(On this date, August 19, 2019, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the third of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2019.)
Her unusual name, and then her talent, drew attention to her all of her life. Vinnorma Shaw was born on September 27, 1890 in Downs, Osborne County, Kansas, to railroad engineer Elmer McKee Shaw and his wife Ida Vinnorma (Rudy) Shaw. The arrival of her younger brother, Franklin B. Shaw, four years later completed the family circle. While still quite young “Norma” proved to have an innate gift for sketching and other artwork, and over the years her rising talent drew the interest of the entire community.
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“Vinnorma Shaw has demonstrated that she has much natural ability as an artist and her parents contemplate sending her to an art school when she completes her work in the Downs High School. By all means, she should be encouraged with her drawing, for it is not only possible, but probable, that in a few years she will gain an enviable reputation as an artist, and command a good salary on the Chautauqua platform, should she desire that class of work.” – Downs Times, May 27, 1909.
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And so it was that after Vinnorma graduated Downs High School she enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she continued to excel in her studies and was duly invited to participate in the 1911 Lincoln Park Chautauqua, held just a few miles to the east of Downs.
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Vinnorma Shaw, Artist
“It is with no small degree and pride that we introduce this young lady for evening program at Lincoln Park, Wednesday, August 9th. She is a Kansas girl who has developed a decided talent for crayon work, and for the last year has been in Chicago attending the Art Institute preparing to make this line of work a profession. Many of our patrons have seen and heard Miss Shaw before she took up this work seriously, and they will no doubt be pleased to have an opportunity to congratulate her upon her advancement. She has received several Honorable Mentions from the Art Institute for her work in both drawing and painting, and is exceptional serious and conscientious in her work on the platform.” – Osborne County News, August 5, 1911.
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Honor for Miss Vinnorma Shaw.
“Downs can well feel proud of the high success attained by one of our fairest young ladies, Miss Vinnorma Shaw, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw.
“In June Miss Shaw completed a three years’ course at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and graduate with high honors. She then remained in Chicago and took up special work in the art line, just returning to her home here last Friday.
“The last of this week the young lady will go to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she has accepted a splendid position as instructor in the Manual Training high school of that place, one of the very best schools in the country. This position was secured on meritorious work, as the officials who employed Miss Vinnorma went to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and personally investigated with a view to securing an exceptionally good instructor, and we are sure they have made no mistake. Miss Shaw’s work in drawing and art, and the high grades in her studies, coupled with her pleasing personality, proved a powerful magnet. She had many other good offers but this seemed the most attractive and pays a high salary.
“We are very glad, indeed, to note the young lady’s progress and we trust she will continue till she reaches the highest pinnacle of fame. This is an age of efficiency and, it is pleasing to note that honest and hard work efforts are appreciated.” – Downs Times, September 3, 1914.
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She makes Art Pay in Chicago
“A Kansas girl who is attaining success in advertising poster work and commercial art is Miss Vinnorma Shaw, of Downs, Kansas. Miss Shaw has been teaching art in the [Technical] high school of Indianapolis. Indiana, but as a side line she does all the designing and poster work for the stationery find advertisements of the Missouri State Fair.
“Miss Shaw is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw, of Downs, and is a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the Chicago Institute and the Fine Arts School of Yale. She also holds a Master’s degree from Yale.
“During [World War I] she designed posters for the American Red Cross, and added not a little money to its treasury from the sale of several of her paintings. Miss Shaw has been doing the mechanical drawings for the Winchester Rifle Company, and has handled the Missouri fair work for two years. The Montana State Fair association has asked her for some posters. She does the art work for several theatrical associations in the East, and for some time has done all the drawings for the Stafford Engraving Company of Indianapolis.
“Although she is at present making a specialty of poster work and artistic advertising, Miss Shaw’s exhibits of landscapes and portraits in New York and Chicago have won favorable criticisms. Miss Shaw’s secret ambition, which she admits reluctantly, is to illustrate a ‘Best Seller’. Already Miss Shaw has broken into the magazine field, and has designed covers for ‘The Imprint’ and ‘The Horseman’, a sporting monthly.” – Topeka Daily Capital, August 15, 1920.
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“Miss Vinnorma Shaw of Downs, who has won fame in New York art circles because of her ability as an artist, will be married at the home of her parents in Downs Saturday to John McKenzie of Michigan. Miss Shaw has for a number of years been the instructor of art in the Indianapolis Ind., high schools, and continued her work in designing and painting besides. She [has] designed all the advertising matter for the Missouri State Fair for several seasons.” – Osborne County Farmer, July 7, 1921.
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SHAW – McKENZIE
“An unusually interesting home wedding was that which occurred at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw at eight o’clock on Saturday evening, July 9th, when the only daughter of the household, Miss Vinnorma Shaw, plighted her troth to Mr. John Harrison McKenzie. Only about sixty of the relatives and close friends of the bride were present, and the weather being very warm, the guests were seated on the lawn; and there in God’s out-of-doors, just as the setting sun had spread a glow of purple and gold over the western sky, the beautiful, sacred ceremony took place. [State] Representative Charles Mann, his wife accompanying him on the piano, sang the tender song, ‘I Love You,’ as the bridal party came down the stairs and stationed themselves against a lattice of vines and flowers. The bride, always beautiful, was charming in her gown of charmeuse satin and georgette crepe with decorations of iridescent pearl; while caught back from her face with a wreath of white roses was the filmy bridal veil. She carried a huge shower bouquet of bride’s roses, lilies of the valley and Maiden hair fern. The bride was attended by her cousin, Miss Gladys Bottorff, gowned in rose taffeta and carrying pink tea roses. The groom, who met his bride at the improvised altar, wore a suit of white serge and was attended by the bride’s brother, Mr. Frank Shaw. The beautiful ring ceremony was used, and the solemn and beautiful service was read by the Rev. A. S. Hale, of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
“The festivities attendant upon the close of the ceremony were interrupted by the receipt of telegrams from the groom’s mother at Port Huron and Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lindley, of San Diego, California, offering long-distance felicitations to the contracting parties.
“The guests much enjoyed the delicious refreshments served by the Misses Violet Cushing, Margaret Tamm and Aveline Heshion, young neighbor girls who enjoyed the honor of assisting in this happy occasion. The gifts from Downs and from abroad were exceedingly numerous, costly and beautiful.
“No finer girl has ever gone out from Downs than Miss Vinnorma Shaw. She has made for herself an enviable record . . . During the war she designed posters for the American Red Cross, and added not a little money to its treasury from the sale of several of her paintings . . . Her exhibits of landscapes and portraits in New York and Chicago have won favorable criticism. She has also broken into the magazine field and has designed covers for some of the popular American magazines. But all the aforementioned are simply side lines. Her real job for the past six years has been teaching art in the high schools of Indianapolis, Indiana.
The groom, also, is not without his accomplishments. He rose to the rank of captain in the World War, and is leader of the Boy Scout activities in his home town. He is also identified with the Y.M.C.A. and in the Business Men’s Club of Port Huron. The coming year he will teach mathematics, electrical science and athletics in the schools of Port Huron half of his time, and the remainder he will be busy representing the Toledo Scales Company.
“Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie left that night for the East. They will take a furnished cottage at Edison Beach, on Lake Huron for awhile, and in October will go to housekeeping in their own home at Port Huron, Michigan.
“Out of town guests at the wedding were: Mrs. Chas. Hoverfield, Indianapolis; Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Myers, Orange, Calif.; R. C. Young, Baltimore, Md.; Frank Shaw, Buffalo, Wyoming; Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Kaup, Portis; Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Mann, Osborne; Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Beatty, Osborne.” – The Downs News & The Downs Times, July 14, 1921.
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DRAWN BY KANSAS WOMAN
Designs Poster for Missouri State Fair
(By Journal Correspondent)
“DOWNS, July 23.—Mrs. J. H. McKenzie, who until less than a month ago was Miss Vinnorma Shaw, is the designer of the beautiful poster that is being used to advertise the Missouri State Fair on its fiftieth anniversary. The porter combines, in striking effect, the spirits of the earliest Missouri and the modern hundred years-old commonwealth. The foreground of the poster is occupied by three figures. The foremost of the group is an Indian, seated and covered with a blanket of bright orange. Standing beside him is a Missouri pioneer, whose dull coon skin cap and leather suit speak the life of hardship and self-dependence which he leads. A woman, representing Missouri, is pointing out to the pioneer and the Indian a vision of the future Missouri, one in which characteristic buildings of the modern day are the central figures. Mrs. McKenzie has gained national fame as an artist, and her parents as well as the people of Downs are proud of her achievements. She became Mrs. John McKenzie August 9th and is now a resident of Port Huron, Michigan, where her husband is one of the teachers in the high school and is active in the business life of the city as well.” – Salina Evening Journal, July 23, 1921.
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Local Interest Adds Appeal To Michigan Art Exhibit Shown Here
“No previous art exhibition held during the past year by the Port Huron Art Association offers so much local interest as the one now open to the public in the public library, where 25 oil paintings lent by the Michigan Artists association are hung.
“Michigan is a picturesque state and her artists have found subjects of interest and beauty within her borders. The present exhibition also offers variety, much color and several pictures that border upon the modern method used with restraint and good taste.
“‘Sunshine and Shadow,’ by Mrs. Vinnorma McKenzie of this city is naturally attracting the major portion of interest. Mrs. McKenzie was formerly supervisor of art in the city schools and is widely known. Three of her canvasses were recently exhibited in Detroit and received much favorable comment.
“Her subject in the portrait on exhibition here is one of interest and character. It is a study of a doctor, she says, when he is off duty and is enjoying the out of doors. The figure is nearly life size against a background of trees and expresses, relaxation of manner with particularly keen expression of face. There is vivid color in the broad sun hat and blue shirt, the strong hands and green foliage.” – The Herald Times, Port Huron, Michigan, 14 March 1929.
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On July 9, 1932, John Norman – or “Jack”, as he was most often called – was born in Port Huron, the only child of John and Vinnorma McKenzie. Throughout the 1930s Vinnorma continued to teach in the local public schools and held private art classes at home. She was considered a master in easel painting, printmaking, and graphic design and in the medium of lithography, and was admitted into the National Association of Women Artists.
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Former Downs Girl Now Famous Artist
“At Port Huron, Michigan, all during at Port Huron, Michigan, all during December, Mrs. Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, famous artist, is showing her collection of paintings in an art exhibit at the Port Huron Public Library. The showing opened December 5th and tea was served to 300 friends from 2 to 5pm in the hall where 48 of her canvasses were being shown.
“Mrs. McKenzie, whose maiden name was Vinnorma Shaw, was born in Downs. She received the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts of Yale University, where she worked under Sergeant Kendall. She has also studied at the New York Art Students Summer School at Woodstock, N.Y., and at the Chicago Alumni Summer School of Painting at Saugatuck, Michigan. The past summer she has spent at Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she painted under the direction of Umberto Romano, a foremost classic modernist. She has taught art in the Technical High School [at] Indianapolis [Indiana]. She has exhibited in New York, Indianapolis, Detroit, and in many of the larger cities in Michigan. She holds memberships in the American Artists Professional League, Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, and the American Federation of Arts.
“Port Huron daily newspapers gave Mrs. McKenzie’s opening exhibit much space and the citizens of that city crowded to see the exhibits many of which were sold at fancy figures. Osborne County people and especially her old schoolmates in Downs will be much pleased to hear of her success in the world of art. Mrs. McKenzie’s mother, Mrs. Ida M. Shaw, is at Port Huron to visit with her daughter and attend the art exhibit.” – Osborne County Farmer, December 30, 1937.
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Hundreds at Exhibit and Fellowship Tea
“Apparently the fellowship fund for women, supported by the National Association of University Women is the richer today for the benefit coffee sponsored Thursday in Public Library hall by the Port Huron branch of the association.
“Early in the afternoon a good number had already arrived, toured the hall where Vinnorma McKenzie had hung 71 of her paintings, lithographs and water colors, drunk their tea and departed; and folks kept arriving right through the evening hours, until time to close the library for the night. There were about 300 in all. Perhaps it’s not too much for a layman to say that Port Huron is richer, too, for the exhibit.
“It has been some years since Mrs. McKenzie has shown her pictures publicly here and in the meantime she has been winning honors among Michigan painters and has extended her technique both in oils and water color. Her paintings filled the walls and two or three screens about the room and the fragrance or steaming tea from the tea table plus a lot of chatter made a pleasant hubbub of the occasion.
“Mrs. Andrew Murphy, a charter member of the Port Huron branch, Miss Ellen L. Kean, state fellowship chairman, and past presidents of the local branch. Mrs. Albert Fenner, Miss Marjorie Muhlitner, and Miss Blanche Peters poured. Miss Norene Bushaw, AAUW president here, received with Mrs. McKenzie, and Mrs. Lillian Forbes and Miss Jean Thompson and a large committee assisted. The exhibit will be open to the public until Jan. 15.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, December 29, 1944.
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Mrs. McKenzie Will Exhibit Paintings in New York Gallery
“Mrs. Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, local artist, and Mrs. Agnes M. Lindemann, Grosse Pointe artist, will leave Sunday for New York to exhibit their paintings, in the Argent Galleries. The exhibition will formally open Tuesday with a tea, and continue through May 22. Both artists will show 18 oils and eight watercolors each.
“Mrs. McKenzie is a member of the National Society of Women Artists, the Michigan Academy of Arts, Science, and Letters, and the Michigan Water Color society. She was a student of Umberto Ronano, Gloucester, Mass., and Yauso Kuniyoshi, Woodstock, N.Y.
“‘Picnic,’ a recent painting of Mrs. McKenzie’s has received acclaim as one of her best oils. It was exhibited at the Michigan’s Artists show in the Institute of Art, Detroit, and through special invitation was included in the ‘Detroit By Detroiter’s Show’ held at the Women’s City Club, Detroit.
“Another painting, ‘Memories’, is on display now in the Detroit Society of Women Painters show in the Scarab Club, Detroit.
“Mrs. McKenzie’s latest show in Port Huron was in December, 1947. She and Mrs. Lindemann previously exhibited their paintings together in 1946 in the Scarab Club.
“‘Christ and the Penitent Thief,’ ‘Sun Through The Clouds’ and ‘Boats Moving Under a Bridge,’ all in abstract, and ‘Northwest Blow,’ ‘Sarnia Bay,’ ‘Emily’ and ‘Old Pot Belly,’ are some of the paintings Mrs. McKenzie will show in New York.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, May 7, 1948.
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It was a year after the New York show when Vinnorma, back working and teaching in Port Huron, began to feel unusually tired and weak. Her husband John, now the dean at Port Huron Junior College, felt that she had been working too hard and suggested that he take some time off and they spend a few weeks together at their summer home on Lake Huron just north of Sarnia in Ontario, Canada. But the change of scenery did not help and Vinnorma became worse. She was taken to the nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sarnia, where she died within a few hours of her arrival. She was 58 years old. Her cause of death was diagnosed as leukemia. A shocked and saddened Port Huron community joined Vinnorma’s family in mourning the beloved artist at her funeral in the First Presbyterian Church and later at a burial service in Port Huron’s Lakeside Cemetery.
At the time of her death Vinnorma was a member of the First Presbyterian Church; the auxiliary to Charles A. Hammond Post No. 8, American Legion; Port Huron Musicale; the Detroit Museum of Art Founders Society; the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors; the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters; the Michigan Watercolor Society, American Association of University Women, National Association of Women Artists, and American Artists Professional League.
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AT THE MUSEUM OF ARTS AND HISTORY
Twenty Years Later . . . A Dream Comes True
“When leukemia claimed the life of artist Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie, she took an unfulfilled dream with her to the grave.
“Today, nearly twenty years later, her works and influence live on in Port Huron and her dream of a permanent art center for the community is a reality.
“Next weekend a retrospective exhibition of her work will open in the St. Clair County Museum of Arts and History, Sixth Street, where her oil painting ‘Girl in Bohemian Costume’ hung for many years when the building housed the old library.
“The Kansas-born artist’s son, John N. McKenzie, owns the largest single collection of her work in both oil and water colors, but the pictures to be displayed have been borrowed from many Port Huron homes.
“The Museum Board of Trustees feels that the exhibition will be a tribute, not only to the artistry of Vinnorma McKenzie, but also to her influence in promoting art appreciation here. Many of her former pupils have continued painting as an avocation and have won honors in area exhibitions.
“The McKenzie exhibit will be held from September 7-22. A members’ preview and reception is scheduled from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, September 6, with the Women’s Association of the First Presbyterian Church as hostesses.” – The Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, August 30, 1968.
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Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie continues to be an inspiration to artists from all over the Great Lakes region. Both the St. Clair County Museum of Arts and History and the St. Clair County Community College Library have displays of her works.
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A few of the paintings of Vinnorma Shaw McKenzie:
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Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (Active before 1945), compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian, University of Kansas, August 2006
Who Was Who in American Art. Compiled from the original thirty-four volumes of American Art Annual: Who’s Who in Art, Biographies of American Artists Active from 1898-1947. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985
Who Was Who in American Art. 400 years of artists in America. Second edition. Three volumes. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999
Who’s Who in American Art. 18th edition, 1989-1990. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1989. The Necrology is located at the back of the volume
Who’s Who in American Art. 19th edition, 1991-1992. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1990. The Necrology begins on page 1387
Who’s Who in American Art. 20th edition, 1993-1994. New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1993. The Necrology begins on page 1455. (WhoAmA20N)
The Downs News & The Downs Times (Downs, Kansas), July 14, 1921, Page 1
Downs Times (Downs, Kansas), May 27, 1909, Page 5; September 3, 1914, Page 1
Osborne County News (Osborne, Kansas), August 5, 1911, Page 5
Osborne County Farmer (Osborne, Kansas), July 7, 1921, Page 1; December 30, 1937, Page 1
Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas), July 23, 1921, Page 9
Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), August 15, 1920, Page 19
Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan), July 20, 1949, pg 23
The Michigan Daily (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), May 26, 1940, Page 2
The Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan), March 14, 1929, Page 2; December 29, 1944, Page 56; May 7, 1948, Page 24; July 19, 1949, Page 1; August 30, 1968, Page 19; August 31, 1969, Page 5