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Arthur Wesley Dow

Arthur Wesley Dow demonstrated artistic ability at an early age, and despite the fact that his family had limited resources, they encouraged his interest in the arts. He studied as a young man in Worcester, Massachusetts and Boston. Then eventually like other serious-minded American artists Dow traveled to Paris in 1884 to study at the Academie Julian.  There his artistic skill would be tested and refined by the rigorous training he received.

Dow remained in Paris until 1889. He then returned to his native Ipswich, Massachusetts and began offering private art classes in Boston. In 1891 he met Ernest Fenollosa, the curator of Japanese art at the Museum of Fine Arts; thus, began Dow’s lifelong interest in Japanese art and aesthetics. He began exploring the techniques of woodblock printing and brush drawing, and embarked on ways to explain these eastern artistic methods to his western students.

Dow’s influence as an art teacher was far reaching. In 1893 he was appointed assistant curator of the Japanese collection at the MFA. Two years later he gave a lecture that outlined his ideas about Japanese art, which became the basis for his popular teaching manual Composition, published in 1899. He moved to New York to teach at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, then at the Art Students League, and finally at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He also maintained a studio in Ipswich, where he gave art lessons in the summer. In all of his classrooms, Dow emphasized the importance of line, shadow, and color as a way to synthesize eastern and western aesthetics and thought. His most famous pupils, Max Weber and Georgia O’Keeffe, would build on these ideas and carry them into their modern abstractions.