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Robert Gwathmey. Left, with his wife. Courtesy of Michael Kammen.


Gwathmey, Robert (03 January 1903–21 September 1988), artist and activist, was born near Richmond, Virginia, an eighth-generation native of Welsh descent, to Robert Gwathmey, a railroad engineer, and Eva Harrison Gwathmey. Following brief stints at North Carolina State College (1922–1923) and Maryland Institute of Design (1925–1926) and at sea on a commercial freighter, he attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA, 1926–1930), where he was awarded several prize fellowships and met his future wife, also an aspiring artist, Rosalie Hook of Charlotte, North Carolina. They married in 1935 and had one son, Charles Gwathmey, who became one of the most prominent architects of his generation. When Charles was born, Rosalie Gwathmey took up photography, acquired professional skills, and later earned public recognition for her work. Beginning in the 1940s Robert Gwathmey often asked Rosalie to photograph rural scenes in their native South and used those images as the basis for some of his most striking paintings. Despite that collaboration Gwathmey was typical of his generation in regarding photography as an inferior art form....