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John E. Dowell Jr.

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-06-10T12:00:00-04:00 in Black Artists | 0 Comments

African American artist John E. Dowell Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1941. The improvisational style of his prints, watercolor drawings, paintings, and large-scale photography have been described as visual jazz. Dowell earned a BFA in printmaking and ceramics from Temple University in 1963, was a printer fellow at the Tamarind Lithographic Workshop in Los Angeles in 1963–64, and earned an MFA in printmaking and drawing from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1966. He was an instructor of art, printmaking, and drawing at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, in 1966–68 and assistant professor of art, lithography, and drawing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1968–71. Dowell is currently a professor emeritus at Temple University, where he was a faculty member from 1971 to 2012, and maintains studios in Harlem and Philadelphia.[1]


Dowell’s large-scale agronomy photography invites the viewer to reflect on the cultural, political, and economic implications of growing crops. His exhibition Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past (African American Museum, Philadelphia, 2018–19) employed “cotton as a symbol for the Black body and the actual places.”[2] He was inspired by his grandmother’s stories about her experiences with cotton growing up in Augusta, Georgia: "Cotton is our symbol. That's Black people in this country. You just mention cotton, you know what I mean, and for those of us who are a little aware, all the torture, all of that stuff—it's there. And it makes you stop and think. That's why I'm doing the cotton. I couldn't think of a better symbol."[3]


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[1] Dowell n.d.; Tyler School of Art 1974.

[2] Dowell quoted in Glasper 2018. See also Dowell n.d.; Salisbury 2018.

[3] Dowell quoted in Salisbury 2018.



Dowell, Jr., John E. n.d. Artist’s website. Accessed March 31, 2021.


Glasper, Janyce Denise. 2018. “John Dowell Spins Redemption from Cotton’s Painful History at the African American Museum of Philadelphia.” Artblog. Accessed March 31, 2021.


Salisbury, Stephan. 2018. “Artist John Dowell Exposes Cotton’s Terrible Beauty at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.” Philadelphia Inquirer. Accessed March 31, 2021.

Tyler School of Art. 1974. John E. Dowell, Jr., Rome 1971–74. Philadelphia: Tyler School of Art in Rome.

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