Frank Rowe Biography

Frank Rowe




Frank A. Rowe, painter, printmaker, and illustrator, was born in Portland Oregon in 1921. A childhood surrounded by artists, including his aunt, Southern California painter Marjory Adams Darling, and uncle William Darling, an Academy Award-winning art director, fostered an early interest in the arts. Rowe attended Mills College in Oakland, CA, where he earned his MFA in Fine Arts. There, he studied under German Expressionist Max Beckmann. Beckmann, Expressionism, and Social Realism became his primary influences, inspiring him to travel to Mexico to study the works of Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueros, and Diego Rivera.


As with many artists of the time, his artistic pursuits were put on hold as the advent of World War II descended upon the United States. Rowe enlisted with the Air Force, eventually ranking First Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division. As a combat paratrooper, he participated in D-Day at Normandy and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver and Bronze stars. Not only did this period greatly influence his work, but it remained a prominent part of his life as a teacher and activist.


Upon his return, he settled in San Francisco where he joined the progressive Graphic Arts Workshop, and eventually began teaching at San Francisco State University. Human civil rights and social justice causes became an integral part of his work and life, and when the McCarthy era “Red Scare” sentiment became a part of the national lexicon, Rowe joined fellow teachers in refusing to sign the Levering Loyalty Oath; in 1950, he was fired from the department. Despite the ensuing blacklisting, Rowe continued to work as an artist in both the fine and commercial fields. Again, his work—and his activism—were put on hold when he was called up for duty in the Korean war. When he returned yet again from battle, he was undeterred in his efforts to use his art for progressive causes. He continued to work in various design and commercial positions until the Levering Loyalty Oath was declared unconstitutional in 1967. In 1980 he wrote and illustrated a memoir about the experience, entitled “The Enemy Among Us: A Story of Witch-Hunting in the McCarthy Era,” which won several awards.


In 1983 Rowe was involved in an accident in Mexico City, which left him a quadriplegic. Despite this new reality, the artist was able to paint with assistance for another two years, before his death in 1985 at age 63.