Nellie Lott Hoffman (1868 – 1944))
Eleanora Lott (Nellie) was born in Sycamore, Illinois, a small town about 30 miles west of Chicago, on the fourth of July, and was raised on her parents’ farm. She met her future husband at a dance in Sycamore where Chicagoan George Delos Hoffman was playing the flute with a visiting band. He saw Miss Lott across a crowded floor and was instantly smitten by her charm. They were married on September 20th, 1887, in a wedding described by the DeKalb Chronicle as “A Brilliant Event” with “the church in gala attire…the altar…one mass of blooming plants…and the bride dressed in shimmering white satin and veil of white tulle, carrying a bouquet of Night Blooming Sereus tied with white satin ribbons.” The mother of the groom attended the wedding, but she did not approve of the match and disinherited him.
George and Nellie started married life in Chicago where their first son, James Delos, was born in 1888 and their second son, Paul Gray, arrived in 1891. In 1892 the family moved to Western Springs, where Margery was born in 1893, Hallock in 1896, and Virginia in 1898. Their house was the largest in town, with its own ballroom.
George worked for the Norwall Valve Company, in which he owned a minority interest. It was bought by American Radiator Company in 1907, and the company moved George and his family to New York. They lived there until 1911, when ARC demoted George to district branch manager in Southern California a half his previous salary. The family resettled in Pasadena, but George quit ARC to start his own business, Hoffman Specialty Manufacturing Corporation. George had invented a new kind of radiator valve that greatly improved central heating and made multi-story buildings more practical. George traveled widely, successfully selling the valve, and the family prospered.
The Hoffmans moved to a large property on El Mirador Drive in Pasadena in 1911, settling into an old ranch house. The ranch became a beehive of activity; Nellie managed her large household and was remembered as a warm and hospitable hostess. George set up a workshop and continued to work on various inventions. Also interested in agriculture, he was a founding member of the Calavo Association and planted avocado orchards in Pasadena and Leucadia. He worked on a process for preserving milk without refrigeration and started a dairy in order to experiment with it. He also formed the basis of the very successful Thermidor Corporation when, together with William Cranston, he invented a new kind of electric heater.
In 1922 the Hoffmans built a larger, grander house, also in Pasadena, overlooking the Arroyo Seco. The spectacular views of mountains and valley may have been the inspiration for Nellie to again take up painting, an activity she had enjoyed as a young woman. Her son Paul noted in an interview many years later that that she had been an amateur artist but stopped painting after her marriage. She now began studying with the well-known Pasadena painters Marion Wachtel and Orrin White. She particularly enjoyed painting the view from her front lawn and her work of the 30’s and 40’s conveys the natural beauty of the Southern California landscape at that time.
A biographer of Paul wrote this description of Nellie: “ … Eleanor Lott Hoffman, a lighthearted woman with a good sense of humor, provided her children with maternal warmth, fun, and a cultured environment. A native of a small Illinois town, she had graduated from a private high school for girls, where she studied painting. She also shared with her husband a love of music, sometimes accompanying him on the piano when he played the flute. Although the family roles were fairly conventional, Mrs. Hoffman was not the silent and subservient wife; with a mind of her own and contrary to her husband’s practices, she was a devout Christian Scientist and a non-voting supporter of the Democrats. (Raucher, Alan R., Paul
G. Hoffman, Architect of Foreign Aid. Lexington, KY: The University Press
of Kentucky, 1985, 3.
In the years after her husband’s death in 1932, Nellie maintained an active social life, and artistically these were her most productive years. She died in 1944, and her heirs still treasure her works.
Written by a member of the artist’s family, submitted by John Moran Auctioneers, Inc.