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U-M exhibition celebrates 50 years of art by Ann Arbor's Ellen Wilt

Ellen Wilt, "Bridge with Toll Booth" from the "Bridges series," 1995; Water Media, 21” x 51”. Image courtesy Barbara Bach.

The University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design will present a retrospective exhibition that pays homage to and celebrates 50 years of Ellen Wilt’s expansive art practice.

“Materials On Hand: The Art of Ellen Wilt” will be on view view May 31-Sept. 9 at the Stamps Gallery (201 S. Division St.) in downtown Ann Arbor. 

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Wilt has lived and worked in Ann Arbor since 1949 and completed two degrees (BFA ’69 and MA ’70) at U-M. An important figure in Ann Arbor’s art community, she has consistently worked to foster a vibrant arts community as an artist and educator in the academy and beyond.

Wilt was an art professor for 17 years (1969-85) at Eastern Michigan University, and during this time she organized and facilitated numerous community-engaged projects that empowered first-time and emerging artists to show their work. It was not until she retired and was well into her 70s that she turned her focus to her own art practice. Her work was duly recognized with numerous awards from the Michigan Water Color Society, Washtenaw Council for the Art and the Holland Friends of Art between 1984 and 1993.

For the first time in the last three decades, “Materials On Hand: The Art of Ellen Wilt” brings together over 40 carefully selected works from personal and private collections that highlight Wilt’s artistic contributions in Southeastern Michigan.

“Her intuitive and playful bricolage way of working reveals the scope of her achievement and her specific interest in the Michigan region and its landscape,” said Srimoyee Mitra, curator and director of the Stamps Gallery. “She has developed multiple bodies of work that feature domestic objects, from teapots to chairs, while also reckoning with iconic architectural tropes of bridges and tunnels which are ongoing motifs in her work.”

Wilt continually experiments and explores new ways of working in a variety of two dimensional mediums including, oil, acrylic and watercolor. Since the 1970s, she has incorporated collage into her practice using whatever materials she has available to her. These range from butcher paper and aluminum foil to tissue, balsa wood, toothpicks and other found objects. She creates mixed media paintings, cut outs, rubbings and installations that reimagine the agency of mundane objects and invite viewers to look again.

The Stamps Gallery is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays; 11 a.m.-7 p.m Thursdays and Fridays; closed Mondays and university holidays. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

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