Lydia Ely

Year inducted: 2016

Lydia Ely, a true pioneer in the state’s visual arts, came to the Wisconsin territory as a child in 1840.  She was interested in art from an early age and received her first instruction in drawing from Henry Vane Thorne and in painting from Alexander Marquis.

Though she married in 1855 she divorced in 1882 because she preferred traveling and painting to married life, perhaps a risky and brave action considering the culture of the day.  In 1865, Lydia led a group of women in organizing the Soldier’s Home Fair in which an exhibition of important paintings and sculpture from American collections was exhibited, the first of its kind in the state.  The fair succeeded in raising $100,000 for the construction of the Milwaukee home for Civil War veterans.

In 1881, Lydia directed the Fine Arts Division for the first great Milwaukee Industrial Exposition, responsible for amassing 452 oil and watercolor paintings and 869 prints and drawings for collections in Milwaukee, Chicago, and New York.  Subsequently, she focused her attention on administering the completion of the Milwaukee Soldier’s Monument and raised a total of $30,000 to fund the monument in 1899.

She painted and exhibited often, once creating a landscape titled The Four Lakes of Madison, which was presented to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1876. She was a chronicler of the early history of Milwaukee, which included a chapter entitled “Art and Artists in Milwaukee” in Conrad’s History of Milwaukee County.

Works by Lydia Ely

No works were found.