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New book highlights the life and art of Mathias J. Alten

February 21, 2017

New book highlights the life and art of Mathias J. Alten

A new publication spotlights the life and artistic works of Mathias J. Alten, who called the city of Grand Rapids his home for much of his career. Grand Valley State University owns the largest known single public collection of Alten's works and papers in the world.

The book, "Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy," is a hard cover monograph that includes color illustrations and scholarly essays exploring Alten's artistic legacy.

Alison Christensen, Galleries and Collections project manager who led the development and creation of the book, said it celebrates the ongoing gifts to the university of Alten paintings by individuals from around the U.S., and by lead donors George and Barbara Gordon.

"The Gordons underwrote the production of this book and share in the Art Gallery's ambition of enriching the quality of life for students and the community through direct engagement with original works of art," she said.

A native of Germany, Alten immigrated to Grand Rapids as a teenager. Often referred to as the "Dean of Michigan Painters," Alten spent his career painting in Europe and across the U.S., but always returned to Grand Rapids, his professional base of operations and home until his death in 1938.

Christensen said the book took approximately two-and-a-half years to complete, and Galleries and Collections staff members called upon the expertise of multiple people across the university, including photographers, videographers, and writers. 

Bernadine Carey-Tucker, University Communications director of creatives services and photography, and Amanda Pitts, University Communications senior photographer, captured all of Alten's works visually represented in the book. Ellen Adams, assistant professor in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, crafted the primary essay in the book, "Mathias Alten's Grander Vision."

"From the beginning, we tried to exhaust our university resources to not only showcase Alten's works that have been donated to Grand Valley, but also to utilize internal talent," said Christensen.

To supplement the release of the book, the Gordon Gallery was restructured in 2016 to mimic the organization of the publication. Grand Valley's George and Barbara Gordon Gallery currently displays 96 pieces of Alten's work. His vast résumé of creations has also been exhibited widely at major American art institutions, and many can be seen in various buildings around Grand Rapids.

"The paintings in the Gordon Gallery and this book now go hand-in-hand," said Christensen. "Someone can be enjoying an Alten painting in the gallery while reading about the piece in the book."

She added that the publication will eventually accompany a traveling exhibition of Alten's work.

"Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy" will be available for purchase at both Grand Valley Laker Stores on the Allendale and Pew Grand Rapids campuses beginning March 3. The book will be priced at $59.95 ($75 with slip case).

"This book is a great investment in aesthetics because it is an amazing example of design and imagery," Christensen said. "Everything in the book was thoughtfully pieced together so that the reader can enjoy an aesthetically pleasing experience."

The book will make its public debut during a special community open house Friday, March 3, from 3-5 p.m. in the Gordon Gallery, located in Building E of the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

To RSVP for the community open house, contact the Art Gallery at (616) 331-2563 or More information can also be found at


Written by Matthew Makowski in University Communications - (616) 331-2228

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