Ann Radville Grimmer

Vernon Grimmer
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Harrisburg, IL
Active In: 
Glencoe, IL
Graphic Art
Painting - Oil
Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, Chicago, IL 2010
Art Institute of Chicago
New Horizons in Painting and Sculpture, Illinois State Museum, Springfield,
North Shore Art League
Chicago Public Library
Glencoe (IL) Public Library
Suburban Fine Arts Center, Highland Park, IL
Lake Forest (IL) College Exhibition
New Trier High School Exhibition
Taos, New Mexico gallery
Arcadia, California gallery
Evanston (IL) Women's Club exhibition
Other Occupations: 
Graphic designer and commercial artist, Kirk-Teich, 1935+
Teacher, Highland Park, IL
A Biography by her daughter Margot Grimmer

Ann Radville Grimmer was born on February 17, 1910 in Harrisburg, Illinois, the daughter of Lithuania immigrants Anna Radvilla Petratis and Rokas Radvillas (Radziwill). Rokas was from Vilnius. He was a university graduate and merchant by profession. He immigrated to the US in 1890 to escape conscription into the Russian army and entered the country via Ellis Island. He became an accountant and then a supervisor for the Salina County Mining Company in Southern Illinois. Anna was from Siaulias and immigrated to the US in 1908 because at age 26 she was unable to make a match due to the lack of a dowry. She was a tailor in Lithuania and sold her sewing machine for passage to the US entering at Baltimore. From there she boarded a train to Southern Illinois to her half great uncle Rokas, who reluctantly became her sponsor. A year later they married.

Their daughter Ann began painting in childhood. She was naturally gifted at an early age. When she was seven years old her second grade teacher falsely accused her of tracing a drawing of a butterfly as her copy was so accurate. Instead of going onto college to become a teacher as her mother had hoped she followed her passion and studied on a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1928-32. After graduation she did two years of post-graduate study as well as painted murals in train stations, libraries and schools for the New Deal WPA (Works Progress Administration). During the 1930's her work was juried into six consecutive Chicago & Vicinity Artists Shows at the Art Institute of Chicago. Several of her paintings were exhibited at the Springfield State Museum and at the Century of Progress Art Show at the 1934 International Exposition in Chicago as well as in galleries in Taos, New Mexico and Arcadia, California. In 1935 she accepted a job as a graphic designer and commercial artist for Kirk-Teich. She basically did drawings for greeting as well as postcards.

The following year she married fellow Art Institute of Chicago graduate Vernon Grimmer. After discovering that he could not make a living as an easel painter in the Depression he studied architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) becoming an architect and product designer. In 1940 both of them won Art Institute traveling fellowships. They originally planned to travel and paint in Paris, France beginning in June 1940. Because France fell to Hitler and Nazi Germany the trip was canceled. Instead they went to paint in Mexico. Much of their work has been influenced by the Mexican landscape from that trip. During the war Vernon designed battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines for the Austin Company. During the post-war era he designed houses and golf courses for WC Tackett & Associates in addition to schools, motels, commercial buildings, the interiors of the Zephyr train and Betty Crocker kitchens for Art Swanson & Associates.

Ann went an unusual route for a woman of her generation having a career first, marrying later and having a child even later and then balancing career and family. In the 1930's traditionally when a woman married, she left the work place. When my mom married in a civil ceremony, she did not announce it to anyone but immediate families. She and Vernon posed as living together for several years so that she could continue her work at Kirk-Teich.

In 1948 she started teaching in the adult evening education program of Nettlehorst School in Chicago. Among her first students were Hilda Rubin Pierce and Helenka Bimstein both of whom later became well known exhibiting artists. Beginning in 1958 for 30 years she was known an inspirational art teacher for children, adults and professional artists at the Recreation Center, the YWCA and the Suburban Fine Arts Center all in Highland Park. In class she used to take a brush and make a few little lines here and there. Suddenly, the piece would go from two dimensions to three dimensions—from ordinary to extraordinary. Her students called it Mrs. Grimmer’s magic finger.

During the 50s, 60s and 70s Ann became an award winning exhibiting artist. Her work went through many different periods. She did not have one style—she had many different styles. Somebody once said that she should just settle on a style and market it, but she never did. She used many different medias—oils, acrylics, pen and ink, watercolor, charcoal and wood. Two of her vividly expressive oil paintings "There's Always Tomorrow" and "St. Tropez Scene” were juried into the 1964 Annual Exhibition of Chicago & Vicinity Artists at the Art Institute of Chicago. "There's Always Tomorrow " won first prize at the North Shore Art League's Show and "St. Tropez Scene" won first prize at the Art Exhibition of North Shore Artists sponsored by Woman's Club of Evanston. Her wood sculptures, "Who Can Understand A Woman” was awarded first place at the 1965 New Horizons in Sculpture Show in Chicago, and "The Torso” won the 1967 Best In Show at the All Glencoe Art Fair. Vernon did extensive house remodeling projects, and Ann used all of the scrap lumber for art projects. As a child of the Depression her motto was “waste not, want not.” She did “junk art” long before it became fashionable. Although she created a lot of art during her lifetime, she always had a hard time parting with her pieces, when they sold. Among many scribbles found in her sketch books she wrote, "I have paintings I have sold. A complete room is decorated around the painting. This is a great reward to my talents when my work can stand such a test." It's good to know that she acknowledged an upside. She had no hoarding instinct about her artistic ideas and imparted them willingly to her art students.

Her other activities included making models of houses and doing interior design for Arthur Swanson & Associates, an architectural firm. She designed the carpets for the O'Hare Inn, a hotel near the airport. For 10 years she drew renderings of Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches and Jewish Synagogues for renovation projects for Fred LeRoy & Associates. She studied modern dance and did costume design for the company of dancer Anne Rudolph during the 1940's and later from 1971-1987 under the name ARG she was the costume designer for the Margot Grimmer American Dance Company of Highland Park. In 1968 she designed a group of 1960's fashion with the theme of automobiles for an industrial film for General Motors. In later years she became a published poet. In 1998 she contributed several of her poems to a book of photographs called "Dancescapes" by San Francisco photographer Norinder Dolgra.

Ann and Vernon's only child Margot became a nationally know dancer, choreographer, artistic director and dance teacher. She began her career as a child in the New York City Ballet's Chicago production of "The Nutcracker" and later danced with the Lyric Opera Ballet, Ruth Page's International Ballet and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in New York City. For 17 years she was principal dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the American Dance Company and director and teacher of the American Dance School in Highland Park, Illinois. She currently lives in California, teaches dance and coach professional dancers at the Dance Collective in Oakland and has a second career as an event videographer.

In an interview prior to her 100th birthday Ann said, “When I think of the year 1910 and everything that has happened since then, it makes my head swim. I have witnessed more world history, social change and technological innovations than most people ever will. You live 100 years, and the whole world looks different.”

Ann passed on February 17, 2011, her 101st birthday.