Catherine Tharp Altvater (1907–1984)

Catherine Tharp Altvater was a nationally known watercolorist whose works were shown in numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Today, her paintings are found in many private collections and museums in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan.

Catherine Tharp was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on July 26, 1907, to William J. Tharp and Catherine Collins Tharp. Her maternal grandparents were early settlers of Little Rock, and her paternal grandfather, originally from Tennessee, had a private academy in Little Rock with R. C. Hall. Altvater’s interest in art began at an early age and continued throughout her school years, when she spent many hours in art classes. At the age of eighteen, she moved to New York and studied art with private tutors. She attended the National Academy of Design in Manhattan on scholarship for five semesters and later studied at the Grand Central School of Contemporary Arts and the Art League of Long Island.

Tharp married Wellington Scott sometime between 1925 and 1930, and they had a son. She married Fredrick Lang Altvater in 1930; they had no children.

Altvater painted in both watercolor and oils and, from 1947 through 1967, won more than fifty awards, including first prize in watercolors at the National Arts Club in New York for 1969. Altvater was best known for her colorful floral still-life paintings (White Lilies in the Rain, Hymn to the Sun), landscapes (Golden Dawn), and architectural scenes. Altvater’s work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Academy of Fine Arts, National Arts Club, Audubon Artists Royal Watercolor Society (London), Parrish Museum (New York), and the Mexico City Museum of Art. Her paintings were included in the American Watercolor Society’s traveling exhibitions to museums and art galleries throughout America. She was one of Lord and Taylor’s Fine Arts Gallery featured artists.

Altvater held memberships in the American Watercolor Society, Allied Artists of America, Art League of Long Island, Hudson Valley Art Association, and American Artists Professional League, among others. Altvater’s biography was included in Who’s Who in American Art, Biographies International, and Who’s Who of American Women. She was the first woman to hold an office in the American Watercolor Society.

In 1970, Altvater, along with four other artists—Doris Williamson Mapes, Bruce R. Anderson, Josephine Graham, and Edwin C. Brewer—founded and incorporated the Mid-Southern Watercolorists in Little Rock. Mid-Southern Watercolorists is a non-profit organization formed to elevate the stature of watercolor art. In 2007, it had more than 250 members from seventeen states.

Altvater lived in New York most of her adult life but returned to Arkansas regularly. In 1969, after her husband’s retirement, she established her home and studio in Lonoke County outside of Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties), where she lived and painted for ten years. Altvater died in New Smyrna Beach, Volusia, Florida, on October 9, 1984.

For additional information:
“Catherine Tharp Altvater.” AskArt. (accessed February 1, 2022).

Weathersby, Isabel. “Cathy Altvater, Nationally-Known Artist, Is Planning to Return to Her Native State.” Arkansas Gazette, April 20, 1969, p. 6E.

White, Ray. “She Paints with Watercolor at Her ‘Hideaway’ in Scott.” Arkansas Democrat Magazine, March 8, 1970, p. 2.

Thomas A. Teeter
Little Rock, Arkansas


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