Core Holdings of the Tormey-Holder Collection: Mary Ellen ("Marie") Cheville
Young American Girl of the Early Twentieth Century
by Mary Ellen ("Marie") Cheville (1880-1970)
(signed Marie Cheville)
2 1/2 x 3 1/4 inches
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. She died in 1970, in a Los Angeles nursing home. By then penniless and having no surviving relatives, she was buried in an unmarked grave.