Along one wall of the Sanger branch library and tucked into a small alcove, almost shyly, are about 20 paintings and sketches by the late Eileen Wilkowski, a Toledoan who took up painting in midlife and never considered her work worthy of exhibition.
There are charming barns, a mill along a snowy stream, and small boats in harbor. There's a field of wildflowers, a farmer's market, and a European village scene. A few simple pencil sketches, scissored at odd angles, are pinned to a bulletin board.
Mostly watercolors, the skill level varies from rudimentary to showing a command of color and form.
"The way I perceive it, my mom was sort of taking the back seat, but as a woman you have to pursue a passion too," said Kathy Simko. "I guess we're doing it to say that what my mom did was important too. We thought she was really good."
Wilkowski painted until she died in 1994 at the age of 67. She had trained as a teacher at Bowling Green State University, where she met her husband, Arthur Wilkowski, also a teacher, who went on to become an attorney, magistrate, and a state representative for nearly 16 years.
"My father was the dominant personality in that relationship," said Keith Wilkowski, who has decorated his office with his mother's work. "She was someone who played this very traditional role."
She painted sunflowers on the door of the linen closet and a matching chest at the family's home in a Polish neighborhood in North Toledo. She knitted, crocheted, and needlepointed Christmas stockings and ornaments. She made and dressed elaborate dolls and learned tole.
In a large attached garage with kilns on the ground floor and an upstairs studio lined with windows, she taught ceramics and painting to a group of women. She studied art at the museum and with skilled Toledo artists.
"On some of her ceramic things, such as a cookie jar, she'd paint a beautiful scene," said Simko.
An attorney, Keith Wilkowski has done some legal work for the Toledo Museum of Art and has gained an appreciation of how and why exhibitions are organized.
"Art and art work is more than a pretty picture. It helps tell a story about us, about our time, about the people who are involved in painting it," he said.
Moreover, there was a time when amateurs roamed the earth, when educated people drew for pleasure or to preserve a cherished sight or memory, just as people played musical instruments or sang if they wanted to hear music.
In a July essay, the chief art critic at the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, wrote about the lost virtue of amateurism, which he defines by its original meaning - doing something for the love of it, be it art, music, or sports. "A vast majority of society seems to presume that culture is something specialists produce," he wrote; but being an observer is not nearly as enriching as being a participant, regardless of skill.
A few months ago, Eileen Wilkowski's children and their spouses gathered all her paintings and talked about which pieces to show.
"It's too bad my mom isn't here to do this. Maybe you shouldn't wait," said Keith Wilkowski. "But it's been an enriching familial process."
The art of Eileen Wilkowski is at the Sanger branch library, 3030 West Central Ave., through November. Following a short presentation of her paintings at 7 tonight, the family will host a reception at Calvino's Wine Bar, 3143 West Central Ave., in the Cricket West Shopping Center.
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