Tressa Emerson Benson


Tressa was born on June 28, 1896, in Bucksport, Maine to Edward and Addie Pond Emerson.  She graduated with a B.A. degree from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, and a B.F.A. from Syracuse University in New York.  With a fellowship from Syracuse, she studied in Europe including the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris. She then attended the Acadamie Colarossi in Massachusetts, mentored by noted artist, Charles Hawthorne at the Cape Cod School of Art and with E. Ambrose Webster at his Summer School of Painting.


Widely known and respected for many years as a painter and instructor, Tressa Benson became specifically revered for landscapes, still lifes, figure studies, city scenes and portraits in a modernist style.  She moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where she served as a faculty member at the University of Nebraska's fine arts department from 1925-1930.  There she met her future husband, Ben Benson, born in Sweden, also an art teacher, and they eventually married in 1930 in Davenport, Iowa.  Tressa retained her membership in the Lincoln Artists' Guild and continued to exhibit with them through the years.  In 1943 she returned there for a solo exhibition of her paintings at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

In 1931, the Bensons moved to a 1923 Craftsman frame bungalow at 4132 Highland in Downers Grove, Illinois where Tressa would spend most of her career in painting and teaching.  (The home was torn down in 2015.) She was an active member of the Chicago Society of Artists and her work was featured in one of their shows in 1931.  She also exhibited annually at The Art Institute of Chicago from 1931 to 1938.  Her work was included in The Institute's A Century of Progress exhibition from 1933-1934, a tribute to the Chicago World's Fair. Tressa was represented by the Mandel Brothers Art Gallery in Chicago and had a solo exhibition there in 1941.  


Also in 1941, Tressa spearheaded a group exhibit of local artists in her home town and went on to found the Downers Grove Artists' Guild. She gave private lessons in her studio from 1940 to 1968. From 1946 to 1948 she was the 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 1950-1952.  Tressa was honored with a solo show at the Downers Grove Public Library in 1957.


Tressa died in Florida, at age 90, in 1987.  Her legacy lives on with beloved paintings that grace walls across the world.  And we are here to continue the work she began so very long ago, grateful for her vision, determination and dedication to the arts.


UNTITLED (Farm Scene) - 1940


UNTITLED (4H Fair) - date unknown

UNTITLED (Sailboats) - 1935


4132 Highland

Downers Grove, IL


Tressa Emerson Benson - Our Founder