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Edward Beatty Rowan (1898 – 1946)

24. Flowers Still Life, c. 1930s

Watercolor on paper, 20 ½ x 16 inches (unframed sheet), 27 ½ x 21 inches (framed), inscribed “550 – 514” verso


About the Artist

Edward Beatty Rowan was among the most significant and innovative thought leaders of the American art scene during the Great Depression. As an arts administrator, teacher, artist, writer, lecturer, critic, and gallerist, he helped define the look and feel of American art from the late 1920s through World War II. Rowan was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 11, 1898. By 1910, Rowan and his family had moved to Hamilton, Ohio, approximately twenty miles north of Cincinnati. Rowan graduated from Hamilton High School, served in the United States Army during World War I, and was honorably discharged as a private on December 21, 1918. He then attended Miami University in nearby Oxford, Ohio, where he met his wife, Leata Mae Peer, and graduated in 1921. In the mid-1920s, Rowan received a scholarship to attend Harvard University where he received a master’s degree in fine art. Following his graduation from Harvard, the Rowans founded the Little Gallery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with support from the Carnegie Foundation and the American Federation of Arts.

From that point forward, Edward Rowan was at the center of America’s most significant art communities and associated with many of the nation’s most important artists of the Depression Era. His keen eye and efficient administration of public works projects produced a prodigious legacy of murals in hundreds of post offices and other public spaces across the country. Through his work with the American Federation of Arts, Rowan curated and organized traveling exhibitions of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and watercolors, which toured the country, reaching small communities and providing important sources of exposure and income for artists.

Rowan was a tireless worker whose passion was to promote craftsmanship and art education to the masses. He was one of the rare individuals to pursue his passions at all levels. Rowan participated in the grassroots movement of his Little Gallery in Cedar Rapids and the Stone City Art Colony and served in Washington, D.C. as the New Deal's Assistant Technical Director of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and an administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Rowan also served as Superintendent of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (“Section of Fine Arts” or “the Section”) where he was responsible for doling out millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to beautify government buildings. In these roles, he was able to help define a narrative that attempted to glorify what was thought to be uniquely American.

Rowan was also an artist, who honed his skills while studying at Harvard in the late 1920s and serving at the Little Gallery and the Stone City Art Colony. Rowan was principally a watercolor painter of still lifes, landscapes, and birds. His style was a bold and expressive form of modernism. Rowan exhibited with the Iowa Artists Association at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery and other venues around the state in the 1930s. His works are rarely seen and those which are known are from the early 1930s, presumably because his artistic output decreased as he assumed more responsibilities as an arts administrator.

Rowan is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.


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