Claude Howell was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on March 17, 1915. He always loved his home-town and recorded it in drawings since he was a small child. Some of those childhood drawings of decorative details from the balcony and proscenium arch served the preservationists when they came to restoring the interior of the city’s 1855 Thalian Hall, home of one of America’s oldest little theaters in continuous existence.
This young talent was recognized, nurtured and trained by Miss Elizabeth Chant of Wilmington, but Howell was also influenced by numerous out-of-state experiences. After graduating from high school in 1931, he could not afford art school because of the depression, but instead went to work for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. Yet, he devoted every spare minute to drawing and painting, and spent his vacations studying in summer artists colonies-among them Woodstock, New York, with artist/teacher Charles Rosen.
All these experiences reinforced the direction his personal style was taking, that is, stating his visions of the world in flat, brilliant colors and sharply- defined shapes. These varied experiences, distant from his home, also brought perspective to what is his chief source of subject, his everyday milieu in the seaport and beach resort of Wilmington. Mrs. Virginia Tucker, in her introduction to the catalog of the exhibit Claude Howell: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, quotes a most revealing statement by the artist, “One has to be far removed to begin to see things. Sometimes if you get too involved in living and you paint about it, it is too immediate. I think you have to back off just a little bit in order to see it. The first time I ever saw the United States was in Europe, because then I could see the differences between our life and the life of other people.”
Howell was honored in his home state with a number of one-man shows. A major retrospective at the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1975 traveled on to SECCA in Winston Salem and the Mint Museum in Charlotte. In the “Preface” to the catalog of the exhibition, Moussa M. Domit, Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, wrote that Howell is “one of North Carolina’s distinguished and prolific artists … While his work clearly reflects a knowledge of external trends, Howell has by and large found from within the region both an abundance of inspiration and a numerous and appreciative patronage.” The retrospective at Wilmington’s St. John’s Museum of Art, now known as the Cameron Museum of Art, in 1995 was the last major exhibition of Howell’s work before his death in 1997. Outside the state, his works have also been exhibited in a number of shows in eminent museums from the east to the west coast, among others The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Art lnstitute of Pasadena, California.