Olin Dows (1904 - 1981) was born in Irvington-on Hudson and in 1906 moved to a large farmhouse on the Hudson River just below Rhinebeck, New York where he lived for much of his life when not in Washington, D.C. and Pirque, Chile. By his own admission he wanted to paint from the time he was twelve years old and admired artists including Maxwell Parrish, Frederick Remington, Augustus John, Charles Dana Gibson, William Blake, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Dows was very influenced by the folding screens of Robert W. Chanler, who was raised at Rokeby in Germantown, N.Y. His family's close friendship with President Roosevelt's family in Hyde Park, recurred as an important factor in his career.
Dows attended Harvard College from 1922 to 1925 and studied art, architectural drawing at MIT and drew portraits and made screens in his dorm room. Within three years he transferred, after a sojourn in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts to Yale Art School and studied there with Eugene Savage and Edwin Cassius Taylor through 1927. In 1928 and 1929 Dows studied at the Arts Students League in New York City with some unusual classmates including David Smith, Clyfford Still, Beatrice Cuming, Burgoyne Diller and Jackson Pollock. Thomas Hart Benton was a professor at this time.
During the 1930's Dows traveled to Mexico and made woodcuts, watercolors and a few paintings, to Egypt which inspired many screens and also to Germany in the summer of 1938 on the eve of World War II. Living in Washington and having a long standing relationship with the Roosevelt's, he served as a member of the administration during the Great Depression. Working with Forbes Watson and the Treasury Department, Dows was a central figure in several aid-to-artist programs, all prior to the Federal Arts Project under the WPA created in 1935. Dows and a team reviewed hundreds of competition entries for paintings, sculptures and particularly murals intended for the many federal buildings constructed across the nation as part of the relief effort.
Many of the commissions were for post offices across the country, including two he painted himself in Hyde Park and Rhinebeck, N.Y. It is of note that as an administrator Dows approved contracts for murals and art work to Milton Avery, Thomas Hart Benton, George Biddle, John Stuart Curry, Philip Evergood, Rockwell Kent, Reginald Marsh, Max Weber and Grant Wood. These friends and colleagues explain a great deal about his stylistic influences and his lack of interest in abstraction. Dows drew and painted what he saw and what interested him. At the end of this tenure he was largely responsible for the publication of the survey "Art in Federal Buildings", Washington, D.C., 1935.
After a lengthy trip to Germany with his sister where he drew and observed the rise of the Nazi party, Dows returned to Rhinebeck and painted the two post offices in the period before Pearl Harbor. In 1941-2 he again worked in the Treasury and Office of Civilian Defense. He joined the Army as a technical private and was promoted to Technical Sargent by D-Day. Dows was asked to serve as one of three offical war artists assigned to the European Theatre of Operations. He was in active combat in St. Lo, the Bastogne, Torgan and the Ruhr Valley campaign in 1945.
After the war he returned to Rhinebeck to work and paint. Between 1947-49 he wrote and illustrated "Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Hyde Park". In 1950 he married the Chilean Minister to Holland, Carmen Vial Freire de Senoret, traveled extensively and worked on large paneled screens and watercolors in the United States and Chile over the next thirty years.
Olin Dows died in 1981.
Attended Harvard College (1922-1925)
Studied Art and Architectural design at MIT 1925
Spent summer at the E’cole des Beaux in Paris
Studied at Yale Art School (1926-27)
Art Students League of New York (1929-30)
Baltimore Museum of Art
Boston Museum of Fine Art
Corcoran gallery of Art
Library of Congress
Vassar College Museum
F.D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York
National Collection of Fine Art