Elizabeth Colwell Biography

Elizabeth Colwell





Elizabeth Colwell, née Martha Elizabeth, was born 24 May 1881 in Bronson, Michigan. She studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with John Vanderpoel and B. J. O. Nordfeldt, from whom she learned the techniques of color woodcut.

At the turn of the 19th century, Colwell was listed as the editor of The Sketch Book, Art Institute of Chicago. She was a printmaker, painter, typographer, and writer who became known for her distinctive designs, bookplates, hand lettering, poetry, and books. Her hand lettered book, Songs & Sonnets, was published by Frederic Fairchild Sherman in 1909 and an example of her hand lettering for this book was included in the January 1911 issue of The Printing Art, Volume 16, No. 5. As a typographer, she designed the "Colwell Hand Letter" and she was the only woman in the field of typography at that time. As a commercial artist, Colwell created publicity for Marshall Fields and the W. K. Cowan Company of Chicago. In 1913, Alice Rouiller authored The Work of Elizabeth Colwell for the March issue of the The Graphic Arts in which she extolled the quality of her designs. This was the first and only time a woman designer was featured in this magazine.

Colwell was represented by her color woodcuts, The Lagoon and The Birch Tree, in the Sixteenth Annual Exhibition of the Society of Western Artists, which opened in January 1912 at the Detroit Museum of Art. Eleven of her woodcuts were featured in the exhibition of American Block Prints and Woodengravings Assembled by Gustave Baumann, which opened 2 February 1916 at the Art Institute of Chicago. The American Magazine of Art from November 1916 features an advertisement for an exhibition of wood-block-color-prints by Gustave Baumann, Elizabeth Colwell, and Dean Babcock at the establishment of Carl J. Smalley in McPherson, Kansas.

Colwell's etchings were included in An Exhibition of Etchings sponsored by the Chicago Society of Etchers between 1929 and 1931. Later in 1930s, she produced work under the auspices of the Work Progress Administration, which included etchings, lithographs, paintings, and charcoal drawings. Colwell's work is represented in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Western Illinois University Art Gallery, the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, the Newark Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Elizabeth Colwell is listed as having died in 1954 but the details seem to be elusive.

For a more informative reading of Colwell's achievements in typography, design, lettering, etc., read The Tenth Letter of the Alphabet: Creator Elizabeth Colwell from March 14, 2016.