William B. "Bill" Rowe

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William B. "Bill" Rowe (American, 1910-1955) was a leading figure in the Art Institute of Buffalo through the mid-nineteen forties. He was born in Chicago in 1910, and in 1913 his family moved to Buffalo. At Cornell University he majored in architectural and fine arts. Returning to Buffalo after college, he painted a 5-panel mural titled "Theme of Music" in 1934 at Bennett High School (assisted by Joseph Varga, Jr.). The project was supported by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the first federal, non-relief project for artists. The Bennett murals had created a great controversy at that time and were saved from being painted over, and were restored and later reinstalled by Bennett art teacher James Christman. Project directors cited these murals as among the best of the PWAP work. The mural, called “New World Symphony,” was completed in 1935 and depicted the folk inspiration of American music. The work helped Rowe land the commission for a larger PWAP oil on canvas mural in the Nurses’ Residence of the old Buffalo Marine Hospital. When finished, the mural was called “Old Buffalo of the Elegant Eighties and Nifty Nineties” or the “Buffalo and the Gay 90’s.” Rowe went on to become a major figure in the Buffalo art community.

In 1935, he began a cooperative studio where artists could share the costs of materials and exhibitions. His main efforts, however, were at the Art Institute. As a member of the faculty, he taught painting, theory and art history. He became director of the painting department in September 1938, and in September 1942 became president of the board of directors as well as director of the Art Institute, serving until 1945. He was a popular teacher, but also known as a difficult personality. Rowe traveled to Mexico, where he painted for some time. Rowe, a severe asthmatic, later moved to Taos, New Mexico where he continued to paint until he was murdered in 1955.

William Rowe strongly advocated the idea of a democratic art organization. He championed an art institute that would be “a school, a gallery, a meeting place for artists, art students and the public” with no discrimination and no competition, encouraging maximum freedom of self-expression. The Art Institute of Buffalo was founded in 1931, and was dedicated to the “proposition that art is the province of everyone.” Locally, the Art Institute was regarded by participants and observers in the Buffalo area as a nest of Bohemianism. The Art Institute closed in 1956. Today the Art Institute of Buffalo is largely forgotten, except by its many successful alumni.

William Rowe’s works have been sold by various commercial art galleries in New York and the American southwest and at auction in Chicago. They are on public display and in private collections in Arizona, California, Illinois, Oregon, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.

(Source: With permission from AskArt.com, prior biographical submission taken from an exhibit guide titled "An Alternative Course: The Art Institute of Buffalo", 2006 by the Burchfield-Penny Art Center in Buffalo, NY, written by Dr. Albert L. Michaels, the original test was edited & additional information added for this submission by David Price, an independent researcher, Buffalo Preservation Report, “Marine Hospital Campus in Parkside Gets Partial Reprieve,” Preservation Coalition of Erie County: Oct 1995; Newspaper article, Buffalo News Gusto, “New Deal Art: Out of the gloom of the Depression came remarkable strides in the arts.”, by Anthony Bannon, Pgs. 3 & 16, Friday, Nov. 4, 1983.)
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