Ethelinda | Making Her Mark

River Dance, oil, 70 x 80., Southwest Art
River Dance, oil, 70 x 80.

By Sally Eauclaire

“To make a mark in the art world you have to do something outlandishly spectacular,” says Ethelinda, a painter with a flair for scale and spectacle. Best known for her life-size portraits of Native Americans wearing ceremonial dress, she also paints spirited Appaloosa horses and still lifes of gigantic tomatoes, peaches, lemons, and other fruits and vegetables. And lately Ethelinda has returned to a subject she painted earlier in her career—Parisian cafes, bakeries, and chefs. “I like to be versatile,” she says. “I try to paint things that people won’t see elsewhere.”

Ethelinda’s work defies categorization, which is the way she likes it. “People insist on trying to label me a portrait, still-life, or animal painter, but I’m not any one of those things,” she says. “I think it’s my stroke that defines me. Van Gogh had the stroke. Monet had the stroke. And Cezanne definitely had the stroke.” Ethelinda remembers Santa Fe painter Bettina Steinke advising young women artists to develop a strong stroke. “It’s become very important to me,” she says. “I’m known for my realistic details, but it’s my stroke that keeps the paintings from getting too tight.”

Ethelinda with her dogs, Mouche and Orchid., Southwest Art
Ethelinda with her dogs, Mouche and Orchid.

Ethelinda’s imagination and attention to detail were fostered by her grandmother, who read to her frequently. “I always got a vivid picture in my mind of what characters in books looked like,” she says. “So vivid, in fact, that I’m often surprised when I see a movie made from a book I’ve read—it’s never as wonderful on screen as I had imagined it.”

Ethelinda, who signs her paintings with only her unusual first name, is named after her great-aunt. Her mother was also an artist who studied with Nicolai Fechin, painting magnolias and Hawaiian flowers in a manner reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe. She was so busy painting, however, that Ethelinda and her sister were raised primarily by their grandmother. “My grandmother always called me by my full name, and because of that, I’ve always been proud of it,” she says.

Black Plums, oil, 42 x 58., Southwest Art
Black Plums, oil, 42 x 58.

Although Ethelinda always knew she would become an artist, her mother discouraged her from attending art school because she thought it might limit Ethelinda’s ability to develop an individual style. So she traveled to Stockton, CA, to attend the University of the Pacific, where she studied art and English literature. “My mother was right,” she says. “It was a great experience. I loved school—I even thrived in anatomy class.”

After graduation Ethelinda traveled around the world, visiting such memorable locales as the Floating Market in Bangkok, Thailand. She lived in Switzerland and toured Europe, filling sketchbooks with notes and drawings. A decade later, many of those sketches have become paintings, but to this day she is unable to paint while traveling. “I can’t concentrate—there are too many distractions,” she says. “In order to paint, I need to be in a comfortable, familiar place.”

Featured in November 1998