Photo submitted Local artist Grace Gilbert stands with a 43-year-old painting of hers that recently made its way back to her from Montana.
By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
Grace Gilbert's home in Amsterdam is filled with some of the many paintings she's created throughout her life.
One brings back memories of her childhood home, while another portrays her family on a canal boat in an earlier period and a third one she even hopes to contribute to the Walter Elwood Museum someday.
But nothing could have prepared her for the call she was going to receive recently about a forgotten 4-foot-long painting of hers from more than 40 years ago.
"A woman had called me from Missoula, Montana, and she had a painting," Grace said. "The woman told me that she was in California, and this neighbor who had the painting, she used to go over for candy and ice cream as she was growing up. And as she grew up, the woman gave her the painting."
The neighbor who gave the Montana woman the painting was Grace's cousin, Grace believes.
The woman researched Grace's name and after finding her phone number gave Grace a call to find out more about the artwork.
Jeanette Giaquinto, an Amsterdam cousin of Grace's, sat in the living room with Grace this week recounting all that had happened.
"She wanted to know what it was about. 'Tell me about it,' she said to Grace," Giaquinto said.
But Grace really couldn't recall much about painting it. What the two did know was that the painting was finished in 1970, as Grace had dated the artwork upon completion. So, Grace gave the woman her son's phone number and told the woman to call him to see if he'd have more insight.
Thomas Gilbert, Grace's son, said when he spoke to the woman, she told him she was moving back to California and didn't have room for it in her van. She was hoping to find the artist and sell it back to her.
"We negotiated back and forth for a while and I said I'd be willing to give her $400, plus shipping," Thomas said.
When the painting arrived, it started to bring back memories of times with family as a child.
"When I saw the painting ... it sort of sparked a memory with me, one of my mother painting it in 1970, and the other of traveling to the Redwood forest in 1960, 1959," Thomas explained.
That year, Grace and her family went on a family vacation to California, where her cousin lived.
"We went to see the Redwood forest and it had one big tree that had like a tunnel that you drove through the center of the tree," Grace recalled. "I was so impressed with it, and I did the painting."
She believes she gave the painting -- portraying a vast forest with towering trees -- to her cousin in California after finishing it.
When the painting came to Thomas in his home in Glenville, it was poorly wrapped, he said, knocked out of the frame and a chipped a bit here and there.
"It's actually painted on massonite. If it was on canvas, it probably would have been destroyed," he said. "It's a stiff, brown, compressed material board. I was able to reframe it and do minor restoration on it and get it back in frame.
"It's absolutely stunning to see."
Inspecting the painting closely, Thomas said he realized it has the quality of a digital photograph.
Massonite has two sides to it, he explained, a polished side and the opposite side with a fine pattern of dots embossed into it.
"Because it has a pattern embossed in it, it gives the impression of a gigantic digital picture," he said. "I think that's why it has such a presence."
"It has this startling realism, too," he said later, adding that, "I took it to another artist, who said she must of worked on it for months."
The 4-foot-wide, 30-inch-tall painting is bigger than Grace, but Thomas managed to bring it to dinner to show the family and reunite his mother with the artwork she painted so long ago.
"I was just thrilled to have it back in Amsterdam," she said. "When I first saw it, I said, 'Whatever possessed me to paint something that big!'"
This week, Thomas brought the painting to one of Grace's art classes at St. Stanislaus.
Giaquinto, who went to the art class to see it, said the students fawned over the detail and skill.
"It's been from the east coast to the west coast and back again," Giaquinto said. "Everybody just loved it. They absorbed it in and just stared at it and commented (about) how beautiful it was and how they just couldn't believe that after 43 years it's returned. They just thought it was gorgeous."
Grace started painting when she was 18. She is now 94 -- and she continues to paint each day.
Art, she said, has always been a part of her life.
Her Redwood painting is just one of hundreds she has painted throughout her lifetime, as a student, teacher and artist.
"This is my 60th year teaching and I keep saying I'm not going to do it again," Grace said laughing. "But, I keep going and going."
Her Redwood painting now hangs in Thomas's Glenville home behind his couch, where he said it looks like it was meant to be all along.