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Manierre Dawson Gallery

The Manierre Dawson Gallery holds in trust an historical and contemporary art collection on behalf of the people of the West Shore Community College District.

Through exhibitions, our vision is to enrich the people’s knowledge, understanding and appreciation of our cultural heritage, to reflect its diversity, to provide a cultural and educational resource, to encourage involvement in the visual arts and nurture a culturally diverse but shared regional identity.

Experience The Art & Culture of Our Community at WSCC


Opened in 2010, the art exhibition gallery in the Arts and Sciences Center is dedicated and named in honor of the late Manierre Dawson.

Dawson was a 55 year resident of Riverton Township (Mason County), and is considered to be America’s pioneer of abstract art.  Recent scholarship has suggested he was the first artist in the world to paint in completely non-representational form. Dawson’s 20th century modernism challenged his viewers’ preconceived ideas of art and, until recently, has been one of history’s most overlooked American artists.

In response to a proposal submitted by Professor Emeritus of English Sharon Bluhm, the college’s trustees named the gallery in Dawson’s honor which recognizes the legacy of a prominent American artist and Mason County resident.

The college owns seven pieces of artwork by Dawson. In 2013, Peter Lockwood of Arlington, Texas and grandson of Dawson, presented an Untitled Abstraction, ca. 1912, oil on wood panel from his family’s private collection to the college. The college’s three other Dawson pieces are House at Bridge, 1910, oil on wood panel (gift of Peter Lockwood); and two composite wood sculptures Untitled – Labyrinth, 1955, a gift of Manierre Dawson; and Acrobats,1954, a gift from the estate of Mason County resident Reginald O. Yaple who purchased the sculpture from Dawson in the 1960s. In the spring 2019, three more pieces were donated by a private donor.

WSCC is on a short list with prominent art museums who own multiple Dawson works in their permanent collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago, among others.



The Manierre Dawson Gallery is located in the Arts & Sciences Center adjacent to the Center Stage Theater. It is open Monday – Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., and evenings and weekends during events or performances in the Center Stage Theater.

Manierre Dawson black and white photo
Wood sculpture by MANIERRE DAWSON


America’s first abstract artist was a fruit farmer in Mason County! 

Art historians assert that Manierre Dawson (1887-1969) was America’s originator of abstract art; in fact, recent scholarship has suggested he was one of the first artists in the world to paint in completely non-representation form.

In 1910, when most artists were painting still lifes, human figures, and copies of nature, Dawson was painting circles, arches, numbers, and straight lines, representations no longer from the natural world but inventions from the mind.  His abstract paintings of geometric patterns and numbers in vibrant colors were revolutionary.

A native of Chicago, Dawson entered the Armour Institute of Technology (today the Illinois Institute of Technology) after graduating from high school.  His engineering studies in college introduced him to abstract principles that influenced his art, leading to the development of a completely modern spirit in his work.  In 1910, Dawson produced a series of paintings that used architectural themes depicting non-representational abstractions, the first in America.

After working a year for a prominent Chicago architectural firm, Dawson took a leave of absence to go on a European tour to study art and architecture.  In Europe, he met famed American painter, John Singer Sargent in Siena and American writer and art patron, Gertrude Stein in her Paris salon.  Stein purchased the first painting Dawson ever sold!

In 1913, Chicago hosted the historic Armory Show, and Dawson was asked to submit his work.  His Wharf under Mountain was the only painting by a Chicago artist in the entire show, and the only completely non-objective abstraction in the American room.

Throughout his youth, Dawson spent his summers in the Ludington area.  In 1914, he purchased a fruit farm next to his family’s summer vacation home, married, and raised three children.  In the early years on the farm, the artist was frustrated by the amount of time farm work stole from his art; however, he painted enthusiastically in any spare moments he could find and continued to produce remarkable, progressive works. Dawson’s long hours in the tree tops trimming branches inspired many of his sculptures.

Although Dawson’s bold, radical abstracts never resulted in acclaim during his lifetime, he lived long enough to see the high regard his work was beginning to generate.  Today his paintings and sculptures grace the walls of major museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian Institute of Art, Washington D.C.

Sharon Bluhm
Professor Emeritus
West Shore Community College
Author of Manierre Dawson: Inventions of the Mind