An exhibit of artist Electra Stamelos’ work opened at the Ford Gallery at Eastern Michigan University on Monday, showcasing 20 of her watercolor paintings.
Stamelos received her master’s in Fine Arts from EMU in 1976 after getting her bachelor’s in Fine Arts at Wayne State University and attending several other art schools.
During her life, she worked with watercolor, pastels and acrylics, mostly focusing on landscape and still-life images. She died in 2007.
In a statement on her Web site, Electra Stamelos said: “People often say my work looks photographic, and I accept that as a compliment to the handling of a technique and it shows. I have convinced the viewer that there is a scene that exists somewhere just as I’ve painted it. Actually, that is seldom the case because I take elements from various photos and arrange them in my own composition.”
Bill Stamelos, Electra’s husband, said she would take pictures of things that interested her at home or when they traveled then paint from the pictures.
“I could go through all these paintings, and they all have a story behind them,” he said.
“It was very important to me to keep the total collection together. It’s not necessarily for the gallery. I think somewhere we ought to honor Michigan artists.”
Much of Stamelos’ art consists of scenes from Michigan.
“She did a whole series of cabbages,” Bill Stamelos said.
“They were from our garden in Livonia. She was known as the ‘Cabbage Queen.’ Her cousin called her that.”
Some of the cabbage paintings are in the Ford Gallery display.
Joe Marks, her friend starting at Wayne State University and now the curator of collections and exhibitions at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said Stamelos was very enthusiastic about her art and about teaching.
“She was all fired up,” Marks said. “She was talking about art all the time, right to the very end.”
Marks, who had a painting in the Ford Gallery before, said she always thought highly of EMU.
“She got her master’s here, and she loved going to school here,” he said.
The pieces at the exhibit are on loan from Marks’ gallery at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Rocco Pisto, a long-time friend of Stamelos and artist now working in Ohio, met her at EMU, where he graduated in 1974.
“She was one of the people to kind of guide me and mentor me,” Pisto said.
Stamelos’ work and influences were not restricted to Michigan, or even the U.S.
“We traveled all over the world,” Bill Stamelos said.
“Wherever we’d go she would find things [to paint.] There were very few places we didn’t travel.”
Her husband said their favorite place to travel was New Zealand, and they bought a house there.
“We could buy a piece of real estate impromptu — just like that,” he said. “We had a great life together.”
And Bill Stamelos said that spontaneous attitude was also how his wife worked with her art, as she often yelled to him to get a camera and take a picture of something random so she could paint it in the future.
Some EMU art students were also in the crowd at the reception for the gallery.
“I’m studying graphic design, but I’m better at drawing and recently started doing oil painting,” senior James Zolynsky said. “I never dabbled in watercolor so far. It’s interesting to see what you can do with the medium. A week or two ago, I picked up a water color set, but the big issue is what kind of paper to use.”
Zolynsky said seeing Stamelos’ work gave him a better idea of what paper to use and what to do when he tries watercolor.
“I like the fact the space is compact with so much information,” said visual arts and education senior Mary Merwin.
“It takes me a while to take in all the detail. It’s breathtaking and very beautiful.”
The Electra Stamelos gallery is also the first exhibition for EMU’s new Art Department Gallery Director Greg Tom.
“While I’m new to the role, I think the Stamelos show is a wonderful start for me,” Tom said.
“Ford Gallery is honored to be hosting her show. Working with U of M-Dearborn and the Stameloses has been nothing but a pleasure.”
Tom was born and raised in Los Angeles.
He attended Vassar (N.Y.) College and, after moving to Michigan in 2002, the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
“I’m very excited in my new position, and I’m looking forward to many more exciting and challenging shows,” Tom said.
The Stamelos Gallery will be on display in Ford until Feb. 26.
A virtual gallery is available online at electrastamelos.com