Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art

Isabella threlkeld

Isabella Byrne Threlkeld (1922-2012) Maryland, Nebraska

Isabella Byrne Threlkeld was born in 1922.  Her father was Harry Stephenson Byrne from Baltimore, Maryland, a prominent Nebraska citizen and supporter of William Jennings Bryan. Harry was on the Board of Regents for the University of Nebraska.  The Sunday edition of the September 2, 1906 Baltimore American shows a picture of her father. Her mother was Clara Schneider a 1911 Wellesley graduate from Fremont, Nebraska, who served in France from 1918-1919 in the Red Cross.  In 1935 Clara co-founded the Maternal Health League of Omaha and the Junior League Day Nursery.  An Omaha World Herald article of July 15, 1945 announces Isabella's career move to Washington, D.C. for the American Red Cross comparing Isabella to her mother's early career.  Both of her parents were activists.
Isabella Byrne's early education began in Omaha with art classes at Dundee School with her art teacher Dorothy Gray Bowers.  She graduated from Brownell-Talbot School in 1940. At the age of seventeen, she was encouraged to attend Wellesley College by her Uncle Walter Wohlenberg, the head of Yale University Engineering.  He wanted her to experience the world beyond Nebraska.

Throughout her life, she met brilliant educators, artists and dynamic people.  Richard Byrd, explorer of Antarctica was her father's friend.  She knew Albert Einstein, a friend of her Uncle Walter.  Her professors included Vladimir Nabokov, Russian novelist of "Lolita"; Gyorgy Kepes of MIT who taught photography; Reinhold Niebuhr, author of the Serenity Prayer and recipient of the Medal of Freedom;  and Sirarpi der Nersessian, chairman of Wellesley Department of Fine Art.  During this time she also studied and worked in the department of Medieval Paintings for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
After Wellesley graduation with a Bachelor in Fine Arts,  she moved to Rockport, Massachusetts and entered the Cape Anne School of Art, receiving her certificate in painting.  At the age of 23 she worked for the American Red Cross, and then moved to Washington, D.C. to study at the American University.  Her course work in psychology trained her as an art therapist working with World War II amputees at Walter Reed Hospital.  She was always interested in science and art.  After study at the University of Rome, Italy she received her masters degree in "Futurism" from the University of Nebraska, Omaha.  Her thesis is The Emergence of Futurism in Italy 1900-1916: The Influence of Science on Art.
In Washington DC Isabella Byrne met Harry Threlkeld, a Georgia international lawyer serving in the Navy's Judge Advocate General's office.  They married and lived in Edmonds, Washington, and she was employed by the Seattle Art Museum.  In 1952 he went to Japan for the war crimes trials, and the couple moved back to Omaha, Nebraska where Isabella Threlkeld worked at Joslyn Museum of Art for 11 years as the education curator.

In 1958 she studied at Ecole du Louvre in Paris, France and continued on to study in England, Spain, Egypt, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.  In 1962, she studied in Norway and Denmark and Sweden.   From 1963 to 1968, she was the Chair of the art department at Duchesne College/Dana College/College of St. Mary's  and also was instructor at Bellevue College, and artist-in-residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Omaha Public Schools.

Threlkeld continue to study abroad during the following years, including in 1968 in Italy at the University of Rome and in Greece.  Then, in 1972, she went to North Africa and Morocco to study art history and mosaics and finished that year with art studies in Avignon, France.  That year she also attended the last show of Picasso before his death the following year. 

In 1977 Threlkeld purchased a home in Omaha, Nebraska with a studio on the lower walkout level.  She contributes to the Omaha community as an educator, art instructor, artist, and art historian and has worked for over 53 years touching thousands of Nebraska citizen's lives with her art spirit.  Her passion is the developing art student and art education. "The studio always has something to offer every person interested in the arts and learning more about the craft. She is a willing observer and gifted teacher."
The Threlkeld Art Studio has been the catalyst, haven, studio and temporary home for many artists who visited Omaha and America from 1977-2005.  These artists include: Hettie Marie Andrews, John Borgeson, Sam Dowd, Shelly Gillum, M. Louise Hamilton, Joe Harnack, Hal Holoun, Julie Kinkade, Mary Kolar, Michael Linstrom, John Lokke, Mercedes Caldwell Loring, David Loyd, Sarah Marquis, Jesse Medina, Vasiliev Nini, Paul Otero, Stephen Roberts, Madelene Rose, Alicia Scherich, Wayne Sealy, Lori Stevens, John Thein, Leonard Thiessen, Milton Wolsky, Mary Ann Zebolsky, and Kathleen Zuchniak. The exchange of creative ideas, inspiration, acknowledgement of craft and gift of friendship is always welcome at her studio home.
During Threlkeld's life long career she has remained true to her own artwork and developing her personal artistic style.  She does not keep a diary, but everyday she carries a small sketchpad.  Her sketches daily document the people she meets.  She just completed (2005) three sketches of Ted Kooser, National American Poet Laureate and Nebraska poet for a reading presented September 18, 2005.  She embraces change, which is reflected in her works of oil on canvas.  She won the Joslyn Art Museum purchase award for her picture The Wheat is Ripe oil on canvas.  She has many one-woman shows to her credit and exhibited extensively throughout her career.  She works in, graphite, watercolor, pen and ink, plastic collage, oil on canvas, acrylics, acrylic spray paint and personal favorite encaustic.  Gesture drawings are her forte. Moroccan Riches, To the Kasbah and Arabs Playing Polo are fine examples of her technique.
The Threlkeld's traveled worldwide and nationally.  Throughout her career she took students on many trips to visit museums and galleries throughout the world.  She speaks French and Italian. She believes creativity through the arts is the channel toward peace.
"Her energy is boundless and her active creative drive is proof the passion for art will keep you young.  Today she continues to advocate the arts and mentors the creative process for others.  On the easel in her art studio is her newest painting in progress, an abstract in brilliant colors."

Sources: Personal interview with the artist June 2, 2005 and September 20, 2005 Additional information from the Douglas County Historical Society files.
Copyright  June 2005 Janet Gwendolyn Smith

Submitted by Janet G. Smith, art consultant, art historian, independent curator, www.jgsart.com

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