EDWIN MINOT DAWES
The sixth child of a grocery store owner, Edwin Minot Dawes reported in an interview that his mother encouraged him to draw pictures to “keep him out of mischief.” He was born at Boone, Iowa on April 27, 1872. In 1893 he moved temporarily to Denver, Colorado, where he had difficulty making a living so he took a job making signs for windows. Some time later he returned to Iowa and in 1896 he left Des Moines for Minneapolis where he joined his father and brother Clarence in the business of manufacturing and wholesale selling of baking powder. City directories show Dawes lived in Minneapolis between 1892 and 1909. Meanwhile, Edwin continued to paint signs and letter windows.
About the turn of the century a friend persuaded Dawes to visit the Walker Gallery (now the Walker Art Center) in Minneapolis where he was immediately inspired to study painting on his own. Although Dawes received no formal instruction, he spent many hours analyzing the masters in the gallery; this was a course of independent study that he pursued until 1908. At that time, the prominent Chicago art dealer J. W. Young visited Minneapolis and came across Dawes working at an easel in Nicholson’s Sign Shop. Marveling at his large canvas entitled Burning Leaves, Young likened his style to that of George Inness and offered to exhibit the work, an event eagerly reported by the local newspapers. Apparently it was Young who brought the painter Nicholas Brewer to see the work and the latter expressed his amazement at Dawes’s ability. Painting in a tonalist mode, Dawes worked up some of scenes from plein-air studies while others were from his imagination.
Also in 1908 Dawes first exhibited in a public space: he received an Honorable Mention in a state competition for his September Morning. Soon he became active in the local art community. He was a charter member and treasurer of the Attic Club of Minneapolis, a group that frequently took sketching excursions in the surrounding countryside. In 1911, Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway, commissioned Dawes to paint scenes of the picturesque Glacier National Park. Some works from this period reveal that Dawes was already influenced by impressionism: his works show a concern for light and atmosphere, as well as a spontaneous application of pigment. Dawes and his wife spent the summer of 1912 with the tonalist painter William Lathrop in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Lathrop provided Dawes with many stylistic insights. Dawes also met Charles Rosen and Edward Redfield, the latter clearly the leader of the New Hope group of Pennsylvania impressionists. From there, Dawes went to New York to experience the museums and galleries. Henceforth, his palette became higher in key and he applied brushstrokes of fatter pigment.
In the spring of 1913, when America was bewildered by some of the art at the Armory Show in New York, the comparatively conservative Dawes was accepted on the jury of the Minnesota State Art Society and he received a gold medal for Channel to the Mills (Minneapolis Institute of Arts). This canvas reveals more of a tonalist than impressionist palette yet there is exemplary skilled brushwork. Dawes used short staccato strokes of limited hues in rhythmic, swirling passages. The large geometric forms of the skyline are diffused in shimmering light, their plasticity mitigated by an impressionist- derived technique. Magically, this image transforms Minneapolis from a sleepy midwestern city into a vibrant and active, industrial urban environment where man-made forms loom as majestically as those of nature. While this work proves the artist’s versatility, others are not as sophisticated. An oil, Willows in Spring was accepted for the annual exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the spring of 1914, Dawes was one of many artists who were notified that their pictures accepted by the jury of selection of the National Academy of Design were not to be exhibited (see Allied Artists of America). In the following year he painted the University of Minnesota Art Museum’s Itasca: Origin of the Mississippi. This modest oil on masonite is a perfect example of tonalism tinged with impressionist elements. Dawes traveled west to execute a commission to paint various scenes of the Grand Canyon for Louis W. Hill. Also in 1915 Mr. and Mrs. Dawes moved to New York during what would become the most prolific period of his career. Then Dawes purchased a mining company in Loveloch, Nevada (1918), which drained most of his energy.
Later Dawes went to California and set up a studio in Glendale and painted in the Los Angeles area. At a one-man show at the Kanst Gallery his work was well received by the critics. Distinct traces of the California Broad Style appeared in his work. One reviewer wrote, “His late paintings are done with bold broad strokes, there is more vigor, more mastery, perhaps, but in some cases, the work had lost a little of its charm.” (unidentified newspaper clipping, Scrapbook of Maryann Shrode Irani, San Rafael, California). Evening and Trees by a Stream (both ca. 1930) are examples of his late work (University of Minnesota Art Museum). In 1938, Mrs. Dawes passed away and Dawes returned to painting full time. His style, however, had grown stale and it was too late for him to return to the profession. After his death in Los Angeles on March 26, 1945, Edwin M. Dawes was more remembered for his success in the mining of gold and silver than for his career as a painter.
Ness, Zenobia B. and Louise Orwig, Iowa Artists of the First Hundred Years. Wallace-Homestead Co., 1939, pp. 59-60; Coen, Rena Neumann, Painting and Sculpture in Minnesota 1820-1914. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976, p. 133; Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall and Lyn Smith, Dictionary of Art and Artists in Southern California before 1930 . Glendale, CA: 1984, p. 64; Hughes, Edan Milton, Artists in California 1786-1940. San Francisco: 1986, p. 119; University of Minnesota, American Paintings and Sculpture in the University Art Museum Collection. Minneapolis: 1986, pp. 84-86; Coen, Rena Neumann, Minnesota Impressionists. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 1996, pp. 35-36. Edwin M. Dawes essay by Tim White published April 26, 2003.
Submitted by Richard H. Love