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Published: Saturday, 7/11/2009

First exhibit of artist, 94, another reason to smile

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Playing piano and organ music long has been fundamental to 94-year-old Ellen Wallace, who studied music at St. Louis University after being part of DeVilbiss High School's first graduating class.

But when hearing problems started to make the music not sound right to the Lake Township great-grandmother, she focused her energies on another creative outlet: painting.

Mrs. Wallace always had admired painters and began to paint when she was in her 40s. These days, Mrs. Wallace uses oils and watercolors whenever inspiration strikes, pulling scenes from her mind, photographs, cards, and other examples.

"I just thank God for that because it gives me so much pleasure to paint, and I can see what I've done," said Mrs. Wallace, who most enjoys depicting trees and scenery.

Still, Mrs. Wallace was surprised when caregivers organized her first art exhibit, "A Life Legacy of Paintings," held last week at the Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green. She can do a painting in a half hour, which adds to her doubts in her talent, she said.

"I can't believe something done that fast can be that good," Mrs. Wallace said.

Yet Barb Farley, office manager of Senior Helpers in Waterville, said she saw Mrs. Wallace's paintings while visiting her and her second husband, Rufus Wallace. The exhibit, held in conjunction with the Wood County Committee on Aging, was organized to encourage others to continue to pursue their interests, she said.

"You just don't stop living," Ms. Farley said.

Mrs. Wallace said she has given her best works to her children, including sailboat and mountain scenes owned by son Chuck Sautter of Minneapolis. The only one of her five children with her late first husband who paints, Mr. Sautter favors Chinese brush watercolors on rice paper, she said.

While raising the children in Holland, Mrs. Wallace owned a flower shop and opened a kindergarten. Starting piano lessons at 8, she played piano and organ for area churches as well as on the local Christian radio station WPOS-FM.

Although she is particularly sad she no longer plays the organ, Mrs. Wallace enjoys painting when the mood strikes, and she has the first work she created after her children bought her supplies one Christmas. She paints not only on canvas but on glass bottles and birdhouses made by Mr. Wallace, and she plans to do greeting cards next.

"That's all I ever thought I could do was play the piano - I didn't think I could do anything else It's turned into something that I never dreamed of. If I sell one, I'm going to faint," she said.



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