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Records of C. Law Watkins

Identifier: IR-HIS-001-J


The Phillips Collection Historical records, Series 3.6, Records of C. Law Watkins contain business and personal correspondence, artwork, photographs, financial records, and other documents created and collected by Watkins between 1910 and 1946. The bulk of the mterials are from his tenure at The Phillips Collection between 1929 and 1945.


  • Majority of material found within 1931 - 1944
  • 1940 - 1946
  • undated


Biographical / Historical

Charles Law Watkins (1886-1945), whose varied career as a painter, educator, writer, arts administrator, and businessman, began his tenure in 1929 at the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now named The Phillips Collection) as associate director, a post he held for sixteen years until his death at the age of fifty-nine on March 2, 1945. A gifted and admired teacher; he was especially remembered during his employ for directing the art school connected with the museum and for founding the neighboring Studio House.

Duncan Phillips and C. Law Watkins shared an enduring friendship throughout their careers. Watkins (variously called C. Law Watkins, Law Watkins, or “Lowell” Watkins) was born in Peckville, a small mining town near Scranton, Pennsylvania, into a prosperous family whose industrialist father owned one of the area’s largest anthracite coal mines. During his youth he travelled to Europe and Egypt, and became an accomplished pianist. After attending a preparatory school, Watkins entered Yale University in 1904 where he made the acquaintance of classmates Duncan and James Phillips. The three students had a mutual interest in art, with Law majoring in the humanities. Both Duncan and Law served on the editorial board of The Yale Literary Magazine during 1907-1908, and all three young men graduated from Yale in 1908.

After graduation, Law went to California where he was variously employed with railroad and mining companies. In 1910 he returned to Pennsylvania and set up the Watkins Coal Company, opening offices in New York and Philadelphia. While in New York Watkins became acquainted with the art and literary scene in the city, including members of the Algonquin Round Table. He served as the company’s president until 1916, when he volunteered to be an ambulance driver on the front line in France during World War I. The following year he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and fought in battles in France, for which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal. While in France, Law met Marie M. Bader, whom he subsequently married.

In 1920, Law and his wife Marie moved their family to Cresson in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke Corporation operated mines, of which he was the vice president. The Phillips family’s summer home was located about eight miles away in the town of Ebensburg. Both families met there on social occasions, and Law often joined Marjorie Phillips in her studio or on excursions to do landscape painting. Law was responsible for creating a country club in Cresson where he and Duncan Phillips enjoyed playing golf. Watkins also persisted in his love of music, organizing an orchestra composed of staff from the mining company and townspeople, one of the few orchestras invited to perform classical music on Pittsburgh’s KDKA, the first commercially licensed radio station in the United States.

By the late 1920s, after a series of disappointing business ventures, C. Law Watkins had become increasingly dissatisfied with his employment and decided to retire from the coal industry. Duncan Phillips, realizing Law’s unhappy situation, wrote to his old friend in 1929 (See: RG 1, C. Law Watson file; See also: Sub-subseries, Duncan Phillips file) to reiterate a proposal made several years earlier that Law join him at the museum. In a letter of March 16, 1929, Phillips stated “I am delighted that you are coming and can hardly wait to talk things over with you at leisure. Miss Bier and I have been conferring on more specific plans relating to our educational program and congratulating ourselves that you will be just the man we need at this time.” Days earlier at a meeting of the Members of the Phillips Memorial Gallery held on March 5, 1929, “Phillips suggested that his friend, Mr. C. Law Watkins, be invited to become a Trustee of the gallery” as stated in the minutes, with the motion approved. Watkins remained a trustee of the museum until his death in 1945; and was elected a Member in 1936.

Watkins accepted the appointment of Associate Director of the Gallery, and in late 1929 moved his family from Cresson to their new home in Bethesda, Maryland. The following year, in the fall of 1930, the Phillips family moved into their newly built residence on Foxhall Road, and Duncan and C. Law Watkins began to convert the former residence further into galleries, offices, and storage space. In a memorandum to Duncan (See: RG1, C. Law Watkins file) Law provided detailed suggestions for the conversion, including the proposal that two rooms be set aside on the third or fourth floor for students and educational work, and that drawing classes be held in the space formerly used by Marjorie Phillips for painting. Her studio, created in 1923 when a fourth floor was added to the house, included a raised skylight of slanted glass on the southern end of the roof to provide a northern light.

Although the Depression was beginning to take its toll on the financial stability of the Phillips Memorial Gallery, Duncan Phillips was able to fulfill his wish of expanding the gallery’s educational activities to enhance the public’s appreciation of art. A promotional pamphlet described the Phillips Memorial Gallery’s ambitious newly-expanded educational program for the 1931-1932 (fall to spring) season, listing C. Law Watkins as associate director in charge of education for the Phillips. A series of “conferences”—lectures on Thursday evenings—were opened to students and the public at no charge, and although Duncan would still “dream of a school for critics and teachers,” special courses in drawing and painting were offered for beginners and more advanced students, taught under the direction of C. Law Watkins and his assistant, artist Charles Val Clear. Painters could schedule hours for private use of the fourth floor studios, and a supply store was opened for students to purchase artists’ materials.

By the fall of 1932, limited resources obligated Duncan Phillips to close the studio and classes, and the gallery was forced to drastically curtail its hours during 1932 and 1933. With a growing demand for the resumption of art classes, Watkins, using his small capital investment, embarked on a new personal venture—Studio House, complementary to the educational duties he retained at the museum as associate director. Described in a letter of September 19, 1933, to dealer Frank Rehn (See: Sub-subseries Watkins wrote “Because of the Gallery being closed part time I have transferred the educational activities to a neighboring building called the Studio House, where I will conduct a school affiliated with the Gallery. The courses are based on the Phillips Collection but the school is independent in its management.” Studio House (a residential townhouse located at 1614 21st Street, subsequently demolished in the late 1950s), was home to Law’s newly established school of painting, the Gallery School of Art, which opened on October 2, 1933. Studio House also maintained an active exhibition and sales gallery, a small artists’ supply store, and a frame shop.

In the troubling economic years of the 1930s, Studio House was unable to remain self-sustaining, and on June 1, 1937, it was consolidated with the Phillips Memorial Gallery and the school renamed Phillips Gallery Art School. In the fall of 1938 the townhouse was closed permanently and the school moved to new quarters on the top floor of the Phillips Memorial Gallery. There it remained under the direction of Watkins until his death in 1945, coordinated with the museum’s program of lectures, concerts, and special exhibitions. The complex history of Studio House is more fully described in Record Group 4 of this finding aid.

In 1942 the Phillips Memorial Gallery and the American University (Washington, D.C.) joined forces to start a studio program called “Career Courses in Creative Painting” that led to undergraduate and advanced degrees in art, one of the first such programs in the country. Watkins served as a founding director of the program, with the support of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, and was subsequently appointed as chairman of the art department. He left a lasting legacy with the university, where an important group of paintings now resides as the C. Law Watkins Memorial Collection, and the school’s Watkins Gallery bears his name.

C. Law Watkins was also a writer. Duncan Phillips had envisaged the need for lectures and writings to “increase the benefits of the collection” and in a letter to Law on March 12, 1929, stated that “one of the features of our work together which would interest me most would be the possibility of working out perhaps an art periodical replacing our present type of Bulletin with something of less local reference and more international importance.” In 1930, Art and Understanding, the second of a projected series of journals, was published by the Gallery, which included an essay contributed by Watkins and an article that the two joined in writing entitled “The Terms We Use in Art Criticism.” In later years, Watkins’s book, The Language of Design, posthumously published in 1946, was an extension of his catalogue for an educational exhibition that he presented at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in 1940 entitled Emotional Design in Painting.

As an art administrator, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Federation of Arts; served on the committee for the Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia region of the Public Works of Art Project; and later was director of the same region for Artist Relief under the Works Progress Administration. His paintings are represented in the permanent collection of the Phillips, and were shown in numerous group shows including the 1939 Exhibition of Recent Paintings by Marjorie Phillips and C. Law Watkins, held at the gallery. In 1937 he received a medal from the Society of Washington Artists for best figure composition.

Numerous family members of C. Law Watkins had connections to The Phillips Gallery. Gladys Watkins, Law’s daughter from his marriage to Marie (that ended in divorce), was married to Harold Giese, a printmaker and Phillips staff member, who worked with Jim McLaughlin to do framing and exhibitions preparatory work at the museum. Law Bradley Watkins, the only child of his father’s marriage to artist Mary Bradley Watkins, was born in 1944, a year before his father’s death. Law served as a trustee of the Phillips and was an art professor at American University who loved to bring his students over to the Phillips and talk about painting. His mother Mary B. Watkins (1912?-1993), studied at the Phillips Gallery School of Art, was a graduate of American University, and served on their Board. Charles Seymour, Jr. (1912-1977) was the nephew of C. Law Watkins. Charles taught at Yale, was an assistant chief curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and taught at American University as part of the inaugural staff of the school’s undergraduate and graduate degrees in creative art.


1.3 Linear Feet (3 full legal boxes)

Language of Materials



This series has been divided into the following six subseries:

Subseries 3.6.1: American University Art Program, 1942 & undated Subseries 3.6.2: Artwork, undated

Subseries 3.6.3: Correspondence, 1910-1945

Subseries 3.6.4: Financial material, 1941-1943

Subseries 3.6.5: Photographs, undated

Subseries 3.6.6: Writings, 1935-1946 and undated

Custodial History

This collection of records is the physical property of The Phillips Collection. The collection is housed in The Phillips Collection Library and Archives, where it is made available for research use by appointment. The records were accessioned over a period of time from various locations in the museum’s offices, where they had been scattered and moved about by the museum in the course of its history.

Related Materials

The Phillips Collection Library and Archives:

The Phillips Collection Library and Archives houses a wide array of invaluable source material on the history of the museum, its staff, and the Phillips family. As early as 1920, Duncan Phillips envisaged a library for his museum, with his books and journals forming the library’s foundation. The enthusiasm that Duncan Phillips held for writing can be found in his extensive published and unpublished writings, books, and articles housed in the library, some of these annotated by Phillips. Beginning with his election as editor of The Yale Literary Magazine in 1907, these create an extensive record of his thoughts as he developed as a critic, collector, and patron of modern art. The library’s vertical files also provide information on the history of the Phillips family and staff of the museum in the form of small exhibition catalogues, articles, and clippings.

There has been an ongoing Oral History Program of The Phillips Collection begun in 2003, with completed interviews conducted with directors, trustees, staff, artists, and other affiliates of the museum. Among those interviewed are Laughlin Phillips, Gifford and Joann Phillips, Willem de Looper, Kevin Grogan, Charles F. Crowder, Jay Gates, and Charles Moffett, and others. Transcripts are made available in The Phillips Collection Library.

The archives houses institutional records dating from 1919 to the present that document the history and growth of the museum, its governing and administrative activities, educational and public programs, research, and exhibitions. From the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, a research office, part of The Phillips Collection’s curatorial department, was created to complete several major projects that focused on documenting the life of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips and the history of the museum and its collections. Working files were collected and generated by the research office and used in preparation of The Phillips Collection: A Summary Catalogue, an illustrated listing of the complete holdings of the accessioned collection published in 1985; and in The Eye of Duncan Philips: A Collection in the Making, published in 1999. Records of the Research Office, 1908-1999, are housed in the archives and a finding aid is available. Exhibition history files are also housed separately in the archives arranged chronologically, 1919 to the present.

Records of the Music Department, 1925-2012, are housed in the archives, with an accompanying finding aid to the materials. Elmira Bier, Duncan Phillips’s assistant, was the first director of The Phillips Collection music concert series that had its official beginning during the 1941-42 season, although irregular concerts and lectures on musical topics had been held from the time the museum opened to the public in 1921. For thirty years Bier oversaw the museum’s music program until her retirement in 1972, when she was succeeded by Charles Crowder as the program’s director. The records include biographical data on Bier; correspondence between Bier and Crowder; and clippings.

Contact The Phillips Collection Library and Archives staff with questions regarding access.

Selected publications in The Phillips Collection Library:

The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making. The Phillips Collection and Yale University Press, 1999

Duncan Phillips and His Collection, by Marjorie Phillips. The Phillips Collection/Norton, 1981 (revised edition)

The Phillips Collection: A Summary Catalogue. The Phillips Collection, 1985

Duncan Phillips Centennial, by Eliza Rathbone. The Phillips Collection, 1986

Duncan Phillips and the Phillips Memorial Gallery: A Patron and Museum in Formation, 1918-1940, by Grayson Harris Lane. Boston University, 2002

Heinz History Center Library & Archives:

Housed with manuscript collections of the Heinz History Center Library & Archives, a source for research about Western Pennsylvania, are the Phillips Family Papers, 1820-1985 (MSS 797), consisting of personal and financial materials relating to the Phillips family and various members of the Irwin, Laughlin, and Acker families, who are related to the Phillips family through marriage, and their properties. The repository’s manuscript collections also include Records of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company (MSS 33). James H. Laughlin (1807-1882), the grandfather of Duncan Phillips, Jr., was one of the founders of this company in Pittsburgh.

Senator John Heinz History Center
Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Phone: 412-454-6364

The Winterthur Library:

The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, housed in the library of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, includes the Marjorie Phillips Collection, 1897-1984 (Col. 632); 98 items. This is a collection of papers and photographs relating to “Dunmarlin,” the home (no longer extant) on Foxhall Road in Washington, D.C., that Marjorie and Duncan Phillips moved into in 1930. They called the new house “Dunmarlin,” a combination of their names, plus that of their children Mary Marjorie and Laughlin. The collection also includes photographs of their summer home in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, and some personal papers, including an inventory of the estate of Eliza Irwin Laughlin Phillips (Duncan’s mother); and a partial inventory of Marjorie Phillips’s estate.

The Winterthur Library
Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum
5105 Kennett Pike
Winterthur, DE 19735
Phone: 302-888-4853


This finding aid is in progress. For questions regarding access contact The Phillips Collection Library and Archives staff.

Processing Information

After an initial survey of the collection, the materials were arranged into record groups and series. Metal fasteners were removed and replaced with plastic clips when needed. All documents were re-foldered into acid free folders.

Records of C. Law Watkins, 1910-1946
The Phillips Collection Library and Archives 1600 21st Street NW Washington D.C. 20009
In Progress
Karen Schneider, Librarian. Colleen Hennessey, Archives Assistant, under the direction of Karen Schneider, assisted with portions of the guide’s arrangement and description.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Phillips Collection Archives Repository

1600 21st St. NW
Washington DC 20009 United States