FROM SEED: 40 PAINTINGS BY WILLIAM BISHOP OWEN JR.
“Wow! That’s a great painting!” are the thoughts that went through my mind as I caught my first glimpse of ‘Germination’ by William Bishop Owen.
I was perusing the offerings at a local old-school antique show when I saw ‘Germination’ from across the room. Tea cup and doily antique shows are not where one would usually expect to find modern art, so when I saw it, it sang out like a waling jazz musician in a byzantine scriptorium.
“Isn’t that an interesting painting? Not much of a listing on the guy, but I did find some information in Who Was Who in American Art,” David said as I was taking in the painting. “He worked out of Chicago,” David continued. David, a fellow art dealer in the area specializing in 18th, 19th, and early 20th century art, has realized the market trending toward modern and occasionally steps outside of his norm when he finds something particularly compelling.
I paid David his asking price and walked out of the Hillsboro Antique Show with ‘Germination’ in my hands. I could not wait to get back to my office and begin researching the artist, William Bishop Owen Jr.
My research was likely more extensive than my cohort’s as my library is almost solely one of modern art, but David was correct, there was not much information on William Bishop Owen Jr. to be found. There are a few holdings in small museum collections, and there was a tiny bit of biographical information stating Owen had taught at several institutions, and had received some accolades early in his career.
I was disappointed, and intrigued. How this talented artist had flown under the radar of art dealers and collectors for so long was a fascinating mystery for me to unravel. But most of all, I wanted to see more of Owen’s work.
After having ‘Germination’ hang in my home for several years and never finding another work by Owen offered for sale, I decided to place an ‘Art Wanted’ ad on a popular art reference site, hoping to cultivate a response. Not long after the ad was posted, my phone rang. “We have about a hundred William Bishop Owen Jr. paintings in our spare bedroom,” the voice on the other end of the line explained.
I could not wait. Arrangements were made, a flight was booked, and in no time I was in the apartment of an Owen family member outside Portland, Oregon, opening box after box of oil paintings by William Bishop Owen Jr.. I was in heaven. Here, in the spare bedroom of a loving family member’s home, were over one hundred oil paintings that had been stored since the early 1970s.
William Bishop Owen Jr. had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 1963 leaving behind a large collection of his life’s work.
Nine years after his death, in 1972, two of William’s brothers, both of whom had supported William and his work during his lifetime, mounted a retrospective exhibition, leasing an empty gallery space in Santa Fe, NM. None of the Owen family members were directly involved in the art business, yet the family thought it imperative to share William’s work with the world. The retrospective brought a few sales, and with no other plans in place, the remaining paintings were boxed up and placed in storage for safekeeping.
Now, here I was in Oregon, loading boxes of those paintings into a rental van and preparing for a long drive back to Oakland, CA.
As I look back on the development, it seems a crazy coincidence that the title of the painting I purchased from an antique show that led to the placement of an art wanted ad, which in turn led to the unveiling of a collection of works by the artist was ‘Germination’.
- Growth or development after a period of dormancy.
- The process of something coming into existence and developing.