Not long ago, I received an interesting phone call from a former Wheeling resident, George Carenbauer. Carenbauer now resides in the Washington, DC area but has a keen interest in antiques.
He and his sister, Ellen Carenbauer Hazera, an artist based in Bordeaux, France, are considering the idea of an art exhibition in Wheeling that would highlight a very special 1903 painting of their mother, Elsa Eick Carenbauer.
He shared a photo of his mother’s artwork and the story behind it.
“Our grandmother, Elsa Eick Carenbauer, made a remarkable painting on porcelain in 1903 while she was a student at St. Mary’s of Springs Academy near Columbus. Our grandmother lived in Martins Ferry and was educated at St Alphonsus Primary School in Wheeling from a young age. What makes our grandmother’s work particularly remarkable is that it is an original landscape (with a bridge) painted on a flat piece of porcelain, unlike most paintings on porcelain which are mainly depictions of flowers, fruit or vegetables on dinner plates, cups, vases, etc. were similar vessels.”
Discussing this painting with my sister, we appreciate that painting on porcelain was a common field of study for young women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our other grandmother, Tess Fahey Greene, did similar work and attended Catholic schools in Wheeling.”
The Carenbauer siblings think it very likely that many young women of the time in Wheeling and the surrounding area, from different walks of life, also painted on porcelain as part of their studies during this period and that there are many surviving examples from their descendants.
They mentioned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had an exhibition on the subject in 2002 and shared several links to articles discussing the exhibition and the history of young women’s practice in studying this type of painting on porcelain .
There is also a website from the World Organization of China Painters (wocp.org) that oversees a museum of such paintings in Oklahoma City.
This painting theme reminds me of my own mother, Margaret O’Malley Bierkortte, and her interest in painting statues as a hobby when she was young. I have a few examples of these dating from the 1930-40’s and the blank white (bisque?) statues have been elegantly painted in oils to give a nice finishing touch.
You don’t realize that these statues are made of white bisque porcelain until you turn them over and look at the base and see the chalk white lower body of the painted figure. It’s easy to see that while these statues are not porcelain, they provided an artistic way to practice art and add the decorative arts to your home in a personal and fun way.
I imagine the statues were bought by my mother at the local nickel and then brought home to paint as my mother traveled very little and worked downtown when it was a busy place to shop.
Incidentally, the Carenbauers think it would be wonderful if there could be contact with the community to collect other local examples of porcelain painting for their idea of a possible local exhibition in the future.
If you have examples of your own to share with them as they explore this idea and find more examples of young ladies’ painted china, please email me at [email protected] and I will get your email -Forward information to them.