Tressa Pond Emerson Benson

1896 Bucksport, Maine – 1987 Tallahassee, Florida

(Tressa Pond Emerson)

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With a long career as an art teacher and painter, Tressa Benson was known for oil and watercolor landscapes, still lifes, figures, portraits, and city genre scenes in a modernist style. She spent most of her career in Illinois, but was in Lincoln, Nebraska from 1925 to 1930 as a faculty member at the University of Nebraska’s Fine Arts Department. There she met Ben Albert Benson (1901-1986), also an art teacher, and they married in 1930 in Davenport, Iowa. He became a noted artist specializing in Art Deco wood block engraving. Although Tressa left Nebraska in the 1930s, she maintained her membership in the Lincoln Artists’ Guild and exhibited with them in April 1935 at Gold & Company Department Store. In 1943, she returned to Nebraska for a solo exhibition of her paintings at Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

Tressa was born in Bucksport, Maine to Edward and Addie Pond Emerson. She earned a B.A. degree from Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia and a B.F.A. degree from Syracuse University, New York. On a fellowship from Syracuse University, she studied art in Europe including in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and Académie Colarossi. In Provincetown, Massachusetts, she took painting lessons from Charles Hawthorne at the Cape Cod School of Art and E. Ambrose Webster at his Summer School of Painting.

For much of her painting and teaching career, she lived in Downers Grove, Illinois. Tressa was a founder of the Downers Grove Art Guild and gave private lessons in her studio from 1940 to 1968. Between 1946 and 1948, she was Art Director at the Avery Coonley School, which was established in 1906 to promote the progressive educational theories of John Dewey. She was also a teacher of adult education at Downers Grove High School from 1950 to 1952.

Tressa was also active in Chicago where the Mandel Brothers Art Gallery represented her work and where she had a solo exhibition in 1941. She was a member of the Chicago Society of Artists and showed with them in 1931. She exhibited annually at The Art Institute of Chicago from 1931 to 1938, and 1941, 1942, and 1944. Her work was included in The Institute’s A Century of Progress exhibition (1933-1934), a tribute to the Chicago World’s Fair.

Other exhibition venues were the Art Institute of Omaha, 1928-1930; Kansas City Art Institute, 1929; and Nebraska Art Association in Lincoln, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1930, 1934. Collections include Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, South Dakota that owns a portrait, Preacher Smith; and Syracuse University Art Galleries.

Tressa Benson died at age 90 in Tallahassee, Florida.
Sources:, Dec. 2014
Bucklin, Clarissa, Nebraska Art and Artists, p. 28, Print
Dawdy, Doris Ostrander, Artists of the American West, Volume III, Print
Falk, Peter Hastings, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art, Volume I, Print
Gilbert, Dorothy, Editor, Who’s Who in American Art, 1947, Print
Gilbert, Dorothy, Editor, Who’s Who in American Art, 1959, Print
Walsh, Stacey, Collections Manager, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska, Lincoln Artists’ Guild and Nebraska Art Association Exhibition Information
Weber, Deb, Executive Director, Lincoln Arts Council, Lincoln Artists’ Guild Exhibition Information
Yochim, Louise Dunn, Role and Impact: Chicago Society of Artists, p. 220, Print

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Museum of Nebraska Art Project: Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945