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I received an interesting phone call from a former Wheeling resident, George Carenbauer, not long ago. Carenbauer now resides in the Washington, DC area, but loves antiques.

He and his sister, Ellen Carenbauer Hazera, an artist living in Bordeaux, France, are considering the idea of ​​an art exhibition to be held in Wheeling that would showcase a very special painting done by their mother, Elsa Eick Carenbauer. in 1903.

He shared a photo of his mother’s handiwork and the story behind it.

“Our grandmother, Elsa Eick Carenbauer, produced a remarkable porcelain painting in 1903 while a student at St. Mary’s of the Springs Academy near Columbus. Our grandmother lived in Martins Ferry and was educated as a youngster at St. Alphonsus Elementary School in Wheeling. What makes our grandmother’s work particularly remarkable is that it is an original landscape (with a bridge) painted on a flat piece of porcelain, unlike most porcelain paintings which were mainly representations of flowers, fruits or vegetables on plates, cups, vases and similar vessels.

In discussing this painting with my sister, we appreciate that porcelain painting was a common field of study for young women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our other grandmother, Tess Fahey Greene, also did such work and she went to Catholic schools in Wheeling.

The Carenbauer siblings believe it is very likely that many young women of the time in and around Wheeling, from different levels of society, also painted on porcelain as part of their studies at this time, and that there may be many extant examples belonging to their descendants.

They mentioned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an exhibition on this subject in 2002, and shared several links to articles discussing the exhibition and the history of the practice of young women in the study. of this type of porcelain painting.

There is also a World Organization of Chinese Painters website ( which oversees a museum of these paintings in Oklahoma City.

This painting subject reminds me of my own mother, Margaret O’Malley Bierkortte, and her interest in painting statues as a hobby when she was young. I have a few examples that date from the 1930s-40s and the blank white statues (bisque?) have been elegantly painted in oils to give a nice finishing touch.

You don’t realize these statues are bisque white until you turn them over and look at the base and see the chalky white underside of the painted figure. It is easy to see that these statues, although not made of porcelain, provided an artistic way to practice art and add the decorative arts to your home in a personal and entertaining way.

I imagine the statues were bought by my mother at the local five cents and then taken home to paint since my mother traveled very little and worked downtown when it was a busy place to shop.

By the way, the Carenbauers think it would be wonderful if there could be community outreach to gather other local examples of porcelain painting for their idea of ​​a possible local exhibition in the future.

If you have any examples to share with them as they explore this idea and find other examples of porcelain painted by young women, please email me at [email protected] and I will pass your information on to them. messaging.

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