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Out of the Past

Milwaukee as it was

May. 25, 2009
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America needed women to fill the places left by men called into the service in World War II. While stories of Rosie the Riveter are well known, other women gained entry into more creative fields during the war. In those years Janet W. Kimberling, a girl from New Rochelle, N.Y., found employment as an architectural drafter in New York City. After the war, she continued working in commercial design, all the while planning to pursue her calling of painting in watercolor.

Kimberling lived in Milwaukee in the 1950s and her scenes of the city from those days form the core of an exhibition, "Places Remembered," at Landmarks Gallery, 231 N. 76th St. "Places Remembered" also includes early-20th-century pastel landscapes by W.H. Chandler, A.F. Glatthaar and Andrew Gunderson. Kimberling will be on hand for the opening reception, May 30-31. The exhibition runs through June 30.

Many of Kimberling's paintings involve studies in shadow and reflections of objects on water. "Lighting effects fascinate me," Kimberling readily admits. In For Repairs,Jones Island depicts the terracotta-colored hulls of the lake-faring steamships at anchor in the inner harbor. The Downtown Milwaukee skyline is a construction of shadows in the background and the individual buildings on Jones Island are a set of painted cubes and cylinders, their rough reality transformed into a simplified modern geometry of shapes.

"I endeavor to depict things not as they are, but as they could be. My purpose is to awaken people to the beauty around them," she says.

In Morning Fog (Milwaukee Street Bridge), one of the city's drawbridges emerges from the dawn mist. The shadow of a single car passes over the span, the shadow of an outboard motorboat with a pair of fishermen drifts below on the river surface and wheeling overhead are the specters of sea gulls. Northwestern Station shows the fallen local landmark in its final years, a train station near the lakefront topped by a tall-spire clock tower. The streets nearby, with a slightly seedy hotel and a seafood restaurant boasting of cocktails on its sign, have an oddly empty appearance. Kimberling paints from "memory and imagination rather than photographs," making detailed drawings in plein-air and working her ideas into paintings in the studio.

Kimberling has lived in Santa Fe, N.M., for many years, where she has enjoyed a successful career in art. "My paintings may be classified as Romantic Realism," she says. "I believe an artist should have something to say, and the emotion expressed by the artist should be readily felt by the viewer."


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