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Cool Things - Dress from Artist's Childhood

Avis Chitwood's dress

Kansas artist Avis Chitwood wore this dress as a child.

Once she started, Avis Chitwood couldn't stop expressing herself through art. She drew, sketched, and painted in Kansas for nearly 100 years. Her best-known art depicts the wildflowers and rustic buildings of Kansas.

Chitwood took an early interest in art at her childhood home in Mound City, Kansas. She drew with colored chalk on a blackboard in the family's dining room. The brown dress pictured here was from this early part of Chitwood's artistic life. As she grew and continued to excel at art, her father recognized her talent. He arranged for his daughter to study watercolor and china painting at a Kansas City art studio after completing high school.

Four years later, Chitwood moved to Topeka where she designed and illustrated a catalogue for Dennison Paper Products. Always interested in trying different mediums, she studied art and architectural design at the University of Kansas. She applied her sketching talents to perspective drawings from surveyor's notes at the Kansas Highway Commission.

Avis Chitwood wearing the dress, ca. 1900

Chitwood next took an interest in etching, saying, "the strong contrast of black and white has a dignity and strength that appeals to me." She taught courses on the subject after studying it at Washburn University. Chitwood enjoyed sharing her love of art with others, and did so by organizing and teaching art classes for children and high school students. Late in life she began writing children's stories and poetry.

Chitwood's talents did not go unrecognized. Her pieces were featured in several exhibitions and won multiple honors and awards. Among these accolades, Chitwood was proudest of her copper plate engraving entitled "Carousel" being exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. She never stopped creating art, and was still drawing up to her death in Topeka at the age of 100.

Chitwood and her niece, Janice Gartrell, were very close. Gartrell inherited her aunt's love of art as well as many personal items, including this dress worn by Chitwood as a child. Her will specified that the dress and a photograph of Chitwood wearing it be donated to the Kansas Museum of History as mementoes of the artist's childhood. Gartrell also donated a photograph of herself wearing the dress to the museum.

Listen to our podcast for the Chitwood Dress Play Audio Tour

Entry: Cool Things - Dress from Artist's Childhood

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: November 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.