Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Robert Cairns Dobson

Painting by Robert Cairns Dobson

Click ON Images To ENLARGE I recently purchased a collection which contained several bookplates by Robert C. Dobson. They were for Connecticut residents and several were Yale related . Most were done in the early 1900's. None of my reference books had any information about the artist and two knowledgeable collectors told me they had never heard of him either. I was able to find the following message on the Ask Art website that had been posted by Ron O'Brien:

My great-uncle Robert Cairns Dobson was born 4 April 1881 in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland, attended Rhode Island School of Design and Harvard School of Art and died 11 June 1916 in Bernalillo,NM. He was buried in Tacoma, WA. He married Helen Ames Crosby and had one daughter, Barbara Dobson.

I wrote to Mr. O'Brien and he promptly responded as follows:

There’s little I can add to the information you already have. “Uncle Bob, the artist,” was always a mysterious figure in our family. He was the namesake for my father who further muddied the waters by changing his name before I was born (about 1935). It was only after his (my father’s) death that the truth began to come out and we found a whole side of my family that none of us knew about. One of my new cousins mentioned the artist uncle and the genealogists on both sides began the search. I’ve attached a few of his pictures that we’ve found. One is an early work given to a cousin in southern Rhode Island. I found “On The Veranda” at the “Askart” website you referenced. The third was purchased by someone (I can’t find the correspondence) on EBay. He had seen the AskArt item also and asked me for more detail. Along with the picture he provided details of the artist’s signature (with kind of a cipher on one) which are also attached to this email.

There is some family lore that RC Dobson did early work sketching trials for a Rhode Island newspaper, but I’ve never found anything to support it. He could have done bookplates but I never heard anything about that either. I know that he married well and that his wife’s family is much more interesting and accessible that his, coming out of some top-shelf families in Massachusetts and heavily involved in the expansion of the northern railroads all the way to Washington State, which is why his wife brought his body to Tacoma. Her father, who had been involved with rail projects all the way from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, was the area superintendent for the Northern Pacific and living in Tacoma. I’ve attached a picture of his gravestone in the Old Tacoma Cemetery. Wish I could be more help
The blown up photo of the Ellsworth Ford bookplate shows one of the ciphers Robert C.Dobson used

Update 11/30/2008 Here is a link to large number of Dobson plates at the Boston Public Library


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Donald Watson said...

Robert C. Dobson drawings and illustrations appear in the Yale Record, circa 1902-1903, Yale College undergraduate humor magazine. They represent a very advanced skill in illustration and graphic design. This is verified by use of his ciphers, identical to those shown on subsequent bookplates. In addition, the volumes carry advertisements of a business he offered to design bookplates (while he was still an undergraduate). My research on this artist and others of the era continue, being prepared for various exhibits and publications. Please let me know interest. Donald Watson