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Early life and education
She was born in Vienna, Austria in 1878. Her parents, John and Anna Meeks, were Americans. The family lived in Europe for eleven years after Abdy was born, living in Vienna, Dresden, Paris, and London. In the eleventh year, the family moved to San Francisco, California. Abdy attended the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. In 1906 she met Arthur F. Matthews, whom she would study under.
Mid life and career
Rowena Meeks Abdy's significance as a California painter cannot be over-rated. Her work...is familiar to and well loved by thousands of people all over the United States. -- Grace Hubbard
Abdy was considered a historian on early California, which she often displayed in her artwork. She primarily painted landscapes, with a focus on the landscapes of Northern California, including coastal towns, Spanish missions, and the scenery of San Francisco. Abdy would travel from her home in Russian Hill to paint mining towns and the Sierra Nevada. She painted in watercolor and in oils. Her main studio was located in her Russian Hill home, which was located on what would eventually became the crooked part of Lombard Street. She bought the property in 1921. Abdy had a large "KEEP OUT" sign on her garden, which was frequented by uninvited curious tourists. From her studio, Abdy could see Marin County, Contra Costa County and the San Francisco Bay.
Abdy believed that abstract art should be used beyond paintings, and into the home through decorative arts. She painted "what she feels about what she sees."
She married writer Harry Bennett Abdy. He would promote Abdy's work using his writing skills. In 1915, couple took a steamboat trip from St. Louis, Missouri to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They met artist Armin C. Hansen, who would make drawings that would eventually be used to create by Abdy. The Abdy's finished their trip in New York City, where Abdy exhibited work created during the trip. Harry wrote a book on the trip, On the Ohio, which featured illustrations by Abdy. When they got back to California, Abdy purchased a home on the Monterey Peninsula. She called her studio and home, Forest Haven. It was there where she would main many Spanish missions and coastal landscapes. She then moved, in 1917, to San Diego, California. In San Diego, she painted landscapes of Old Town. In 1919, she was represented by Helgesen Galleries in San Francisco. The gallery showed her watercolors, charcoal drawings, and landscapes of Mission San Juan Bautista.
During this period, she took road trips, in her sedan. Her sedan was equipped with special storage spaces for her art supplies. The work from this road trip period would be published in a coffee table book called Old California. The book consisted primarily of watercolors. It was printed by John Henry Nash and it was dedicated to Henry E. Huntington. Gottardo Piazzoni wrote the foreword. The book was limited edition, only 400 copies were made, and copies today are collectors items. Some plates from the book were utilized by the University of California alumni magazine and Standard Oil Monthly.
She lived and worked briefly on Montgomery Street, before moving into her Lombard Street home in 1921. In the mid-1920s she started painting still lifes and flowers. In 1926, she exhibited her painting, Old Spanish Street, Monterey, at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. It was the first time American artists exhibited at the museum. That same year, Abdy became a founding member of the cooperative art space, Club Beaux Arts, in San Francisco. She had a solo show there that November, followed by multiple solo and group exhibitions at the space throughout the rest of the decade. During the decade, Abdy and Harry divorced.
In the early 1930s, Abdy stopped using white paint in her watercolors, which she exhibited in March 1931 in San Francisco. She exhibited her work at in San Francisco and New York during the decade. The San Francisco News described her work, during this period, as "admirably simplified" and "mature".
Later life and legacy
She lived in San Francisco until she died in August, 1945. Ephemera related to her life and work are held in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Ravello, date unknown, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
View of an Italian Hill Town, ca. 1920, Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, California
Decoration: Wild Geese, ca. 1925, Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, California
The Robert Louis Stevenson House in Monterey, 1928, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California
Bulletin of the New York Public Library Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations p772
Independent Spirits, edited by Patricia Trenton, (1995)
R.R. Bowker, American Art Directory (1999)
Susan Landauer, American Impressionists (1996)
Morrow, Irving F. "Some Drawings by Architects". The Architect and Engineer. San Francisco (1921). 64:2. pps: 48-63
"Rowena Meeks Abdy, California Artist". The Pat Hathaway Photo Collection. California Views. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
"Rowena Meeks Abdy : miscellaneous uncataloged material". Library Catalog. Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
"Ravello". Art Inventories Catalog. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
"View of an Italian Hill Town". Collections. Mills College. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
"Decoration: Wild Geese". Collections. Mills College. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
Hailey, Gene. California Art Research: Rowena Meeks Abdy, Geneve Rixford Sargeant, E. Charlton Fortune, Clark Hobart. San Francisco: California Art Research Project, Works Progress Administration (1936).
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