Grace Gilbert is an artist. She has seen the pyramids of Egypt on a runaway camel, ate oatmeal for what she believed to be her last meal when a WWII destroyer turned cruise ship hit rough waters, toured China and Russia before tourism was even allowed, dragged her cousin all over Europe to admire the work of legendary artists and has shown and sold her own art all over the state. Now, at age 91, Gilbert said she plans to paint until the day she dies and has her latest showing, Homage to Monet, at Sorelle Gallery on Broadway in Saratoga Springs until March 6.
I come from a family with good genes; my mom lived until she was 95. I can’t imagine my life without painting. My hand is very steady and I don’t have any physical problems so why should I stop painting now? said Gilbert, who lives in Amsterdam.
She said she paints in nearly every style and puts into images what she sees and feels, so her work mimics her life.
`When something special happens in my life, I do a painting about it. I painted my mother at age 16, middle age and when she was old. When my husband passed away I painted him walking into the light,` said Gilbert. `Whenever I see something beautiful I take a photograph of it and paint it. I carry a sketchpad around with me and am always sketching in pencil.`
She said it wasn’t easy to break away from her family’s tradition of pursuing music instead of art. For years, her mother made her take piano lesson until she realized she wasn’t learning anything because she didn’t want to be doing it. Instead, Gilbert said she would rather be sketching her cousins.
She spent 64 years teaching in the public school system and continues to teach every Monday in a rented room at an old Catholic School. Gilbert teaches acrylics, oil paint and particularly loves children’s art.
`I like to see the joy they get doing something they enjoy and like and that they can use and hang in their homes,` said Gilbert. `Children’s work is so absolutely creative and I actually think Picasso copied the children’s work because his creativity and style is so great.`
Gilbert said she considers art to be an expression of herself and will always be a part of her, so much so that she goes beyond putting her creativity on a canvas or paper and puts it on the walls of her house.
`I started a style about 40 years ago that I wish I’d put some sort of signature on. I started putting fabric on the walls with liquid starch and now that’s done a great deal but I started it and decorated my house like that; it’s quite unique and I’ve also painted on my walls,` said Gilbert. `I bought an old window with four panes and in each I have a painting from the different seasons, displayed in my downstairs bathroom. My house is a reflection of my personality.`
Gilbert said she goes through phases with her painting, always trying something different. She tried out a self portrait, favors French Impressionist styles and then just as quickly can veer off into something more modern or convert to realism.
This versatility paired with her distinct personality is what made her so attractive to Sandy Pelletier from the Sorelle Gallery.
`She can paint in any way she wants and that’s the sign of a true artist; she can paint in any medium. She paints the mood that she feels. One day she was kind of depressed because it was raining and she was sick of it. I was joking around with her and told her to do something to lift her spirits, so she painted a beautiful painting called the Umbrella Parade,` said Pelletier, who said she has shown Gilbert’s paintings before and they always do well. In the current show there’s about 12 paintings on display and two have already sold.
Pelletier said Gilbert is the only nonagenarian artist the gallery’s ever had and that her feistiness is what makes her special beyond the art she creates.
`I find her so utterly interesting, we’re always kidding around with each other. One day I said, ‘I’m going to write a letter to Oprah and tell her about you,’ and she said if I did that, she’d live another 20 years to tell that story,` said Pelletier. `She is a firecracker. She is busy, busy, busy, the dust just doesn’t settle under her feet and I’m sure that’s part of her secret.`
Sorelle Gallery is at 385 Broadway in Saratoga Springs. For questions about Gilbert’s exhibit and paintings, call 584-0600.