Rowena Meeks Abdy
Rowena Meeks Abdy was born of American parents in Vienna, Austria on April 24, 1887. She was the daughter of John Meeks, a retired New England businessman and Anna Fuller Meeks. Her family spent the next eleven years in Europe before finally settling in San Francisco in 1898.
Abdy attended the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, studying with Arthur Mathews. Later she took some courses from Armin Hansen who had been a fellow student at the Institute. Aside from this, she was largely self-taught. She made several trips to Europe after settling in San Francisco and developed her perceptions and skills through extensive study in the museums and galleries of Europe.
Around 1910 Rowena married Henry Bennett Abdy, an amateur journalist, writer, traveler and antiquarian. They moved to Monterey in 1910 and purchased property there in 1912.
In 1915, the Abdys, along with their friend Armin Hansen, made a 1250 mile trip on an old Mississippi steamboat from St. Louis, Missouri to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The result of this voyage was a book written by Henry and illustrated by Rowena, called On the Ohio.
The Abdy’s traveled extensively throughout California from 1915 to 1925, living for a while in San Diego. Rowena sketched and painted the old buildings and ruins of early California from the Spanish missions to the old mining towns. Even her landscapes evoked the sense of an earlier era.
As she was physically handicapped, she had a large sedan car specially equipped as a studio, enabling her to paint on location with greater ease.
Her best watercolors from these Californian trips became the basis for her book Old California. This luxurious, limited-edition volume was printed by John Henry Nash of San Francisco, with a foreword written by the painter Gottardo Piazzoni.
By 1926, she had settled on Russian Hill in San Francisco. Her studio was across the north end of the house and overlooked the Bay from Marin to Contra Costa Counties.
In the mid-nineteen twenties, one of her paintings, previously shown at the Claremont Gallery in Berkeley, was selected to be part of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor’s first exhibition of works by American artists. It was during this same period, that she became part of the newlyformed Club Beaux-Arts, a cooperative in San Francisco. Her one-woman exhibition in 1926 was a great success. Over the next decade, Abdy’s work was shown at the Courvoisier Gallery and the Valdespino Gallery in San Francisco, and in 1936 she had an exhibition consisting of eighteen drawings and fifteen watercolors at the Delphic Galleries in New York City. A review in the New York Sun said, “She seems to draw nourishment from the California soil”.
She maintained her connection to the Monterey Peninsula by becoming a member of the Carmel Art Association, and through her continuing friendship with Armin Hansen.
Her last years were spent in her Russian Hill home in San Francisco as a recluse, though she continued to exhibit her work. She died there in 1945, at the age of 58.