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 William Bishop Owen, Jr.  (1895 - 1963)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Virginia/North Carolina      Known for: landscape, still life and geometric abstract painting

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Ad Code: 4
William Bishop Owen, Jr.
William B. Owen, Jr., "Soft Winter's Afternoon"
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William B. Owen, Jr. (1895-1963) - Biographical Sketch

William Bishop Owen, Jr., was born on February 5, 1895, in Morgan Park, Illinois, a southwestern suburb of Chicago.  He was the second of three sons (there were no girls) born to William Bishop Owen and Lucy Anderson Owen.  His father was a Professor of Greek at the University of Chicago and later became the Chicago Normal School President and a national educational leader.  His mother was also well educated, the daughter of a Northern Baptist minister, Galusha Anderson, who became President of the first University of Chicago in the 1880s and later of Dennison College in Ohio.

While his older and younger brothers became lawyers, the former in Boston and the latter in Chicago, William became a professional artist.  After attending the University of Chicago, he enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1914.  Later he attended and graduated from the Art Students League in New York.  There he studied under John Sloan, George Bellows, Robert Henri, and John Carlson.  During this period, summers were spent both in further study and painting in Woodstock, New York, and in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he studied with Charles Hawthorne.  Also during this time he married briefly and was divorced.  This period was interrupted by World War I and his induction into the army in 1917.

After the War, he returned to Chicago and joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1921, where he taught until 1927, except for a period in 1923 to 1924 when he painted in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.  During the 1920s, he exhibited regularly in various juried shows at the Art Institute, winning the Butler Prize in 1921, the Eisendreth Prize in 1923, and the Thompson Prize in 1925.  In 1927, he left the Art Institute to study in Paris under André L'Hote and to paint in southern France and on the island of Majorca.

When the Depression struck, he returned to the United States and joined other well-known artists to work for the Public Works of Art and the Federal Arts Project in New York City.  Around 1932 he moved to the artists' colony in Cold Springs, New York, just up and across the Hudson River from West Point.  There he lived and worked until World War II, painting and conducting his own classes.  In 1942, he enlisted once again in the army and was assigned to camouflage work as a Captain.

After the War, he returned to civilian life and eventually, in 1950, moved to Roanoke, Virginia, where he taught painting at several institutions, including the University of Virginia at Roanoke, Hollins College, and Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg.  He also continued to devote himself to his own painting as well as giving personal painting instruction to students.

The final phase of his career transpired in the Roanoke and Hendersonville, North Carolina, areas.  By this time he was married to Helene B. Goodwin.  Although they had no biological children, they adopted a boy, William, who went on to become an engineer, married, but died in the 1980s without having any children of his own.

In 1962, he resigned from the faulty of the University of Virginia.  Shortly thereafter, on April 12th, 1963, he died suddenly from an aneurism in Hendersonville, NC, where he was buried.  His wife survived him by about twenty years, never remarrying.

A retrospective exhibition of his paintings, divided broadly into landscapes, still lifes, and geometric abstracts, was organized by his brother, Anderson A. Owen (having retired from his law practice in Chicago), who had also helped him financially earlier in his life, for instance, to go to Europe to study and paint in the late 1920s.  The exhibition was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in July and August of 1972, selling several paintings.

More recent interest in his work is evidenced by two of his landscape paintings being selected for use in a Hollywood film.  They appear in the scenes in the dining room of the Bloom house in the film Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton and starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, and Jessica Lange (Columbia Pictures, 2003).

His work is in the permanent collections of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, and the Maier Museum of Art, Randolph-Macon Women's College, Lynchburg, VA.

Submitted by David Owen, nephew of the artist

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