Antique miniature portraits of the Tormey-Holder Collection



American Artist: Mary Ellen ("Marie") Cheville



Portrait miniature by Mary Ellen ("Marie") Cheville depicting a young American girl of the early twentieth century, wearing a sun dress

Early Twentieth Century American Girl,
Wearing a Sun Dress

circa 1925
by Mary Ellen ("Marie") Cheville (1880-1970)

(signed obverse, lower right edge, 'Marie Cheville')

2 1/2 x 3 1/4 inches (sight)

watercolor on ivory; housed in a gilt metal pendant frame


About the Artist: Born in 1880, in Sherman, Story County, Iowa, Marie Cheville was the youngest of six children born to William Cheville, Sr. (1840-1885) and Sarah Ann Potentine (1838-1886). She was orphaned at a young age -- her father having died when she was 5, and her mother having died when she was 6. Despite efforts by her older siblings to keep the family together, the younger Cheville children were ultimately separated and placed in foster homes. From 1887, Marie was raised by a Rev. and Mrs. Long in nearby Marshalltown, Iowa. By the age of 22, she relocated to California, where on October 4, 1902, she married Romeo Arthur Wallace. The marriage was short-lived, however, as the couple were divorced in less than two months, on November 29, 1902. Following her failed marriage, Marie pursued a career in dance, working first in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles as a toe dancer and vaudeville performer. As she aged, however, she found it difficult to continue dancing and was forced to find other sources of income. By 1922, she was working as both as a stenographer and an artist. Within five years (1927), she was able to support herself as an artist, having particularly made a name for herself as a miniature portrait painter. A November 1927 article in The Clubwoman (a newsletter for 24 women's groups in California), stated that she had painted members of many of the oldest and best known families in California. She was listed as an artist in directories and various public records through the year 1942. Thereafter, she slipped into a state of anonymity, living a frugal life in a trailer home with a dozen or more cats. She was ultimately placed in a Los Angeles nursing home, where she died in 1970. By then penniless and having no surviving relatives, she was buried in an unmarked grave.







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