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Howard Stoyell Sewall

American, 1899-1975


Portland 1920

Occupation or Type


Northwest artist

Oregon artist


Howard Sewall was a founder and member of the Washington School of Art in Washington, D.C. He arrived in Portland in 1920. His friend Ruby Hammill recalled that he worked as a WPA artist from 1935-1942. She also related that in 1940 he taught at the Salem Federal Art Center. For most of his career he was a commercial artist who worked and taught in downtown studios. During the 1930s he was in the Worcester Building with a studio adjoining C.S. Price’s. During the 1940s his studio was located in the Kramer Building, in the 1950s in the Selling-Hirsch and, in the decade of the 1960s the McKay. He deplored the destruction of several of these buildings and made numerous sketches of the demolition. Sewall was complex, unpredictable, emotional, yet had a fine sense of humor, which often shows in his work. He had several years of formal art training and studied with some of Oregon's prominent artists, though he considered himself to be self-taught.

Murals that he completed in the 1930s and 1940s received much recognition. Stonecutters was honored by the Architectural League of New York in 1938. Two large murals depicting iron and wood workers are in the Timberline Lodge collection and he completed eleven murals for the Imperial Hotel in Portland (1932). Unfortunately the owners painted over them. Sewall experimented with a single line design technique using candid sketches of people, animals, and buildings as subjects. His forty-two sketches depicting people in the Central Library in Portland were in their collection and have been prominently displayed. He also was adept with watercolor and preferred painting outdoors.

Oregon City High School commissioned him to paint ten murals for their auditorium and six for the library featuring themes from Elizabethan drama and figures from the arts. He taught and painted through the 1950s and 1960s in a style that grew increasingly abstract. Cancer finally forced him to quit painting in 1970. He signed H. Sewall or H.S. Besides painting, he also produced textiles and hand loomed rugs, was a professional Spanish dancer, a singer, and an impersonator. Sewall's comment "Experimentation is the most remarkable teacher" was an apt summation of his accomplishments.

Artist biography reproduced with permission from the authors, Oregon Painters: the First Hundred Years (1859-1959), Ginny Allen and Jody Klevit.



Related People

Student of: Sidney Bell (American, born England, 1888-1964)

Student of: Clyde Leon Keller (American, 1872-1962)

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