William Carson Paintings

Thursday, September 27, 2012-Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In collaboration with the Jackson County Historical Society and Carson descendants, MAE exhibited 32 paintings by the late artist, William A. Carson (1867-1949). This exhibition was on display in our North gallery for approximately one month. We thank all those who were willing to temporarily lend their Carson artwork so that we could pay tribute to this renowned artist who once lived in Maquoketa.

William A. Carson was born June 6, 1867 in Pennsylvania to Dr. James and Sarah Branigar Carson. The family later moved to Colorado where William spent a portion of his childhood. In Colorado, Carson played with Native Americans whom he treasured so much that he included them in many of his paintings. In 1879, the Carson family moved to Maquoketa, Iowa. Without ever receiving any formal training in the arts, William set up a studio here in Maquoketa on South Main Street and became well known for his artistic talents. In addition to Native American subjects, his body of works include landscapes, seascapes, portraits, historical paintings, religious paintings, and animals. Most of his paintings consist of oil on canvas, but he may have also used pastels and possibly painted oil on board as well.

Eventually, William Carson moved to the Chicago area where he set up another studio and worked with Marshall Fields. Some evidence suggests that Carson employed a crew of approximately 25 female art students to help reproduce his paintings en masse, which he sold through Marshall Fields. It is believed that Carson traced each of his paintings and color-coded them for the women to paint the sections accordingly. In fact, some historians have argued that he may have been the father of Paint-by-Numbers.

Carson was also employed by a lithographing publishing company in Chicago and became well traveled as he searched for subjects to include in calendar paintings. These calendars were distributed across the United States. Upon retirement, Carson lived in Park Ridge, Illinois and later moved to Los Angeles, California in 1942 with his wife, Ida French and son, Earl. Carson also had a daughter named Mildred. In 1947, he moved back to Illinois where he spent his last days and passed away in 1949 at the age of 82.