Claude Howell was born in Wilmington, North Carolina and began, as early as high school, pursuing a career in art that would last a lifetime. The young artist spent his summer breaks in Rockport, Maine and Woodstock, New York, studying painting with Jon Corbino, Bernard Karfiol and Charles Rosen, all of whom greatly influenced his painting. Despite extensive world traveling, Howell always call Wilmington home This North Carolina coastal fishing community provided him with the primary subjects for paintings throughout his career: the sea, fishermen and trawlers.
In 1937, a painting by Howell was accepted in the North Carolina Association of Professional Artists' first juried exhibition. A few years later, his painting "Winter Landscapes" was accepted in the third North Carolina Artists Annual and won a $200 Purchase Award from the International Business Machines Corporation. These early successes lead to his participation in the New York World's Fair exhibits and, in 1940, he was the first Tarheel to show work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Claude Howell has often been characterized as the "Dean of North Carolina Painters." The artist had a widespread influence on the arts in North Carolina through his painting, murals, and as an educator. Howell taught art at Wilmington College (now UNC-W) and his classes at UNC-W led to the formation of an Art Department, for which he became the director. Howell was a prolific painter and, when not painting on the coast of North Carolina, he spent many summers traveling and painting in Europe.
During his lifetime, Howell had one-man shows at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the University on North Carolina at Greensboro, The Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, the Colain Gallery in New York and the Georgia Museum of Art. His work is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Norfolk Museum, Pasadena Art Institute, Corcoran Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.