WORCESTER- Artist, naturalist and an illustrator for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for nearly 40 years, Vitty A. Mattus died last Monday, June 2, 2014 of natural causes. A long-time resident of Worcester, he continued to live at the home where he was raised, and was fortunate to be able to live there his entire life. His wife of 52 years, Suzanne L. (Mollis) Mattus predeceased him. He leaves three sons, John Mattus of Vancouver, WA, Bruce Mattus of Mansfield, Matt Mattus of Worcester; a daughter, Cynthia Mattus of New Bedford; his life companion of 16 years, Clair Spallain, and six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He also leaves one brother, Robert Mattus of Pennsicola, FL; he was predeceased by five brothers, Joseph, John (Jimmy), Frank, Theodore and Vincent Mattus.
He was born in Worcester, son of Pius (Matijosaitus) and Mary (Orante) Mattus. As a late teen, Mr. Mattus was already demonstrating a special talent for illustration, nature illustration and the human figure. A graduate of South High, he split his time between the School of the Worcester Art Museum and the Audubon Nature Camp in Muscongus Bay Maine, where he had received three consecutive scholarships to attend both. It was during his time at the Audubon Nature Camp that he developed his love for birds, working alongside the well-known late ornithologist/artist and fellow camp counselor Roger Tory Peterson. Together they spent summers illustrating and banding sea birds, until WWII. Mr. Mattus was an Army Veteran of World War II.
A 1937 graduate of the School of the Worcester Art Museum, Mr. Mattus later studied under the late Leon Kroll at the Art Students League of New York as well as the museums’ director, the artist Umberto Romano. Mr. Kroll encouraged Mr. Mattus to not only study the figurative realism of the period, but encouraged Mr. Mattus to develop his own style, a mixture of modernism, abstract expressionism and American Regionalism during this WPA period. Mr. Romano encouraged Mr. Mattus to explore modernism, said his son artist Matt Mattus, but his most celebrated works remain those created between 1938 –1948. Which are now classified as clear examples of American Regionalism.
Mattus worked as a muralist working on many projects sponsored by the WPA (Work Progress Administration) throughout the eastern US. His work as an assistant to Mr. Kroll was particularly useful, as he was able to help paint ‘THE WAR MEMORIAL MURALS’ at the Worcester Municipal Auditorium, in Worcester in 1938-1939, He later recalled “how challenging working with another artist with a strong opinion and style could be”. Mattus later received national acclaim for his painting “Tornado”, (1939), it was awarded the Grumbacher Gold Medal, and was included in a WPA exhibition that toured the country, during 1940-1941. Before the War, Mr. Mattus illustrated more than 200 articles for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, between 1937 and 1940, mostly original illustrations for the Telegram’s weekly nature column by W. Elmer Eckblaw ‘the Wake Robin Column’ where he could combine both his love for birds and nature, with that of figurative art. He also painted many public murals around the city of Worcester.
Based in Honolulu, HI, throughout WWII, he continued to use his artistic talents painting propaganda posters for distribution for the US Army, as well as many portraits of generals and other military leaders in the Pacific Rim. He was most proud to have been able to paint the portrait of John Wayne, which he never heard about until 1980 when Mr. Wayne’s daughter wrote him stating that the painting remained a favorite of Mr. Wayne’s, where he had it hung in his bedroom until his death.
After the War, Mr. Mattus was again employed by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette from 1945 until 1979, where he fulfilled many illustration and staff artist roles. Most notable were his full page illustrations of local business, social clubs and events published in the Sunday Telegram throughout the 1940’s and early 1950’s, featuring factory workers, industry and social clubs of the era. He later illustrated the color covers for the Feature Parade Magazine until 1959, seen in every Sunday Telegram. He continued illustrating various articles, photo retouching and art direction until his retirementin1979.
He was a longtime member of Our Lady of Vilna Church in Worcester, and later, of St. Catherine of Sweden Church. Mr. Mattus built an art studio at him home in Worcester, where he taught many art classes, painted many portraits and where he raised his family. He liked the outdoors, gardening, fishing, bird watching and animals. After retirement, he became active with the American legion, and he was elected Commander of the Quinsigamond American Legion Post 318. He was also a member of the Lithuanian Naturalization Club, and the Lithuanian War Veterans association.
Vitty’s wish was to donate his body to the UMASS Medical School Anatomical Gift Program. A Memorial Mass to celebrate his life will be held at 10 AM on Saturday, June 14 at Sacred Heart-St. Catherine of Sweden Church, 600 Cambridge Street, Worcester. Donations in Vitty’s memory may be made to the Massachusetts Audubon Society at www.massaudubon.org.
Arrangements are under the care of Callahan Fay & Caswell Funeral Home, 61 Myrtle Street, Worcester. To place an online condolence, please visit www.callahanfay.com