Levon West Biography

Levon West




Levon West, who also used the name Ivan Dimitri, was born on February 3, 1900 in Centerville, North Dakota. The family changed their name to West when Levon and his brothers did not want to enlist in the service during WWI under their Armenian last name, Assadoorian. The name West was chosen as it was the maiden name of Levon's mother, who was related to the early American artist Benjamin West. Levon West adopted the pen name of Ivan Dmitri to use for his color photography. His etchings and watercolors were always done under his original name, Levon West.

Levon West moved often as a boy, as his father preached in a series of North Dakota towns.  West graduated from high school in Harvey, North Dakota as valedictorian and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1924. He wanted to take almost entirely art courses but his father insisted that he major in business administration. West served in the U.S Navy during WWI.

While in New York studying at the Art Students’ League and with etcher Joseph Pennell , he formed an aviation corporation with friends. They serviced planes at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. One day he noticed a different type of plane and did sketches of it. This plane belonged to Charles Lindberg. When West heard Lindberg flew the Spirit of St. Louis on a record breaking trans-Atlantic flight, he hurriedly did an etching from his sketches and took it to the New York Times. The paper asked how much he wanted for it and he said, “I don’t care how much I get for it, but put my name on it good and big at the bottom.” When the newspaper came out with his etching on the front page demand for his work followed. He was contacted by the Kennedy Galleries in New York the following day. This led to a series of successful etchings and national prominence.

As Ivan Dmitri, he helped to gain acceptance for photography as an art medium, and established one of the first photography exhibits at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dmitri felt that such a move was necessary in order for the public to treat photography as art, rather than just something reserved smaller mediums like books, magazines, and newspapers. In 1959, Ivan Dmitri founded Photography in the Fine Arts.

West was a member of the Society of American Etchers and the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and published at least two instructional books, including Making an Etching (1930).  By the 1940s, his work was in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the Havemeyer Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many others.  He was represented by Kennedy Gallery in New York City.

Levon West / Ivan Dimitri died in New York City on April 25, 1968