Edna W. Lawrence (American, 1898-1987)
Painter, scholar, naturalist and teacher Edna W. Lawrence was born in Concord, New York in 1898. She studied drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island with Aldro Hibbard and Eliza Gardiner. She furthered her studies in summer courses at the Chicago Institute of Design, under the Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy- Nagy. Lawrence settled in Providence, and became a member of: the Providence Art Club; South County Art Association; Rhode Island Institute of Arts & Sciences; and the Providence Watercolor Club, of which she served for a time as President. She was also a member of the American Federation of Arts and the Society of Independent Artists in New York. Lawrence became an instructor at RISD in 1922 where she was a popular and influential teacher of drawing in the Freshman Foundation Department. She taught a nature lab design class in which students drew from natural history specimens, including mounted insects, minerals, shells, living plants and various animals. Lawrence said she hoped “to open students’ eyes to the marvels of beauty in nature . . . of form, space, color, texture, design, and structure.” During the summers, Lawrence traveled throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia, to collect specimens, draw and paint in watercolor. She sometimes purchased a passenger room on a freight ship. In 1936 she took a 10,000-mile cruise around the Baltic on the S.S. Sagaporack. She produced portraits, figure studies, still lifes, landscapes, seascapes and detailed nature studies. By the time Lawrence retired from teaching in 1974 she had amassed a teaching collection of more than 25,000 specimens. In 1981 the Rhode Island School of Design renamed the Nature Lab, which Lawrence had founded in 1937, the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab. She was awarded the RISD Alumni Award and the Providence Art Club Gold Medal for extraordinary service. Lawrence exhibited her drawings and paintings at major institutions in such cities as Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and New Orleans. Her work was shown in two exhibitions in Rhode Island 1985, one entitled Helena Sturtevant and Edna Lawrence: Rhode Island Women Artists and Teachers at the Newport Art Museum, and the other, Edna Lawrence: The Life of an Artist, at Warwick Museum. Lawrence’s work is included among the collections of the Rhode Island School of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and others. The artist died in 1987 in Providence.
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