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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Howie, Laurence Hotham (1876–1963)

by David Dolan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Laurence Hotham Howie (1876-1963), artist and teacher, was born on 22 August 1876 at Norwood, Adelaide, eldest of five children of George Cullen Howie, merchant, and his wife Clara Jane, née Hotham, both Scottish migrants. G. C. Howie died in 1883 and in 1885 his widow took the children to live with her father Rev. John Hotham, a Congregational minister, at Port Elliot where she conducted a small private school.

Howie was educated locally before spending 1891 at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide; he studied art under James Ashton. Next year he enrolled at the School of Design and soon became an assistant teacher there. He qualified as an art teacher, completed the certificates of the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, London, and studied wood-carving and china-painting in Melbourne. Howie read Ruskin and Pater and admired Turner, Corot, Whistler and the Impressionists. His greatest gifts were in design. From about 1905 he supported the movement to Australianize design, using native floral motifs; his 1910 waratah vase, a tour de force, is in the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. After 1909 the School of Design became the Adelaide School of Arts and Crafts, under H. P. Gill's directorship, and Howie was his chief assistant. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 August 1915 in the army engineers.

He embarked in January 1916 and from March served with the 13th Field Company in North Africa and on the Western Front until December 1918. He continued painting and sketching and was appointed an official war artist after hostilities ended. He worked with the A.I.F. War Records Section in London under the sculptor C. Web Gilbert and in 1919 returned to France to make studies which were later used to construct dioramas at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. In 1920 the war memorial acquired two pen-drawings, a sketch-book and twelve water-colours from his visits to the battlefields.

On 17 July 1919 at St Saviour's Church, Alexandra Park, London, Howie had married Janet Johnstone Isabella Davidson, an Adelaide infant mistress. Next year they went home and in July Howie became principal of the School of Arts and Crafts. His term as principal was not marked by radical developments. He faced serious problems for much of this period: the school's very existence was threatened in the Depression of the 1930s, but Howie's conservative, kindly management maintained a stable learning environment.

He was president of the (Royal) South Australian Society of Arts in 1927-32 and 1935-37 and exhibited regularly with the society, whose seascape prize he won in 1928. He also contributed to exhibitions interstate and in New Zealand. Although unadventurous in his taste and policies, he did not join the extreme reactionary movement in Australian art at that time.

Howie retired as principal in 1941. He continued painting and woodcraft; an enthusiastic yachtsman, he frequently painted peaceful sea scenes. His pulpits adorn many Adelaide churches. Survived by his two daughters, he died on 18 October 1963 and was buried in Mitcham Anglican cemetery. In 1978 a memorial exhibition of his work was held at the South Australian School of Art.

Select Bibliography

  • D. S. Dolan, L. H. Howie (exhibition cat, Adel, 1978)
  • Ormolu, 1 (1979), no 1
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dolan, 'Howie, Laurence Hotham (1876–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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