​Biography of Melvin Tess - One of the founders of the League of Milwaukee Artists, c.1950-58.

Born: 1926 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Died: April 20, 2016 in West Allis, Wisconsin

Melvin Tess was born in Milwaukee to a gas station owner and a homemaker. He received his first painting lessons as a high school graduation gift from his mother. When World War II began, he enlisted in the Army, and when he returned from the service, the GI Bill made it possible for Tess to enroll in Milwaukee’s Layton School of Art. There he studied under Edmund Lewandowski, Gerrit V. Sinclair and the printmaker, Gerhard Bakker. Tess was particularly drawn to representation of women.

While in school and even after he graduated in 1949, Tess and some of his artist friends would spend free evenings at a black jazz bar in Bronzeville called The Flame, located in at 9th and Somers. Because the quality of the life models at the school were inconsistent and, Tess stated, “a bit peasanty,” the young artists would pool their money and hire the band shakers or dancers as models.

The artists also frequented The Empress, a burlesque house in Milwaukee, another source of models. While Tess’s paintings feature poised women with long legs, slim waists, like the traditional Betty Grable or Gibson Girl pin-ups that inspired them, he is most specific about their faces. The female forms are types, but he took time to paint each face with considerable detail.

Tess says that he was never too concerned with selling his work and “there were few outlets in Milwaukee anyway”. He would do his paintings for friends and sometimes trade other artists for their work. When Tess married and started a family, financial pressures increased. He gave up painting in the late 1950s to take a job driving a supply truck for Globe Union. He retired from Globe after 38 years. 

“Tess women emerge stylistically from the American Regionalist school of the previous decade and one can easily detect hints of Grant Wood, Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton in his palette and drawing style.” Debra Brehmer, Portrait Society.

 When Tess passed away in 2016, the seed money for this scholarship was donated to LMA by the friends and family he left behind.​

Online Application & Required  Forms

Mel Tess Scholarship

2021-2022 School year

The League of Milwaukee Artists is proud to present the 2021 Mel Tess  Scholarship. Mel was a founding member of the League of Milwaukee
artist, as well as a renowned local artist who was involved in the community that he is still giving back to today. Please see the Mel Tess Biography for  more information about this popular Wisconsin Artist. The $1000  scholarship will be offered to a High School student who is currently involved in the arts and is headed for a future of continuing education in the arts. To be eligible, a student must be a Senior in a Southeastern Wisconsin High School for the 2021-2022 school year and be headed to an art-based program after High School.

To apply, fill out the online application, located at the bottom of this page, along with uploading the required documents.  Please scroll down to apply.

The following is required to be considered for this award:

• Completion of the online application.
• Submission of 3 original works of art.
• Submission of 2 letters of recommendation.
• A short essay that adequately conveys the following:

  •  Students current goals
  •  Students future goals
  •  Any current contributions to the art world
  •  Any community service (completed or planned)

Any additional information that would add to the essay (i.e. why he or she got into the arts, what were some of the applicants first art
accomplishments, who were some of the applicants influences, etc.)  The LMA committee, along with a representative from the Tess family will carefully consider all applicants, that have met the requirements and narrow our search down to three finalists that will be notified by mail and email by March 15th, 2022. These finalists will then be required to attend a short interview with the panel and present 2 more letters of
recommendation. Our award winner will be notified by April 1st, 2022.  That winner will then be presented with the award certificate at our May LMA meeting (recipient must be present). The actual monetary award  will be mailed to the student after their first completed semester at the Art school they have chosen to attend. The LMA and the Tess family are committed to the arts in Wisconsin. We are always looking for ways to support the artists in our area, especially the talented young artists that will help shape the future of art in our community, nationally and abroad.

Eligibility, Requirements & Timeline
2021-2022 School year
The Mel Tess Scholarship is presented by the League of Milwaukee Artists, and will be awarded to one High School student that will be a Senior in the 2021-2022 School year. The applicant must be headed for the arts in their higher educational endeavors. We are looking for applicants that reside and plan on attending a college or art-based school for further education, ideally in the Southeastern Wisconsin Area. The Scholarship will be awarded to the student after, and only upon proof of transcript of college, university or school they are attending in the Fall of 2021.

• Applicant must be a high school student in his or her senior year for the 2020-2021 school year.
• Applicant must be currently attending a High School in the Southeastern Wisconsin area.
• Applicant must graduate high school.
• Applicant must plan on attending an arts-based school for continuing education after high school.
• Applicant must practice one of the visual fine arts (ceramics, painting, drawing, Sculpture, printmaking, Photography, etc.)

• Applicant must be able to attend the award ceremony during the LMA's May meeting.
• Applicant must fill out the Mel Tess Scholarship application, submit 3 original works of art, submit 2 letters of recommendation and a short
essay (see prospectus).
• Winning applicant must provide the LMA with any change of address, future address or phone numbers needed for contact.
• Upon winning the Scholarship, applicant must show first semester transcripts, from the school of higher education that they attend,
before award will be granted.

• January 31st, 2022 – Application submission deadline
• April 1st, 2022 – Winning applicant will be notified
• May 8th, 2022 – Award ceremony at the May LMA meeting.
• December 31st, 2022 – Scholarship winner must provide transcripts
by this date.

***Financial award will be given once proof of continuing education is established. It is up to the student to provide the transcripts of the college or university they attend.

To apply, fill out the online application, located at the bottom of this page, along with uploading the required documents.  Please scroll down to apply.

Any questions regarding the Mel Tess Scholarship, please contact, Kay Noel at bobkaynoel@aol.com.

After filling out and uploading all of the required information and documents, hit the Submit Button.  Please upload image files as JPGs and the other required documents as PDFs. Uploaded images and documents should be no larger than 10 MB.  Any questions regarding the scholarship, please contact Kay Noel at bobkaynoel@aol.com.