Carrie Douglas Dudley Ewen, one of Kentucky’s most talented artists, was born on March 31, 1894 in Flemingsburg. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago and lived in New York, Italy, and California before moving to Louisville in 1963 to be with her dying brother.
Ewen painted stunning portraits and still lifes, but primarily supported herself as a commercial artist, illustrating children’s books and designing greeting cards for Henri Fayette, NuArt and Chrysons card companies. Ewen felt compelled to assume a male moniker during her career and used “Doug Ewen” as her professional name. As her niece Lu Ann Weinstein fondly remembered, “Aunt Doug [was] making money long before women were supposed to be so uppity.”
Ewen became adept at creating whimsical and innovative books, such as My Peek-a-boo Show Book and Let’s Play Circus: Another Peek-a-boo Show Book. The cardboard pages of these “peek-a-boo” books contain small windows that reveal images on subsequent pages that can be changed at random. She also illustrated other author’s works, such as Betty Baxter’s Supposin’, and magazine articles. Ewen designed a variety of holiday and greeting cards, but concentrated solely on Christmas cards during the last years of her life. These cards exhibit the same playful touches as her children’s books, featuring jolly Santas, winsome angels, ice skating snowmen, and Louisville Street scenes.
Ewen’s original designs were created in the same size as the finished product. Unfortunately she was often disappointed with the poor color reproductions of her creations. For Ewen, designing the cards became second nature, and she produced hundreds of images over the years. When asked in a 1969 “Louisville Times” article if she made preliminary sketches for her cards, Ewen replied, “Not any more my dear. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have you can almost do them in your sleep. Painting Christmas card designs, after all these years, is just as natural to me as breathing.” Unfortunately, none of her original paintings were returned to her after the cards had been produced.
The Filson Historical Society has a generous amount of material on the life, works and family of Carrie Dudley Douglas Ewen. There are over eighty of her Christmas cards in our collection, as well as twelve oil paintings and seven watercolors, nine books illustrated by Ewen, family papers and family photographs. Ewen remained in Louisville until her death on March 11, 1982.