William Penhallow Henderson, an American painter, architect and furniture designer, was born in 1877 in Medford, Massachusetts. His childhood was unstable, moving various times to follow his father as he changed jobs. Henderson spent time on a cattle ranch in Texas, which spurred his interest in the Southwest. In high school he studied art, civil engineering and comparative religion.
Henderson studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School. In 1899, he went on to study at the Boston Museum School under Edmund Tarbell, who trained Henderson in the mechanical aspects of academic painting, and instilled in him the technical principals of European masters. William Penhallow Henderson received the Paige Traveling Scholarship, which allowed him to study in Europe, where he explored museums and galleries, studying both Old Masters as well as contemporaries of his time. Henderson was particularly inspired by Velasquez, who he spent much time copying. He also produced his own sketches and paintings during this time as well.
After studying in Europe, William Penhallow Henderson taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago from 1904 to 1910. He completed ten murals for the Joliet Township High School between 1906 and 1907. Henderson designed and built a house and studio at lake Bluff, Illinois, and in the same year was commissioned by Frank Lloyd Wright to design murals for Midway Gardens in Chicago. The murals were painted over shortly after completion. William Penhallow Henderson also designed scenery and costumes for the Chicago Fine Arts Theatre production of Alice in Wonderland. He was employed by the U.S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation in San Francisco to paint camouflage onto the hulls of ships during World War I. In 1925, Henderson formed the Pueblo-Spanish Building Company, turning to architecture and decorative arts. This led to the design and building of many private homes and some public buildings. Henderson was also successful in designing carved wooden furniture. He illustrated two books written by his wife, Alice Corbin Henderson: Spinning Woman of the Sky in 1912, and Brothers of Light: the Penitentes of the Southwest in 1937. In the mid-1930s, Henderson was appointed to the Federal Arts Project, completing easel paintings and six murals for the Santa Fe Federal Court Building. In 1937, he designed the Navajo House of Religion in Santa Fe in the style of Navajo Hogan.
William Penhallow Henderson’s paintings are included in many museum collections including the Denver Art Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Johnson Gallery of the University of New Mexico, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Henderson died in 1943 in Tesuque, New Mexico.