Some of the first dates of nationally known 20th-century American artist Tom Dietrich and his wife Margaret, an artist in her own right, were trips to sketch scenes.
The late married couple, who spent their lives raising a family and creating art in the Fox Cities, became fixtures of the arts community. Tom, an artist-in-residence at Lawrence University in downtown Appleton for 30 years, supported the family by teaching and selling his paintings and other art work. Margaret, a stay-at-home mom, returned to painting later in life.
Tom died first, in 1998. Margaret followed two years later, in 2000.
“The short story of both my parents is that they both were drawing and painting as kids and never stopped,” said their son John Dietrich, 66, who with his wife operates Ellison Bay Pottery in Door County. “They just found something they liked to do and never stopped. Not too many people do that, but they did. They learned on their own and they learned with instructors, but they learned to follow their own instincts. My dad had a very active paintbrush. My mother, she had a more serene palate. They had different interpretations of what their feelings were.”
A selection of artwork by Tom and Margaret is on display at Coventry Glassworks & Gallery, 514 W. College Ave., downtown Appleton. “Together Again: Tom & Margaret Dietrich” runs through July 12.
Gallery owner Linda Muldoon, a friend of the couple’s, first met Tom when they worked together on stained glass windows for a local church. Tom designed them and Linda built them.
“Since it has been 12 years since Tom died and 10 since Margaret died, I felt the need, since I knew them as friends, to let another generation know who they were and that they were from here,” said Muldoon, who assembled the exhibit from gallery storage and a community member’s collection. “In a sense it was to create a marriage again. To put them back together again after their long life together felt like the natural thing to do.”
John Dietrich said his mother, who studied at Lawrence, met his father in Appleton at a painting club
. They developed a mutual respect for each other’s work, he said.
“I never heard them discuss each other’s work,” he said. “It’s not that they didn’t like each other’s work. It was sort of a trust thing, you do your work, I’ll do mine, you trust in your own judgment in what is good and what isn’t.”
Tom earned a reputation as somewhat of a Wisconsin historian because of his paintings of landscapes, bridges, factories and people.
Margaret also loved landscapes, yet her style
was her own. On trips to Europe, she and Tom often sat and sketched or painted similar scenes. Viewers of the Coventry exhibit can see some of those works side by side and note the differences.
“She was softer, almost like seeing things at dusk or sunrise, where the light sort of makes things glow,” Muldoon said. “Tom was more noontime, the middle of the day. You could almost see the branches of the trees
moving and pointing upward or twisting. And Margaret’s would have been much calmer, even if it’s the same scene in the same town, same time of year, if they’re (working) at the exact same time.”
Margaret played with light, shadow and softer lines, Muldoon said, while Tom infused his work with almost electric
“It’s almost as if they were both painting a similar subject and one said to the other, did you think about it this way, and the other said, no but did you think about it this way,” said Timothy Riley, Appleton Art Center’s executive director. “I like to imagine that dialogue.”
At Coventry, don’t miss the binder of original Dietrich family Christmas cards
, which Tom created using a serigraph printing technique. There are Fox Cities winter scenes, and overseas images including the onion-domed cathedrals of Russia. One of my favorites is a map of the couple’s journeys with names of the countries they visited creating the card’s border.
Kara Patterson’s Words of Art column focuses on Fox Valley arts each Sunday. She’s reachable at 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nice article on an Exhibit of Tom and Margaret Dietrich’s paintings in Appleton, WI. To see more of their work contact us here at Ellison Bay Pottery.