Sketch of a Woman, charcoal on paper, from the artist’s notebook
An exhibit of the late Manistee artist Joseph Trevitts (1890 -1970) is the featured summer exhibit in West Shore Community College’s Manierre Dawson Gallery.
The exhibit contains 23 drawings including many portraits that are either charcoal or pencil.
Joseph Trevitts was known by area residents as a Manistee grocer whose store was located at 147-149 Washington Street in Manistee. He was also an artist whose early life, art training, and career took place in Pennsylvania.
In 1914, he completed his formal art education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, a school made famous by the likes of Thomas Eakins, William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux, and John Sloan.
During the time Trevitts was taking classes at the Academy, the focus was on drawing and painting the figure from life – a conscious move away from using the traditional plaster casts of Classical and Renaissance sculptures. The well-known realist artist, Thomas Eakins instituted this change when he became its director in 1882. Many of the nudes in this exhibit were done while Trevitts was at the Academy.
Trevitts was able to travel to Europe to study the European masters after winning a competitive scholarship and he would again have the opportunity to study in Paris as part of a U.S. government program for American veteran artists after the end of WWI.
Trevitts arrived in Manistee when his work was shown at the Public Library in 1916. A portrait commission brought him to the area and he completed several, including those of Manistee lumbermen Edward Wheeler, William Douglas, Edward Buckley and William Wente.
The identity of the pencil and charcoal portrait sketches in the exhibit are unknown, however it was noted in documents which accompanied the collection that two sketches are of his wife and Manistee resident, Tena Piotrowski.
The end of WWI found Trevitts serving in the infantry in Germany after which he was transferred to Paris for art study. One of the sketches in the exhibit, Belleau Woods, was the scene of a famous and bloody WWI battle in France near Chateau Theirry. While studying in Paris, he made numerous sketches and paintings of battle locations.
Exhibiting his paintings in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and the Corcoran in Washington D.C., as well as closer to home in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Trevitts became known as the “painter of sand dunes.” His home and studio for much of his life was at 397 ½ River Street until a devastating fire destroyed his studio and many of his paintings. Later he resided at 248 Washington Street in Manistee.
The drawings in the exhibit were donated to the College after the death of the artist by his estate in the early 1970s. They were exhibited for the first time at the college soon thereafter.
Much of the information about Trevitts was generously made available by the Manistee Historical Museum where viewers can view a large painting by Trevitts of a Chippewa chief for the then new Hotel Chippewa, once located on the west end of River Street.
Author: Thomas Hawley | Executive Director of College Communications & Community Engagement