Former Grove City art gallery owner Chuck Bestwick, now of Sharon, took it upon himself to put together an exhibit of late Grove City artist Margaret Williams' work. After a week on display at Grove City College, where Williams taught for more than 30 years, the expanded display moved to Grove City Historical Society for one day.

Misty watercolors. Technically outstanding copies of favorite classics. Realistic depictions of local history.

No matter the subject, location or medium, late Grove City artist Margaret Williams could turn it into a masterpiece – which is why she is becoming a treasured individual in the town’s past.

“She is a remarkable artist – that’s why you need to see her work,” said Chuck Bestwick, who owns eight of her works. “She’s an artist, an illustrator ... It’s unusual for someone of that talent to never get recognized.”

Williams taught art at Grove City College from 1920 to 1954, and the college hosted an exhibit of her works during Homecoming festivities last week.

Bestwick, however, thought the community needed another opportunity to experience her talent. The collection – which has expanded by two works since the college’s exhibit – will be on display at Grove City Historical Society from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow, for one day only.

Bestwick, 68, now of Sharon, started putting together the exhibit earlier this year, not realizing it was the 50th anniversary of her death.

Bestwick formerly owned a paint store and art gallery on Broad Street in Grove City from 1964 until he moved to West Main Street three years later. It was at his gallery that Bestwick first learned of Margaret Williams and became enamored of her work. In fact, he learned that he had already experienced one of her works – his favorite, in fact, was owned by his aunt.

“I never paid any attention to who painted it,” he said. “Then I started watching for her paintings. I bought three at a garage sale.”

As he researched Williams’ past, Bestwick became more and more fascinated.

Born in Clintonville in 1877, Williams moved with her family to Grove City in 1887. After graduation from Grove City High School, she attended Grove City College while at the same time teaching a drawing course there. Williams didn’t remain at Grove City College, though, transferring to Philadelphia College of Design for women. She studied there for four years.

Bestwick’s research unveiled that Williams was practically a lifelong art student – she studied at Fontainebleau in France and in Venice, and, after returning to Grove City College in 1920 to begin her teaching career, she made many trips back to Paris to study. In fact, she belonged to an extensive art colony that peaked in the 1920s and ’30s.

According to Bestwick’s research, Williams was the sole art instructor at the college from 1920 to 1954 – she was, in essence, what is now the art department. She attempted to retire in 1952 after 32 years, but ended up returning for two more years while the college decided whether to keep the art department.

Failing health forced her to retire in 1954, and the art department became all but extinct until a new instructor – Lois Byers Hamilton – came on board in 1958. Williams passed away March 9, 1957.

“I really researched her will, to see if she had left any paintings to anyone,” Bestwick said. He discovered that she had not, but only left her interest in the family home to her sister, Sara – a total of $3,875. In fact, she probably only made a few thousand dollars per year, he pointed out, “Yet, she managed to go to Europe to study, summer after summer.”

When she wasn’t in Europe, Williams traveled the New England states, painting beautiful landscapes there.

“She mostly did still lifes, scenes, the Clarion River, the Kennerdell area, the (Grove City) College area, western Pennsylvania landscapes, college views,” Bestwick said. However, “She would paint things people would ask her to paint.”

Williams even copied several well-known classic paintings, demonstrating her incredible technical skills. Three of them were commissioned by Dr. Weir C. Ketler, then-president of Grove City College.

“They were his favorites. I don’t know whether he commissioned them or commanded them,” Bestwick joked. “They are interesting because they show her drawing skills. She had such a range of skill.”

A majority of her known works are composed in oil, watercolor or pastels. Many were completed on location, including one Bestwick owns which she painted on-site in Paris.

The exhibit showcases Williams’ range of skill, with examples of her historical copies; watercolors; an ocean scene; and local scenes painted in realistic style.

“There are two of (Grove City College’s Harbison) Chapel. One is very much an illustration, like Norman Rockwell might do. The other is a watercolor, which has a much more ethereal quality to it,” Bestwick said.

Of the 20-plus collection, one work stands out because of its blatantly impressionist style.

“It’s an interesting show. She was an interesting lady,” Bestwick said.

The collection features eight pieces owned by Bestwick; four owned by Grove City College; and the remaining, by local residents.

One goal of the exhibit – aside from offering an opportunity for the public to experience Williams’ talent – is for Bestwick to learn of other locally-owned Williams works, so as to catalog them.

“I’m trying to discover how many more paintings are in town, because I believe there are more,” Bestwick said. “As I’ve gotten into (Williams’ work), I’ve just gained an even greater appreciation of her.”

Anyone who owns or knows of a locally-owned Williams original may contact Bestwick at 724-981-2378.

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