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Doris White: Abstract Evolution
February 25 - April 12, 2015

Doris White:  Journey into Abstraction

Born in Eau Claire in 1924, Doris White became one of Wisconsin’s esteemed artists known for semi-realistic watercolors and expansive, non-objective acrylic paintings.  Although nationally recognized for her work,  she stayed true to her Wisconsin roots.  White started her art training at the former Layton School of Art in Milwaukee and transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago.  She interrupted her training to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps.  Following World War II, White studied at the University of Berne in Switzerland, then returned to the U.S. and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1950 with majors in design and commercial art.


In the decade following her graduation, White taught at the Layton School of Art and pursued a career as a commercial artist.  In the early 1960s she left her work in commercial art and teaching to pursue painting full time.  During this time, she ventured beyond watercolor to begin using oil on canvas to enrich the surfaces of her paintings and suggest greater expanse.  The first exhibition featuring her oil paintings was at the Bradley Galleries in Thiensville in 1962. Many of these works include abstractions of city scenes, as well as bright red and orange hues cutting through grays and blues.

Doris White was the recipient of more than sixty major art awards in exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia.  Her paintings have been featured in numerous national exhibitions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts,  the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian Institution and more than seventy art centers and museums in the United States.  In 1963 White won the Gold Medal of Honor from Knickerbocker Artists in New York and the Grand Award from American Watercolor Society, the first time a woman had received this award.  About this same time, White also opened a gallery near Egg Harbor in Door County. 


By 1965 the artist moved from Wauwatosa  to a home on a 10-acre Town of Jackson farmstead in Washington County. She loved the rural area for the detachment from the maze of sounds and visual images she found in the heart of the city.  In the following decades White was thoroughly ensconced with her natural surroundings and their inspiration for her art.  Her artwork became abstracted to a greater degree in the rural surroundings.   To a journalist she explained, “Trees and terrain, the texture of rocks and grass – these things have a great  fascination for me.  I can relate to them, pull things out of them that I retain.  And I suppose, subconsciously, they come through in my work somehow.”


Doris White frequented the Cedarburg area in her later years.  She had a studio near the northern end of Wauwatosa Road,  and did printmaking and embossments (inkless collagraphs) at the Brewery Works studio of Paul Yank.   Doris White died in Cedarburg in September 1995, just before receiving notice of her inclusion in the 1996 edition of Who’s Who in American Art.

Photo of the artist courtesy of Sally Musbach. 

Busy City is a 1958 watercolor painting  in the Cedarburg Art Museum Collection, gift on an anonymous donor. 



1.   Eldon Knoche, “Doris A. White was nationally known artist,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 8, 1995, 6B.

2.   Knoche, “Doris White was nationally known,” 6B.

3.   Donald Key, “Doris White’s style enhanced by change to oils,”  Milwaukee Journal, March 25, 1962, Part 5, 5.

4.   Doris White’s own C.V., in artist’s file at the Cedarburg Art Museum.

5.   Doris White, “Doris White Expresses the World Around Her,”  American Artist, Vol. 28, No. 4, 1964, 38-39, 72. 

6.   John Torinus, “Cultural Attractions of Door County Reflect Leisure Time Changes,”  Appleton Post-Crescent, Sept. 6, 1964. 

7.   James Auer,  “Doris White Lives her Art in Tune with Nature,”  Milwaukee Journal, Aug. 21, 1977, Part 5, 1 & 4.

8.   Artist labels on backs of later paintings give her address as 1126 Wauwatosa Rd., Cedarburg, WI, 53012. 

9.   James Auer, “Watercolor Elegy,”  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 19, 1996, Cue section, 11E.



Anna Grosch/ Mary Chemotti

February 2015

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