DOWLER, CHARLES PARKER
a Rhode Island sculptor, woodcarver, and decorative carver, lived and worked in Providence. A 1980 report by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and HeritageCommission identifies Dowler as a gunsmith who arrived in Providence in 1863 from Birmingham, England, to produce arms for the American Civil War. An entry in
Industries and Wealth of the Principal Points in Rhode Island,
dated 1892, lists Dowler as a sculptor with twenty-seven years of practical experience, and withstudios on the third floor at 45 Eddy Street in Providence. The entry characterized him as “the olde
established sculptor in Rhode Island,” whose “operationsconsist largely in carvings, modeling and chiseling in plaster; executing any kind of design for interior and exterior decorations; also models for monumental workers or stone workers to copy from.” An extant visiting card reads: “Charles Dowler, Carver and Modeler. Ornamental Designer. All kinds of carving for furniture and house in the latest style of the Art. Modelling
of centers, and all kinds of Stucco work. No. 49 Peck Street, Providence.”Dowler is also known for the decorative carvings he produced for Providence’s “Narragansett Hotel, inside and outside.” His acclaimed wood and plaster carvingswere also prevalent in his residential architectural, decorative, and construction commissions, produced for both himself as well as several owners of Providence’s mostnotable mansions. In 1867 he designed and built in Providence his first home, at 83 Camden Street, and, in 1872, his next home, at 581 Smith Street, which washighlighted by “richly detailed exterior articulation, including fish-scale shingling on the roof, incised Eastlake detailing on the dormers, an oculus window in the mansard,imaginative Corinthian colonettes on the porch.” A home designed and built by Dowler for Charles Kelly in 1875 sported a gable roof, two-bay facade, hoodedentrance, and a “diamond-pattern jig saw cornice,” with “bold hoods over the side and attic windows.” By the end of the nineteenth century he advertised himself as a“designer of interior and exterior decorations, models for monumental works, and patterns for jewelry.” Upon Dowler’s retirement at the age of seventy-eight, in 1919,he took up painting.In the folk art field, Dowler is recognized as a woodcarver of shop figures, particularly “Dudes” or “Sporting Dudes,” also referred to as “Race Track Touts,” takersor fixers of gambling bets. Only one confirmed carving of a tout by Dowler, owned by a Connecticut collector in 1937, is known. It was the basis for a 1937 renderingin the
Index of American Design,
the federal art project begun in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration that published this visual archive of 1,900 pieces of American folk art. Boldly painted, the tout’s features and costume are meticulously carved. It portrays a young, mustachioed gent sporting a top hat, wearing ahighcollared shirt and girded in tight pants and jacket, with his right hand jauntily inserted in his right pocket and his left hand raised as if holding a lighted cigarette or cigar, with other smokes apparent in his left breast pocket. Incorrect Dowler shop-figure attributions have resulted from a misleading caption attached to a photographof a racetrack tout, purporting to be a Dowler, in Frederick Fried’s (1908–1994) book,
Artists in Wood
(1970). Ongoing scholarship is under way to verify Dowler’sextant shop-figure carvings.
Architecture, Vernacular; Decoration;
Frederick Fried; Sculpture, Folk; Shop Figures;
A.F.Parsons Pub. Co.
Industries and Wealth of the Principal Points in Rhode Island.
New York, 1892Fried, Frederick.
Artists in Wood: American Carvers of Cigar-Store Indians, Show Figures, and Circus Wagons.
New York, 1970.Woodward, William McKenzie. “Smith Hill, Providence: Statewide Historical Preservation Report.”
Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.
Providence, R.I., 1980