Born in Brookville, Indiana on January 7, 1889, Bessie Wessel moved to Cincinnati as a youngster. She received encouragement to pursue a career in art from her father, a school teacher. In 1906, she enrolled in the Cincinnati Art Academy, first studying with Lewis Henry Meakin and then Herman Wessel. Frank Duveneck invited her to join his classes, which she attended from 1909 to 1915. She became a frequent exhibitor of her portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and miniatures which she painted on ivory.
From 1917 to 1919, she was President of the Women's Art Club. In 1915, she joined the faculty of the Art Academy, but worked so hard she became overly tired and resigned two years later. However, while teaching she got to know her colleague and future husband Herman Wessel. The two were married in August of 1917 at the home of Frank Duveneck, their favorite teacher and friend. Two years later, Duveneck died, which caused the couple great mutual sorrow. After his death, Bessie and her husband became the acknowledged experts on authenticating Duveneck paintings.
Together Bessie and Herman became leading figures in the art world of Cincinnati. They shared a studio near their home in Eden Park, where they spent the rest of their lives and often exhibited together. Of working together, Bessie later said: "The reason we can paint in the same room is we keep our mouths closed. . . .we don't interrupt each other." (Newton 118).
They spent most of their summers away from home traveling in Europe and throughout the United States. While raising their son, she was less active as a painter for a period than he was, but she continued to exhibit, and when their son was grown, returned to a full painting career. She was particularly acclaimed for her child portraiture well through the 1960s, eventually painting over two-hundred portraits. Bessie also created brightly colored still lifes arranged with items collected on her travels mixed with fruit, flowers or vegetables and landscapes.
After her husband's death in 1969, she focused on a project of painting Indian portraits called "Portraits from the Plains," a series that sold out within the week of first being exhibited. Shortly after the exhibit, her health began to weaken and she died on January 29, 1973.
Cyran, C. "Herman & Bessie Wessel, At Home and Abroad" American Art Review, Vol. IX No. 2, 1997.
Judith Vale Newton and Carol Ann Weiss, Skirting the Issue, 118-124