Ethel Dougan Biography

Ethel Dougan




Ethel Bell Dougan, watercolorist and illustrator, was born on 24 June 1898 in Texas. She is found listed as Ethel C. Dougan but she did sign a work “Ethel Bell Dougan.” Nothing yet has been discovered about her early life but she was married to Lawrence Dougan. The couple were residing in Wichita, Texas in 1920 but are listed in the 1930 US Census as living in Long Beach, California.

Ethel was employed by the Federal Art Project which established the Index of American Design in 1935. The Index was conceived as an effort to identify and preserve a national, ancestral aesthetic by watercolor renderings of American folk and decorative art objects from the colonial period through 1900. This visual archive documented woodcarvings, textiles, whirligigs, weathervanes, and other objects from thirty-four states in six regions of the U.S.

In 2002, the National Gallery of Art mounted the exhibition Drawing on America’s Past: Folk Art, Modernism, and the Index of American Design which was accompanied by a book of the same title. The Drawing Center in New York presented the exhibition The Clamor of Ornament: Exchange, Power and Joy from the Fifteenth Century to the Present in 2022. In 2023, The Metropolitan Museum of Art featured the exhibition Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s. Ethel Dougan was included in all of these.

After the Federal Art Project closed in the early 1940s it was still quite difficult for an artist to find work and, unfortunately, Dougan drifted into obscurity. Her original illustrations for the Index of American Design are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Ethel Dougan died in Los Angeles on 11 September 1976.