After Samoa


After Samoa

Dainty Dorr Bothwell (1929). Publicity photo for Bothwell’s post-Samoa dance and lecture series.

Excerpts from “I’ll pretend that I am going to “art school”: Dorr Bothwell in Samoa, 1928-1929” by Kelly Quinn. Archives of American Art Journal 52, no. 1/2 (SPRING 2013): 70-79.

On Bothwell’s return to the United States in the early 1930s, she promoted herself as an expert on native culture in advertisements, newspaper articles, and programs.

Poster, Dorr Bothwell at the Fairmont (June 11, 1930).

Claiming to be the foster or adopted daughter of Chief Sotoa, wrapped in tapa cloth and wearing the elaborate headdress featured in the Los Angeles Times, [Dorr Bothwell] lectured about everyday life in Samoa and performed for audiences in clubs, lounges, and ballrooms in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

She found employment as a muralist with the New Deal art projects, taught classes, exhibited work, won fellowships, founded a gallery, and published a book. …[S]he married and divorced. And she traveled.

Indeed, Bothwell led a peripatetic life after her trip to Samoa, visiting the Caribbean, England, Western Europe, North and West Africa, Asia, and the American Southwest. As did her stay in the South Seas, which inspired much artwork and imbued her with an ability to work and look across cultures…

Bothwell carried Samoa with her as she circled the globe, and later in life, she experimented with Polynesian barkcloth patterns in her sketchbook. Like her tattoos, the tapa served as a [touchstone for] her extraordinary stay in the South Sea Islands.

Dorr Bothwell’s illustrated diary (1942) with her Samoan tapa-inspired design on cover. Archives of American Art.

I would like to thank Adrienne Kaeppler and Jacob Love for sharing their expertise on Samoa.
3 Autobiographical interview, unpaginated typescript, 1997, Dorr Bothwell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (hereafter Bothwell Papers).
5 Autobiographical interview, Bothwell Papers.
6 Dorr Bothwell, diary, April 19, 1928, Bothwell Papers.
8 October 18, 1928, Bothwell Papers.
9 Autobiographical interview, Bothwell Papers.
10 June 14, 1928, Bothwell Papers.
11 Bothwell diary, [October 10, 1928], Bothwell Papers.
12 Dorr Bothwell, “Notes on Modern Samoan Siapo,” n.d. (ca. 1929). Bishop Museum, Hawaii.
13 Bothwell diary, December 5, 1928.
14 Advertisement, June 11, 1930, Bothwell Papers; Display Advertisement, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1931, A8; Myra Nye, Club Notes, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1932; “Artist Wins Samoan Hearts: Chief ’s Foster-Daughter Will Lecture,” Los Angeles Times January 5, 1933, A2.