Community-Hosted Art Collection: RS1

The image above is the reverse side of a painting on illustration board by local high school art teacher Elston Elston. In turquoise pastel, black pen, black marker, blue pastel, green pen, and more blue pastel, the following is inscribed on the back panel:

     “Transparent Geometrics”

     Etherial Circles and Squares

     20’’ x 30’’

     Elston Elston

     Summer 1959

     The Verona Hotel

     5860 N. Kenmore


     JAN. 7. 1960

The painting on the other side of the panel does not appear to be representative of an individual style maintained by the artist at any length. Elston’s lifelong engagement with art focused on youth education, and her creative output adapted to this end. If you live on the north side of Chicago, you’ve probably seen projects she worked on – in the late 1980s Elston collaborated with a group of artists and local youth to create the bricolage mosaics that adorn the Lake Shore Drive underpasses at Bryn Mawr, Foster, and Belmont.

We first encountered this painting in a second hand shop, and did not know more about the work than the name of the artist, which was signed twice in overlapping block letters on the front – first in a harmonious and easily missed purple acrylic, and then in a larger, shakier rendering in green pen. This sparse information often mirrors one’s experience with art and designed objects – a glimpse of a work, an impression, and perhaps the name of who created what is being seen in that moment. If we’re lucky, we have a chance to spend more time with an individual artwork beyond isolated, singular experiences.

Elston Elston was born in Webster, Massachusetts in 1925 and moved with her family to Virginia just before the Great Depression. Elston earned a Bachelor degree from Yale, and a Master of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture from the University of Chicago. She taught art in Chicago Public Schools from the late 1940s well into the 1980s, beginning at Austin, Waller, Hyde Park, and Sullivan, before landing at Senn High School for the final 29 years of her career. Elston ran her own art academy for 15 years, and exhibited and sold artwork throughout her lifetime. She rode horses, motorcycles, piloted single and twin engine aircraft, sailed, was an active ballroom dancer, created costumes and jewelry, maintained correspondence with hundreds of former students, and had a poodle named Lola.

Elston passed away in 2016. A year later, knowing nothing of this painting’s origins, we bought the work after visiting it several times and deciding we wanted to keep looking. Art has a new life in domestic settings. After living with this work for a year, we are happy to donate Transparent Geometrics as one of the first entries in the Roman Susan Community-Hosted Art project. For more insight into Elston's creative background in her own words, visit this transcript and video created by the Edgewater Historical Society.

     –Kristin & Nathan Abhalter Smith