About Dorr Bothwell

Archive of the Mendocino Heritage Artists

Dorr Bothwell (1902-2000)

Dorr Bothwell with master printer Howard Clark, Copy Quick, Fort Bragg, California (1994). Photo by CG Blick.


Sometimes by chance, more often by courageous intuition, where ever Dorr Bothwell found herself, she was at the creative center of her times, and unselfconsciously moving ahead of them.

Time Portal: Third Phase Centennial by Dorr Bothwell (1993). Acrylic and acrylic transfer on canvas. Private collection.

Straws in the Wind
I follow straws in the wind, and that’s how I came to Mendocino. A friend of mine from art school, whom I hadn’t seen for twenty five years, recommended me to Bill Zacha. I was busy, so I recommended Hilda Pertha to Bill, and she came…later I taught a summer course at the Art Center and fell in love with the place. All the wood, for example, really excited me, the wonderful gray wooden fences. I did a whole series of close-ups of the wood, all the grains and knotholes, and when it was shown in San Francisco, it sold out. The very tempo of living here has influenced my art. I think there is a magic in this place, something very special that people call a kind of ‘power center’, like Mount Shasta, and I think that this was the moving spirit of Bill Zacha, that remarkable catalyst. – Dorr Bothwell, Arts & Entertainment Magazine, Mendocino, California, May 1989

Dorr Bothwell (c. 1911). Archives of American Art.

San Francisco
A native San Franciscan, Dorr Bothwell remembered her crib rolling across the floor during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and she remembered the chaos in the city streets in its aftermath.

Historical marker in San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, on the former site of the Montgomery Block.

In her twenties Dorr lived, worked, and opened a gallery at the Montgomery Block, that architectural marvel, so long at the heart of the bohemian intellectual life of San Francisco. She returned to the Montgomery Block for several years during World War II.

Dorr Bothwell by Ruth Cravath (1923). Bothwell and Cravath became fast friends while attending the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. They were the same age, and remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

In 1928, Dorr used a small inheritance to travel alone to Ta’u, the easternmost of the Manu’a islands of American Samoa, where she lived for two years, making her home with the regional chief and his wife. When the American colonial authorities tried to deport Dorr, her hosts formally adopted her into their family, giving her the Samoan citizenship that would allow her to stay with them. During her time on Ta’u, Dorr learned the language, the traditional dances and ceremonies, and how the local textiles were designed and made, and there she created the block prints, drawings, watercolors and oil paintings that she always considered her finest work.

Reef Fishing at Night, Samoa by Dorr Bothwell (1929). Woodblock print. Private collection.
Reef Fishing at Night, Samoa by Dorr Bothwell (1929). Woodblock print. Private collection.

After Samoa, Dorr studied art history and painting in England, France and Germany. She lived in Paris, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Joshua Tree, northern Arizona, and Mendocino, traveled and worked in Europe, Asia and Africa, but her bond with the land and the people of Samoa, not least her Samoan family, was unique, a powerful lifelong source of inspiration, strength and longing.

My Room and Studio by Dorr Bothwell (2 May, Manu’a, Samoa 1929). Drawing. Private collection.

Paris and Surrealism
Dorr Bothwell always called herself a Symbolist, and rejected Surrealism as descriptive of her art, but it’s understandable that the term Surrealist tempts some of her biographers. Recurring in images throughout each period of her work, distance and time collapse; the past and present interpenetrate.

Spectator viewing a Tugboat by Dorr Bothwell (1943). Serigraph (13.12″ x 9.75″). Edition of 12.

Nevertheless, Dorr tells of being struck to her core, first seeing Surrealist work when studying in Paris (1930-1931). Later she revisited Paris on an Abraham Rosenberg Fellowship for Art Study Abroad (1949-51).

.The Great Depression
In addition to her painting, in the early 1930s Dorr opened the Bothwell Cooke Gallery. In late 1930s Dorr worked as a ceramics designer for Gladding McBean where her small decorative ceramic pieces were distinguished by her attention to full presentation in the round.

Peasant Woman, glazed terracotta head vase designed by Dorr Bothwell for the Catalina Division of Gladding McBean in Los Angeles (c. 1938).

Like so other many starving artists during the Great Depression, from 1936 to 1939 Dorr worked for the Federal Arts Project as a muralist, including designing the ceramic frieze for the DeAnza Monument in Riverside, California.

The Newman Park De Anza Monument, Photo: Bob Blick.
De Anza Monument ceramic frieze designed by  Dorr Bothwell for the WPA, at Newman Park , Riverside, California. Photo: Bob Blick.

In addition, she learned serigraphy, and began working for its acceptance  as a fine art medium.

Dorr’s work was  represented in the 1939-1940  Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island, as were sculptures by her former husband Donal Hord, and her friend Dorothy Cravath. The exhibition’s theme was Pageant of the Pacific, which Dorr’s The Birth of Venus, celebrates with a Samoan conch.

The Birth of Venus by Dorr Bothwell (1939). Oil. Private collection. Exhibited in the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939 and 1940), held at San Francisco's Treasure Island.
The Birth of Venus by Dorr Bothwell (1939). Oil.. Exhibited in the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939 and 1940), held at San Francisco’s Treasure Island.

In 1940 Dorr was commissioned to paint The Story of Manning’s Coffee, a series of murals for one of the Manning’s coffee shops in downtown San Francisco. She stayed in the city after the job was done.

World War II
During WWII Dorr’s flatmate at the Montgomery Block was young textile designer Tammis Keefe. Some of their adventures are chronicled in an illustrated journal Dorr kept during February and March of 1942, immediately after the United States declared the war on Japan. The journal is now in the Dorr Bothwell collection at the Archives of American Art.

Dorr Bothwell’s illustrated diary (2/9/1942). Archives of American Art. Monday Feb. 9th. 2:00 am. Text: We set our clock ahead one hour + start ‘wartime’ for the duration.

From 1964 to 1977 Dorr worked with Ansel Adams, teaching design and composition to photographers at his Yosemite Workshop summer sessions.

In 1961, over a year after Bill Zacha’s initial invitation, Dorr Bothwell came to Mendocino.

Bill Zacha and Dorr had never met before she came to teach at the Mendocino Art Center, but their connection was immediate and profound. In Dorr, Bill found a mentor, and each found a life-long friend in the other.

Dorr Bothwell with Bill Zacha, in her Mendocino studio. Photo: Look Magazine 1962.

Bill was so intent on making Dorr comfortable in Mendocino that he custom-tailored a combination home and studio space for her at the corner of Kasten and Albion Streets.

Bill’s Roses (Mendocino Fences) by Dorr Bothwell (1964). Oil on canvas (36″ x 48). Private collection.

Later Bill built Dorr a studio with living space overlooking his rose garden behind Zacha’s Bay Window Gallery.

Desert Wash by Dorr Bothwell (1955). Oil. Private Collection.

Erika Kohr Island writes, “Although she alternated between her Mendocino studio and a studio in the Joshua Tree desert during wet Mendocino winters, she continued global travels into her nineties. In Europe or the Asian Pacific, in Southwestern deserts or in the tiny coastal village of Mendocino, wherever she went, heart and eyes always wide open, Dorr Bothwell created her art, and it was in her artwork that she made her true home.”

We owe thanks to batik artist Monica Hannasch, Dorr’s close friend since the 1950s, for editing and publishing  Dorr Bothwell’s African Sketchbook (2000). This handful of vibrant sketches is the only surviving  record of the many sketches Dorr made during her travels in Africa in the 1960s.

Many artists might work from photographs, but Dorr worked only from her sketches. We are fortunate that the Archive has photos of artwork – serigraphs, and at least one oil painting – based on the African sketches. In addition, the Mendocino Art Center offers a number of Dorr’s beautiful African serigraphs for sale.

Jennie Zacha by Dorr Bothwell (1980) on the cover of Mendocino Arts Magazine (Fall 2009 – Winter 2010).

Dorr Bothwell left her unique imprint on Mendocino and, as with so many who come to Mendocino, Mendocino left its mark on her. A brief biography on the website of her longtime dealer, the Tobey C. Moss Gallery, alludes to a change in focus which coincides with Dorr Bothwell’s move to Mendocino: “A thread of surreality and abstraction is observed in her paintings of the late 1920s through the 1950s, overtaken by her irrepressible gusto for life and nature.”

Keepsake from Panama by Dorr Bothwell (1949). Oil on canvas (21″ x 30.75″). Private Collection.

That “irrepressible gusto” produced the vibrant collages, the serigraphs, the paintings of Mendocino cats and fences, and the large format metaphysical artwork of Dorr Bothwell’s last forty years.

Mendocino Resident by Dorr Bothwell (1977). Serigraph (14″ x 9.25″). Private collection.

In addition to her art, Dorr Bothwell’s Mendocino legacy includes half a century as a gifted teacher of painting, serigraphy, collage, color theory and design, including the theory of notan.


Marlys Mayfield
Marlys Mayfield

First published in 1968, Notan, the Light-Dark Principle of Design was written by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield. The Dover Books edition of Notan is available from Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino.

Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield, Dover Books edition.
Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield, Dover Books edition.

Bothwell’s teaching credits include the California School of Fine Arts (1944-1948), the San Francisco Art Institute, the Parsons School of Design in New York, the Inner London Educational Authority and the Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshops where she taught Composition and Design for Photographers. In four decades teaching at the Mendocino Art Center, with insight and unstinting generosity, Dorr Bothwell mentored generations of younger artists.

Cinnamon Sea by Dorr Bothwell (1954). Serigraph. Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Public Collections
An innovator in the use of serigraphy as a fine art medium, Dorr Bothwell also produced major work in painting and collage. Her work is in public collections worldwide, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the United States Library of Congress, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia, the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Bishop Museum, the Crocker Gallery in Sacramento, the San Diego Museum of Fine Art, the Achenbach Collection of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, and the former San Francisco Museum of Art, now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

Note: This is barebones Bothwell. If you stop here, you will be the poorer for it. Dorr Bothwell has shared more –  and better told – stories of art, adventure, and philosophy, in her oral history Dorr Bothwell: Straws in the Wind: An Artist’s Life as told to Bruce Levene. The complete digital text is available to read here. Don’t miss it.

Dorr Bothwell: Straws in the Wind: An Artist's Life as Told to Bruce Levene (2013).
Dorr Bothwell: Straws in the Wind: An Artist’s Life as Told to Bruce Levene (2013).

Carol Goodwin Blick, Archivist
The Mendocino Heritage Artists

Dorr Bothwell: Chronology, Exhibits, Publications
Dorr Bothwell: Straws in the Wind: an Artist’s Life as Told to Bruce Levene

Dorr Bothwell: Artwork
Dorr Bothwell in Her Own Words
Red Roses for Bill
The Mendocino Heritage Artists

1921-2001 – Dorr Bothwell papers, 1921-2001. Archives of American Art. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/dorr-bothwell-papers-6774

1965 – McChesney Interviews Bothwell, February 27, 1965. Transcript. PDF. Archives of American Art.

Dorr Bothwell Chronology.  Tobey C. Moss Gallery

1986 – Doris (Dorr) Hodgson Bothwell, personal history.  The Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1986. www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/86summer/bothwell.htm

2000 –  Dorr Bothwell, biography with links to images of early work. The Tobey C. Moss Gallery. www.tobeycmossgallery.com/BIOS-bothwell.html

2000 – Dorr Bothwell Memorial page, The Tobey C. Moss Gallery, 2000. www.tobeycmossgallery.com/dorr_bothwell_bio.html

2016 – Dorr Bothwell. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorr_Bothwell

2013 – Dorr Bothwell: Straws in the Wind, An Artist’s life as told to Bruce Levene. Pacific Transcriptions, Mendocino. Print.

2000 – Bothwell, Dorr. Dorr Bothwell’s African Sketchbook. Monica Hannasch, editor. Arti Grafiche Ambrosini – Roma, 2000. Print.

2000 – Oliver, Myrna. “Dorr Bothwell; Painter Lived Nomadic Life.” Los Angeles Times, 21 September 2000: B-8.

1999 – Bowers, Karen. “Dorr Bothwell: Original Prints from Three Decades.” Arts & Entertainment Magazine, March/April 1999. Mendocino Art Center, Mendocino, California. Print.

1999 – Richard, Valliere T. “Dorr Bothwell: Edited Biography.” Arts & Entertainment Magazine, March/April 1999. Mendocino Art Center, Mendocino, California.

1995 – Fort, Ilene Susan. “The Adventurers, the Eccentrics, and the Dreamers: Women Modernists of Southern California”, Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945. Patricia Trenton, editor. ISBN 9780520202030. University of California Press, 1995. Pages 76, 80, 82, 86, 89, 95, 98. Print.

1991 – Bothwell, Dorr and Mayfield, Marlys. Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design. ISBN: 048626856X. Dover Publications, 1991. Print.

1981 – Stevenson, Charles. “Local Artists on Avant Garde: Charles Stevenson talks about the onward march of culture and other things related to the avant garde.” Arts & Entertainment Magazine, March 1981. Antonia Lamb, editor. Mendocino Art Center, Mendocino, California. Pages 8, 9. Print.

All works of visual art by Dorr Bothwell are © 2022 The Dorr Bothwell Trust, Mill Valley, California. For permission to reproduce images by Dorr Bothwell, contact
Marlys Mayfield, Trustee, the Dorr Bothwell Trust.

Dorr Bothwell: Artwork
Dorr Bothwell: Chronology, Exhibits, Publications
Dorr Bothwell: Straws in the Wind
Dorr Bothwell: acrylic transfer and laserprint
What is a serigraph?
What was the WPA?