“Crosses, Central City, Colorado”, 1940 | 22”x30” - watercolor on paper
Eve Drewelowe interprets the old mining town of Central City, Colorado by emphasizing the verticality of the street and the neglected buildings, such as the structure on the right, with a blend of humor and sympathy. The curving, dancing telephone pole, which is also a cross, gives a lively lift to the abandoned townscape.
A painter and sculptor, Eve Drewelowe was eighth of twelve children and grew up on a farm with a tomboyish spirit. Her farm duties did not permit her to take art classes in her youth that she later felt would have hindered the development of her artistic style. Although her father died when she was eleven, he imparted to her reverence for nature and a true love of the earth, values later reflected in her western oil and watercolor landscapes.
She attended the University of Iowa at Iowa City on scholarship, receiving her B.A. degree in graphic and plastic arts in 1923. After graduation and against the advice of her art professor, Charles Atherton Cumming who believed that matrimony ended a woman’s painting career, she married fellow student Jacob Van Ek. While he pursued his doctorate in political science, she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Iowa for her M.A. degree in painting and the history of art. At that time her alma mater was one of the few universities in the United States offering an advanced fine arts degree, and she was its first graduate, receiving her degree in 1924.
That year the Van Eks moved to Boulder, Colorado, where Jacob had obtained a position as an assistant professor at the University of Colorado. Five years later he became the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, a position he held until 1959. Eve briefly studied at the University. In 1927 and 1928 she taught part-time at the University’s School of Engineering and a decade later summer courses (1936 and 1937) in the University’s Department of Fine Arts.
In 1926 she became a charter member of the Boulder Artists Guild and participated in its inaugural exhibition. Like many American artists of her generation, she helped foster an art tradition outside the established cultural centers in the East and Midwest. Her professional career spanning six decades largely was spent in and around Boulder. There she produced more than 1,000 works of art in oil, watercolor, pen and ink and other media in styles of impressionism, regionalism, and abstraction.
She devoted a considerable part of her work to Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona subject matter depicting colorful and fantastic landscapes pulsating with energy and untouched by humans. Excited by what she saw, the wide open spaces made her feel like a modern-day pioneer. In discussing her work, she once said, “What really motivated me in my youth, in my growth, in maturity was my desire to captivate everything. I put on canvas an eagerness to possess the wonder of nature and beauty of color and line – to encompass everything, not to let anything escape.”
Before World War II she and her husband took two international trips that had far-reaching consequences for her career, exposing her to the arts and cultures of countries in Asia and Europe. The first in 1928-29 was an extensive excursion in the Far East for which her husband had received a scholarship to study and report on the socioeconomics of Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and India. The year after their return she had her first solo show at the University of Colorado’s library gallery. Discussing the twenty-six oils and sixteen ink drawings on view representing sixteen different countries, the Christian Science Monitor reviewer noted: “The pictures have a wide range and are far from being stereotyped in subject matter, being personal in choice. The ink-brush drawings are spontaneous, well balanced, and striking in their masses, giving the sense of having been done on the spot.”
Her second trip with her husband and a party from the Bureau of University Travel had a four-month itinerary that included England, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Turkey, Greece Italy and France. It yielded seventeen oils and twenty-six ink-wash drawings which she exhibited in a February 1936 solo show at the Boulder Art Association Gallery. Her creative output in the 1930s attracted the attention of the critic for the Parisian Revue des Arts whose observations were translated and printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on June 10, 1937:
To present our readers Eve Van Ek [at that time she signed her work with her married name] …is to give them an opportunity to admire a talent of multiple aspects. The eclecticism of her art passes from a rich skill in forceful oil painting of fine strokes of precision best seen perhaps in her treatment of mountain subjects, of craggy cliffs hewn as in nature, through pen and ink or lithographic crayon design, water color, and occasionally embroidery and sculpture, to the delicate perfection of detail of the miniature. The lofty mountains of Colorado have supplied her with extremely interesting subjects for study; she knows how to represent in an entirely personal way the varying scenes and the curious restlessness of the terrain.
While pursuing her art, she also was a dean’s wife. The responsibilities attached to that position proved too restrictive, contributing to a grave illness. She underwent an operation in 1940 at the Mayo Clinic for a gastric polyp, a dangerous procedure at that time. Although she had expected to come back to Boulder “in a box,” the surgery proved successful. Depicting her painful hospital stay in a watercolor, Reincarnation, she reflected on the transformative experience of piecing her life back together. That October she received encouragement from the review of her solo exhibition at the Argent Gallery in New York written by Howard Devree, art critic for the New York Times who said: “The whole exhibition is stimulating…Boats, fences and even flowers in the canvases of Eve Van Ek…seem struggling endlessly to escape from the confines of the frame.”
Her watercolor, Crosses, Central City (1940), illustrates her work described in the New York review. The composition pulsates with energy conveyed by the modernist technique of juxtaposing the scene’s various angles, distorting the shapes and positions of the structures, additionally highlighting them with bright colors. The telephone poles at various angles represent crosses figuratively marking a Way of the Cross symbolized by the wooden stairs winding up the steep hillside to the church at the top of the image.
Central City, a once prosperous nineteenth-century gold mining town which had fallen on hard times by the time Drewelowe painted her watercolor, was a popular subject for resident Colorado artists and those visiting the state. In addition to being readily available with visible vestiges of the West’s mining history, Colorado’s old mining town offered artists an alternative to the overworked cowboy-and-Indian subject matter of the previous generation. The human and architectural components of the mining towns provided a welcome break from the nineteenth-century panoramic landscape tradition.
As part of her post-operative readjustment, Drewelowe she began using her maiden name to sign her work, going so far as to rub out Van Ek from her earlier pieces. She never wanted to be called Mrs. Van Ek or Mrs. Drewelowe. A note in her file at the Boulder Daily Camera stated that “she intends to come back and haunt anyone who refers to her as Mrs. Van Ek in her obituary.”
Her work assumed a brighter palette as seen in two pieces from the first half of the 1940s. An oil, Shimmering Sheeves, (1943), depicts a pastoral golden landscape dominated by three areas filled with rows of harvested sheeves. The image reflected her ongoing concern about the ill effects of progress and the pollution befouling the atmosphere. She said, “We cry for the return of the lustrously vibrant happy colors of the beauteously carved and sculpted land.” In her watercolor, Struggling Swamp (1945), the intersecting mass of the Rockies is intensified with colors in lively, rippling patterns. The leafless white trees in the foreground impart a surrealist quality to the scene, recalling a similar treatment she employed a decade earlier in her watercolor of Brainerd Lake.
In the decades after World War II, her work was characterized by a looser, more abstract approach to subject matter and by experimentation in a variety of other media – serigraphy, monoprints, sculpture, painted wood bas-reliefs, polymer resin, and collage. She also did a series of large circular paintings in which the circle served as a format for abstract imagery.
Several years before her death she reminisced about the state’s natural beauty which she had painted throughout her career. “I am awed,” she said, “by the immensity of our grandeur and the uncounted treasures of our heritage. The variety and extent of the forces displayed are, indeed, impressive…Colorado may well take pride in its priceless holdings that must not suffer further destruction and exploitation.”
In addition to her art, she was a patron of the arts. She funded a scholarship for female students at the University of Iowa, and her husband endowed the Eve Drewelowe Fine Arts Scholarship Fund in her honor at the University of Colorado. In determining its recipients, she wanted preference given to women because “women have been on the short end all my life.” In 1979 she was named one of the University of Iowa’s Distinguished Alumni, and she posthumously gave her papers and artwork to the University’s School of Art and Art History. The Eve Drewelowe Gallery in its Studio Arts Building is named in her honor.
Solo Exhibitions: University of Colorado at Boulder (1930, 1936, 1939, 1940,1944, 1949, 1950, 1973); Denver Art Museum (1933, 1936-37, 1939, 1940-41, 1949, 1964-1969); Argent Gallery, New York (1940-41); “Two-Person Show with Glenn Chamberlain,” University of Colorado at Boulder (1962); University of Iowa (1978); “Retrospective- Part I: Current Work”; ”Part II: Images 1921-1979,” University of Colorado Art Galleries (1979); “Facts and Findings: The Past in the Present,” University of Colorado Art Galleries (1983); “Portraits by Eve Drewelowe,” University of Colorado Art Galleries (1984); “Eve Drewelowe – The 30s and 40s,” Boulder Center for the Visual Arts (1987).
Group Exhibitions: Denver Art Museum (1926, 1929-30, 1932, 1933-35, 1938, 1941, 1949, 1950, 1961, 1964-69); Colorado State Fair, Pueblo (1930, 1932, 1943, 1945-46, 1950); Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska (1934, 1936-37, 1939-41, 1956, 1962, 1970-71); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1936); Kansas City Art Institute (1937); Colorado State College (now Colorado State University), Fort Collins (1937); American Art Association Fine Arts Galleries, New York (1938); National Association of Women Artists, New York (1938, 1941-43, 1946-48); “18th International Watercolor Exhibition,” Art Institute of Chicago (1939); Cedar City Art Exhibit, Utah (1941, 1946-56, 1958-59, 1961-63, 1966-68, 1971-72); Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri (1942, 1956, 1960); Springfield Art Museum, Missouri (1944); National Academy of Design, New York (1946 1948); Mississippi Arts Association, Jackson (1946); “Annual Exhibition,” Boulder City, Nevada (1946-47); “First Annual Exhibition,” Las Vegas, Nevada (1947); UNESCO Traveling Exhibition, England (1948-49); Gilpin County Arts Association, Central City, Colorado (1949, 1957-59, 1961, 1963-65, 1974); “Blossom Art Festival,” Canon City, Colorado (1949, 1955-56, 1959-62. 1966, 1972); “Tri-State Exhibition,” Cheyenne, Wyoming (1957-58); Kansas Federation of Arts Traveling Graphics Show – 5 States (1958-59); Oklahoma City Art Center (1959); “Artists Equity Regional,” Colorado Springs Fine Art Center (1960); “Pueblo Junior College Invitational.” El Pueblo Museum, Pueblo, Colorado (1960-61, 1967); “Artists Equity Regional,” Jewish Community Center, Denver (1962); “Winter Carnival Exhibition,” Leadville, Colorado (1962); Boulder Art Association Regional (1963); “The West-80 Contemporaries,” University of Arizona at Tucson (1967); Southern Colorado State College, Pueblo (1967); “Artists Equity Regional,” Boulder Public Library, Colorado (1968); Boulder Art Festival (1974); “Regional and Western Art,” Matlock Gallery, Lyons, Colorado (1974); “Founders of the Boulder Art Scene,” Boulder Art Center, Colorado (1976); “Awards Exhibition,” Boulder Art Center (1977); “American Realism,” Robischon Gallery, Denver (1985); “Drastic Interiors: Two-Part Retrospective,” Denver (1987-88).
Museum Collections: University of Iowa at Iowa City; Wartburg, College, Waverly, Iowa; Utah State University at Logan; University of Colorado at Boulder; Western History Art Collection, Denver Public Library; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.