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 Nellie Marae Gebers  (1901 - 1995)

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Lived/Active: Iowa/California      Known for: rural scene painting and teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Nellie Castor Gebors:
Born and raised in the small community of Ira, Iowa, Nellie Castor's desire to paint appeared at an early age, and when refused lessons by a local artist, her parents purchased a small box of watercolors. Nellie then supplied her own canvas (cigar box lids) and brushes (cotton wound on toothpicks) to create her first scenes. Castor was the first child in her family to attend high school and frequently took a train the ten miles to class, allowing her to meet John Gebers, the Baxter, Iowa depot agent. Nellie finished her senior year and graduated with honors (May 1920), and in June of that year, married Gebers. The couple moved to Denver, Colorado, and she enrolled at the Denver Art Institute, studying under Robert Graham; after a brief stay, the pair returned to Iowa, purchased a farm in the Lincoln, Iowa area, and John resumed his work as a depot agent, stationed in Lincoln.

As a young mother, Gebers attended the Cummings School of Art in Des Moines and became a founding member of the Waterloo (Iowa) Art Association (1932). There, she met Lela Powers Briggs, and the two artists became close friends, choosing to attend the Stone City Art Colony together in 1933. Nellie's colony experience made a tremendous impact, fostering her long friendship with Grant Wood and his sister (Nan Wood Graham).

While at the colony, her painting titled Anamosa from Strawberry Hill won honorable mention in the Iowa State Fair's Iowa Art Salon (1933) and was later selected for a display at Iowa State University, her first entry to compete outside her home area of Tama County. During an outing with her colony landscape class, Grant Wood ushered the students to a nearby farm during its threshing time. Asked if she wanted to paint the scene in front of her, Gebers replied that she would "rather paint the men at dinner." Wood immediately saw the worth of the idea and asked if he could use it; Nellie insisted he should do so, and following several preliminary sketches, Dinner for Threshers (1934) was produced. Nellie and John Gebers visited Wood's studio as he finished the painting; the couple assisted him in crating the still-wet canvas for a New York City exhibition.

Fresh from her Stone City experience, Gebers enrolled in Wood's summer art classes at the University of Iowa (1934, 1935) and exhibited frequently at the Iowa Art Salon, Iowa State Fair (1934-1935). She was featured at the 1936 Biennial Show at the Corcoran Gallery (Washington, D.C.) and at the All-Iowa Exhibition in Chicago (1937). She received first place honors from the Carson, Pirie, Scott gallery (Chicago, 1937) and won "Best in Show" at the Iowa Art Salon in 1941. The noted painting Transportation (1933) toured nationally and benefited from Grant Wood's assistance in its preparation.

Gebers showed her paintings in county and state fairs; the artist had several collaborative exhibitions with Lela Powers Briggs and Jessie Parrott Loomis, a Waterloo, Iowa artist. Gebers, along with Briggs and Loomis, were among the first artists to be displayed at a new Cedar Falls, Iowa gallery, now known as the Hearst Center for the Arts. While actively showing her work, Gebers remained primarily an art teacher, offering classes in her Lincoln, Iowa studio (housed on the second floor of the railroad's depot), teaching art in the local public schools (1934-1942), teaching elementary art for the Waterloo Public Schools, as well as being an art instructor at the University of Northern Iowa. Nellie maintained a second studio in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she was also a teacher and active member of the Central Iowa Art Association.

Following her husband's retirement (1959), the couple relocated to Saratoga, California. Gebers remained an art teacher for the rest of her life, teaching, critiquing, and painting, even as she was in her nineties and classified as legally blind. She often focused upon barns and rural landscapes as subjects; the relocation from Iowa coincided with her movement from oil into encaustic. A prolific artist, Gebers produced some 3,000 paintings in her lifetime and was working on a collection of children's stories and its illustrations when she died in Mountain View, California in February 1995.

When Tillage Begins:The Stone City Art Colony and School, Published online October 2003 by the Busse Library, Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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