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(Essay) Connected by Creativity: WPA Era Works From the Collection of Leata and Edward Beatty Rowan


Edward Beatty and Leata Mae (Peer) Rowan built their collection between the late 1920s and the end of World War II at a time when they were deeply immersed in one of the most fertile periods of government and corporate-sponsored art projects in our nation’s history. Their remarkable collection is a multi-media time capsule that reflects some of the most innovative art programs of the 20th Century in America and includes oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, miniatures, sculptures, metal plaques, and ceramics. The thirty-four works in the collection were created by twenty-five different artists from across the United States with particularly strong holdings associated with Iowa's Little Gallery in Cedar Rapids, and the Stone City Art Colony. The artists were the Rowans' friends and professional colleagues and many were affiliated with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) art project in Key West, Florida, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), and the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (also referred to as the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Art or simply the “Section”). The Section spanned the country as the New Deal’s premiere art enterprise, giving rise to the moniker, “the Ritz.” In addition to works created in the United States, the collection includes oils and watercolors completed in France by David McCosh and J. Theodore Johnson, reflecting the important cultural exchange that took place during the late 1920s through expatriate artists who returned from Europe to pursue the American Scene.

Many of the artists in the collection are well-known in their respective fields, such as Marvin Cone, Herman Maril, Chaim Gross, Tom E. Lewis, McCosh, and Waldo Peirce, while others such as Dickman Walker, Johnson, and Richard H. Jansen are rarely seen today. One of the most exciting aspects of the collection is the inclusion of works by arts administrators of the Depression Era, including Edward Bruce (Director of the PWAP, the Section, and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), George Biddle (friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who inspired the creation of the Federal Art Project (FAP), and various other New Deal art programs), Adrian Dornbush (co-founder of the Stone City Art Colony and Director of FERA’s Key West Art Project), Nan Watson (who worked for the Section and served on juries of WPA Era art competitions and was the wife of Forbes Watson, art critic, technical director, and consultant to the PWAP and the Section), and, of course, Edward Beatty Rowan himself. Although an accomplished watercolorist who exhibited often during the early 1930s, Rowan’s works are scarce, making the five works in the collection important discoveries. The collection represents diverse points of view, including those of female artists (e.g. Emma Siboni, Nura Woodson Ulreich, Watson, and Lucia May Wiley), LatinX artists (e.g. Carlos Lopez), LGBTQ+ artists (e.g. Dornbush), and immigrant artists (e.g. Dornbush, Pietro Lazzari, Oronzio Maldarelli and Siboni). Nura Ulreich’s contribution to the collection is likely a collaboration with her husband, Eduard Buk Ulreich, who was also an immigrant from Hungary.

Stylistically, the collection is diverse with works ranging from impressionism (e.g. certain works by Cone, Peirce and Johnson) to the regionalist and American scene compositions by McCosh, Higgins, and Jansen. Although there are no purely abstract works, excellent examples of American modernism in the collection include oils by Maril and Dornbush, as well as Rowan’s still-life watercolors. Moreover, several American Scene paintings tend toward a modernist aesthetic (e.g. Biddle, Norman Stiles Chamberlain, Lazzari, and Lewis). And, the collection includes portraits of Edward Rowan and his son, Timothy, who inherited the collection upon his mother’s death. Other portraits include Biddle’s fresco of his wife, the sculptor Helene Sardeau, a work originally created as part of Biddle’s famous mural for the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C., and Daniel Rhodes’ canvas of the cellist Hans Kindler, the founder of the National Symphony Orchestra also in Washington D.C. Regardless of media, genre, scale, or style, taken as a whole, the collection reflects a unique moment in American art history as seen through the keen eyes of one of the country’s most influential cultural thinkers and tastemakers of his day.

Until its acquisition by CW American Modernism in 2022, the collection had been in the Rowan family for nearly a century. The full provenance of the collection is: Edward Beatty Rowan (1898 – 1946) and Leata Mae (Peer) Rowan (wife of Edward Beatty Rowan) (1898 - 1973) until 1946; upon Edward’s death, to Leata Mae (Peer) Rowan until 1973; upon Leata’s death, to Timothy E. Rowan (1924 – 2008) (son of Edward and Leata); upon Timothy’s death, to Joan Eleanor Fluke Rowan (1925 – 2019) (wife of Timothy E. Rowan) until 2019; upon Joan’s death to Michael Hunt Heubeck (nephew of Timothy E. Rowan and Joan Eleanor Fluke Rowan) until 2022, when the collection was acquired by CW American Modernism via Aubrey Malcolm Collection, St. Petersburg, Florida.


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 at the center of several important art communities and associated with many of America’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 with a passion 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 Section where he was responsible for doling out millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to beautify government buildings. Through this process, he was able to define a narrative that attempted to glorify what was thought to be uniquely American.

Edward Beatty 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 Leata Mae Peer and graduated in 1921. Peer was born in 1898 in Hamilton, Ohio. She also graduated from Hamilton High School and Miami University. Peer was an artistic person with a deep interest in music. Rowan and Peer married in Oxford on June 9, 1922, and soon moved to Mansfield, Ohio, where both worked as teachers in local schools. Edward was an instructor in biology at Mansfield High School. After Edward’s death in 1946, Leata returned to education and served as a school principal in Falls Church, Virginia. The Rowans were active in the local community with a particular affinity for the Mansfield Audubon Society. In 1924, the couple welcomed their first son, Timothy, and later in 1926 after their return to Hamilton, a second son, Peter. Outliving Edward by decades, Leata passed away in 1973.

(Figure 1) Edward Rowan; courtesy Archives of American Art

In 1925, the Carnegie Corporation of New York set aside $1,000,000 for scholarships to support fine art students with the goal of increasing the number of qualified college instructors in fine and applied arts. Edward Rowan was the beneficiary of this program in 1927 when he became one of four Ohio students awarded a $1600 Carnegie scholarship to study fine art at Harvard University. Newspapers reported that Rowan won the award in recognition of his demonstrated scholarship and the force of his personality. In February 1928, Rowan graduated from Harvard with a Master of Arts degree.


The Rowans originally planned to spend the following year studying art in England and Italy. Within a few months, the couple’s plans changed when they were selected for a revolutionary art experiment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Under the supervision of the American Federation of Arts and with $50,000 in funding from the Carnegie Corporation, the couple was selected to establish an arts program far away from the East Coast power centers of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Although Edward is the person most often associated with the Cedar Rapids project, newspapers reported that together the couple directed the effort. In fact, when Edward left for Washington, D.C., in 1933 after being named the Assistant Technical Director of the newly created PWAP, Leata took sole charge of the Little Gallery, which had become the focal point of the enterprise.

The Cedar Rapids experiment was groundbreaking. President Calvin Coolidge, when addressing a joint session of the American Federation of Art and the American Association of Museums on May 16, 1928, heralded the founding of the Cedar Rapids project as one of the outstanding art events of the year. Coolidge noted that America had reached a “position where art is no longer a visionary desire, but is becoming an actual reality. . . We are working out the ideal under which every one will realize they are artists in their employment, in their recreation, in their relationship with one another.” The President continued, “An appropriation has been made for the purpose of seeing if art cannot be made a vital force in a typical community. A small western city has been selected for the experiment and two artists [i.e. Edward and Leata] are being sent there to ally themselves with its life. They will open a gallery and will encourage the growth of civic and home art in every possible way.” The Rowans left their Ohio home on June 14, 1928, for Cedar Rapids where they would head the “first experiment ever attempted in community art education.” The Gazette, Cedar Rapids main newspaper, welcomed the Rowans and noted their “aim will be to develop the art consciousness of the city and the community and to bring to light the artistic ability of the residents.”

At the time, Cedar Rapids had a population of approximately 60,000 residents, about a fourth of whom were of Czechoslovak descent. Owing to its fresh, youthful, and cheery image, Cedar Rapids had acquired the moniker the “Parlor City of Iowa,” a slogan that referred to the best room of a house for entertaining. The News Journal reported that citizens of Cedar Rapids were already working toward the goals espoused by President Coolidge, but with “enviable backing they are expected to show what art can really mean in the lives of typical American men and women.” In August 1928, The New York World described Rowan’s plan as follows: “Throughout the winter Director Rowan will cooperate in every way with schools, universities and with organizations interested in art. He contemplates giving a series of lectures touching on the important phases of art growth in the city. He will also arrange to give lectures in nearby cities and towns. He has arranged too, for cooperation with the art departments of Coe College in Cedar Rapids; Carnell at Mt. Vernon, and the University of Iowa, Iowa City, all within a radius of less than 30 miles from the Cedar Rapids center.”

Rowan wasted no time in following through on this vision. In September, the Rowans officially opened the Little Gallery at 318 South Third Street with an exhibition of contemporary American art which the newspapers crassly reported had a value of $37,540. The Rowans extended one hundred and fifty invitations to the opening weekend. The Friday evening group included members of the Senior and Junior Art Clubs, the Board of Directors of the Art Association, the Club of Forty, and the Watercolor Club, while the Saturday evening festivities were directed towards the “younger set,” many of whom were establishing themselves in new homes. Against the background of the Little Gallery’s gray cloth walls and reproduction Duncan-Phyfe and Chippendale furniture, the patrons enjoyed light refreshments and the music of the Taylor Trio. Vases and baskets of flowers were provided by the Society of Friends of Art from Davenport, Iowa. In the galleries, they were treated to mostly representational works by Arthur Davies, Howard Giles, George Elmer Brown, Ettore Cesar, Charles Chapman, George Ennis, Frederick Frieseke, Joseph Henry Sharp, Solon Borglum, Boris Lovett Lorski, Takuma Kajiwara, and others. A bronze by Edward McCartan, Piping Pan, was reported to be one of the favorite pieces in the opening show, having made the long journey from New York’s Grand Central and Ferargil Galleries.

(Figure 2) Leata and Edward Rowan with dancers Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis at the Little Gallery; courtesy Archives of American Art

Within days after the opening, Rowan had become a regular contributor to The Gazette with a column called Art News of the Little Gallery, which provided updates on the comings and goings at the newly established gallery and other arts activities in the community. In September, Rowan arranged for the gift of a sculpture by Lorado Taft to the Cedar Rapids and welcomed the sculptor to the community for a series of lectures. Rowan joined Taft on the local lecture circuit delivering talks to civic clubs in Cedar Rapids and neighboring towns. By the end of 1928, Rowan lectured to the Adverting Club about sculpture from ancient Greece and Rome through modern genres, to the Art Department of the Women’s Club about murals, and to the Kiwanis Club about the paintings and sculptures shown at the Little Gallery, to the Business and Professional Women’s Club about his vision for the Little Gallery (which included a lending library of art to help beautify local homes), to the Coe College Art Department and its students about Japanese art, to the PTA of the Taylor School about Old Masters, the Delphian Society about Greek art, to the patrons of the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery and the Association of University Women about Giotto and the Arena Chapel in Padua, and to the Cedar Rapids Art Association and the Sunday Evening Club about tendencies in modern art. And this is only an abbreviated listing of Rowan’s lectures as he was giving speeches two or three times a week through the end of 1928.

Rowan was a frequent visitor to the local schools and universities giving lectures on a variety of topics. Art education was a key goal of the Little Gallery project and Rowan wanted to provide an overview of not only art history but how to view and think about art. During a lecture to the students at Grant High School in Cedar Rapids, Rowan offered, “So many people make the mistake of looking just for the story in the picture. The prime object of the observer should be to see what the artist has to say. The man who stands before a picture and says ‘That is Greek to me’ is making a worthy admission of the fact that there are many different languages in art. The person who stands before a statue or a canvas and remarks that the neck is too long, the leg too short, the head too large, does not realize that the artist will sometimes willfully distort nature to get across his idea.”

Rowan was on a mission to provide the tools for the common person to understand and appreciate art. One of his early projects placed art in rural public schools which otherwise would not have the opportunity to view and appreciate quality paintings and sculpture firsthand. Rowan marshaled support for this program by soliciting funds from local civic organizations. By the fall of 1928, he had obtained commitments from seven organizations including the Cedar Rapids Association of Credit Men. Rowan was also a supporter and promoter of the creation of art in schools and universities, often serving on the juries of scholastic competitions and ensuring that students visited the Little Gallery to experience in person the joys of fine art. Rowan realized that adult art education was also critical to his mission and that he faced a foundational question of whether rural farmers, small-town business owners, housewives, maids, plumbers, butchers, carpenters, field hands, factory workers, and common laborers, who were for the most part not deeply schooled in the visual arts, could learn to appreciate paintings and sculpture and hopefully become artists themselves. Rowan attacked this topic headfirst through a series of lectures given to groups around Iowa during the fall of 1928 under the heading “Can the Average Man Enjoy Art?” Aided by his ever-present slide projector filled with masterpieces, the platform afforded by the Little Gallery, and his column in the Gazette, Rowan set out to inspire and convince his fellow Iowans that the answer to this question was yes.

Almost certainly by design, the exhibition program at the Little Gallery in 1928 tended towards somewhat conservative representational art. As a newcomer having recently arrived from the hallowed halls of Harvard, Rowan likely wanted to ease his new neighbors into the art world through recognizable and easily digestible imagery. Through the end of the year, the Little Gallery shows included works by Chicago landscape painters Josef Froula and Anthony Buchta, western sculptures by Charles Marion Russell, and an exhibition of Old Masters, which included oils by Brueghel, Constable, Courbet, and Bonheur, and prints by Rembrandt, Daumier, and Van Dyck.

During the hectic five months after the opening of the Little Gallery, Rowan was also able to stay in touch with the broader art scene, all the while thinking about how best to further the goals of his experimental art project. In the fall of 1928, he traveled to Chicago to visit the Art Institute and view the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, which included works by early European modernists. Even if Rowan was not yet ready to expose fully formed modernism to the Little Gallery patrons, Rowan took the opportunity in his October 14, 1928, Gazette column to begin to lay out to his thoughts on modern art, “I am not here to say that all of these works are great masterpieces or that all are of equal merit or of credible workmanship, even, but I am here to study how I can best present such works to the people with whom I come in contact and help them understand, if not actually like, some of the best artists working in what often seems an exaggerated and distorted manner.” Rowan explained that his goal was not to make everyone in Cedar Rapids love Matisse, but he wanted to help his neighbors understand a modernist perspective and that “art has many languages” which merit appreciation, if not approval. To help foster an understanding of the Moderns, Rowan concluded by noting that these artists were accomplished draftsmen who adopted a naïve approach, a riotous palette, or distorted figuration not because of a lack of training or talent, but because they chose to employ a different aesthetic to convey their messages. Rowan returned to Cedar Rapids with copies of the collection’s catalog, so that interested patrons could begin to see what he was talking about.

Rowan's travels in late 1928 included a December trip with Leila Mechlin, the secretary of the American Federation of Arts and editor of the Magazine of American Arts, as well as Alexander B. Trowbridge, the Director of the Federation. They journeyed to Denver, Colorado, to attend the Federation's western art conference. Rowan’s address to the conference outlined the initial progress of the Little Gallery and its goals. He received positive feedback on the program to place artwork in rural schools and was pleased to learn that other communities planned to follow the Cedar Rapids example. In his December 11 Gazette column, Rowan reported on the address by the University of Nebraska Professor Paul H. Grumman which resonated with the Gallery Director. Grumman lamented that American art was underappreciated and overshadowed by its European counterpart and that the Western states often did not have the opportunity to view art from the East Coast. To remedy this concern, Grumman proposed that Americans gain proper self-respect for their own art and that exhibition timelines be extended to two years, rather than one so that Western audiences could view the best that America had to offer. Already by late 1928, the seeds of American art boosterism and nativism were taking root. These sentiments would fully blossom several years later when artists like Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, John Stuart Curry, and many other otherwise sophisticated cosmopolitans purportedly turned their backs on all things French and embraced painting the American Scene. This cultural shift was also a part of Rowan's sphere of influence.

Rowan’s December 11 column is instructive in one other important way. He admitted, “Thanks to the convention, I am returning to Cedar Rapids with a deeper appreciation of the art of our western states and with a keener knowledge of how the various sections of this great country of ours can co-operate with one another in furthering an appreciation of the arts.” As in his column from Chicago six weeks earlier, Rowan confessed that he did not have all the answers and that he was learning as he went along. Despite his Ivy League education and background as an educator, Rowan was as much a student as he was a teacher, a characteristic which likely endeared him to folks in the Cedar Rapid community.


Rowan's last trip in 1928 was to Chicago, in part, to meet with John Theodore Johnson (J. Theodore), the young painter who had recently earned the Logan Prize at the Forty-First Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago for his painting The Black Mantilla. The model for the prize-winning canvas was Johnson’s artist wife, Mary, who also worked as Johnson’s business manager. Rowan arranged a visit by the Johnsons to Cedar Rapids in early January 1929. Rowan had arranged a commission for J. Theodore to paint the portrait of James E. Blake, a local businessman, and Johnson was to have a two-person show at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery opening in mid-January followed by a solo show at the Little Gallery in March. Never missing a chance to promote his artists, Rowan used his January 2, 1929, Gazette column to remind his readers of the chance to sit for the renowned visitor: “It is also hoped that more people will take advantage of the artist’s presence and have that portrait which they have been thinking about doing at this time. It is one sure way of gaining an enviable type of immortality.”

The Johnsons first arrived in Cedar Rapids on January 7, 1929, and started a whirlwind of social and art activities. There were dinners with the Rowans, with Marvin Cone and his wife, and with various other leading citizens of Cedar Rapids. When the Johnsons arrived, the Little Gallery had an exhibition of Czech art, and the gallery hosted a reception for the Czech community which the Johnsons attended. The same week, the Johnsons accompanied the Rowans to a lecture by the sculptor Lorado Taft. The following week, as Johnson worked on the Blake portrait, and a second portrait of Ellen Douglas, the Little Gallery hosted another reception in honor of the Johnsons. The Gazette published an article about Johnson’s process of painting portraits and the way he encouraged his subjects to talk about the things that interest them which results in a “liberal education and marvelous contacts with interesting people.” Later in the week, Rowan accompanied Mary Johnson to Davenport for the opening reception of J. Theodore Johnson’s two-person show (together with Francis Chapin) at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery. The exhibition included 22 oils and 20 drawings and watercolors. After completing the two commissions and socializing their way across Iowa, the Johnsons returned to Chicago.

(Catalog no. 10) John Theodore Johnson (1902 - 1963) Etude de Pomme I, 1928, oil on canvas board, 7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

In early March, Johnson’s solo show at the Little Gallery opened with fourteen oils, twenty watercolors, and eight drawings. The oils included the two recently commissioned portraits Johnson completed during his Cedar Rapids visit. After the initial opening, another oil portrait of Mary was also added to the show. Rowan used his March 7 column in The Gazette to write about Johnson’s work and in typical fashion, Rowan delivered lectures about the exhibition to civic organizations around Cedar Rapids. Johnson’s show was well received and favorably critiqued by the painter Charles Hawthorne who visited the Little Gallery during the opening week. Mary Johnson visited Cedar Rapids during the solo show, but it appears that J. Theodore did not. Soon after the Little Gallery show, the Johnsons decamped to Paris under a Guggenheim Fellowship, where they were visited by the Cones and Edward Rowan in the summer of 1929. Mary Johnson visited Cedar Rapids several times in 1930 and J. Theodore had a second show of thirty watercolors at the Little Gallery in December of that year. Moreover, the Johnsons kept in touch with members of the Cedar Rapids art community through the Rowans and the Cones.

(Catalog no. 11) John Theodore Johnson (1902 - 1963) Head of Mary Johnson, 1930, ink on paper, 5 ½ x 3 ½ inches

(Figure 3) Marvin Cone's depiction of J. Theodore Johnson's sketch of his wife Mary in the background of Flowers from my Garden

The Rowans admired Johnson’s work and his Etude de Pomme I (Catalog no. 10) is likely one of the first works added to their personal collection, perhaps as early as the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery show in January 1929, but almost certainly by the close of the Little Gallery exhibition in March. Strongly influenced by the structure of Cezanne, the small oil displays Johnson’s deep classical training, technical virtuosity, and a strong sense of color. The small pen and ink sketch Head of Mary Johnson (Catalog no. 11) which bears the date 1930 may have been acquired by the Rowans during one of Mary’s 1930 trips to visit the Cones and other Cedar Rapids friends. Or the date may be incorrect, and it may have come from 1929 around the time of the Davenport and Cedar Rapids exhibitions. Pared down and almost calligraphic, the sketch of Mary captures her powerful essence. The small work must have made an impression on not only the Rowans but also Marvin Cone who included a depiction of the Head of Marty Johnson in the background of his painting Flowers from my Garden. Although the Johnsons divorced in 1931, Rowan remained close to J. Theodore throughout the 1930s. Johnson received two mural commissions from the Section, the first in 1937 for the Garden City, New York post office and the second in 1939 for the post office in Oak Park, Illinois.


Soon after the close of the Johnson exhibit, on March 31, 1929, the Little Gallery opened a solo show of fifteen works by David McCosh, most of which were completed in Europe where McCosh painted under a fellowship from the Art Institute of Chicago. McCosh spent much of that time traveling and working with fellow Art Institute alum, Francis Chapin. The exhibition included Pont Saint Marie, Paris, which was illustrated in Rowan’s March 31 column in The Gazette and is related stylistically and thematically to Pont Neuf (The Old Bridge) from the Rowan Collection (Catalog no. 18). It is also likely that Pont Neuf (The Old Bridge) was exhibited in the Little Gallery exhibition. As with Johnson, Cezanne cast a long shadow over the artist. McCosh “painted with the sophistication of Paul Cezanne,” wrote Margaret Coe in The Making of David McCosh Early Paintings, Drawings, and Prints, “Stylistically, the early figurative paintings may bring to mind the realism movements of the 1930s, [b]ut the intent, mood, and coloration are McCosh’s own.” Coe also draws an apt comparison to another master, the American Edward Hopper, by noting that there is a sense of “isolation in early McCosh paintings as well.” These characteristics are evident in Pont Neuf (The Old Bridge).

(Catalog no. 18) David McCosh (1903 - 1980) Ponte Neuf (The Old Bridge), 1928, oil on panel, 14 ½ x 18 inches

A second work in the Rowan collection, Bowling (Catalog no. 19), also dates from McCosh’s time in France. Unlike his richly colored oil paintings, McCosh’s early French watercolors possess a light touch. With a narrow range of subdued tones and quickly rendered lines, Bowling is typical of McCosh’s European works on paper. Although lacking the refinement and complexity of his later WPA Era works, McCosh already displays an interest in the day-to-day life of the common man, a concern that would come to full fruition in his later American Scene works.

(Catalog no. 19) David McCosh (1903 - 1980) Bowling, 1928, watercolor on paper, 7 ¾ x 10 ½ inches

McCosh used the exposure of the Little Gallery show to promote painting classes on Saturday mornings at the Cedar Rapids public library. One of his students was Leata Rowan. By October 1929, McCosh had secured a position as a painting instructor at the museum school of the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery. McCosh and the Rowans continued their close association into the 1940s. The Little Gallery often exhibited McCosh’s work, including at a December 1930 solo exhibition of watercolors. Rowan also included McCosh in juried traveling exhibitions Rowan organized and the social pages often mention the Rowans attending events and traveling with McCosh. When Rowan and Adrian Dornbush established the impactful, but short-lived Stone City Art Colony, it is no surprise they picked McCosh as one of the painting instructors.

(Catalog no. 20) David McCosh (1903 - 1980) Entrance to Canal Project, 1934, watercolor on paper, 14 ½ x 22 ¾ inches

In 1933, Rowan became a senior administrator with PWAP, the first of the New Deal art projects, and in Spring of 1934, Rowan arranged for McCosh to be assigned to paint the daily activities at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp Chicago Lemont in Willow Springs, Illinois. The camp’s main purpose was to build recreation facilities along the I&M and Illinois Waterway. The CCC workers developed bridle paths, hiking trails, shelters, bathrooms, picnic sites, and footbridges, as well as planting trees and landscaping the area. McCosh painted Entrance to the Canal Project (Catalog no. 20) at the camp in the final months of the PWAP. It is one of the fullest expressions of American Scene painting in the Rowan collection with its realistic depictions of everyday life, in this case, CCC workers toiling away to build rural infrastructure. Rowan selected Entrance to the Canal Project for inclusion in Iowa Speaks, an exhibition sponsored by The American Federation of Arts that traveled across the nation in 1934 and 1935. It is likely the Rowans acquired Entrance to the Canal Project after the show concluded. Later in the decade and into the 1940s, the Rowan-led Section also awarded McCosh three commissions for murals in Kelso, Washington (completed 1938), the Department of the Interior Building in Washington, D.C., (completed 1940) and Beresford, South Dakota (completed 1942).


Rowan also included Dickman Walker in the Iowa Speaks exhibition. Walker was a multi-faceted painter, print artist, sculptor, and ceramist from Rock Island, Illinois. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the New York College of Ceramics. Rowan likely first became aware of Dickman Walker’s work in February 1929, when Rowan judged the first annual exhibition of artists of the tri-cities at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery where Walker displayed an “excellently done” study of a violinist, a color print, and a terra cotta figure sculpture, the latter two of which were awarded honorable mentions. Rowan invited the prize-winning artists to display their work at the Little Gallery later that year. In October 1932, Walker had a three-person exhibition at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery, together with John Bloom and Thomas Eldred, where Dancer (Catalog no. 32) was exhibited and, according to the inscription on the front of the work, gifted to Rowan. In the same month, Walker’s painting The Acrobats was accepted by the jury for the 45th Annual Exhibition of Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. Walker later moved to California and exhibited at a number of important institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art. An interesting aside is that Walker is cited as being one of the originators of Hawaiian-themed Tiki barware.

(Catalog no. 32) Dickman Walker (1908 - 1953) Dancer, 1932, pastel on paper, 19 x 12 ½ inches


Marvin Cone also exhibited in the Iowa Speaks show. He was a native of Cedar Rapids, a long-time friend of Grant Wood, and a mainstay of the Little Gallery. Cone graduated from Coe College in 1914 and then studied for several years at the Art Institute of Chicago and at various times in France during the 1910s and 1920s. By the time the Rowans established the Little Gallery, Cone was a well-respected fixture in the mid-West art scene and an art instructor at his alma mater in Cedar Rapids. In the Summer of 1929, a group of wealthy patrons supported the Cones’ summer trip to Paris where the artist was again struck by the luminosity of the city. Cone had previously lived and worked in France, including in 1920 with Wood, who remarked that after Cone’s Paris sojourns the artist still retained his “strong use of pattern and design” while also achieving a new “depth and connection to his work.” After his return to the United States in the Fall of 1929, the Little Gallery hosted a solo exhibition of recent paintings by Cone which included Color Arrangement (Catalog no. 4), a work that is typical of the artist’s still life compositions from this period. With its bright luminous colors, sparkling reflected light, and clearly defined structures, Color Arrangement demonstrates the impact the trip to France had on Cone’s work. He later used the same jug from Color Arrangement in his 1931 painting Studio Corner and anticipated the arrangement of oranges on a checked tablecloth in his 1933 Sansevieria, both of which are in the permanent collection of the Cedar Rapids Art Museum. It is likely the Rowans acquired Color Arrangement directly from Cone around the time of the Little Gallery exhibition.

(Catalog no. 4) Marvin Cone (1891 - 1964) Color Arrangement, late 1920s, oil on panel, 15 x 13 inches

A second work by Cone, Portrait of Doris Cone (Catalog no. 5), an impressionistic work of the artist’s daughter which is related to A Little Girl and Miss Doris Cone, both of which are in the permanent collection of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, demonstrates the close relationship between the Rowans and the Cones which continued throughout their tenure at the Little Gallery. The Cones were devoted parents and Marvin Cone joked in 1927, “Without putting painting aside, my chief hobby is my four-year-old daughter Doris, and what time I get to paint is most graciously awarded to me by her.” The fact that the Cones entrusted the painting of their beloved daughter to the Rowans speaks volumes about the deep affection the two couples felt for each other.

(Catalog no. 5) Marvin Cone (1891 - 1964) Portrait of Doris Cone , c. early 1930s, oil on panel, 13 x 15 inches


Emma Siboni was a visitor to Cedar Rapids. By the time she arrived in neighboring Des Moines, Iowa in early 1930, she was recognized as one of the nation’s most respected miniaturists, having painted members of the Russian and English royal families and winning numerous competitions. A native of Denmark, Siboni immigrated to the United States after studying in her homeland at the Danish Royal Academy. She later continued her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and the St. Louis School of Fine Arts. By the early 1920s, Siboni lived in Southern California where she won the first prize at the Eleventh Annual Exhibition of the California Miniature Society and an international miniature exhibition in Los Angeles. The Rowans invited Siboni to visit Cedar Rapids in March 1930 to give a presentation at the Little Gallery on miniature painting and its history, an art form that was common into the Depression Era, though less recognized today. While visiting Cedar Rapids, Siboni painted a charming miniature of the Rowans’ six-year-old son, Timothy (Catalog no. 30). One art critic praised Siboni’s Portrait of Timothy and noted she “portrayed this cunning lad with all his boyish wiles.” In a review of Siboni’s “brilliant” solo exhibition at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery which included Portrait of Timothy, Siboni was described as “more than a perfect craftsman” and the show itself was heralded as one of the most popular displays of the year. The Rowans later loaned Portrait of Timothy to Siboni’s 1937 solo exhibition at the Washington Arts Club.

(Catalog no. 30) Emma Siboni (1877 - 1968) Portrait of Timothy (the Rowans’ son), c. 1930, watercolor miniature likely on ivory, 2 ¾ x 2 ½ inches


In 1931, Adrian Dornbush came to Cedar Rapids where he was hired by Rowan to establish an art school at the Little Gallery. A native of Holland, Dornbush received his art education at the University of Wisconsin, the University College of Liberal Arts, Wisconsin, and the University of Kansas in addition to two years of study in Europe. Prior to his arrival in Cedar Rapids, Dornbush had already established a reputation as a highly regarded artist, teacher, and administrator. He had worked in the Dubuque, Iowa public schools, served as president of the Dubuque Art Association, directed the department of stage design at the University of Kansas, and organized the Flint Michigan Institute of Art. In addition to overseeing drawing and painting classes at the Little Gallery, Dornbush gave lectures on art history and trends, including the move towards regionalism in American painting. Dornbush likely painted Flower Still Life (Catalog no. 6) shortly before his move to Cedar Rapids, as it was initially exhibited at the Kansas City Art Institute in March 1931. A brushy, modernist canvas, Flower Still Life bears strong comparison to the works of Max Weber from the 1920s and 30s, with its tilted, cubist-inspired table-top and a decisively centered vase of flowers against a brightly modeled background. The painting likely entered the Rowans’ art collection sometime after Flower Still Life was exhibited in a 1932 show of Cedar Rapids painters associated with the Little Gallery, including Cone, McCosh, and Grant Wood.

(Catalog no. 6) Adrian Dornbush (1900 - 1970) Flower Still Life, 1931, oil on canvas, 19 ½ x 24 ½ inches


Rowan and Dornbush remained close friends and associates through the interwar period. In 1932, they founded the Stone City Art Colony together with Grant Wood. Rowan was key to obtaining financial support for the venture through a $1,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation. Dornbush served as the director of the colony and a painting instructor. Other instructors included Cone, McCosh, Wood, Chapin, Rowan, and Arnold Pyle. The colony served as a Midwest alternative to the already well-established art centers in the East such as Woodstock, New York, and in the West, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico. During the summers of 1932 and 1933, resident artists lived in the main house, icehouse, outbuildings, and converted wagons on the John A. Green estate in Stone City. Around 120 students took classes in painting, drawing, design, and metalwork. After the summer of 1933, the colony closed due to financial difficulties.

(Figure 4) Faculty and students at the Stone City Art Colony, 1933; courtesy Archives of American Art

The Rowan collection does not contain any works by Grant Wood, though Rowan and Wood maintained a close if sometimes rocky, relationship during the Cedar Rapid years at the Little Gallery and at Stone City. Rowan considered Grant Wood to be his greatest discovery and even claimed partial credit for the creation of Wood’s American Gothic. “It was [Rowan] who had brought Wood to Eldon, site of the painter’s now-iconic farmhouse,” R. Tripp Evans explains in Grant Wood, A Life. “In his 1935 pastel Return from Bohemia,” Evans continues, “Wood clearly suggests Rowan’s role as midwife to his fame; appearing behind the ‘pregnant’ form of David Turner, Rowan stands in a position to deliver the artist who faces us.” Wood had previously used Ed Rowan as a model in his 1931 painting Appraisal, where in a gender-bending twist, Rowan is depicted as the country woman holding a rooster fixed in conversation with a more elegant city counterpart. As Evans explains, “The inspiration for this painting derived from an argument between the artist and Rowan. Angered that the Little Gallery Director had dismissed his proposal for an all-local show – Rowan typically favored mixing local artists with urban painters – Wood vented his spleen with [Wood’s friend Hazel] Brown and her partner, Mary Lackersteen. ‘Grant had to do something to get it out of his system,’ Brown writes, ‘and he had some luck.’” After initially planning to depict the country woman in a demeaning way, Wood shifted gears to portray Rowan with an erect nobility (though still holding a “cock”) as a sort of peace-offering to Rowan.

(Figure 5) Grant Wood's wagon at the Stone City Art Colony; courtesy Archives of American Art


Daniel Rhodes was a student at the Stone City Art Colony mainly studying with Wood. Rowan knew Rhodes as early as January 1932 when he was a guest at the young artist’s home in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Rowan and Rhodes exhibited together in shows around Iowa in 1933 and Rowan later included Rhodes’ work in the Iowa Speaks exhibition. Rhodes moved to Washington, D.C., in 1934 to fulfill a mural commission awarded by the PWAP, where Rowan served as a senior administrator, specifically for the cafeteria in the US Navy building. Rhodes and Rowan both lived in St. Matthews Court, which was Washington, D.C.’s version of Greenwich Village, a spot where artists, writers, and musicians lived, worked, and maintained studios. Period photographs show Rowan sitting in his St. Matthew’s Court apartment beneath a Rhodes' painting. Rhodes likely painted Portrait of Hans Kindler (Catalog no. 23) during his time in Washington, D.C., when the famous cellist served as the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, the venerable institution Kindler founded in 1931. Rhodes’ canvas is an expressionist figure study showing Kindler’s prominent, oversized head and torso dwarfing his cello, while a rail-thin pianist plays in the background. After his return from Washington, D.C., Rhodes became a major force in Midwestern Scene during the 1930s, winning three consecutive annual sweepstakes for painting at the Iowa State Fair, surpassing even Grant Wood. As with many of the artists in the collection, Rowan and Rhodes stayed in contact through the Depression Era. The Rowan-led Section awarded Rhodes four mural commissions between 1937 and 1941. After Rhodes received the first master of fine arts degree to be awarded from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Rhodes turned his attention to working almost exclusively in ceramics. Because of this shift to ceramics, Rhodes' oil paintings are rare.

(Catalog no. 23) Danial Rhodes (1911 - 1989) Portrait of Hans Kindler, 1930s-1940s, oil on canvas, 18 x 22 inches

(Figure 6) Edward Rowan in his St. Matthews Court home sitting beneath a painting by Daniel Rhodes; courtesy Archives of American Art


In 1934, Dornbush and Rowan collaborated on yet another experimental art project in Key West, Florida, under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). During the 1920s, Key West experienced a series of disasters, both natural and man-made. The community was frequently ravaged by hurricanes, while the cigar industry mostly relocated to Tampa. Furthermore, the Great Depression dealt a severe blow to the city, leaving it more deeply affected than many other places. By 1934, the city of Key West was in ruins, with depopulation and a staggering unemployment rate of eighty percent. In response, state and local officials relinquished the governance of Key West to FERA, led by Julius F. Stone, Jr., who had a vision of transforming Key West into a thriving tourist destination. As part of the revitalization plan, artists were employed to reside and work in Key West, injecting creativity and cultural vibrancy into the community.

Dornbush was appointed the first director of the FERA art project. The painters produced public art, easel paintings, etchings, and watercolors which were exhibited in the FERA Key West art galleries, located at the Colonial Hotel and the Caroline Low House, and across the United States as part of an effort to promote tourism to Key West. Stone arranged for a group of watercolors to be sent to Washington, D.C., where the Greyhound Corporation agreed to establish a series of temporary art galleries in major bus stations in New York, Washington, and Boston to display work from FERA artists. The Miami Chamber of Commerce installed a gallery of FERA Key West paintings in the city as well. Many of the original works were also converted to posters and postcards to expand the project’s reach. By 1936, the FERA artists produced around 400 paintings and etchings and 50 mural panels for various Key West buildings. The project was a great success and is often cited as the origin of the Key West tourist and art economy which continues today.


Richard H. Jansen hailed from Wisconsin and was among the first artists chosen to participate in FERA’s Key West art project. Jansen had studied at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee and at the Art Students League in New York. He was well-known as a watercolorist and muralist, making him well-suited for the FERA assignment. Jansen's painting Key West (Catalog no. 9) was completed during his tenure with FERA and exemplifies the sun-drenched imagery of local vernacular architecture that artists produced for exhibition and promotion of tourism across the country. Its relatively large size and Jansen’s skillful application of opaque gouache make the work appear more like an oil painting than a watercolor. The work was exhibited in several group shows of Wisconsin artists later in the 1930s. Between 1938 and 1942, Jansen completed three murals for the Section.

(Catalog no. 9) Richard H. Jansen (1910 - 1988) Key West, 1935, watercolor and gouache on paper, 20 x 26 inches


Oleanders (Catalog no. 29) by Richard Sargent is another work completed during the FERA Key West art project. Like Jansen, Sargent was one of the original artists selected for a six-month assignment to “aid in the federal plan for making Key West an art center and an inexpensive resort city.” The Moline, Illinois artist studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and had already established himself as a prominent watercolorist. In 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt handpicked one of Sargent’s paintings to be displayed in the White House, and in 1935, one of his compositions won first prize at the Corcoran. Sargent’s mastery as a watercolorist is showcased in Oleanders as he uses a combination of transparent washes and fully loaded opaque strokes to create the sub-tropical foliage. Rowan likely acquired Oleanders during a February 1936 trip to visit the FERA Key West art project. Inscribed on the backing sheet of the painting is the notation “purchased from Key West administration $30.00.” By April of the same year, Rowan, in his role in the Treasury Department’s art programs, arranged for 30 of the FERA Key West watercolors and etchings to be exhibited at his alma mater, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and in Minneapolis. Twelve FERA artists were shown, including Sargent, who would later become one of the country’s leading illustrators for the Saturday Evening Post and other mid-century magazines.

(Catalog no. 29) Richard Sargent (1911 - 1978) Oleanders, 1935, watercolor on paper, 13 ½ x 19 ½ inches


Following his tenure as the assistant technical director and temporary director of the PWAP, Rowan assumed the position of technical director and superintendent of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture in the fall of 1934. This appointment extended his stay in Washington, D.C. The other prominent leaders of the recently formed New Deal program were the artists Edward Bruce and Olin Dows. In connection with the Section, Rowan had a tremendous influence on public art during the New Deal. He was responsible for organizing and executing hundreds of competitions, commissions, and awards for murals and sculptures to adorn courthouses, post offices, and schools across the United States. He also served as the primary critic, cheerleader, and mediator between the New Deal artists and the local communities where artwork was installed. WPA-era files are filled with correspondence in which Rowan coached, cajoled, and encouraged artists in their Treasury Department projects.


Rowan likely became acquainted with Herman Maril’s work towards the end of 1933 when Maril was accepted into the PWAP as a “class A artist” and started working in the easel painting division of the program. In March 1935, both were involved in exhibitions at Washington D.C.’s Howard University. Rowan also served as a jury member for the Third Annual Exhibition of Maryland Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where Mari’s oil painting Stage Harbor won first prize. This acclaimed artwork was also exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Although the twenty-six-year-old modernist had achieved a measure of prior success, Rowan, fellow New Deal art administrator Dows and Duncan Phillips, the prominent collector, and museum founder, all began to promote Maril’s work during this period. Phillips acquired the first two of Maril's fourteen works to enter the Phillips Collection. Rowan acquired Mother and Son (Mare and Colt) (Catalog no. 17) (and presumably Bather (Catalog no. 16)), and Dows wrote a six-page article about Maril in the July edition of The American Magazine of Art published by The American Federation of Arts which illustrated Rowan’s recent acquisition. “Herman Maril’s painting is reserved, and like most good paintings, it is simple. He’s interested in the essentials. Each picture has its core; each is beautifully conceived and organized; each is distinct in mood,” Dows wrote. “He is careful and craftsmanlike whether he is painting a large oil or one of his charming and individual little gouaches. Unlike many moderns who use semi-abstraction, Maril always achieves mood, whether his subject is a boat on the sand, a tent under a stormy sky, a nude, two horses, or a band concert at night. Each picture is a distinct experience. The subject is ‘brought out.’ It is clothed in a certain poetry, a certain meaning that is essentially pictorial.” Rowan must have treasured Mother and Son (Mare and Colt), as he placed it prominently in the sitting room of his St. Matthews Court apartment in Washington, D.C. A photograph of a dapper Rowan sitting beneath Maril’s painting is in the collection of the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute. Maril maintained a connection to Rowan throughout the 1930s, as evidenced by Maril receiving two post office mural commissions from the Section. The first commission was in 1937 for Alta Vista, Virginia, and the second commission was in 1939 for Scranton, Pennsylvania.

(Catalog no. 17) Herman Maril (1908 - 1986) Mother and Son (Colt and Mare), 1931, oil on canvas, 18 x 14 inches

(Figure 7) Ed Rowan in his St Matthews Court home sitting below Herman Maril's Mother and Son (Colt and Mare); courtesy Archives of American Art

(Catalog no. 16) Herman Maril (1908 - 1986) Bather, 1932, oil on canvas, 8 1/8 x 10 inches


Pietro Lazzari was an Italian-born painter, sculptor, illustrator, and printmaker who also received a commission from the Section. He trained at the Ornamental School of Rome and after World War I exhibited with the Italian futurist painters including Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. Fearing the rise of Fascism, Lazzari immigrated to the United States first settling in New York where he exhibited widely in modernist art circles, eventually being represented by Betty Parsons Gallery. Under the auspices of Rowan’s Section, Lazzari was commissioned in 1941 to paint the mural Good News for the new post office in Brevard, Transylvania County, North Carolina. Lazzari’s mural extols the virtues of rural mail delivery and shows farmers discussing the sale of a cow and a mail carrier distributing letters. Separating the mural’s two groups in the center of the panel is a sway-backed horse seen from behind at a foreshortened angle. Horses (Catalog no. 12) appears to be either a study for the mural or an after-the-fact reflection on the work. Painted in tempera on an incised board, Horses is a spare and dramatic take on classic American Scene subject matter. Lazzari seems to have gifted Horses to his “dear friend” Rowan based on the inscription on the front of the painting. Rowan and Lazzari remained close, with Lazzari moving to Washington, D.C., on a full-time basis in 1942 and volunteering as an instructor in Rowan’s Red Cross Arts and Skills Program, an effort designed to help rehabilitate wounded service members during and after World War II.

(Catalog no. 12) Pietro Lazzari (1895 - 1979)Horses (Study for central portion of Good News mural for the Brevard Post Office – Brevard, North Carolina), 1941, tempera on inscribed panel, 24 x 24 inches


Rowan’s Section also commissioned Eugene Higgins to create a mural for the Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania Post Office. A generation older than most of the artists in the Rowan collection, Higgins was an Ashcan and social realist painter who had trained in France at the turn of the 20th Century where he was influenced by European Old Masters and 19th-century painting. Raised in Saint Louis, Higgins was already an associate member of the National Academy of Design by the time Rowan graduated from university.

(Catalog no. 8) Eugene Higgins (1874 - 1958) Mural Study for The Armistice Letter – Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania Post Office, 1938, watercolor on paper, 5 ½ x 10 1/2 inches

The first evidence of Rowan’s appreciation of Higgin’s work comes from a 1929 column in The Gazette. In reviewing the All-American exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Rowan wrote approvingly of Higgins’ second prize-winning painting The Storm, and another entry Old House By Moonlight. “In color and treatment,” Rowan wrote, “one is reminded of that great but little-known American Albert P. Ryder and the more popular Frenchman Honore Daumier.” Rowan arranged for Higgin’s prize-winning painting, together with several other paintings from the Chicago exhibition, including Grant Woods’ Woman with a Plant, to be exhibited in Cedar Rapids the following year. In 1938, Rowan’s Section awarded the Beaver Falls mural commission to Higgins. Like Lazzari’s Brevard, North Carolina mural, Higgins’ work celebrates the US mail service, in this case, as a vital conduit to world events. In The Armistice Letter Study (Catalog no. 8), the left passage of the mural depicts a family huddled around its rural mailbox reading a letter and newspaper announcing the end of World War I. The viewer is left to imagine the family’s hopes for the safe return from France of the young son, brother, and perhaps boyfriend. To the right of the mural, a burly team of horses plows a field and a single oversized white dove soars into the sky which transforms from dark to light. Completed just a year before the start of World War II in Europe, but at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Higgins’ work contemplates the uncertain future by looking to the past. The Armistice Letter Study is directly related to Higgins’s completed mural. The margins are marked with a drafting scale for the completed mural of 11/16 inches to 1 foot. An intermediate study of the same composition for the Beaver Falls Post Office is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. It is accessible for viewing in the open storage section of the museum.

(Figure 8) Eugene Higgins mural for the Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania Post Office


In May of 1935, Rowan, in his capacity as Superintendent of the Section, wrote to inform Chaim Gross that he had been selected as a finalist for a significant sculpture commission. A native of Austria and the son of a Hasidic Jewish lumber merchant, Gross had immigrated to New York in 1921. He pursued studies at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design under Elie Nadelman, his most influential instructor. Nadelman’s teachings inspired Gross to focus his artistic practice on the human form. Initially, Gross became a pioneer of the direct carving movement before later exploring bronze as a medium for his work. After an extensive competition which involved 107 sculpture submissions and multiple assessments, Gross was awarded a $3,000 commission by the Section for a statue of an Alaskan snowshoe mail carrier for the present-day Clinton Federal Building, the headquarters of the US Postal Service. Cast in aluminum, the postal building commission was a monumental modernist design. Gross’ Circus Performer (Untitled) (Catalog no. 7) also possesses a modernist monumentality, but on a petite scale, in this case, drawn from naïve folk traditions. The unique sculpture is carved directly from a single block of wood. Gross’ acrobat stands solidly with both feet planted on the ground, which is a cheeky plot twist considering her profession. Throughout his career, happiness, and optimism have suffused his work,” Matthew Baigell wrote of Gross in the Dictionary of American Art. “The human figure, his central image, is often shown as a circus performer or dancer and also as a devoted family member. His forms are usually squat and amply volumed; wood grains often emphasize swelled thighs and buttocks." The Rowans likely acquired the Gross sculpture during the late 1930s or early 1940s, as Edward’s and Gross’ paths periodically intersected through the years, including their involvement in the wartime Artists for Victory organization during World War II.

(Catalog no. 7) Chaim Gross (1904 - 1991) Circus Performer (Untitled), 1930s, wood sculpture, 10 ½ x 3 ¾ x 2 ½ inches


Like Gross, the Section also awarded a commission for the US Postal Service headquarters to Oronzio Maldarelli. He had immigrated as a child from his native Italy to New York where he studied at the Cooper Union and later at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design with Elie Nadalman and Jo Davidson. Maldarelli’s statue for the Post Office building is a polished and stylized depiction of an airmail pilot. Cast in aluminum, the figure has many of the hallmarks of sleek Machine Age aesthetics. When Maldarelli created a bespoke token of his affection for the Rowans, he also turned to a silver-gray metal which he fashioned into a kind of Christmas card (Catalog no. 15). Rather than using a casting process, however, Merry Xmas is a unique hand-hammered plaque with a central figure leaping across its surface. Naked and with a wide-open mouth, the conventionalized image announces the joys of the Christmas season. Maldarelli inscribed the gift with “Merry Xmas – To The Rowans – Maldarelli.”

(Catalog no. 15) Oronzio Maldarelli (1892 - 1963) Merry Xmas, 1930s, metal repousse plaque, 5 x 5 inches


Born in Cuba in 1908, Carlos Lopez immigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old. Lopez settled in Detroit where he attended the Detroit Art Academy and quickly became its director in 1933. In 1937, Lopez, assisted by his wife, Rhoda, completed his first Section mural commission for the Dwight, Illinois post office. Three other commissions from the Section followed. Then, in 1942, the Section and the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency announced a mural competition for the embellishment of the Recorder of Deeds building in Washington, D.C. The following year, Lopez was one of seven artists selected from the 124 who submitted designs to “reflect the contribution of the Negro to the American nation.” In this first-of-its-kind project, Lopez’s mural depicted Shaw at Fort Wagner, a composition featuring the 54th Massachusetts Regiment which was composed of free Black enlisted men in the successful, but costly, assault on the rebel South Carolina fort in 1863. Lopez was the only LatinX artist to win a commission for the project. The other winners included Black artist William Edouard Scott, and three women, Maxine Seelbinder, Ethel Magafan, and Martyl Schweig, making the overall program one of the most diverse of the New Deal public works mural projects. At the time of the competition for the Recorder of Deeds building, Rowan was still in his leadership position at the Section and had assumed responsibilities within the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency.

(Catalog no. 14) Carlos Lopez (1910 - 1953) Portrait of Ed Rowan, 1943, ink on paper, 13 ½ x 10 ½ inches

Rowan knew Lopez from his first Section commissions in 1937 and 1938. Rowan served on the jury which selected winners for the Recorder of Deeds Building. Lopez’ Portrait of Ed Rowan (Catalog no. 14) is an unvarnished expressionist study of the sitter. Rowan was a tall thin man with hollowed cheeks, deep-set eyes, a pronounced nose, a long neck, and an unruly mop of hair. Lopez’s portrait captures Rowan’s features without editing or flattery. Given the Civil War subject matter of several of the Recorder of Deeds panels, including Scott’s mural of Frederick Douglass appealing to Abraham Lincoln to enlist Black soldiers in the Union cause, it is interesting that Lopez’ Portrait of Rowan resembles the wartime President. Likely gifted to Rowan as the two worked together on the Recorder of Deeds project, Lopez inscribed the portrait “with best wishes to my friend Edward B. Rowan.”


Rowan and George Biddle knew one another through their mutual involvement in the American Federation of Arts during the early 1930s. They became friends and their professional and social lives often intersected. Biddle was a primary catalyst for the creation of the New Deal public mural projects. Having traveled and painted in Mexico in 1928 where he met Diego Rivera, Biddle saw the power of public art. Biddle was from a wealthy and prominent family and knew President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. A socially conscious and left-leaning New Dealer, Biddle persuaded the President to establish a government-supported mural program and received one of its first commissions to paint his Society Freed Through Justice mural for the Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Biddle’s mural is a typical American Scene composition depicting the life of the common person and allegories about the role of justice in the United States. Painted in true fresco, Biddle used friends and family as models for his mural protagonists, including Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, and Francis Biddle, the artist’s brother who was the former chair of the National Labor Relations Board and future Attorney General. Behind Francis Biddle is Edward Rowan himself hanging up his coat and looking back at the viewer. In the panel to the right, Biddle initially used his wife, the sculptor, Helene Sardeau, as a model for a central figure depicted in a yellow dress. Biddle’s initial mural designs unmistakably featured Sardeau’s image, and Biddle ultimately completed the panel as originally planned. After the fresco dried, however, Biddle had Sardeau’s image removed from the mural and gifted the work to the Rowans, resulting in a Portrait of Helene Sardeau (The Artist’s Wife) (Catalog no. 1) becoming one of the most historically significant works in the collection. Biddle then repainted the section using a different model with darker hair and a slightly different pose.

(Catalog no. 1) George Biddle (1885 - 1973) Portrait of Helene Sardeau (The Artist’s Wife), 1936, fresco, 20 x 16 inches

(Figure 9) George Biddle's mural for the Department of Justice with Edward Rowan in the center panel. The woman in the yellow dress is where Biddle's image of his wife Helene Sardeau was painted before it was removed and redone by the artist.


Henry Varnum Poor was also a member of the initial group of artists to receive a mural commission for the Department of Justice building under the direction of the Section. Poor’s murals were installed in the alcoves outside the Attorney General’s office. Newspapers reported that Rowan was particularly pleased with Poor’s designs. Somewhat surprisingly, throughout much of the 1920s and into the early 1930s, Poor was primarily recognized as a ceramist despite his training as a painter at Stanford University, the Slade School in London, the Académie Julian in Paris, and the American Academy in Rome. Poor worked in the craft tradition of throwing or building the clay bodies of his bowls, vases, and plates and decorating their surfaces with a variety of modernist-inspired images. Plate with Ram (Untitled) (Catalog no. 22) is typical of Poor’s ceramic work from the late 1920s. In addition to completing his own murals, Poor served alongside Rowan on the juries for various public works competitions, including the 1942 project for the Recorder of Deeds building. It was during this competition that Carlos Lopez was awarded the commission. It is not clear when Plate with Ram (Untitled) (Catalog no. 22) entered the Rowan collection, but it likely occurred during the mid-1930s through the early 1940s as Poor and Rowan worked together on public works projects.

(Catalog no. 22) Henry Varnum Poor (1887 - 1970) Plate with Ram (Untitled), 1929, glazed and incised ceramic, 8 ½ inches diameter


Nan Watson served as chair of the jury for the Recorder of Deeds competition in 1942. Rowan and Poor also served as members of the jury. A generation older than Rowan, Watson had trained extensively at the Paris’ Académie Colarossi, the Art Students League in New York, and at the Buffalo Art Students League. Nan Watson was married to Forbes Watson, a critic, writer, editor, and arts administrator who collaborated with Rowan in various public works posts during the New Deal. In addition to Forbes Watson’s involvement, Nan Watson herself served as an administrator for the Section. Rowan first became acquainted with the Watsons through their shared work at the American Federation of Arts. Furthermore, during Rowan’s tenure leading the Little Gallery, Forbes Watson visited and delivered a speech titled “Modern Tendencies in Art.’ “The unpretentiousness, the practicality, the undaunted enthusiasm with which Edward Rowan the director, has made the Little Gallery of Cedar Rapids useful to the people and helpful to the creative artists are perfectly in keeping with the optimism with which the middle westerners’ attitude toward art is imbued,” Watson wrote in an editorial in The Arts soon after his visit. After moving to the Washington, D.C., area, the Rowans socialized with the Watsons, who sometimes acted as co-hosts for dinners at the Rowan's Falls Church Virginia home.

(Catalog no. 33) Nan Watson (1876 - 1966) Flower Bouquet, 1930s, watercolor on paper, 12 x 9 1/2 inches

It is likely that Nan Watson’s Flower Bouquet (Catalog no. 33) entered the Rowan family collection during the mid-1930s or early 1940s when Rowan and the Watsons worked together at the Section. The small watercolor is typical of Watson’s flower compositions and is similar to her works which are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Watson was celebrated for her floral still life compositions. In 1929, the art historian and critic, Lloyd Goodrich, wrote of Watson, “One knows no other painter of flowers who captures so completely their delicate life without becoming in the least sentimental about it or lapsing into merely technical fireworks." Three years later, the New York Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell reflected, "The field is thronged with artists who paint flowers; many of these artists are highly successful, though few are seen to arrive at the goal of superlative distinction. Among those who do attain this coveted goal, Nan Watson must certainly be numbered."


Between 1937 and 1940, Waldo Peirce completed three mural projects for the Section. A native of Maine, Peirce came from a privileged background that afforded opportunities to live and study in Paris after his graduation from Harvard. While in Europe, Peirce fell under the spell of the French impressionists, and upon his return to the US, he applied that aesthetic to the American Scene. As early as 1932, Rowan had promoted Peirce’s work in lectures on contemporary American art at the Little Gallery and in the communities surrounding Cedar Rapids. The Rowans and the Peirces formed a friendship by 1935, with Waldo Pierce even being a house guest that year. In 1937, the entire Pierce family visited the Rowans on their way to winter in Tucson. The Rowans must have been proud to have Peirce’s County Fair (Catalog no. 21) in their collection since it is a smaller version of one of the artist’s most iconic works which graced the cover of Alan Gruskin’s important 1948 book Painting in the USA. Both versions of County Fair share Peirce’s exuberant brand of impressionism characterized by bold brush strokes of vibrant colors, in this case, used to depict a classic 1930s northeastern scene of a racetrack and a festive tent for the sale of recently decriminalized beer and ale, which had been banned in 1920 with prohibition but came to an end in 1933.

(Catalog no. 21) Waldo Peirce (1884 - 1970) County Fair, 1933, oil on panel, 10 x 20 inches


In 1938, the Section awarded a $1,500 mural commission for the Selma, California Post Office to Norman Stiles Chamberlain. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Chamberlain had studied in Holland and France and obtained the patronage of Arabella Huntington. Rowan likely became familiar with Chamberlain’s work around the time of his first Section commission. Chamberlain’s, Land of Irrigation, explores the town’s agricultural economy based on the production of peaches and grapes. Chamberlain’s Balboa Harbor, California (Catalog no. 3) addresses a scene more familiar to Chamberlain, who lived in Southern California from the 1920s until his death in 1961. Balboa Harbor, California is one of two works in the Rowan collection in a watercolor style that dominated the California art scene during the 1930s. This style is commonly referred to as California Scene painting.

(Catalog no. 3) Norman Stiles Chamberlain (1887 - 1961) Balboa Harbor, California, 1935, watercolor on paper, 16 ½ x 22 inches


The other California Scene watercolor in the Rowan Collection is Blue Ships (Catalog no. 13) by Tom E. Lewis, an artist who studied architecture at the University of Southern California. Beyond that training, Lewis was largely self-taught as an artist. The Section awarded two commissions to Lewis, the first completed in 1938 for the Hayward California Post Office and the second completed in 1941 for the El Dorado County California District Attorney’s Office. Rowan knew of Lewis’ work through these commissions. Moreover, Rowan saw Lewis’ work at a December 1940 National Art Week exhibition in Washington, D.C., where Lewis exhibited together with McCosh and hundreds of other artists. The National Art Week program was sponsored by Holger Cahill of the WPA while Rowan and the Section provided day-to-day management. The program was designed with the dual purpose of providing venues for artists to sell their work and patrons the opportunity to purchase art at a reasonable price.

(Catalog no. 13) Tom D. Lewis (1909 - 1979) Blue Ships, 1936, watercolor on paper, 14 x 21 inches


Lucia May Wiley was one of the most prolific female muralists of the Depression Era. She completed three murals in Minnesota for the Treasury Department, another for the Federal Arts Project, and yet another Section mural in 1943 for her hometown post office in Tillamook, Oregon. She studied at the University of Minnesota and the University of Oregon, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees and wrote her thesis on fresco painting. By the early 1950s, she was considered one of the nation’s top experts on fresco murals. In 1941, Wiley completed an egg tempera fresco mural, Shelby County Fair, 1900, for the Shelbyville, Illinois post office under the auspices of the Section. Wiley’s composition revolves around three clusters of horses and their handlers in the foreground and the buildings and tents of the fairgrounds are in the distance. Although devoid of people, Wiley’s Horses (Catalog no. 34) shares many of the same features as Shelby County Fair, 1900. Both works have a similar palette of dusty roses, browns, greens, and ochres, an energetic composition based around three groups of muscular horses and structures in the background, in the case of Horses, what appears to be a low-slung barn. After achieving significant success as a public works artist, Wiley entered an episcopal convent in New York and became a religious sister.

(Catalog no. 34) Lucia May Wiley (1906 - 1998) Horses, 1936, serigraph on paper, 11 ¼ x 19 1/8 inches


Nura Woodson Ulreich was born in Kansas City and studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and the Art Students League in New York. She also studied in Paris where she met her artist husband, Eduard Buk Ulreich. Nura was well known as a printmaker, painter, and illustrator, particularly of children’s books. Her style was a studied but naïve form of modernism and she often portrayed seemingly innocent views of children and their pets, as in Bosom Friends (Catalog no. 31). The Rowans’ version of Bosom Friends is a unique work. Although starting life as a black and white lithograph by Nura, the couple applied gouache and watercolor to bring the work to life. A native of Hungary, Buk Ulreich had immigrated to the United States and was a WPA-era muralist who completed three projects for Rowan’s Section between 1937 and 1940. The Ulreichs likely became friends with the Rowans during this period. Bosom Friends is inscribed “to Ed and Leata Rowan from Bukannura,” a moniker the couple used when working on art together. A copy of Nura’s lithograph Bosom Friends (without the hand-applied gouache and watercolor by Nura and Buk) is in the collection of the Syracuse University Art Museum.

(Catalog no. 31) Nura Woodson Ulreich (1899 - 1950) and Eduard Buk Ulreich (1889 - 1966) Bosom Friends, 1936, serigraph on paper, 11 x 13 inches



Edward Bruce and Edward Rowan were close professional colleagues and personal friends. A prominent lawyer and businessman, Bruce pivoted in the 1920s to a life dedicated to art. He spent six years in Italy painting and when he returned to the United States in 1929, he was a well-respected painter. Upon his return, Bruce initially settled in California and first exhibited at Cedar’s Rapids Little Gallery in 1932, when one of his landscapes was included in a group show that had traveled from the Art Institute of Chicago. Rowan declared the show to be the finest group of paintings to ever be shown in Cedar Rapids. The service-minded Bruce moved to Washington, D.C., in 1933 to contribute to the establishment of the New Deal art projects. He initially served as the secretary of the art advisory committee to the Department of the Treasury and eventually assumed the role of senior administrator and spiritual leader of the PWAP, where Rowan served as the Assistant Technical Director. Rowan followed Bruce in the Section, where he served as one of Bruce’s senior executives. Bruce and the Rowans socialized often, traveling and spending time together during holidays. By 1935, newspapers described Bruce as overseeing all federal art projects under the auspices of the Treasury Department. Until Bruce’s death in 1943, he was Rowan’s boss. However, as the duo entered the 1940s, Rowan gradually assumed more day-to-day responsibilities. When Bruce passed away in 1943, Rowan succeeded him as the head of the Section. Bruce likely gifted Vermont Countryside (Catalog no. 2) to Rowan sometime during the mid to late 1930s, when they worked closely together at the Treasury Department. The small jewel of a painting, which is inscribed on the front “EB to ER,” is typical of Bruce’s spare and somewhat brushy approach to landscape painting.

(Catalog no. 2) Edward Bruce (1879 - 1943)Vermont Countryside, 1930s, oil on panel, 12 x 9 inches


Little is known about Edward Rowan’s artistic training, though it is fair to assume he honed his skills while studying at Harvard in the late 1920s and serving at the Little Gallery and the Stone City Art Colony. In Cedar Rapids, Rowan principally exhibited landscapes and still life flower arrangements in watercolor like Catalog nos. 24 and 25. Together with many other Little Gallery artists, including Cone, Rowan showed with the Iowa Artists Association at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery and other venues around the state in the early 1930s. In addition to still lifes and landscapes, Rowan was inspired to paint the other two watercolors in the collection by his love of birds and involvement with the Audubon Society dating back to his time in Mansfield, Ohio when he worked as a biology teacher (Catalog nos. 26 and 27). Rowan’s approach to watercolor was a bold and expressive form of modernism.

(Catalog no. 24) Edward Rowan (1898 - 1946) Flowers Still Life, 1930s, watercolor on paper, 20 ½ x 16 inches

(Catalog no. 25) Edward Rowan (1898 - 1946) Flowers Still Life, 1930s, watercolor on paper, 24 x 19 ½ inches

(Catalog no. 26) Edward Rowan (1898 - 1946) Horn Bill and Secretary Bird, 1933, watercolor on paper, 19 x 13 7/8 inches

(Catalog no. 27) Edward Rowan (1898 - 1946) Saddle Back Storks, 1933, watercolor on paper, 19 x 13 7/8 inches


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