Gwen Meyer Ethelbah
Ethelbah wasn’t supposed to be an artist. Even though her mother was a highly trained artist herself, painting in Monterey with Armin Hansen and the Monterey painters of the time, Ethelbah’s family decided that she would become the scientist of the family, and indeed, she worked her way through UC Berkeley in a science lab. It really upended the family dynamic when Ethelbah became an artist instead. Being the major breadwinner ate into her forward motion during the succeeding years, but she never stopped painting. She explored incredible American impressionist art up close by working at a Beverly Hills gallery. It was a wonderful experience, because particularly with the West Coast artists, she could stand in their footsteps, see what they saw, and what choices they made in the same scene.
Ethelbah became involved in several arts organizations, particularly Women Artists of the West (WAOW), where she became first treasurer, and eventually President. She chaired several shows and instituted the first online blind jurying for WAOW, not a popular move at the time. When she took an early retirement from her workaday career in economic development, Ethelbah and her husband moved to the Pinetop area in Arizona. They had been vacationing at Hawley Lake on the nearby Apache reservation for twenty years, fishing and painting, depending, as she said, “on the weather and the appetites of the fish.” Ethelbah opened a gallery in Pinetop as a means of finding a place to paint and retail. Joyous Lake Gallery in Pinetop held shows, both local and national, and created “Paint the Aspens,” a plein air show celebrating the incredible fall color of the area. She loved the gallery business, but when the recession in 2008 coincided with a surprising call to ministry, Ethelbah closed the gallery and went east to seminary. When she returned to painting after the five-year hiatus, she found she had gained a new depth of vision and understanding of landscape, of nature as an expression of the vastness of God. It’s hard to underestimate the impact of the impressionists on both coasts to her painting. Ethelbah studied as many as she could. Her mother’s studies with Armin Hansen and the art communities of Monterey and Carmel were also a major influence. Probably the single biggest one, however, was Maynard Dixon. She loved his authentic depiction of the more barren places in the Southwest. Modern teacher/artists who were also influential: Mary Bentz Gilkerson, Kevin MacPherson, Emil Gruppe, John Carlson, and Stephen Quiller – a broad range. Mostly, however, her style was formed by hours at the easel, the “miles of canvas” that are so
Landscape still drives her artistic vision. She wants the viewer to feel the presence of the land. In fact, that is what collectors have said about Ethelbah’s work; that it has a strong sense of place. You can usually tell where she painted if you have been there yourself. In December of 2020, Ethelbah moved with her childhood sweetheart to the mountains of New Mexico. “Impressionistic realism” or “contemporary representational” continue to be descriptors of her work, and a daily painting habit makes it happen.