Landscape Artist Elizabeth Wilson Made the Most of Pandemic-Created Free Time


By Gall Sigler

Elizabeth Wilson (Courtesy of Elizabeth Wilson)

Mobility is everything for a landscape artist, so when the COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions were issued, the scenery that fed Elizabeth Wilson’s creativity for decades suddenly became inaccessible.

“I was stuck,” she said.

Beyond professional obstacles, the pandemic was a challenging time for Wilson on a personal level.

“I live alone, so the silence was deafening,” she said.

Health concerns dissuaded her from accepting numerous opportunities, such as in-person interviews.

Yet instead of waiting idly for the restrictions to loosen, Wilson took advantage of the free time to paint.

For the first time in decades, she was able to dedicate consecutive working days to her projects.

She began to paint Long Island landscapes she let her memory conjure, all from her home in Lower Merion. She also turned the focus on her close surroundings, painting the forest adjacent to her house.

“For me, it was a luxury,” she said. “I had unlimited time to work in my studio…that was the most positive thing.”

Now, in her first solo museum exhibition, “Elizabeth Wilson: Spirit of Place,” Wilson reflects on the pandemic and the past two decades. The 30 landscape paintings portray scenery from rural England and Italy and the rocky beaches of Long Island, among other works.

Wilson traces her passion for art to her upbringing.

“I grew up in a household where there were a lot of beautiful objects,” she said.

She recalled finding a 1973-’74 Sotheby’s auction house sale catalog as a child, where she saw paintings and other items for auction that stimulated her imagination.

And as she rummaged through her parents’ belongings during the pandemic, Elizabeth Wilson discovered that her knack for art was inherited.

In a dusty portfolio and a brown box from her father’s time as a gunner in World War II, Wilson found the source of her talent — in the form of her father’s charcoal drawings of airplanes and her mother’s work, some of which were collaborations.

“I couldn’t believe how much good art was there,” she said.

In 1978, Wilson matriculated at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. After a year, she transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she graduated in 1984.

While Wilson began mainly in figurative work, she later became known for her landscape paintings. Among the many honors Wilson received are the Sandra Karlin Award, the National Penn Bank Award and the Catherine Gibbons Granger Award for Painting.

Wilson’s focus on landscape work congealed following a trip to Israel and Egypt. Urged by her interest in John Singer Sargent’s works on Middle Eastern landscape, Wilson traveled to Israel, staying for a month in the kibbutz Netzer Sereni.

Wilson’s career includes numerous international ventures. Some of her most notable landscape works depict the British Isles. In 1996, Wilson began traveling to Great Britain regularly, exploring landscapes to paint, and even considered a permanent move.

“I really wanted to live there so badly…Somehow, I feel genetically linked {to Britain},” she said.

While Wilson says that Judaism does not factor into her artwork, Wilson is intrigued by the amount of great Jewish artists.

“I am aware that I am Jewish, I am proud that I am Jewish,” she said.

Wilson feels a particular kinship with Isaac Levitan, a 19th-century Russian Jewish painter whose approach to painting and looking at light coincides with Wilson’s.

In conjunction with her career as an artist, Wilson worked as an educator for decades. In 1988, Wilson was asked to teach a drawing course to architecture students at Temple University.

“That was supposed to be for one semester, and I ended up staying for seven years,” she said.

Wilson later taught at the University of the Arts and Philadelphia University. Although Wilson thoroughly enjoyed teaching, after about 25 years she decided to take a step back from teaching full-time.

“Teaching is a lot of work, and I am dedicated to my students…it is a lot of time. I spent hours and hours,” she said. “As rewarding as it is to teach, I want to use this time to make art myself.”

Still, Wilson hosted a workshop at the Art Students League of New York in 2015 and was invited in 2018 to teach a summer course at JSS in Civita, in Italy.

Despite her achievements, art was not always Wilson’s priority. When her mother was battling cancer and her father faced heart surgery, Wilson placed her career on the backburner for 15 years.

Wilson does not doubt that she made the right decision.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.

Wilson’s exhibition is on view at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Altoona from Sept. 2-Dec. 4. JE

Gall Sigler is an intern for the Jewish Exponent.


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