'This is like Christmas': Douglas County Historical Society receives works by Yaworski brothers
Don Yaworski donated paintings and slides by his father, Alex F. Yaworski, and uncle, Tony Yaworski, to the community where they grew up.
SUPERIOR — Christmas came a little early this year for the Douglas County Historical Society.
Don Yaworski of Kansas City, Missouri, stopped by Wednesday, July 6, to drop off gifts that reflect the work of two Superior-raised artists, Alex and Tony Yaworski.
Three new paintings by Alex F. Yaworski and 750 slides of his younger brother Tony’s works will be added to the collection at the Douglas County Historical Society.
“I said this is like Christmas, maybe better, ” said Jon Winter, business manager for the historical society. “That’s why we’re here, to be a place where these historic items to be kept.”
Alex Yaworski, Don’s father, was born in 1907 in Odessa, Russian Federation (now Ukraine). He was not quite 2 years old when he emigrated to the United States with his parents and older brother, Nick. He grew up in South Superior, where his father plied his trade as a craftsman at the Webster Chair Factory.
“The Yaworski family has an incredible connection to Superior,” Winter said. “Not only Alex and Tony, but Nicholas too, were noted artists back in elementary school when they went to Bryant. They won several art awards in their school days out at Bryant. It comes full circle back to Alex’s professional career. And of course, Tony’s very well-known locally. It brings home some real history.”
The paintings include works created in Douglas County, including "Retired" — a painting created in 1941 of the Davidson Windmill on Douglas County Highway 13; "King Midas Gold" — a depiction of grain elevators on Superior’s waterfront; and "North End in the Rain" — a painting of a hotel and surrounding buildings that once stood at the corner of North Third Street and Tower Avenue.
“I noticed he wrote something different on the back of this thing,” Don said of the North End in the Rain painting. “He put ‘wet intersection, Superior.’”
Don said his father left Superior in 1927 to attend art school at the American Academy of Art in Chicago.
“He had been saving up for this, and his father kept taking the money,” Don said. “Finally, when he left with only $50, he worked his way through art school.”
When Alex graduated in 1931, he combined a commercial illustrative career with a fine art career.
Commercially, he produced illustrations for the Chicago Tribune, Sears Roebuck, DuPont, Seagram, Oscar Mayer and many other organizations. In fine arts, his works in watercolor, gouache, casein and acrylic paint were exhibited widely from 1946 through the 1990s.
According to a website dedicated to Alex F. Yaworski’s work, a highlight of his career was having a painting included in the “200 Years of Water Color Painting in America” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the mid-1960s. He earned many honors right up to his death in 1997.
Tony Yaworski was an art teacher at Central High School and Superior Senior High School, and Nick Yaworski, who lived in Washington D.C., were also painters, Don said.
“The brothers would rendezvous in Superior and paint on location together,” he said. Don said Nick didn’t make the trip when his father and Tony painted in North End — the trip that resulted in the painting given to the historical society.
Superior’s waterfront shipyards, freight yards and grain elevators of the upper Lake Superior region inspired Alex Yaworski for many of his paintings.
And finding a good home for them, and the collection of his uncle’s slides, is important to him, Don said.
“I donated four paintings to the Tweed Museum in Duluth, and they had purchased three of his,” he said of his father’s works. “ … They now have seven in their permanent collection and they actually have two of Tony’s there.”
In addition to his father’s work, Don donated a box of slides that includes photos of Tony Yaworski’s paintings, murals, as well as photographs his uncle took over the years.
Winter called the slides a “treasure-trove” of the area’s history.
“Tony stayed in here in Superior as an art instructor and did incredible works,” said Bill Gedde, an art teacher and former student of Tony Yaworski. “I remember one-time Tony told me he wishes he was as good as Alex. I told him ‘you’re every bit as good as Alex.’”
Gedde, who calls himself a “disciple of Tony Yaworski,” restored one of his murals that once hung in the pediatric unit of the former Superior Memorial Hospital and now hangs in the conference room of the Superior Public Library.
Winter said Alex’s paintings will be framed and put on exhibit at some point, along with prints of Tony’s work, and the slides will be shown in the future.