Montgomery County

Prime Time: Amsterdam woman has taught art for 74 years

Grace Gilbert can't recall all the paintings she's done over the decades since she developed a love
Grace Gilbert, in light blue coat, instructs students in her art class at the former St. Stanislas School in Amsterdam.
Grace Gilbert, in light blue coat, instructs students in her art class at the former St. Stanislas School in Amsterdam.

Grace Gilbert can’t recall all the paintings she’s done over the decades since she developed a love for art as a child. And as of last fall, the accomplished artist can officially say her works are “sold out.”

But every so often, the 94-year-old Amsterdam resident says she gets a reminder of some of her earlier work. She often included her name on the canvas.

Following a successful sale at the 2012 Hagaman Art Show, Grace was left with only the paintings she intends to keep and those she plans to donate to the Walter Elwood Museum.

But one of her earlier works — now 23 years old — has now returned. It cost her son, Thomas, $600.

Grace gave the 5-foot-long painting of California’s famous redwood trees to a cousin she’d visited in 1970.

The breathtaking view, and a drive through the trunk of one of the massive fossils, left an impression both on Grace and on Thomas, now a Glenville resident.

The painting wound up in the hands of another woman who lived in Missoula, Mont., and who had a dilemma.

The woman was able to find Grace on the Internet and called her to see if she’d painted it. The woman was moving and couldn’t fit it in her vehicle and didn’t want to just throw it away.

The only description, “trees,” didn’t help Grace remember.

But Thomas made contact with the woman via email and she sent him a photo of the painting.

“I recognized it immediately. I still can’t figure out why I did such a big painting,” said Grace, who, at just over 4-feet-5-inches tall, is dwarfed by the frame.

“It must have taken months to do it. It’s got a presence because it’s so large,” she said recently from her apartment.

Filled with paintings

Her place is filled with paintings and antiques — enough items that might be seen as clutter if it weren’t for the fact that all of them complement each other.

Though she’s put her easel in a closet — temporarily — Grace has reached a milestone in terms of sharing her skill and knowledge of art.

This year marks her 74th year teaching art.

The Syracuse University graduate recalls starting her first teaching job at the Gilboa school district in 1939 — at age 20.

She spent a full career teaching art in a Westchester County school district, and now continues sharing lessons each week at the old St. Stanislaus school in Amsterdam.

Thomas said his mom has now spent more time teaching art to adults than she did teaching children during her earlier career.

He said his mother, who has traveled the world, is giving students a world-class education in artwork.

He recalls taking a trip with the family to Italy when he was 14, where they viewed “every painting and church in existence.”

He calls his mother a prolific painter — and part interior decorator.

“Sometimes she would even paint something because it goes good with a piece of furniture,” he said.

Felt silly

He said he initially felt silly about purchasing the redwood painting.

“I have quite a number of her pieces in my house already. But it kind of reminded me of a couple of things; it sort of sparked a very, very deep memory,” he said.

That memory is of him and his family driving a classic 1957 Chevy through a giant redwood tree.

The work was done on a durable masonite, like a brown, pressed material, and its texture gives it a look of a digital photograph, he said.

Thomas said although she’s put her easel in the closet, he doesn’t believe his mother has stopped her artwork.

“I think when the artistic spirit moves her, she’ll paint again,” he said.

Unlike his mother, Thomas said he didn’t wind up with major creativity.

“And I don’t mind that,” he said, recalling his mother once telling him he “inherited the eye but not the hand.”

“It’s one of the funny things. She’ll ask me to come critique a painting. I will and then we won’t speak for a couple of weeks and she’ll make some adjustments. It’s a funny back-and-forth,” he said.

Grace said people aren’t born to paint — and anybody can do it if they get the right guidance.

Reflects family

She won’t disclose how much money her most expensive piece brought in, but she shrugs her shoulders when describing how her portrait of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother Mary was once critiqued.

She was commissioned by an individual to paint the portrait and asked not to put her name on it.

But wherever it is now, it still reflects Grace Gilbert’s family.

“They said the Jesus looked like my son. Well, I had no model,” she said with a smile.

When she’s not painting or teaching, the active senior likes to watch “Antiques Roadshow” on television.

Though she’s sold all she plans to sell, some of Grace’s work will remain in the family and other pieces will find their way to the Walter Elwood Museum.

She’ll be keeping her painting of a family riding a boat on the Erie Canal — a rendition of the story her mother told her about — with the scene featuring her and family members.

Each Monday, Grace continues to gather with a group of aspiring artists to share lessons of something that’s influenced her for decades: art.

“It’s been part of my life, my whole life through,” she said.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply