Focus on History: Amsterdam artist’s work in demand

Grace Cermola Gilbert’s mother wanted her to play the piano. Their large extended family was musical

Grace Cermola Gilbert’s mother wanted her to play the piano. Their large extended family was musical and everyone was encouraged to learn an instrument.

However, Gilbert preferred visual art and followed that path. As a child, she drew sketches of her cousins. After graduating from Amsterdam High School in 1936, she went to Syracuse University and majored in public school art, finishing college in just three years. She was a public school art teacher for 33 years. Today at age 92 she finds her paintings are much in demand.

Born on July 4, 1918, Gilbert’s parents were Maria Petruccione Cermola and Anthony Cermola. Her mother and father were from different towns in Italy, Benevento for the Petrucciones and Amorosi for the Cermolas. The parents met in Amsterdam. Her father was a Bigelow-Sanford weaver; he also operated a neighborhood store. The Cermolas lived upstairs in a two family house on upper Brookside Avenue. An aunt and uncle lived downstairs.

When Gilbert was attending college, she met a U.S. Navy machinist’s mate from Texas, Clinton Wayne Gilbert, who had been sent to school in Syracuse. After graduation Grace Cermola taught several years in Gilboa but then moved home to teach in Amsterdam. Grace and Clinton married in 1945. Clinton worked for General Motors in Schenectady. They had two sons, Timothy and Thomas. Clinton was laid off by GM in 1959 but secured a post in Westchester County with the New York State Thruway Authority. The Gilberts relocated to Mamaroneck and Grace taught art in the Pelham schools until her retirement in 1977.

After her husband retired the next year, they moved to a town house in Amsterdam. Clinton, who died in 1985, loved the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course. “I still love Amsterdam,” Grace said.

For many years she volunteered with the Walter Elwood Museum, teaching art classes and serving on the board. She still teaches art classes at the former St. Stanislaus School on Cornell Street.

In recent years Gilbert has kept company with widower Louis Hildebrandt, Sr. They did not know each other at the time but both were in the class of 1936 at Wilbur H. Lynch High School. They met when Hildebrandt brought Gilbert information on a class reunion.

Hildebrandt was a jockey for the Sanford Stud Farm in Amsterdam and Gilbert encouraged him to write his memoir, “Riders Up.” She has faithfully accompanied him to public appearances, although she said she fears horses.

Gilbert is pleased to report paintings she did 60 years ago have surfaced again because of the Internet. In 1951 Gilbert painted two landscapes for a cousin, Josephine Galietta Bull. Josephine had asthma. She and her parents moved to Arizona and bought a home where the paintings were hung. Josephine did so well that her parents left her to her new life in Arizona, sold the house and returned to Amsterdam.

Gilbert was annoyed that they left the paintings at the house in Arizona — the prospective buyer insisted on that. This year a man named Walter Battelli of Surprise, Ariz., got in touch with Sandra Pelletier at the Sorelle Gallery at Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, where Gilbert displays her work. Battelli had purchased the Gilbert paintings for $1,000 at an estate sale and found the Albany gallery by searching the Internet.

“I have a style all my own,” Gilbert said. Some of her paintings are in the style of Dutch masters; some are similar to French impressionists. She has done a modern style self portrait her friends don’t like, but she is proud of it. She mainly works in oil or acrylic and has sold hundreds and hundreds of paintings.

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply