Born in Forest Hills, New York in 1928 Joe began to draw when he was three. His first illustration for a national magazine was published by Cosmopolitan when he was nineteen. While working as an apprentice at the prestigious Charles E. Cooper Studios, Inc. he had the opportunity to learn the craft from some of the finest artists in the profession.
As an apprentice at Cooper Studio, Joe was inspired by the illustrations he saw being done by the top artists in the field. During the day Joe’s time was spent cleaning palettes and brushes, matting paintings and running errands. He did his own work at night, sometimes all night. After being there about six months, Coby Whitmore brought in an illustration of his for Joe to matt. Coby saw a sample illustration Joe had been working on the night before and asked if he could take it with him to Cosmopolitan magazine to show the Art Director. Upon Coby’s return, he told Joe, Cosmo had bought the sample and to bill them for $1,000. Earning $35 a week at that time, it seemed like a fortune.
Within six months, Joe’s illustrations were appearing in three major magazines. Coby was Joe’s mentor in the early days of his career, a friendship that lasted a lifetime.
Bowler contracted polio in 1958, while on vacation in Europe. 100% of his muscles were effected by the polio and he spent 7 years working with a physical therapist named Henry Stano. Although, Joe regained much of his mobility it was a long painful recovery. After about three months, Joe regained the use of his hands and arms and went back to work. It was a turning point in Joe’s life, not only in his physical capacity, but his attitude and approach to painting.
Joe was elected an Artist Member in the Society of Illustrators in 1952 and to their Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1967 The Artists’ Guild of New York named Joe their Artist of the Year. By this time, magazines were commissioning him to do portraits of well-known people. These included a 1968 McCall’s fashion article portraying eight presidential candidates’ wives; the August 1971 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal cover portrait of Rose Kennedy; The Saturday Evening Post cover of Julie and David Eisenhower.
In 1972, Joe and his wife Marilyn moved to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This proved to be the ideal location in which to make the transition from illustration to portraiture. Portraits have been Joe’s primary focus since the move, but he makes sure to take time to paint just for himself—a part of the never-ending learning process which makes painting so rewarding.
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