Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 14, 2010

Watercolorist captured region's history

Talk by relative will cover art, region's past

TRAVERSE CITY — Robert Holdsworth, who spent a decade tracking the art work of a pioneer Traverse City artist, will give a free talk Tuesday, May 18, about his great-grandfather's paintings.

The paintings are on exhibit at the Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere, through the end of May.

The lecture, "Nineteenth Century Michigan Through the Eyes of William S. Holdsworth, Local Artist," starts at 7 p.m. at the library.

William S. Holdsworth (1856-1907) is known for his landscapes of northern Michigan, where his family landed in 1858, and East Lansing, where he taught art at Michigan Agricultural College, now Michigan State University.

The photographic exhibit of Holdsworth's work is presented by the Traverse Area Historical Society. Curator Richard Fidler, a local history writer, has written about a lithograph Holdsworth made from a stone engraving in 1873 at age 17.

The lithograph is one of the earliest known overviews of Traverse City and is included in the exhibit.

Robert Holdsworth, a college biology instructor in Wilbraham, Mass., took large photographs of all paintings he could find in the 1990s and made sets for descendants. He also has given a set to the local historical society.

The original paintings are scattered among Holdsworth relatives.

"Willie" Holdsworth was 2 years old in 1858 when his parents moved from London to Old Mission Peninsula with their seven children. The family homesteaded a 30-acre plot about six miles north of Traverse City — which was then a small village of about 150 people — for about five years before moving into town.

Holdsworth's watercolors depict the peninsula's bluffs, shorelines and the woods — the stuff of his childhood summers.

Holdsworth graduated from MAC in 1878 and returned three years later to earn a master's degree. His wife, Adelaide, was head of the college's art department; the couple had three sons. Holdsworth also earned a degree from Cornell University, where he met Michigan horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey. Holdsworth illustrated Bailey's 1898 botany book.

Much of what is known today about the artist comes from a 2002 family history researched over 10 years and written by his great-grandson.

The family moved to town five years later when William Holdsworth Sr. took a job with Hannah, Lay & Co., eventually becoming a bookkeeper in the store.

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