February 5, 2016

Paintings by Ella Gardner

My friend's grandmother Ella Gardner was a prolific painter.  And she also made quilts.  She painted lovely scenes of rural Wisconsin life, her Amish neighbors, and my favorites of course, quilters doing what we do best - making and loving our quilts.

There is an exhibit of Ella Gardner's paintings up now through  March 12 at the Steenbock Gallery in Madison, WI.  The Wisconsin Regional Arts Program has created a lovely page about Ella Gardner and her art. 

Quilting Party

Here's a short bio of her, from the back cover of her 1998 book, A Celebration of Life:
Award-winning artist Ella Gardner always had the desire to paint. In 1936 she attended classes at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, but rarely set up an easel for the next 28 years. Teaching, farming and motherhood filled her days with little room left for art.
But the urge to create never left. In 1964, when her youngest son started college, she picked up a paintbrush and has been making up for lost time ever since. She works in oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors and ink; the subject matter often dictates the medium, she says. A member of the Wisconsin Regional Artists Association since 1964, she has won numerous awards over the years.
Rural life–the kind of life she and her family have always led–dominates her work. In her paintings farm memories come alive: the major events–the excitement of a farm auction, the thrill of haying before a storm; and the quiet moments, such as the cats playing in the barn. Nature in all its moods is ever present in her work, most dramatically in her series inspired by a trip to the Canadian Rockies.

On a joyous romp through so many of Ella’s works are her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As with all of Ella Gardner’s paintings, these truly are A Celebration of Life.

Ella's "making up for lost time" resulted in a portfolio of 700-some paintings, made between 1964 and 2007.  700 paintings!  She exhibited many one-woman shows including one in the Governor’s Office in Madison, WI, in 1983.

I think both her subject matter and her spirit can interest and inspire quilters to "have fun and make things," as they say.  You can see lots more of her art on the website my friend created in her honor. 

Amish Kitchen
The Big Log
And to make her story even better, there are the heirloom quilts.  These were likely made by Ella Gardner, although the first one could have been made by her mother who was a seamstress.

The Grandmother's Flower Garden, 66 x 84", was made c. 1935.

This Grandmother's fan comforter, 70 x 87", was made c. 1955.


My favorite is this Lone Star quilt.  It's 77" x 88".  Made about 1945.

The rhythm created by the rows of pale yellow gives emphasis to the central darker colors and the light edge.  This quilt certainly showcases the artist's eye!

Such wonderful, happy artwork!

The Comforter

Amish Ladies Quilting
 "Beauty in the life of the Amish is expressed in the quilts that they make. They find satisfaction, as well, in the usefulness of the finished product. They often use scraps of material too small to be used otherwise."  E.G.

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