Isabelle Bowen Henderson

In October 2009 the Textiles Library received a generous donation of a portrait of Wallace W. Riddick Jr. from his brother Harry H. Riddick. The donation of this portrait provided the impetus for the development of this website and a subsequent library exhibit. The portrait was painted by the late Isabelle Bowen Henderson (May 23, 1899 — May 19, 1969) a prominent Raleigh portraitist and horticulturist. Isabelle was born in Raleigh, the eldest of six daughters of North Carolina State College Treasurer Arthur Finn Bowen. She studied at Peace College, Columbia University and The Pennsylvania Academy of Art. After graduating, she taught at the Pennsylvania Academy and at Wake Forest College.

Establishing her studio on Fayetteville Street in 1927, she became a lifetime member and officer of the N.C. Art Society, later participating in the establishment of the N.C. Museum of Art. In 1932 she married Edgar H. Henderson and moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts where she began her career as a portraitist and developed an interest in early American crafts.

She returned to live at 213 Oberlin Road in 1937. In 1938 her front garden was first opened to the public and the same year, a full page article in the News & Observer was devoted to her growing prominence as a portrait painter. Ben Williams, former curator of the N.C. Museum of Art has estimated that she produced over one thousand portraits throughout the Eastern United States. Her works are included in the permanent collection of the N.C. Museum of Art and in the State Supreme Court Building in Raleigh.

In 1951, Henderson won the National Horticultural Award, the highest award given by the National Council of State Garden Clubs, for her "permanent and creative contribution to horticulture". Henderson hybridized and maintained 600 varieties of Iris and 527 varieties of Hemerocallis, and wrote articles for many horticultural journals. She corresponded with Lewis Mumford and Roberto Burle Marx and her gardens were visited by Carl Sandburg and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Henderson left the property to her sister, Phyllis Riley, who, during the late 1970's and early 1980's, fought two law suits brought by the City of Raleigh in their attempt to put a five-lane road through the property. The Henderson House and Gardens was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and is a Raleigh Historic Property.

(Source: Russ Stephenson. Isabelle Bowen Henderson House & Gardens: National Register of Historic Places, Informational Handout.)

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