Joseph Goss Cowell


"A Parishioner With A God-Given Talent"

by Tami Allen

There was a parishioner of Trinity Church, Joseph Goss Cowell, who possessed a God-given talent. Joseph's life story reveals an extraordinary artistic journey, whereupon he bestowed his heaven-sent gift on, not only Trinity Church in Wrentham, but other locations in America, France and India.

Joseph Goss Cowell was born on December 4, 1886 in Peoria, Illinois, to Benjamin and Mary Anna Cowell. Other members of the Cowell family owned property in Wrentham, Massachusetts, but Joseph grew up in Peoria, Illinois where his dad worked as an interior decorator. After high school, he attended Bradley College in Peoria, Illinois from 1902-1906, the University of Illinois from 1907-1908, the Art Students League of New York from 1908-1909, the School of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 1909-1912, the County Council School of Arts and Crafts in London from1914-1915 and the Academie Julien in Paris in 1920.

After fighting in WWI, Joseph lived in Paris, France. In a certain area of Paris lived artists, writers and musicians that were known as "The Bohemians". While Joseph was there, he painted several gruesome war scenes to release his inner emotions about the war. He spoke of destroying the paintings later in his life. On March 26, 1918, he married Helen Parkhurst, who was an accomplished violinist, pianist and organist. They had one child, a daughter named Jean.

When Joseph returned to the United States, he was an instructor at the Massachusetts School of Art from 1922-1927, the Associate Director of Boston Designers Art School from 1927-1933, in the Creative Therapy and Research Department at Boston State Hospital from 1933-1939 and the Director of the National Art School in Washington, D.C., from 1940-1942. He was with the Offices of Strategic Services from 1942-1943 and the Navy Hydrographic Office in Washington, DC in 1943.

Through the course of Joseph's life, he was an artist, a sculptor, a designer of stained glass windows, church altars and memorials, a painter of murals and an art teacher. Joseph painted murals in the Boston Clerical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston City Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, St. Charles Church in Waltham, Massachusetts, Holy Ghost Church in Whitman, Massachusetts and the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He painted altar panels in the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange, New Jersey, and the Universalist Church St Paul's Church in Peoria, Illinois. He performed altar decorations in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and altar paintings for the Sevayatan Temple in Midnapur, India. In St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois, he completed a mural, a sculpture and altar decorations. He also designed stained glass windows. The Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, has a triptych painted by Joseph. He was commissioned to paint portraits of Admiral Byrd (State House, Virginia), Judge J. Willis Martin (Pennsylvania Athletic Club), Lahiri Mahassaya (Self Realization Church, Washington D.C.) and several Wrentham citizens.

While living in Wrentham, Joseph gave painting lessons, taught adult education classes, designed memorials, painted art work, sculptured statues and was involved with other art related projects. He designed the WWI memorial, which is the base of the flagpole in the center of town and the memorial to William Herbert Sweatt at the entrance to Sweatt Memorial Park. The memorial to William Sweatt depicts Mr. Sweatt on one side, and on the other side is a sculpture of Wrentham's early settlers purchasing town land from King Phillip, which was based on Wrentham's town seal. At one time, there were lighted globes and a wrought iron fence along the top of the wall of the memorial. Vandalism and deterioration were the reasons for their removal. Joseph's paintings are hung in town buildings, historical buildings and private homes in Wrentham. Paintings of Wrentham scenes are along the corridor walls in Wrentham's Vogel School, and one painting is hung in the meeting room at Wrentham's historical Wampum House. Over the fireplace at the Wrentham Library is a mural depicting an interior classroom of the Day's Academy, which was a private school that stood where the library is today. Many portraits of Wrentham citizens are hung in private homes. Joseph painted ornate altar panels and a beautiful mural at Trinity Church in Wrentham. The altar panels, that appeared to be real, were on the back wall above the altar before the wood paneling covered the area. A mural, resembling a clouded blue sky, was located in the curved ceiling above the chancel. It has since been painted over.

There is a touching memorial in Trinity Church's cemetery at the graves of Joseph, his wife Helen and his daughter Jean. At Jean's grave is a statue that depicts her as a young girl, and at the graves of Joseph and Helen is a statue of a shepherd holding a lamb and a bird. Both statues were designed and sculpted by Joseph.

Joseph Cowell's obituary describes him as a gifted man, a family man, a man who served his country as a sergeant in the tank corps A.E.F., U. S. Army and an Episcopalian. He is buried in Trinity Church's cemetery, but his name lives on through the extraordinary gift bestowed upon him by God.


The Wrentham Historical Society




Copyright 2016 Trinity Episcopal Church, Wrentham, MA 02093