Art Lives On

Posted: June 1, 2013

The Chippewa Valley Museum has joined with the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library for a collaborative exhibition of artworks created by a number of regional artists from our past.  The valley has a long, rich tradition of fostering the visual arts.  As this exhibition - called And Art Lives On - demonstrates, many artists who lived and worked in the Eau Claire area have contributed to this impressive history.  

The Chippewa Valley Museum holds a collection of historical fine art. And Art Lives On, in the museum's LE Phillips Memorial Auditorium, presents works by artists from the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. The exhibit is currently on display at the museum in Carson Park, and will be up until September 3, 2013.

This collaborative exhibition also includes works by 22 artists from the mid-20th century and later.  You can find these works on display at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, in the gallery and on the first floor.

If you're a local art lover, you might be familiar with a few of the names: Sevald O. Lund, Vincent Petrick, Vernona Welsh. But even the most die-hard fan of area art might not have heard of some of the other artists in the show. Kristine MacCallum and Frank Smoot spent some time researching the biographies. You'll find a wide variety of artists' stories represented.


MAUD ELTING (1882-1973) was the only child of Peter and Jennie Elting.  Peter was a carpenter and also quite respected as a carver. After Maud graduated from Eau Claire High School in 1902, she became a stenographer. She lived with her parents until their deaths. Maud inherited their house on Chippewa Street in Eau Claire and remained there the rest of her life.

In 1925, she married Ernest Talford, who worked as a cemetery groundskeeper, and they had 25 years together until his death in 1950.


VERNONA ELLEN WELSH GAVIN (1891-1943) became an accomplished and respected Wisconsin watercolorist who won a number of awards for her paintings.

As a teen in Eau Claire, she gave lessons in watercolor and filled custom orders for paintings and cards. Her paintings were often displayed in downtown store windows.  

In addition to floral works, Vernona also painted landscape and park scenes from the Eau Claire area.  She was committed to sharpening her painting skills by copying master works in watercolor, a technique often used by artists today.  

Vernona studied at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. She exhibited at the Milwaukee Art Institute and in the Art Institute of Chicago's 1929 International Water Color Exhibition, her work hanging alongside those of William Sanger, Paul Klee, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky.

After her death in Milwaukee in 1943, the Gimbel family (of Gimbels Department Stores) bought her entire series of watercolor florals.  The Gimbels then used these as patterns to design textiles for both women's wear and upholstery fabrics.  

Her painting Rescue depicts a fireman rescuing a little girl from a blazing building.  Vernona's father, James P. Welsh, was the fire chief in Eau Claire for many years.


ALICE MAY HURLBURT LARSON (1862-1888) was born near Colfax. As a teen she lived with her parents in the house next to lumberman John S. Owen and his family. Soon after, the Hulberts moved to the corner of Farwell and Newton Streets, a few blocks from Herman and Augusta Schlegelmilch. Their daughter Louise taught German to Alice, and this 1886 painting was given as a thank you to the Schlegelmilch family.

Alice was employed as a school teacher. In September 1886, she married Norwegian-born Lewis Larson. Lewis had been Eau Claire's city attorney in 1877-78 and served as municipal judge from 1878 to 1886. Alice died January 4, 1888 at 25 years old, leaving a daughter.


Sevald O. ("S.O.") Lund (1852-1939) was born in Norway and immigrated to the Chippewa Valley on July 4, 1865.  His family settled on a farm at Meridean.  As a child, Sevald attended school in Eau Claire, and later attempted formal art training in St. Paul, but homesickness brought him back to the Eau Claire area soon afterwards.  He also studied art in Menomonie for several years under immigrant German painter Jacob Miller.  Sevald married Emilea Sandvig, gave up farming to move to Eau Claire, and established a house painting and decorating business.  He made this move, in large part, to gain more time to devote to making art.  He and his wife raised six children.

The 1890s proved to be the most productive period of Sevald's career, and he became well-known throughout the Chippewa Valley. Kim Rosholt, an important Chippewa Valley businessman, commissioned Sevald to create no less than 150 paintings.

Working from his studio at 418 South Barstow Street, Sevald painted in oils earlier in his career. This work covered a broad array of themes reflecting the culture and landscape of the Chippewa Valley at the time, including lumber camp scenes, portraits, altar paintings, still lifes, Western scenes, Wisconsin landscapes, regional animals, marine life, and nursery rhyme characters.  He worked from nature but also enjoyed referencing illustrations for his paintings, such as those created by Currier and Ives.

Later, Sevald turned to watercolor, painting childhood memories and nostalgic Norwegian scenes of farms and fishing villages.  He also became interested in designing furniture and creating wood carvings.  Those who knew him considered him to be a personable, witty man, full of fun - and a perfectionist in his work.

Years later, in the 1990s, the Chippewa Valley Museum held a major exhibition of his work.  Tim Pfaff of the Museum wrote that "Sevald's work was indicative of the immigrant experience:  he loved the old but he embraced the new."

A number of his paintings were collected by the Schlegelmilch family, and a sampling can be viewed at the Schlegelmilch House, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Rock Creek Lutheran Church, the State Historical Society, and the Chippewa Valley Museum.  


JOHN MATHIESON (1916-1974) grew up in Eau Claire's Third Ward. His father Johan emigrated from Norway in 1890 and became a founding partner in what later became Eau Claire's Midelfort Clinic. His mother Augusta was the daughter of one of Eau Claire's prominent druggists. John's parents both died when he was very young - his father the day before John's seventh birthday and his mother five months later.

John served as a cartographer during World War II. After the war, he became an instructor at Houghton School of Mines in Michigan. When he returned to Eau Claire, he worked for Johnson Printing and later became vice president of E.M. Hale, an Eau Claire book publisher. He died at 58 years old.


WILLIAM H. ("Will") McENTEE (1857-1917) was born in the Town of Almont, Michigan. He lived in Michigan until 1877, when he came to Eau Claire. He concentrated on portrait painting and crayon work, media he'd been perfecting since youth.

Will had two successive Eau Claire studios both on South Barstow Street.  He boarded nearby on Farwell Street. About 1881, he was commissioned to paint the portrait of the late Chief Justice Ryan for the Bar of Milwaukee, and the portrait of Matt. H. Carpenter for the State of Wisconsin under order of the Governor.

About 1893, Will married Rosa Fox, and in 1900 they were living in Manhattan. They later moved to Nassau County, N.Y. Rosa died in 1912 at the age of 44, and Will died died in Detroit November 12, 1917 at the age of 60. They are buried next to each other in Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery.

Will had studied under the famed French academic painter William Bouguereau and exhibited in the Paris Salon. He is listed in Artists of Early Michigan, and Who Was Who in American Art: 400 years of Artists in America, Second edition.


VINCENT FRANK PETRICK (1913-1995), a much-admired self-taught artist, made more than 700 paintings, carvings, and other artworks.  But his work remained little known until 1995, when Mike Christopherson, an Eau Claire sculptor, and his wife Debbie, a photographer, drove past a display of Vincent's work on a pair of intricately carved garage doors at his log home at Lake Hallie. When Debbie asked to stop for photos, Vincent - "Frenchy" to his friends - invited them in to view his collection. The visit lasted no less than three hours. Vincent died shortly after. It was only then that the general public was introduced to this extraordinary artist, through exhibitions and auctions.  He sold very few pieces during his life.

Vincent was born in Eau Claire in 1913, but when he was a young child, his family moved to New York, where his father performed in a minstrel show.  His childhood was a painful one, made worse when his mother died, and he was shuttled back and forth between relatives and strangers.  Vincent remained resilient and resourceful.  While still in his teens, he worked wherever he could, as a lumberman, a farm laborer picking potatoes, a stevedore for a passenger ship, and in maple syrup "sap" camps.   

When he returned to the Midwest at the age of 21, Vincent continued to work at odd jobs.  During the Depression, for example, he illustrated neckties with wildlife scenes, which earned him $15 per tie from a New York buyer.  But it was not until he began his 40-year career at Eau Claire's Uniroyal Tire Company that he gained the financial security to devote most of his free time to art.  

He felt guilty when he wasn't making art.  He slept just five hours a night in order to arrive at Uniroyal shortly after 4 a.m., to take advantage of the tools and stainless steel material available, which he used to create nearly 400 men's and women's rings. Vincent was utterly driven to create: when not making art, he wrote poetry.

For many years, Vincent worked inside his home at the dining room table. Later, at his wife's prompting, he built and worked in a small studio. He often replicated images from readily available sources, such as magazine photos and even coloring book illustrations.  He drew broadly from cultural and personal influences, but nature remained his predominant subject.  As he noted himself, the tone of his work matured as he aged, from a "survival of the fittest" sensibility to one more sympathetic to "harmony in nature."

Working in many media, Vincent created a large series of pipes, rings, walking sticks and canes, carved dragon figures, free-standing totems, intricately painted wall dioramas, paintings and wood carvings of all sizes, whistles, and assemblages.  His themes ranged from landscapes and cowboys, to portraits of political figures and common folks, scenes of nature, people interacting in comical situations, and risqué topics.

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