Saturday, July 28, 2012

Art School

As promised, I would love to share some of my grandmother's art school work from the early 1940s.
While our family has more of her professional (actual ads), this is what resides on the walls of my apartment.

Two back stories: 

Story one: My grandma, Dorothy Steen (eventually Hedlund) attended art school in Minneapolis during the war, and afterwords returned to the West Coast. Being a serious badass woman and all, she worked her way up to the Art Director position at Cole & Webber advertising agency in downtown Seattle. She hustled it in the ad realm, and was living in the historic Biltmore Apartments, 2 blocks from my current apartment.
 She met my grandfather (who is another war-related badass post), and was wed in July of 1949. She ended up "retiring" to raise children, insert old timey affairs here. I know my grandmother truly loves her husband, her kids, and her life.... but I have a hunch she still plays coulda, woulda, shoulda in her mind, and misses working to this day (she is now 88). I think there is a reason I only own her clothes from the '40s. After that, she didn't care to keep them - what she kept, she paid for with her own well earned money. 
Get it, girl.

Story two: When I was about ten, my mom & I unearthed a mystery plastic garbage bag in the basement of my grandparent's house in Tacoma, WA. God only knows how long it was down in the deep, dark depths. Inside, we found a large amount of sketches & assignments from her art school days. Unfortunately, most of this was originally painted in gouache. Gouache is a lush, deeply beautiful format, but also contains natural fibers, which means it can mold over time. So gouache + musty basement for years + garbage bag encasing moisture = you do the math. At 18, my grandma officially told me I could have said moldy works. I spent hours... and hours.... and HOURS (days and days and days... and days?) meticulously trying to restore this stuff. I battled it with two tools: a toothbrush, and a straight razor when necessary. I scrubbed a lot of the surface mold off with the toothbrush, and then painstakingly scraped off a thin layer of the gouache when necessary, exposing the original pigment. None of it is perfect, but it's 100% better than it was!

But worth it.

She was over at my apartment recently, and was excited this was all up, and got to reinspect it for the first time in *yeaaaars*. It was an absolute JOY to show her, it made all those hours of effort vanish.

So here are my favs, which don't even begin to document the number I actually have. 

Pretty pretty pretty please with cherries on top, never ever ever EVER repost this without crediting my blog and her name. This is beyond intellectual property, I will cut throats. 


 This one is so morbid and ambiguous, I asked her about it. Psychosis in September??? She has no idea..... 
I loooooove it.

Phenomenal, AMIRIGHT?

Here are a few more images I had the privilege of scanning from a sketchbook in my aunt's possession:

Self Portrait time!!!

Also, in this sketchbook, I also discovered Captain James Stewart's address.... that's right...  

 I asked my grandmother about this very exciting discovery, and she told me her cousin was in this bomb squadron with Jimmy Stewart. She asked for a mailing address but never wrote him. Uhhhh.... maybe it's a generation gap, but I would make attempts to encounter him far, far beyond a letter. (Cut to my mug shot.)
OMG!!!!!! Can you even imagine?! 


Anyhow, I feel like this Jimmy Stewart swoon-fest is distracting from the fact of the matter: 
My grandmother is amazing. So, soooooo amazing. 

Insert an impossible level of love and admiration in my heart here.

Interestingly enough, the art school she went to wasn't accredited til a few years later. BUT! In the past year, they have contacted all their living graduates from before that time, and honored them bachelor degrees. So as of recently, my grandmother *just* earned her college degree. She didn't feel comfortable traveling to Minneapolis at 88, but she is still quite excited... even braggy... about it.

Are you dying of adorable awesomeness right now? Because I know I am.

I hope more than anything in the world that she follows in her mother's footsteps and lives another 20 years. (Yes, my family is that resilient, hoping it's genetic....)


On another note, I was just interviewed by Seattle Met Magazine for their monthly "Blog Spot" article! Mega thanks to Laura Cassidy & Ray Onzuka for the opportunity! Check it out here!


  1. OH MY GOD!! This is just too amazing for words!! All of it! Her fantastic work plus the Jimmy Stewart bit! All fabulous and such a family treasure!

    Congrats on the interview too!!


  2. Oh boy, your nana is a really amazing person! Great storyes, I've really enjoyed them both! <3

    1. Thank you! Oh man, it is a pleasure getting messages from Croatia! I took a tiny travel detour there in... 2006? But I never made it inland to Zagreb:( I just traveled down the coast to Split, and then returned back home to Vienna (not home anymore!) I basically did nothing but lay on beaches, get way too sunburned, and make friends with stray cats. If I could do it again, it would be more productive, haha.

      Much love from across the world,

  3. What a talented lady! And Jimmy Stewart, swoon! xx

  4. I just happened to stumble upon your blog and you are LOVELY! So jealous that you have such a badass grandma. It's so unique that she prospered in fine arts and the advertising gig during that time. Woman power!

    1. I know right? I'm so blessed to have her in my life!

      Glad you found me!

      xo Sara

  5. Oh goodness these are simply amazing. What a wonderful thing to inherit from someone you hold so dear. I'm glad you had the time, skill and patience to restore them, and thank you for sharing these. They're a real treat to see!


    1. This made me smile, because you of all people knows how awesome gramas can be <3

  6. Wow--your grandma was amazing! She had such talent! I love everything you've posted here. How amazing that you were able to restore her work for her to see after so many years--I bet she was so happy! What a great lady to look up to.
    Good God, if I had Jimmy's address back in the day...I'd be joining you in that jail cell.

  7. I went to art school with your grandmother. we were good friends and I have some pictures taken when we went for a weekend to Sleepy Eye, Minn.with Jeannie Hauser.that she might be interested in seeing. I also have a portrait that she did of me. My name is Sylvia Berge formerly Livingston. I am now living in Colorado with one of my sons. the address is 2454 South Sedalia Circle, Aurora, CO 80013. my phone no. is 303-695-7719.

    1. !!! Oh that's fantastic! I'm so glad you found me! I'll call her tomorrow and give her your info, both of us would be absolutely thrilled to see them! You just made my night:D
      <3 sara

  8. Wow, that is fantastic, she was really good! What a great thing to share, thanks!

  9. This just blows my mind away! I'm in art school now and my school started in the 1920s. There are lots of art work up from past alumni, but none of them are women. Your grandma was very luck. My school is "old school" so we still do do some of her style of work. You start with the basics. That first life drawing gesture just takes my breath away! Those self portraits too. I'll go pass out now...