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Constance Fowler collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: WUA019

Scope and Contents

The Fowler materials were catalogued by Roger Hull, professor of art history at Willamette University, in August 1994 and September 1995. The papers are organized in the categories of Biography (B), Correspondence (C), Exhibition Catalogues and Fliers (E), selections from her Library (L), Manuscripts and Photographs/Slides (M), Publications of Fowler's writings and artwork (P), Published Reviews and Comment (R), and Uncatalogued Ephemera (U).

To search the folder listing for specific items, visit The Constance Fowler Papers and Collection of Art Catalogue


  • 1907-1994


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are three folders in the Biography category that are restricted. Otherwise, the collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Library acts as “fair use” reproduction agent.

For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

Copyright Information: Before material from collections at Willamette University Archives and Special Collections may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in any collections held by University Archives and Special Collections should consult the University Archivist. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Biographical / Historical

Constance Edith Fowler, born June 2, 1907 in International Falls, Minnesota, was educated in public schools in Aiken, Cayuna, and Crosby, Minnesota and moved with her family to Pullman, Washington, in 1923. Her parents, George Fowler (from England, a butcher by trade) and Matilda Einfeld Braacher (from Hamburg), settled in a college town so that Constance and her younger sister, Margaret, could earn college educations. Constance Fowler earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Art at Washington State College in Pullman in 1929, having studied with the painter William McDermitt, among others. She studied Art for an additional year at University of Washington, then moved with her family to California and, shortly later, Salem, Oregon. They bought a farm on Swegle Road in Salem in 1932.

Fowler taught art lessons in Salem for one dollar a session and, in 1935, volunteered as advisor to an art club at Willamette University. That same year, the University's president, Bruce Baxter, hired Fowler to teach art and to establish the school's first art department (art lessons had been taught at Willamette since the nineteenth century, by Marie Craig Le Gall and others, but there had been no department). Fowler taught at Willamette for twelve years, until 1947.

For three summers (1936, 1937, 1938), Fowler was the recipient of the prestigious (and in the Depression years, highly desirable) Carnegie grants to help art teachers complete their Master's of Fine Art degrees. Carnegie programs were offered on two campuses in the country-Harvard University and University of Oregon. Fowler studied at Oregon with the architectural philosopher W. R. B. Willcox (whom she held in highest regard throughout her life), the painter Andrew Vincent, and others. She earned her M.F.A. degree in 1940, her Master's thesis project being the execution of twenty wood engravings of historic sites in the Willamette Valley, which she published (with text) as The Old Days: In and Near Salem, Oregon (Frank McCaffrey's Dogwood Press, Seattle, 1940). The book was immediately popular and respected for the quality of the prints, the design, layout, and typography of the book itself, and the historic commentary, based on original research, written by Fowler to accompany her engravings. The Old Days remained Fowler's single most significant accomplishment; in 1969, in retirement, she arranged for the publication of seventy-five additional books with engravings printed from the original cherry wood blocks.

Painting and making prints in an expressive variant of Northwest Regionalism, Constance Fowler was a significant figure in Pacific Northwest art in the period 1936-1946. Her work was exhibited repeatedly in the Portland Art Museum Annuals and the Seattle Art Museum Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists during that decade. At the New York World's Fair of 1939, she was one of Oregon's official representatives in the exhibition American Art Today with her wood engraving Pioneer Church. This was published the next year as one of twenty wood engravings in The Old Days, the book that assured her reputation. In 1943 she was one of thirteen Oregon artists selected by Robert Tyler Davis, director of the Portland Art Museum and a keen admirer of Fowler's work, for representation in the exhibition "Oregon Artists" at the San Francisco Museum of Art (January 12-February 7, 1943). Her fellow painters in the San Francisco show were William Givler, Charles Heaney, David McCosh, Carl Morris, C. S. Price, Albert Runquist, Andrew Vincent (who had been her teacher at the Carnegie summer programs at University of Oregon), and Charles Voorhies. Her work of that era is similar in spirit to that of Givler, Heaney, Price, and Runquist in the same period; with her depictions of Willamette Valley landscapes, buildings, and towns, and her expressive seascapes painted at the Oregon coast, she was rightly recognized as an artist genuinely expressive of the mood and poetry of the Northwest.

Her fortunes gradually changed with her departure from Oregon in 1947 when she left Willamette in frustration over what she perceived as its lack of support of the arts. The year 1947 was also a crucial one in the cultural history of the United States, with World War II at an end and both American and European artists settling in this country and calling into question the values of American Regionalism and realism, which had held sway with almost patriotic fervor during the Depression and war years. Fowler's realism had been inflected with expressive abstraction, but the challenges of Abstract Expressionism and complete nonrepresentation were as difficult to deal with for her as for many of her contemporaries the country over; she spent the rest of her career experimenting with vocabularies of painterly and geometric abstraction, relying most consistently upon the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast as her inspiration for her fluent, abstract vocabulary. This was true despite the fact that her decision to leave Willamette took her far from Oregon to Albion College in Michigan, where she taught until 1966. She spent many summers at Seal Rock on the Oregon coast, however, and after resigning from Albion (again, in frustration) at age 59, she settled permanently at Seal Rock.

During her Midwest years, Fowler exhibited at the Butler Art Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, The Detroit Institute of Arts, and other prestigious venues, but clearly the halcyon days of her career were behind her -- in a pre-war and wartime era, and in a region, in which she had particularly thrived. In retirement on the coast, she continued to show her work in Salem, Coos Bay, Lincoln City, and other regional group and one-person shows. She recycled some of her earlier engravings and made new images, reproducing them in offset printing or Xerox as note cards that she sold in gift shops and galleries throughout western Oregon. As Bennet Ludden has noted, these ephemeral cards -- especially her annual Christmas cards featuring talking sea gulls, reflect her ironic sensibilities and her political consciousness (skeptical, essentially liberal) and awareness of current events.

As the years passed and her role in Pacific Northwest art became more and more an historic chapter, she sought to establish a record of her accomplishments. She enlisted the help of her longtime friend Bennet Ludden, who had taught on the Willamette University music faculty in her era at Willamette, to draw up an inventory of her works and their locations (as of 1969), and in recent years she funded the production of a Xeroxed anthology of reviews, commentaries, and reproductions of works of art, compiled by her friend David Foster, her former student at Willamette and the retired head of the art department at University of Oregon.

In much of her work, from the 1930's forward, Fowler was intense and urgent in her expression -- using brushwork or the chisel marks of her engravings to suggest currents of movement and energy even in scenes or objects that ostensibly stand still. Fowler's sense was of things moving and shifting, of processes underway. What the Romantic era called the "sublime" and the twentieth century "expressionism" is always near the surface in Fowler's work. At times her forms verge on the cataclysmic or apocalyptic, even though at the same time her late works often have, as well, a decorative fluency that she would scoff at referring to as "feminine." Constance Fowler's desire to donate her papers and some of her artwork to Willamette University, a desire carried out by her sister Margaret Hopkins and niece Connie Battaile in 1994 after Fowler suffered a debilitating stroke in 1993, assures that her materials remain intact for use by scholars of American art interested in the history of Pacific Northwest and Midwest art, and the place of women in this history, during the second and third quarters of the twentieth century.


6 Linear Feet (6 boxes)


The Constance Fowler Collection consists of her biographical records, correspondence, exhibition catalogues and fliers, reviews, publications, manuscripts, selections from her library, as well as examples of her prints, printing blocks, paintings, and drawings. For a complete listing of items in the collection click on the title "The Constance Fowler Papers and Collection of Art Catalogue."

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Constance E. Fowler, 1994
Guide to the Constance Fowler collection, 1907-1994
Finding aid processed by Roger Hull.
© 2010
Description rules
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections Collection Descriptions

Mark O. Hatfield Library
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 United States