Ralph Sowell

20th Century
Life city:
Madison, IN
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He was born John Ralph Sowell, on July 10, 1892, in Buffalo Gap, Texas. He studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati from 1922 through 1925, where he was instructed by Frank Harmon Myers (1899-1956), Herman Henry Wessel (1878-1969), and John Ellsworth Weiss (1892-1962). Sowell exhibited his work at the Cincinnati Art Museum as part of their “Annual Exhibition of American Art” in the years 1925 through 1927. In 1927 and 1928 Ralph Sowell studied under Jean Despujols (1886-1965), who during those years was an instructor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Fontainebleau near Paris. Here Sowell followed in the footsteps of Alfred Sisley, producing landscapes of the medieval village of Moret-sur-Loing. In 1929 Sowell became a faculty member at the Herron School of Art (later part of IUPUI) in Indianapolis, Indiana. He taught there through the spring of 1935, including the major upheaval in 1933 when the new director, Donald Mattison, fired nine of fifteen staff members…including the venerable William Forsyth. Around 1930 Sowell spent his summer vacation in the Rockport and Marblehead area of Massachusetts, painting seascapes and landscapes. Ralph Sowell exhibited regularly while living and working in Indianapolis, including in November of 1933 a one-man show in Lyman’s Fireplace Gallery on Monument Circle, and more importantly , in April of 1935 a one-man show at the Herron Art Museum (later the Indianapolis Museum of Art). Following his employment at Herron, Sowell, like so many artists during the Depression (including his former co-worker, William Forsyth), produced paintings under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. Three of these are still on display at the Central Library in Indianapolis. In the late 1930’s he lived for a time in the vicinity of Madison, Indiana, on the Ohio River. By 1938 Sowell had re-located to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he would remain for the rest of his life. As a professional artist, he also taught classes offered by the Art Association Guild, and continued to exhibit in local galleries, including the Delgado Museum of Art (later the New Orleans Museum of Art.) He was known for his watercolors, pastels, and portraits- including one of Louisiana’s governors. Ralph Sowell died March 30, 1965, at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. He is buried in the Saint Bernard Catholic Cemetery, under a stone reading: “The world of art Is wealthier because Ralph Sowell lived As both artist and musician.” Special thanks to La Vonda Krout for providing the above.

Ohio River at Hanover Point

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