Gertrude Abercrombie

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Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 - 1977)

Gertrude Abercrombie, a Chicago painter also deeply involved in jazz music, has worked with highly personal surreal images. She was a prominent surrealist in the 1930s through the 1950s in Chicago. She argued that technique was not as important as ideas and developed a style emulating naive artists.

The tone of her paintings is foreboding and references the real and the imaginary with many of them intended as self portraits. For many years she was associated with a group of artists who focused on depictions of their fantasies.

Her family, members of the Christian Science Church, was wealthy, lived on the North Shore of Lake Michigan, and was highly respectable---something she rebelled against. She first married a successful lawyer and then divorced him and married a jazz musician, Frank Sandiford, at a ceremony where Dizzy Gillespie provided the music.

For many years, Saturday night sessions at her home in Hyde Park attracted entertainers such as Gillespie, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn and writers including Thornton Wilder. She also spent much time communicating with the Wisconsin Surrealist artists led by Marshall Glasier, and was part of much visiting back and forth of these artists between Madison and Chicago.

She was primarily a self-taught artist but studied commercial art briefly at the University of Illinois. In the 1930s, she worked on the Federal Art Project.

Some of her paintings were included in the Madison Art Center exhibit "Surreal Wisconsin" in the summer of 2000.

Source: Charlotte Rubinstein, American Women Artists