[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 29, 2009

Globe-trotting artist, Grace Gilbert, exhibits worldly, luminous paintings

By Philippa Stasiuk

Two steps down in a small windowless gallery on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs, Voorheesville resident Sandra Telletier hosted her first nonagenarian art show this past Sunday.

To be precise, it was one 91-year-old artist, Grace Gilbert, unless you also count her biggest fan, 91-year-old boyfriend Louis Hildebrandt who was also on the scene to support Gilbert and enjoy the nibbles.

“Grace came by the gallery with some of her paintings and I was enchanted by her and her work,” said Telletier. “She has so many wonderful stories about her life, and how she is influenced in making her work.”

Gilbert has inspired her boyfriend to tell his stories, too.

She has been dating Hildebrandt for around 15 years, after the two met planning a school reunion where they don’t remember having met each other previously.

“His wife passed away and my husband passed away and he came knocking on my door and he brought me things from the reunion and that’s how I met him,” said Gilbert. “I don’t intend to marry. Lou and I are very good friends. We help each other and travel together.”

Hildebrandt is the author of Riders Up, an autobiography about his years as a jockey on the horse-racing circuit during the 1930s and 1940s.

“I inspired him to write that book,” said Gilbert. “He told me stories about the racetrack and they were fascinating, and I got him to write them down.”

Gilbert still lives in Amsterdam, N.Y. where she was born and raised. She graduated from Syracuse University with a fine arts degree and went on to teach art in schools for more than three decades. Gilbert regularly paints in her home, having converted the bedroom with the best light into her painting studio.

Telletier describes Gilbert’s style as “nostalgic Americana but with that impressionist flair.” The gallery owner goes on, “She has a way to use light and texture, the way she applies the paint. Some of her paintings are very luminous, like her ‘Flower Garden’ and her ‘Day at the Lake.’”

Gilbert said her lifelong inspirations for painting are both her family and her travels, which have spanned the globe, many to places where female travelers used to be something of a rarity. 

Gilbert and two female friends were among the first travelers to China when it opened up after President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972. The president’s trip was a momentous event credited with normalizing relations between the two Cold War enemies, particularly since Nixon was elected on a platform of anti-communism.

When explaining why she was drawn to China, Gilbert said, “I just had to see it, I wanted to see China so badly, but it was a hardship trip. When we went on a packet boat on the Yangtze, they didn’t have enough rooms for us.

“Being a teacher, I said, ‘Let’s draw lots.’ There were 45 of us using one toilet. I slept on a bunk bed made of wood with a straw mattress and we were in the same compartment with the Chinese and they had fish in their bowls, and tied chickens to the pipes. I went for the art but I saw China in the Middle Ages.”

Gilbert also described her visit to Russia as a hardship trip, and said her sabbatical trip around Italy with her mother and 14-year-old son may have had the deepest effect on her art. It also helped that her mother spoke fluent Italian.

And how did her seeing the pyramids in Egypt influence her art? “I was on a camel and the guide asked for a tip and I said, ‘I can’t reach it just now.’ Well, he didn’t like that. He gave the camel a swat and I took off like Laurence of Arabia. I saw the pyramids on the run.”

[Return to Home Page]