Posted on March 27, 2020 at 12:30 PM by Quinn Vandenberg
Artist Ellen Wagener
One of University Museums’ newest donations to the collection is a pastel that depicts a vast sky over a flat, green field. The clouds swoop over the landscape, turning shades of violet, as the land transitions from night to day. At Dusk by Ellen Wagener and donated to University Museums this past fall. Ellen Wagener is an expert in creating immense landscapes confined to the limits of a frame using pastels. Her most recent donation was given to Iowa State University Museums in memory of her correspondent and friend Lori Jacobson.
“Wagener is an excellent artist and craftsman,” said Lynette Pohlman, director and chief curator at University Museums. “She understands the intricacies of her craft and she can manipulate her media masterfully. [...] She has a wonderful sense of movement and swirl.”
Pohlman recalled how Wagener and Jacobson became familiar with each other. Several years ago, Wagener had an exhibition at the Brunnier Art Museum featuring a series of her depictions of the Midwestern landscape and at the same time Lori Jacobson was in Ames working on the Museums’ Campus Beautiful publication. “[Lori Jacobson] saw that exhibition, and she fell in love with one of Ellen’s paintings,” said Pohlman. “Lori purchased one for her own collection.” This purchase led to an ongoing relationship between Wagener and Jacobson.
“They both loved art. They both loved museums and supported the Brunnier,” said Pohlman. “The tragedy is they never actually met [in person] before Lori passed away.” Upon hearing of Lori Jacobson’s passing, Wagener donated her work of art to University Museums for the permanent collection, in honor and memory of her friend. “Ellen is a generous soul and she supports many Museums in Iowa,” said Pohlman.
Wagener originally hails from Eastern Iowa and first met Pohlman when she was 16 years old and had one of her first drawings exhibited at Iowa State as part of 4H. Wagener attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. Upon completion of her studies, she moved back to Iowa and settled in DeWitt to open a studio. It was during this time she reconnected with Pohlman and her ties with University Museums developed, continuing even after her move to Arizona. Although based in Arizona, Wagener continues to create art depicting the cultivated Iowa landscapes and skyscapes.
The newest acquisition adds to University Museums’ collection of Wagener’s art including her depictions of the Mississippi in the “Mark Twain, Cry Me a River” series and multiple drawings of violent, Midwestern weather from cyclones to blizzards. “This one was especially touching because she gave it in honor of Lori,” said Pohlman. The donation of Wagener’s At Dusk honors and represents the tremendous positive impacts Lori Jacobson continues to have at Iowa State. Wagener said the pastel’s title and depiction symbolize how at the end one’s workday and the end of one’s life, the individual’s life work does not end. “You, your energy, and your good work in this life continues on,” said Wagener. This is especially true for Jacobson’s life’s work and passions.
Jason Kogan, Jacobson’s husband, said after only a short time as a student at Iowa State in the 1970s, Jacobson discovered she wanted to spend her life as a museum professional and was guided by the mentorship of Lynette Pohlman. From her time as a student worker at the Brunnier Art Museum to the publication of Campus Beautiful, Jacobson’s impact has left a lasting positive impact on University Museums. Jacobson’s estate established the Lynette Pohlman Student Mentoring Scholarship, a paid fellowship for an Iowa State student who seeks to work with University Museums and pursue a career in museum work.
“Lori established this opportunity for a young curator to have an experience at Iowa State University through her good work and her estate,” said Wagener. “I just find it so beautiful that Lori chose to do this with some of the final wishes of her life.” Kogan also appreciated this donation, “Lori was drawn to Ellen Wagener’s paintings because of their vivid portrayals of Iowa’s natural phenomena,” said Kogan. “At Dusk is a perfect painting to honor Lori.”
For Pohlman it is an equally important gift, as she says “From a curatorial point-of-view, I think it does represent Ellen’s body of work depicting Iowa,” said Pohlman. “It’s the drawing’s sense of the atmosphere of what you see. It’s the emergence of the landscape and the skyscape, and it’s the bounty you see in both.” Pohlman also said the vista in Wagener’s drawing also made her think of Jacobson. “Lori was an L.A. girl, but she had truly deep roots in Iowa,” said Pohlman. “And she loved the landscapes of Iowa, so that pastel drawing, it epitomizes Ellen, but it epitomizes the soul of Lori, too.”
IMAGE: At Dusk, 2019 by Ellen Wagener. Gift of the artist, in memory of Lori Jacobson. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2019.231