Behind the Art: Ligonier museum intrigues Pittsburgh artist Robert Bowden
Although Robert Bowden is best-known for his cityscapes, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Ligonier Valley is one of the Pittsburgh painter’s favorite subjects.
He’s painted the log structure, just south of the borough along Route 711, in both winter and summer. In the winter, he painted while sitting in his car. In warmer weather, he set up his easel on the museum grounds.
He particularly likes the latter vantage point, he said.
“I picked that particular place to paint because of the color at that time of the year and the view of the site, surrounded by the low mountain area,” Bowden said. “I like the structure of the building and the background.”
He made a gift to the museum of the warm-weather scene, a 2017 watercolor painted from the southern end of the property.
“He very generously said, here, you can have it,” said site coordinator Kristin Miller. “I was so delighted, I was just in tears.”
Bowden, 90, is well-known in Western Pennsylvania art circles — and beyond — mostly as a plein air painter of city scenes.
“I’ve been a serious painter since 1954 and actually before that, when I was in school. And I’m still working,” said Bowden, who lives in Point Breeze.
His work has been shown in museum and gallery exhibitions around Western Pennsylvania and in New York and is included in the permanent collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art.
He is a 1954 graduate of Carnegie Technical Institute, now Carnegie Mellon University, and owned a graphic design business for 40 years. Bowden also has published four books of his watercolors, including East Coast scenes from Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
“They’re all out of print now, but you can find them on Ex Libris or some other used book site,” he said. “We sold about 30,000 total, and that’s a lot of books.”
SAMA purchased Bowden’s winter scene of the Ligonier facility. He presented the other piece to the museum after it was included in a 2020 solo show there.
“We had the show ready, and then the pandemic started and we couldn’t have an opening. We pushed it back a month, and nobody came anyway,” Bowden said. “When it ended, I thought maybe they’d like to have it at (SAMA’s) Bedford branch, because it looked like the pandemic was easing.”
The show, with more than 50 oils and watercolors, moved to Bedford.
“Then the pandemic worsened, so nobody saw it except some of my friends and maybe a few people in Bedford,” Bowden said. “It was a really good show, but it was a total flop.”
Bowden is preparing for a new show opening March 25 at Concept Gallery in Pittsburgh’s Regent Square section. “The Astounding Bridges of Pittsburgh” will include more than 20 plein air watercolors.
“He paints so fast and he’s so prolific,” Miller said.
“He’ll do five or six paintings in one of our weekend paint-outs, when other artists do one or two. He’s so good with colors and textures, the sky and clouds.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .