Portrait of an Artist
A solo show at Old Town Hall will celebrate the works of Lora Eberly Ballou (1870-1976)
Lora Ballou in an undated photo where she is believed to be in her early twenties; right: Lora painting outdoors in New Jersey
photograph courtesy of Bob Phillips
The world was constantly changing around Lora Ballou, but her artistic style remained unchanged, always defined by the natural scenes she loved to paint. Her works in oil, including thirty-four still lifes and landscapes, will be on display in the first solo exhibit of her work at Old Town Hall starting September 27.
A brief look at Ballou’s paintings show they are beautifully done, joyful and lively, but a closer study reveals how much she seemed to enjoy her work, giving the collection an endearing and inviting quality. You can almost imagine her in front of her easel, painting imagery that was comforting and familiar—florals and figurines she collected around the house, natural landscapes that surrounded her homes, even a few cityscapes from a winter she spent in Manhattan.
“Lora painted in a very traditional style, but you can actually see the joy in her painting,” says Lina Morielli, cocurator of the exhibit. “It’s also clear to me that she loved flowers and nature, that she loved to paint.”
Ballou painted all the time, according to family members, who shared a number of photographs that show her with paintbrush in hand, often outdoors. She likely painted hundreds of pieces, says her grandson, Bob Phillips of Stamford, but gave most of them away during her lifetime, as gifts or donations to hospitals and charities.
The wife of a wealthy businessman, Ballou was a woman ahead of her time, says Phillips. She attended college, traveled the world and did what she loved, all while balancing the social obligations of a woman of means. “To be touching the work of a woman who was born in 1870 is very special to us,” says Morielli.
Cocurator Valerie Cooper and Morielli heard about the Ballou collection from Phillips, who contacted them about putting together a show after he and his wife, Pat, attended a party at Old Town Hall. At the time Pat commented that the early twentieth-century historic landmark would be a perfect site for an art gallery.
Pat may not have known that the Old Town Hall Redevelopment Agency had set aside the first floor as space for a museum, but after a two-week inaugural exhibit in October of 2010, there was no budget to bring other exhibits to the building. It stood empty for almost two years until Bob and Pat Phillips entered the picture. Now the couple hopes other private collectors will lend their collections for public viewing to help establish a museum in downtown Stamford. “This exhibit should be the first of many,” says Pat. “It’s important for a city to have a museum; it can’t just be [about] Alive@Five.”
Cooper says plans are in the works for follow-up exhibits, but nothing has been confirmed yet. In the meantime Morielli is committed to keeping the first floor of the building a museum. “We can’t overlook what art can contribute to the identity of a city,” she says. “There needs to be a balance between the corporate and civic, and the cultural and artistic components of this city.”