Rowena Fry

b. 1892, Athens, AL - d. 1990, Nashville, KY

Rowena Fry was born in Athens, Alabama, and studied at the Watkins Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. She came to Chicago in the late 1920s and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the Hubert Ropp School of Art. Fry participated in the Works Progress Administration Fine Art Project in painting, 1938-39, producing murals at Abbott Laboratories, Oscar Meyer Company, and American Mareitta Paint Company, as well as in Lake Forest. She called herself an “American Naïve,” depicting everyday life of Chicago’s near north side. Her focus on the small-town aspects of Chicago neighborhoods resonated with an optimism that corresponded to the growing trend of American scene painting in the late 1920s and 1930s. Fry taught painting and serigraphy from her studio for many years and art classes at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital, 1942-46. She shared a studio apartment with artist Natalie Henry at the Lambert Tree Studios building in Chicago from 1948 until the 1980s.

“I find nature, people and man-made objects a great source of inspiration, and enjoy the interrelationship of all these elements in my paintings and serigraphs,” Fry stated (Yochim 1979). Such is the case in her oil portrait, Tilly, which compellingly renders the stern expression of a young African American woman holding an apple in a large wooden bowl on her lap.

Lisa Meyerowitz


Faist, Barton, Barbara Koenen, and Tim Samuelson. Capturing Sunlight: The Art of Tree Studios. Chicago: Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 1999.

Illinois Women Artists Project,

Weininger, Susan. “Rowena Fry.” In Chicago Modern, 1893–1945: Pursuit of the New, edited by Elizabeth Kennedy, p. 112. Chicago: Terra Foundation of American Art, 2004.

Yochim, Louise Dunn. Role and Impact: The Chicago Society of Artists, pp. 132, 236. Chicago: Chicago Society of Artists, 1979.

Artist image: Photograph of Rowena Fry, collection of Bernard Friedman.

Works by Rowena Fry