latter stressed the fine quality of the hand-wrought object; workshops, art colonies, and art classes emphasizing these ideals proliferated throughout the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, offering classes in every medium with equal emphasis. Dow championed the Arts & Crafts aesthetic and never considered crafts inferior to fine arts. He taught his students to appreciate the elegance of design that was based on nature but never replicated it, placing precedence on no one particular technique over any other, as long as the final result was beautiful. (left: Vase (floral design), c. 1910, earthenware, 8 1/2 x 3 1/4 inches, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society)

Word of Dow's teaching methods spread widely, not only through his teaching and writing, but also through the work of his students, many of whom later became art instructors themselves. As art training became a part of kindergarten, elementary, and high-school education, and more women began looking for careers that would use their artistic skills, students sought out programs such as those at Pratt Institute and Columbia University which emphasized practical skills in design and the decorative arts as well as teaching qualifications. Dow's lasting contribution was to teach art with an eye to both beauty and utility. His converts were many and his methods gave form and direction to American Modernist thought. (right: A Bend in the River, c. 1895, color woodcut, 5 x 2 1/4 inches)

Support for the exhibition has been provided by the National Patrons of The American Federation of Arts. It is a project of ART ACCESS II, a program of the AFA with major support from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. The exhibition's presentation at Stanford is made possible by the Center's Exhibitions Fund in American Art, established in 1997 by an anonymous donor.

After its showing at the Cantor Arts Center, the exhibition will travel to the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, and the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Ford Dodge, Iowa. A catalogue published by the AFA, including essays on the origins of the Arts & Crafts style and American art pottery, accompanies the exhibition.

Read more about Cantor Arts Center in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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