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Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010

Charles Allis Presents Wisconsin Master Artist Emily Parker Groom

Art Review

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A small retrospective at the Charles Allis Art Museum reveals the dedication Wisconsin’s Emily Parker Groom gave to her artwork over the course of 80 years. Thirty-four images—in chalk, charcoal, graphite, pastel and watercolor—detail the progression of Groom’s career in the exhibition “Wisconsin Masters Series: Emily Groom” (through Feb. 13).

The exhibit, mounted on the second floor, displays Groom’s small-scale paintings and drawings for close, intimate appraisal. Groom is a painter who discovered art during her youth, a significant choice for a woman born in 1875. Her oils, dating from 1906, depict floral still lifes, including the bold brush strokes and soft, flowering petals of White Peonies in Blue Vase (1920).

Groom’s transition to watercolor later in her career created an even more intriguing style, as she portrayed both urban and rural landscapes using a wet-on-wet technique that retains a timeless, contemporary element. Melsetter House, Hoy (1940-1950)shows an incredible ability to form the white space and incorporate the original rag texture on the watercolor paper to depict the stucco exterior. Translucent colors layered around this space splash the roof, sky and lawn into an image that deftly defines the country homestead.

Impressionistic techniques gleaned from an education with American painters Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson evoke abstract tension in Groom’s Genesee Farm on Hwy ZZ (1955).Her fluidly painted pear tree bough hangs from the picture’s top edge, a frame to shade the houses sculpted from the ivory paper below the branches that may be seen in the distance.

Throughout her eight-decade career, Groom’s free-flowing brush created vibrant hues streaked in spontaneous emotion, and depicted landscapes that still feel vital and fresh even decades later. In addition to the rural Wisconsin scenery that often captured Groom’s attention, a trip to Guatemala in the ’40s also served as inspiration for a series of portraits rendered in chalk and charcoal.

Groom lived in a house on Milwaukee’s Cambridge Avenue from 1890 until her death in 1975, just short of her 100th birthday. This pioneer in Wisconsin art, who co-founded the Wisconsin Watercolor Society in 1952, deserves the attention provided by the Charles Allis Art Museum in an exhibit that celebrates her longevity and talent, as well as the rare, impressive focus that Groom sustained to promote art in Wisconsin.

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