Louise Gilbert: RIP

On May 6th, 2005, I wrote about artist Louise Gilbert, whose active career as a painter and printmaker had spanned many decades. At the time of my original article Ms. Gilbert was involved in Art and Courage, a retrospective of her work exhibited at City College of San Francisco, California. Fellow artist and friend of Ms. Gilbert, Jan Cook, wrote to inform me that Gilbert passed away on September 21st, 2005 - only a few days after her retrospective had closed. Her timing was impeccable, every true artist aspires to shuffle off this mortal coil with such grace and finesse. Fifty years ago Gilbert was a founding member of The Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco, who are now planning a memorial exhibit and ceremony for the late artist. While the dates and details for that exhibit are still pending, Ms. Cook sent me the following eulogy she wrote to honor Gilbert - “one of the last progressive artists of the generation whose political consciousness was formed by the political events of the 1930’s.”

Goodbye to Louise Gilbert, September 21, 2005.

Louise Gilbert, artist and activist, faded out of life on Wednesday, Sept 21 at 5:30 pm. She had been in the care of Onlok Senior Health in San Francisco for the last few years, where she spent many productive hours making art and talking with visitors about the same issues of peace, human rights, and art that had been her focus throughout her long life. Until the last two weeks of her life, Louise continued to make art on her computer, and even in the last week, was still planning a book of her drawings. Louise died without pain, retaining her dignity and privacy, as she wanted. Louise Gilbert and her sister Jane originally came to San Francisco from Portland as young women just before World War II. They had become radicalized during the labor struggles of the 1930’s and wished to spare their family the repercussions of their involvement with the Communist Party. Louise immediately became involved in the California Labor School and her sister began writing for the People’s World newspaper. Louise met the artist Refregier at the Labor School, and when he received a commission at the Rincon Annex Post Office, she assisted him on the mural.

The Fisherman - Print by Louise Gilbert
“The Fisherman” Woodblock print by Louise Gilbert

During WWII Louise took the unpopular stand of supporting pacifism, and after the war was fired from her drafting job for her union organizing activities and for refusal to sign the loyalty oath. Peace and human rights became the causes that inspired the rest of her life. She used her talents to create art for the causes she supported, including the anti-nuclear movement, anti-Vietnam War struggles, progressive labor, gay and lesbian rights, farm workers, and many more causes. As a worker and as an artist, she lived in the collective spirit that was the ideal of the Labor School and of the Graphic Studio Workshop, where she was a founding member. Although her income was always modest, her mailbox was always full of requests from organizations that knew she would donate her art and money to worthy causes.

In 1998 at the age of 85 she was still marching miles demonstrating with her original signs, protesting U.S. policies in the Middle East. Louse’s life was always full of projects; her life was a model of flexibility in aging. In her final year 2005, her art was exhibited in a retrospective at San Francisco City College. Louise was able to enjoy the opening and expressed her gratitude to all who attended. Louise Gilbert made the decisions that mattered; she lived a principled life and died under circumstances of her choice, with a sense of humor even in her last days. She asked for little from others in her long life, but she gave much to all who knew her. Louise Gilbert April 12, 1913 - Sept 21, 2005.”

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