Discovering more art history in the Gladbrook Heritage Museum

I’m looking through more of my photos from within the Gladbrook Heritage Museum (during my visit to the Gladbrook Corn Carnival last weekend), and found another example of some interesting art history that belongs in their collection. I saw this painting hanging on the wall (behind this mannequin) and found the signature of “Nellie M. Gebers” in the lower right corner, and a search today for that name revealed an art historical story.

Nellie M. Gebers landscape painting
A landscape painting by Nellie M. Gebers in the collection of the Gladbrook Heritage Museum in Iowa.

While yesterday’s blog post suggests an artist who may have been a “Sunday painter” (which is, by definition, an artist who generally does not have formal art instruction or an arts education and paints during one’s spare time), my research today shows Nellie M. Gebers (1901-1995) was a pretty serious artist, as she completed over 3,000 paintings in her lifetime and had a reputation as a “regionalist” in the art world. Her work was featured in numerous exhibitions and won regional and national awards.

Nellie M. Castor Gebers was born in Ira, Iowa on October 26, 1901. At that time, the population of Ira was only 79 people! She showed an interest in art at an early age, but when a local artist declined her request for lessons, her parents purchased a small box of watercolors. Nellie then came up with her own “canvas” (painting on cigar box lids) and made her own brushes, using cotton wound on toothpicks. Nellie was the first child in her family to attend high school, and after she graduated (and soon after that, got married), she moved to Denver, Colorado, where she enrolled at the Denver Art Institute, studying under Robert Graham. After a brief stay, Nellie and her husband John returned to Iowa and purchased a farm in the area near Lincoln (which is about 6 miles from Gladbrook).

In 1933, Nellie Gebers decided to attend the Stone City Art Colony, where she studied under Grant Wood – the artist who made the painting “American Gothic,” an iconic image of 20th Century Art. It has been suggested that she provided the idea for Wood’s 1934 painting, “Dinner for Threshers,” having told Wood that she would rather paint farmers having dinner than showing them at work in the fields.

After her studies at the colony in Stone City, Gebers followed Grant Wood to the University of Iowa where she enrolled in Wood’s summer art classes during both 1934 and 1935. She exhibited her work frequently at the Iowa Art Salon, the Iowa State Fair, and was featured at the 1936 Biennial Show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Following her husband’s retirement in 1959, the couple moved to Saratoga in California. Nellie remained an art teacher for the rest of her life, teaching, critiquing, and painting, even into her nineties when she was classified as legally blind. Gebers died in Mountain View, California, in 1995.

It’s not clear to me how this painting arrived at the Gladbrook Heritage Museum, as there was no hand-written note on it like the painting I profiled yesterday. But my guess is that her time in Lincoln, which is so close by, found someone acquiring this painting which then eventually made its way to Gladbrook.

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