In the midst of the Great Depression, a teenage girl's report card from an art teacher had a message scrawled on the back, which read: "Believe in yourself."
That message led Eleanor Wilson Stoltz to dedicate her life to making art and teaching it, and whose 1940s art student portfolio from Carnegie Mellon University was so detailed and impressive it became the subject of a 2010 exhibition at the university.
Mrs. Stoltz, who was born and raised in Ben Avon and lived much of her adult life -- except for 12 years in Wisconsin -- in McCandless, died Thursday of a pulmonary embolism in a retirement home in Lansdale, outside Philadelphia.
She was 90.
Hundreds of people attended the CMU exhibition, "After Pearl Harbor," which documented what it was like to be an art student at what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology during World War II. With most of the male students gone, serving in the military, women dominated the classes.
She was four years older than another art student who would enroll in the school in 1945 -- Andy Warhol -- and had many of the same professors: Balcomb Green, Robert Lepper, Russell "Papa" Hyde, Wilfrid Readio, Sam Rosenberg and Robert Gwathmey.
Mrs. Stoltz's artistic talent was spotted early, and in third grade she was chosen to attend special art classes at Carnegie Institute -- as Warhol would be. And, like Warhol, she supported herself as a window dresser at Downtown department stores.
But her life went in a different direction. After marrying fellow CMU alumnus James Stoltz in 1947, she raised four daughters and taught and supervised art classes in Pittsburgh area schools and in Wisconsin. After returning to Pittsburgh in 1969, she taught art in the public schools well into her 70s.
A decade ago, Mrs. Stoltz prepared to move to California to be closer to her daughter Nancy. During the packing, Susan Stoltz discovered a massive portfolio of her mother's work, stored away -- which included that report card with the encouraging message from a teacher.
"It was a real treasure trove," said Ms. Stoltz, one that provided a complete picture of what it was like to be an art student in the 1940s. She showed the material to CMU art faculty, who decided to mount an exhibition recreating that period.
The material included 19-by-25-inch charcoal drawings Mrs. Stoltz had created during life-drawing classes, juried and date-stamped by CMU's art faculty. There were also oil-on-paper portraits, pencil drawings and other class assignments, along with metal crafts, tools, photographs, framed artworks, personal objects and archives on loan from the family. To add to the atmosphere, the exhibition included Mrs. Stoltz's hand-sewn 1941 Carnegie Tech tartan plaid dress.
"They were incredible drawings," said her daughter. "They don't teach that way anymore in art schools."
"A portfolio like hers from this period, so complete and in such good condition, is extremely rare," CMU archivist Jennie Benford told the school's alumni magazine in 2010. "It might be the only Carnegie Tech student portfolio covering the time from the 1940s, from the war period through Andy Warhol's student years."
Besides her daughter Susan, of New York City, Mrs. Stoltz is survived by daughters Patricia Clawson of Philadelphia, Nancy Fugler of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Laurie Stoltz Eubanks of Chicago; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the chapel in Allegheny County Memorial Park, 1600 Duncan Ave., McCandless.
Contributions may be made to Living Branches Foundation/Harmony House Art Program, 275 Dock Drive, Lansdale, PA 19446 or Reach Beyond.org, 1065 Garden of the Gods Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80907. Funeral arrangements are by Huff & Lakjer Funeral Home, Lansdale.
Mackenzie Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1949.
First Published January 20, 2014 11:24 PM