Ward Lockwood, artist and founder of the art department at the University of Texas at Austin, was born in Atchison, Kansas, on September 22, 1894, the eldest son of Charles Alonzo and Cora Jane (Thomas) Lockwood. His father took him to the Art Institute of Chicago and arranged for him to receive art instruction at an early age. Lockwood studied art from 1912 to 1914 under W. A. Griffith at the University of Kansas and from 1914 to 1916 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where his teacher, Henry McCarter, introduced him to the geometric landscapes of Paul Cézanne. From 1917 to 1919 Lockwood served in the Eighty-ninth Division of the American Expeditionary Force. He fought in the Argonne and St. Mihiel engagements and won the Croix de Guerre. In 1921, after a short stint in the United States as art editor of Capper Publications, he returned to France.
In Paris Lockwood kept a studio in Montmartre and attended classes at the Académie Ranson, where Maurice Denis and Jules Émile Zingg taught. He was dissatisfied with the academy, preferring instead to study paintings at the Louvre and in art galleries. He spent the winter of 1921–22 in Provence with fellow artist Kenneth Adams. French Landscape, Avignon (1922) manifests the Cézannesque geometry and Impressionistic tonal haze characteristic of Lockwood's French work. He returned to the United States in 1922 and worked as a commercial artist in Kansas City. In 1924 he married Clyde Bonebreak, who encouraged him to pursue his art career. In 1926 he quit his job and visited Taos, New Mexico, for the first time. The New Mexico artists' colony was the Lockwoods' home from 1928 to 1939.
Lockwood's earliest Taos paintings were straightforward recordings of the landscape, but they were regarded by the critics and the public as a refreshing departure from the more conventional renditions of Indians and adobe. His highly structured compositions were influenced by Andrew Dasberg, who favored geometric arrangements of forms. In the late 1920s Lockwood experimented in watercolors and developed looser, more active compositions to convey the liveliness of Taos Plaza, a favorite motif. Taos Signs (ca. 1929), with its angled composition and blank corners, shows the influence of John Marin, who visited Taos in the summers of 1929 and 1930. During the 1930s Lockwood developed a new assurance in painting boldly structured landscapes. He frequently chose winter scenes, perhaps to facilitate emphatic contrasts of light and dark. His Midwinter (1933), which is dominated by a flying black crow in the foreground, characterizes the boldness and simplicity of his work during this period.
The progressive simplification of his style may have been in part a response to the influence of Boardman Robinson, under whose direction he taught at the Broadmoor Art Academy (later the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center) during the summers of 1932 and 1934. His series of murals painted for the WPA in the mid-1930s also prompted him to simplify forms. Lockwood chose regional themes for his murals at the Taos County Courthouse (1933–4); the post office in Wichita, Kansas (1935); the Post Office Department Building in Washington (1937); and the post office and courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky (1937). His painting of open-air fruit stands (1939) for the post office in Edinburg, Texas, and his painting The Texas Rangers in Camp (1941) for the Hamilton, Texas, post office were his last government commissions.
In 1938 Lockwood accepted a job as professor of art at the University of Texas. He responded to the challenge of organizing a new art department by hiring talented young artists who helped to develop the educational program. As a result the core curriculum of painting, sculpture, drawing, and design was supplemented with courses that reflected the instructors' interests, such as graphic arts and mural painting. Lockwood taught the latter course to advanced students. He encouraged faculty members to continue to produce and exhibit their work and arranged for students' work to be exhibited regularly in spite of limited facilities, thus ensuring a continued artistic vitality within the program.
Lockwood designed stage sets for a play in his first year and illustrated Roy Bedichek's Adventures with a Texas Naturalist (1947). During the summers he traveled in New Mexico, Colorado, and California. He developed an increasingly simplified style which bordered on naiveté in such works as Landscape with Horses. He also experimented with a waxed-watercolor technique that was most effectively used in the stylized Kiowa Indian Dance (1940). Lockwood rejoined the United States Army as a captain in July 1942 and served for four years. In 1945 he became a full colonel. He returned to Austin for a short time before taking a leave of absence from the University of Texas in 1947 to paint in Taos.
From 1948 to 1961 he taught at the University of California at Berkeley. He spent summers teaching in Taos and took a leave of absence (1957–59) to teach at the University of Kansas. His first works after the wartime hiatus were tentative sketches of the California coast in a linear, faceted style, followed by drawings of intricate abstract constructions that recall Paul Klee. The active Bay City art community soon stimulated him to use a new medium, acrylic paint, in abstract works that ranged from the static Evolving Totem (1954) to the expressionistic Abstraction in Gray and Red (1957). Many of his abstractions retained vestiges of landscape, as in his Southwest series, painted in the mid-1950s, which combined generalized landscapes with abstracted Indian motifs. He also experimented with collage techniques and in the early 1960s made junk assemblages. He retired from teaching in 1961 to return to Taos. In spring 1962 he was a visiting professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. His last works, a series of pastel sketches and pen-and-ink drawings, masterfully distilled the familiar Taos landscape.
Lockwood was the subject of over forty one-man shows during his lifetime, seven of which were in Texas. He also participated in numerous group exhibitions throughout the United States and won prizes from such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago (1931), the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts (1932), and the Texas Fine Arts Association (1946). In 1967 the art museum at the University of Texas organized a retrospective of his work that traveled to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and to museums in California, Kansas, New Mexico, and Colorado. His work is represented in many private and public collections in the United States, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery in Austin, the Harwood Foundation in Taos, the Denver Art Museum, the Spencer Museum in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Lockwood died in his home at Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, on July 6, 1963.