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 Joseph Donaldson  (1914 - 1997)

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Lived/Active: Louisiana/Texas      Known for: landscape, marine, woodcut

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Loyola Church, Early Morning
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted November 2004, is from Donald C. Wood, friend of the artist who has a website dedicated to him.

Joseph Donaldson was born in New Orleans on January 30, 1914 and grew up in and around the French Quarter. He studied art at Tulane University, and also with Enrique Alfarez. In the mid 1930s, Joe went to Chicago to attend the Art Institute.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA), established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, provided artists around the country with employment and commissions over its eight-year life span. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Donaldson was involved with the Federal Art Project in New Orleans, under the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, probably during the first half of 1942, Donaldson moved to New York City. He rented an apartment in Greenwich Village and lived there with his wife, Edwina, whom he had married in New Orleans before leaving. He was in charge of compiling maps for the Coast and Geodetic Survey, but what he really wanted to do was operate a radio aboard a Coast Guard vessel, so he worked towards getting the necessary license.

After the war, the couple returned to New Orleans, and in 1945 Donaldson took a teaching position at Tulane University, where also seems to have taught briefly before moving to New York. At Tulane he worked with John Clemmer. During this period, back in his home town, he exhibited his work with the New Orleans Arts and Crafts Club. At some point - either then or in his earlier time at Tulane in the 1930s - he seems to have been involved with the John McGrady School of Art and the New Orleans Academy of Art. (McGrady had also been a WPA artist in the early 1940s).

The Donaldsons divorced, and he eventually married Grace Underwood, in whose attic he worked to avoid interruptions. Apparently, his relationship with the Dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture, Buford Pickens, was not an especially cordial one, and this may have been why he resigned in 1951, holding the title of Associate Professor. He and Grace then left the mainland and headed for the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they stayed for five years. There, he taught landscape drawing and painting at the Saint Thomas Art Center.

In 1956 Donaldson was lured away by a friend who was teaching at the school of architecture, Texas A&M University, so he and Grace moved to College Station to take up a teaching position at TAMU. He later told me that he had made the move because the weather in the Virgin Islands had been "too damn nice all the time." He was becoming well-established as a Texas (and generally Southern) artist, and as an educator in the University, by the time Grace passed away on April 2, 1965.
The following, submitted August 2005, is from Mary Jane Fuller Cobb, whose mother
Marie Donaldson (1907-1974), was Joseph Donaldson's first cousin.

Their shared grandparents were Joseph and Ellen Phillips Donaldson, who lived on Philip Street, in the Garden District of New Orleans from the 1870's until their deaths - Ellen in June 1907, and Joseph in January 1911. They are buried in Lafayette Cemetery #1, which is near Commander's Palace Restaurant, near St. Charles Ave. An excellent biographical obituary for this Joseph Donaldson, grandfather of the artist, was published in the New Orleans newspaper in January 1911.

Three of their four sons, who were all born in the house on Philip Street, survived to adulthood: Joseph, Guy and William.

Their son, Joseph married Elizabeth Sawyer, the daughter of a Methodist minister. "Uncle Joe" and "Aunt Bessie," as they were called by my mother, her sister and two brothers, lived in the "UniversitySection" in New Orleans, near Tulane University. Their children, Elizabeth (Betty) and the artist, Joseph (Joe), lived there until they were adults. Betty and Joe attended the local public schools in New Orleans, until they entered Newcomb College and Tulane University. Betty married Dr. Richard Buck. After their twin daughters died in early infancy, they adopted a son, and named him Joseph Donaldson ("Don") Buck.

My mother, Marie Donaldson, the younger daughter of Guy Donaldson and Mary Jane ("Mollie") Ludlow Donaldson, married Harold William Fuller and I am their only child.

William Donaldson was never married and had no children.

The artist, Joseph, had three other first cousins on the Donaldson side: Margaret Ellen; Guy, Jr.; and Joseph Ludlow Donaldson. Guy,Jr., who was not married, died when his ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic in September, 1942. Margaret married Cecil Isaac Hobbs, but had no children. Joseph Ludlow Donaldson married Gertrude Novak of Long Island, NY, and they had one daughter, who lives with her family on Long Island.

Both of the first cousins named Joseph, the artist and my uncle, lived in New York during the late 1930's and early 1940's. Both of them were interested in ships and the sea. My uncle, Joseph Ludlow Donaldson, died suddenly, of a cerebral hemorrhage in August 1944, in New Orleans, when he was 33 or 34 years old. He was bringing a Liberty Ship from a Texas shipyard to join a convoy in New York, but was having it outfitted in New Orleans, when he died at his parents' home in Jefferson Parish. Because travel was restricted during WW II and he planned to be in New York in a few weeks, he did not try to go to New York when his daughter was born on 13 July 1944 and, therefore never saw her.

Sometime in the 1980's, I met a Texas A&M landscape architecture student of Professor Joseph Donaldson, who described him as "quite a character."

Woodcuts by Joseph Donaldson illustrate the first edition of Frances Parkinson Keyes' book, "Dinner at Antoine's."

- Mary Jane Fuller Cobb

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