Northern Michigan Arts: What do a small community college in Northern Michigan and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City have in common? They both house original works by America’s first abstract painter, Manierre Dawson. On April 11, West Shore Community College (WSCC) will acquire its third piece by the late artist and 55-year resident of Mason County, putting it in the company of esteemed art museums around the country like the Met. WSCC will accept this work from Manierre Dawson’s grandson in a public ceremony at 4:30 p.m., April 11, at the college’s Center Stage Theater in the Arts and Science Center.
“We treasure our connection to Manierre Dawson and are honored that the Dawson family bestowed this painting to West Shore Community College,” said WSCC President Charles Dillon. “It is thrilling that a college of our size can showcase some of the finest examples of American abstract art, right here in Northern Michigan.”
A fruit farmer who lived most of his life 15 miles south of the college in Mason County’s Riverton Township, Dawson is credited as America’s first abstract painter and the first artist in the world to paint in non-representational form. Dawson made his public debut as an abstract artist in the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, exhibiting next to Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne who were also unknown at the time. Yet through a variety of circumstances, Dawson was overlooked by art historians and is only now receiving recognition for his contributions a century after he began painting what was then considered a radical style of art.
“My family is incredibly grateful for what West Shore Community College and its staff have done to tell my grandfather’s story,” said Peter Lockwood of Arlington, Texas, who will present the painting (Untitled Abstraction, ca. 1912, oil on wood panel) at the event from his family’s private collection.
The new work will join the college’s other two Dawson pieces in its permanent art collection, House at Bridge, 1910, oil on wood panel (gift of Peter Lockwood); and Untitled (Labyrinth), 1955, composite wood (gift of Manierre Dawson). WSCC is on a short list with prominent art museums who own multiple Dawson works in their permanent collections, including The Met, The Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago, among others.
WSCC features another tribute honoring Dawson’s legacy—the campus art gallery built in 2010 was named the Manierre Dawson Gallery at the suggestion of Professor Emeritus Sharon Bluhm, who worked with Dillon and Lockwood to make it happen.
Bluhm first became intrigued with learning about Dawson in 1976 when she unknowingly bought the Dawson family's summer home in Riverton Township. She took a one-year sabbatical to assemble and curate the gallery’s opening art exhibit of original Dawson works with Art Professor Rebecca Mott, as well as write her recently published biography, Manierre Dawson: Inventions of the Mind.
“I focused on Manierre Dawson for my sabbatical because I felt it was important to tell his incredible story,” said Bluhm. “Dawson is one of Michigan’s most famous residents and a pioneer in the art world, yet many local residents still haven’t heard of him. We should all know his name and be proud that he lived in our area.”
The public is invited to attend the dedication ceremony on April 11, at 4:30 p.m. in the Center Stage Theater in the Arts and Science Center; free parking is available in front of the Arts and Science Center. A reception with light refreshments will follow immediately until 6 p.m. in the lobby adjacent to the Manierre Dawson Gallery, which will be open for attendees to see the rest of the college’s Manierre Dawson collection.
WSCC’s permanent collection of Dawson works can be seen at the Manierre Dawson Gallery during normal business hours, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Friday. For those interested in learning more about Dawson and his life in Mason County, Bluhm will offer a “Mason County through Dawson’s Eyes” course July 11, 4-7 p.m. through WSCC’s Leisure & Enrichment Program. Call 231-843-5773 to register.
Don't miss our feature on Manierre in the April 2013 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine