Storytellers Sometimes Have to Be Detectives

Painting by Edna Reindel, National Museum of Women in the Arts
by Edna Reindel, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Stories are everywhere. Although sometimes you have to be a detective to uncover them. I am interested in artists who disappear from history, not because they were not talented, but because they were not famous. I am especially interested in female artists, who face even bigger hurdles than male artists when it comes to being exhibited. That’s why I have been a member for many years of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., which we visited last summer. On this visit, we went not only to see the exhibits but to do some research in their library-archive. Bill, Natalie and I spent an afternoon going through huge portfolio-sized folders that contained sketches, photographs and various correspondence of the artist Edna Reindel. She appears as a character in the novel I am writing and I wanted to learn more about her. Above is a painting of hers that is a part of a series she pitched to Life Magazine. The series she painted for the magazine focused on women who built planes and ships during World War II. I hope that by including her in my story, interest in her work will be revived.

I posted a story on Facebook a few weeks ago about the father-daughter artists Paul and Nadine Landowski. Paul was a highly successful and esteemed artist living in France. You will discover many monumental sculptures around the city of Paris that are his, including this one “Monument to the Glory of the French Armies of 1914-1918” that Natalie and I are studying here, along with our friends Andy and Mary Jo.

Landowski's Mon to Glory of French Armies

If you have been watching any of the World Cup, you will probably recognize his huge Christ the Redeemer statue  (1931) that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.

by Paul Landowski

I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that Paul had a daughter who was an artist. It is challenging to find records of her work, but I learned that she designed a stage production in 1941 and also designed book covers. The only photograph I could find of her work was an in-progress restoration of five frescoes she painted in 1942-43 in the Church of St. Pierre du Brusc, France.

Nadine Landowski

She died in 1943 at the age of 35 and I was unable to learn how she died. Natalie is determined to uncover more about Nadine’s life and work and will be doing some additional research this summer.

So, now I come to a personal story about an artist. My great-great aunt Zita Blenthal was an artist. She was born in Ohio in 1900 and moved as a young woman to Los Angeles, where she established her studio in Hollywood. She was active in the artist community and had her work exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute and LACMA, but little is known about her. Once a year or so, I’ll google her name to see if there is anything more to discover about Zita. Last year’s search uncovered a notice that an art auction house had sold her “Still Life with White Magnolias.” I phoned the auction house to confirm the sale and got a surly woman on the phone, who decided to tell me just before hanging up (I had not told her that I was related to Zita) that the painting had been her favorite in the sale.

During the same google search, I found two questions posted on a discussion board, including this one: I have two works of Zita Blenthal. I bought them at a garage sale about a decade ago. The guy said he had inherited them from his great aunt who had lived in Beverly Hills. I adore one of them especially…white roses painted in green tones.

Three weeks ago, I did my annual google search and I found an ebay listing for one of Zita’s paintings, with only 36 hours remaining in the bid time. Here is what the listing said:

“Here is a gorgeous original vintage floral oil on canvas painting, signed by the original artist “Zita Blenthal” who was an accomplished artist from Ohio who had her own studio in Los Angeles, near Hollywood and Beverly Hills. This belonged to my grandmother who lived in Beverly Hills from 1942-1991 and she purchased it direct from “Zita’s” studio back in the day. It adorned the walls of her Beverly Hills home ever since. We are the original owners. It is simply gorgeous and a real collectors piece.”

The starting bid was $299.

Bill had to give me an ebay lesson, as I had never purchased anything on ebay, and then I made my bid. I decided that if I won the bid, the painting would become Natalie’s, who has inherited Zita’s drawing and painting genes.

Well, here is the rest of the story:

cat 1


painting out of box


by Zita Blenthal
by Zita Blenthal



  • Diane Beere

    Oh, you are so lucky to have that floral painting. I watched her paint almost every day and that painting takes me back to that long ago time: the memory and the one that lives on in your house in the present. Her florals were exquisite. She was known to be a master at painting white florals.The Whitney did an exhibit of her whitle florals in the 40’s. I remember her preparing for the crating of them.

  • Jim

    I inherited a painting by your great-great-aunt. It hung in my mother’s house for most of my childhood and her mother’s house before that. It is a floral painting of yellow roses in a bouquet of several different flower types with a blue vase. My family is mostly in Texas but we have one cousin from California. Even so, I have no idea how it came to my grandmother. I have enjoyed it for many years now and no matter how hard the times, I would never consider selling the art I inherited from my mother. It has become part of my family. The story never ends I suppose.


    • TwointheMiddle

      Dear Jim,
      Thank you for sharing your story about the Zita Blenthal painting that has been in your family for three generations. I am looking at one on of “Aunt Zita’s” paintings as I type this! I think one of the nicest ways to pass our stories on to the next generation is through art and story. I think it’s lovely that the artworks you inherited from your mother have become part of your family. Thank you for writing!

  • Carolyn Goodart

    Hi Pamela, I loved this story! And that painting is beautiful! I’m reminded of my own personal search for information about a woman artist. Years ago I saw a painting in the L.A. Times that I greatly admired. It too was of flowers and nicely done in a distinctive style. And then a few years later I noticed that the artist was having an exhibit at the Long Beach Museum of Art! At the time I had a friend who liked to go to art museums with me, and I asked her if she’d like to go see this exhibit. Instead, she wanted to go see an exhibit at MOCA. So I missed one of the rare exhibits of the artist. In the meantime I’ve forgotten the name of the artist! You’d think that I could call upon my reference librarian skills to find this artist again, but when I thought of calling the Long Beach Art Museum, I got cold feet–probably thinking it would be a difficult conversation such as you had calling for information. Age is catching up with me, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. I think the woman’s first name was Betty, but I’m not sure. Anyway, you have inspired me to at least try giving the Long Beach Museum a try!

    • TwointheMiddle

      Dear Carolyn,
      I can hardly wait to hear about your detective work! Please let me know if you learn anything about “your” artist.

  • Alejandro Torres Rezzio

    Omg! This is such an amazing and lovely story! I wasn’t expecting this ending but it totally surprised me. I really enjoyed the comparison that you use for storytellers. Detectives. That is very true! I love writing about people who are no longer with us because that sends me on a journey for discovery. What’s funny is that often times, I discover things about myself and makes me realize why I was writing about that person in the first place! Thank you so much for writing this story, Pamela!

    • TwointheMiddle

      Alejandro, I am so glad you enjoyed this post and wrote to tell me so. And thank you for reading it when your days are so full teaching, telling stories, and juggling projects.

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