Ellen Glasgow can thank her high school principal for her successful career. Well, that and her extraordinary talent, of course. The talent is obvious, but just what did her principal have to do with her success?
When she was in high school and contemplating a college choice, she asked him to write a letter of recommendation to Murray State. You would think he would be delighted, right? Wrong.
“He told me no,” says Glasgow with a chuckle. “Said I wasn’t smart enough.”
Luckily, she didn’t listen and enrolled at Murray State where she studied art for two years before meeting her future husband Jim and abandoning her studies to become a military wife when Jim joined the Coast Guard.
She may have (temporarily) abandoned her studies, but she never abandoned her desire to be an artist, which the Tennessee-born, Kentucky-bred Glasgow says has “always been my dream.”
The fulfillment of that dream can be seen in the canvases hanging on the walls of her Frankfort gallery, the Capital Gallery of Contemporary Art.
The canvases – painted in bold streaks and slashes of vivid colors – depict landscapes as varied as a Hawaiian Sunset, a Hatteras Storm and the Hubbard Glacier. Whether a symphony in shades of blue, an icy scene in silver/white or a mosaic of colors melding into a brilliant tapestry, Glasgow’s work evokes the powerful forces of nature.
“My work has been described with adjectives such as ‘luminist,’ ‘minimalist,’ ‘impressionist,’ ‘fauvist’ and ‘colorist,” she says.
However, if Glasgow had to describe her own work, she would probably use the word ‘naturalist.’
It is nature that always intrigued her, whether it be the marsh meeting the sky on North Carolina’s Outer Banks or the play of shadows and light on a canvas entitled ‘Approaching Rain.’
The time she and her husband lived on a boat on the Kentucky River also inspired her, much like it did her fellow Kentucky artist Paul Sawyier.
She developed a zen-like fascination with the reflections in the water during every season of the year, which can be seen in some of her best work.
One look at canvases such as ‘Glenn’s Creek’ or ‘Kentucky River Silver’ shows the depth of this fascination.
Now in her 80s, the tall, silver-haired, elegant Glasgow spends her time in the gallery she has owned and directed since 1983. When she isn’t welcoming visitors, she still carves out some time during each day to paint in her studio located at the rear of the gallery.
She may be taking it a bit easier these days, but that was certainly not the case during most of her life.
Smiling, she recalls how she and Jim lived in a Quonset hut on the Alaskan island of Annette with a two-year-old and a six-month-old where there was no onsite doctor and groceries had to be ferried in by boat.
Jim’s next post proved to be a mirror opposite to the Alaska adventure.
“We lived on the beach in Hawaii and the kids wore Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops to school,” she says. “It was paradise.”
While raising two children, she still found time to commune with her muse, finding inspiration for her art in both places.
“In those days, I painted mostly for myself, but I did manage to sell a few of my paintings,” she says.
As her confidence grew, so did her desire to become more active on the national arts scene. She became one of the first artists-in-residence at the famous Torpedo Factory Art Center on the Potomac waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia. Now nationally famous, it serves as an incubator for artists working in a variety of media from painting and sculpture to photography and ceramics.
Glasgow also gained a loyal following through her one-woman exhibitions across the country, including galleries and museums in St. Louis, San Diego, Bethesda, Maryland and Rochester, Minnesota.
But she is most revered in the state she has called home since she was two years old.
Among the Kentucky locations that have showcased Glasgow’s works are the Speed Museum in Louisville, the Headley-Whitney Museum in Lexington, the Museum of Fine Art in Owensboro, and the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea.
Additionally, she has been commissioned to provide paintings for the Brown-Forman Collection in Louisville; Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles; Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, and the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort.
Like many artists, Glasgow was inspired by the works of European masters, during both painting workshops she attended in Italy, Greece and France, and later, tours she led to those countries.
Still, she never tired of painting what was in her own backyard, whether that backyard was on the island of Oahu or the Bluegrass landscape surrounding Frankfort.
When she was honored with an exhibit at Murray State University in 1985, no one would have faulted her for wishing that her high school principal could have been there. He would have seen the girl he hadn’t thought clever enough for college had become a Kentucky treasure.