Art Becomes Her

From her home in Sheboygan, Wis., Isabel Tidmarsh Little ’55 reflects on 30 years of teaching success, an exciting first job as a staff artist for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo., and a long and happy marriage that produced three children.

“When you live through history, you wish you’d paid more attention,” she said. “I’m 84. That’s kind of a shock, I’ll tell you.”

In the last few years, to adjust to some big life changes, she turned to an old passion.

Little lost her husband Richard “Dick” Little M.A. ’69 in 2017, a few years after the couple moved to Sheboygan to be near their children. In search of an outlet to help her adjust and heal, she found just that through the city’s Senior Center and membership in Sheboygan Visual Artists, a nonprofit collective of more than 125 local visual artists and patrons.

Little signed up for a class in watercolor painting at the Senior Center. “I hadn’t seriously painted for 50 years. Watercolor is challenging. If you make a mistake, you can’t fix it.”

Though she made mistakes, the weekly classes became a ritual and an escape. Last fall, she had an exhibition at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, showing recent watercolor paintings and some prints she made at Bradley.

Little worked her way through the university in the 1950s, earning a bachelor of fine arts while concentrating on printmaking and ceramics. Her Bradley experience was a world away from that of today’s students.

She bought coffee for a nickel a cup at The Wigwam, and like all women students, had her outfits inspected by Olive B. White, beloved professor emeritus of English and dean of women. “She made an appointment with every female freshman,” Little said. “She checked our attire — we all wore pencil skirts, saddle shoes and bobby socks. Our skirts were supposed to reach our socks.”

Straight out of college, Little worked at Hallmark for two years at the company’s headquarters. “I loved the job. We were in a five-story building, very modern. But I missed home.”

So she took the train back to Peoria, and soon met her husband.

The couple, who were married 58 years, bought a house and land in Chillicothe, Ill., and raised their children. Dick taught junior high and high school in Peoria, and Little’s career included a 10-year stint as an art teacher and 20 years in early childhood education.

Though she’d yearned to continue creating art after college, the demands of teaching and raising a family made it too difficult. “I always wanted to do more, but never had time. During those years, you’re a kitchen table artist.”

No longer confined to her kitchen table, Little relishes her weekly watercolor painting class and the friendships she’s found there. “The class is on Tuesday, and I don’t know what I’d do without it,” she said. “I need someone to critique my paintings.”

— Mary Brolley

ABOVE: The image is of a ceramic top coffee table Isabel Little made at Bradley in ceramics class. The walnut table was made by students in a Bradley woodworking class in the old Duryea building (now the site of Heuser Art Center).

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