Edna Brauer was born Edna Bernice Schmallenberg in Bear Creek (Township), Wisconsin (Waupaca County) on October 9, 1912, the daughter of Leonard J. Schmallenberg and Ida (Roehl) Schmallenberg. She grew up on a small farm located on County Highway T, about 1 mile north of Wisconsin Highway 22 and a four-corners known as Nicholson Corners. She was the youngest of four children. Frohnie, her sister was ten years older. Elmer and Irvin, her brothers, were seven and three years older.
The farm contained a sawmill that was started by her grandfather. The family business also involved operation of a steam engine and thrashing machine that served the community during harvest season. The family business sawed lumber and shingles from trees harvested in the woodlands of the area as farmers cleared land and used the lumber to build their houses, barns and sheds. Some lumber went by horse-drawn wagon to the railroad that passed through the village of Bear Creek for shipment to furniture factories in cities like Oshkosh and returned in trade to furnish the local homes.
Her paternal grandparents and an uncle and aunt lived along Highway 22 and her maternal grandparents lived a mile or so south of Highway 22. The family also had a wooded area farther south on County Highway T filled with cedar and other trees that were harvested during the winter.
She attended church at Trinity Lutheran Church near Nicholson Corners and attended grade school at the church’s one-room parochial school. She completed one year of high school in Clintonville, Wisconsin. Later, she worked as domestic help and a cook for a store owner in Neenah, WI and for other families in Oshkosh, WI.
On May 15, 1936 she married Harold Brauer, who had taught at Trinity Lutheran School after completing study for the Lutheran ministry at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Just prior to their marriage, he had begun serving his first parish in Julesburg, Colorado. While in Julesburg, they had two sons: James and Roger. They moved to Amherst, Colorado for a period of time, where their third child, Gloria, was born. The ministry then led them to Ogden, Utah, followed by Symco, Green Bay and Wausau, Wisconsin.
While living in Green Bay and Wausau, Edna worked in J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward and H.C. Prange department stores as a sales clerk. Her work outside the home contributed significantly to allowing her three children to attend college.
Learning to Paint
After Harold and Edna retired in the late 1970's, they maintained their residence in Wausau, Wisconsin. For a number of years, they spent a few months each winter in various locations in Florida. They began spending more time at hobbies. Following retirement, Edna took up both golf and painting, activities she never did before. While in Florida, she began taking painting lessons.
Later, they spent summers at a northern Wisconsin cottage near Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin followed by a home at Timber Ridge Country Club near Minocqua, Wisconsin. Their daughter, Gloria, owned both properties, one at a time. Edna continued to pursue additional painting lessons from artists in Wausau and northern Wisconsin.
Her painting skills progressed as she learned to work in various media, such as oils, water colors, ink, acrylics, etc. Some of her key instructors were Betty Denton, a published artist in Florida who taught her watercolor techniques, Mary Howard in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida and Mary Newarella in Wausau, specialized in acrylics and shared their knowledge and skills with Edna.
Edna painted well into the late 1990's, when aging took its toll in eyesight and loss of other capabilities. The desire to paint continued after the physical ability was gone. After she was not able to paint any longer, she often spoke about the many paintings she needed to complete (but she never got to them).
At some point during her painting years, she joined an artist guild in Wausau, Wisconsin. It provided a way to know others involved in the arts, to learn about opportunities for a new lessons here and there, and to pick up techniques from others.
While not included in this collection, Edna often made greeting and note cards that her daughter, Gloria, sold to friends at work who appreciated having unique cards to send to friends and family. At age 83, Edna taught her first class, other than Sunday School. She was invited by the Wausau YMCA to conduct a class for senior citizens on making greeting cards.
Overview of Edna’s Works
Edna often incorporated into her works family and places that impacted her life. Having grown up on a Wisconsin farm, she had a keen appreciation for the beauty and importance of barns, sheds, milk cans, home-grown fruit and other elements of farm life. Her life in Wisconsin created an appreciation for woods, various types of trees, lakes, streams and the outdoors. While winter led her to join the escape to Florida along with other Wisconsin “snow birds,” a childhood and life filled with experience through Wisconsin winters created an appreciation for snow and the beauty that it can add to a scene. Having lived for several years at the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah and traveling through the mountains of Colorado and other areas of the West, Edna established an eye for the beauty offered by the ruggedness that mountains possess.
Some paintings captured her experience along the shores of the Florida panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico. Some paintings captured wooded and lakeside views from the cottage or the north woods home where painting helped to fill part of the summer days. Some paintings captured the family engaged in fishing and the joy of granddaughters playing dress up or just walking along hand-in-hand.
Perhaps her most prolific group of works resulted from her love of flowers. (There are 125 paintings of flowers in the collection.) She loved the details of wild flowers and roses, irises, tulips, daisies, geraniums, pansies and other flowers native to Wisconsin yards and gardens.
Edna often gave family members paintings for Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries. She sold a few paintings. Some ended up on display in her basement “gallery,” where visitors to her home received a tour. Many filled the walls of her home. Even more collected in her closet devoted to art work, because, in her opinion, they were not complete, didn’t turn out the way she wanted, or simply did not pass her standards for display.
After reaching her upper 80's and no longer able to paint as she desired, her son, Roger, became involved in helping her celebrate her achievement by capturing a few of her paintings digitally and printing them on cover stock as unmarked greeting cards. Edna could give these away as a means for sharing her accomplishments with others, even though she could no longer paint. As Roger continued to digitize additional paintings from her collection, he prepared annual calendars that provided “Paintings by Edna” in the form of Christmas gifts to family and the limited number of close friends still around.
In 2005, Roger collected and digitized as many of her works as he could find. Many had accumulated in her artist closet and hadn’t been seen for some time. After removing some duplicates, the collection presented here includes 291 of her works.
Some works illustrate progress in her art skills and techniques. Some works illustrate her willingness to try new media and techniques. Some works show her trying to carry the same idea, picture and theme across different media. Some works which are incomplete illustrate the steps involved in achieving the end result.
The paintings are organized generally by topic. Each section contains a mix of techniques. Some are oils, some are water colors, some are mainly pen-and-ink, and some are painted on wood or plaques and some on glass with a background panel behind the glass.
Few paintings had names. The marque rose on page 80 and explained below had the name “Morning Rose.” The painting of two girls in the top picture on page 135 was called “Twin Adventure.” The dog on page 17, a gift to Grandson, David, was named “Mike.” There is little record about the order or exact dates of paintings. A few had notes:
Page 10B -One of the beginning tries
Page 44B -A first painting
Page 103A -A try at painting
Page 103B -First tries
Page 110A -A first painting
Page 110B -One of my first paintings
Page 116A -Lesson in 1983 from Mary Howard in Fort Walton
Page 120A -One of my first paintings
Edna’s Marque Painting
As a member of the artist guild in Wausau, Edna began entering the annual art exhibit. For many years, she did not win a prize. She often felt that a key to winning involved where a painting was located in the exhibit and how it was placed. It also involved the interests and preferences of the guest judge. She explained that at the guild dinner. The guest judge would critique each artist’s painting before the group and that provided her ideas for improving her skills and paintings.
The highlight of Edna’s painting activity was winning first prize in the Wisconsin Regional Art Exhibit in Wausau, Wisconsin in August 1995 at the age of 83. Her prize winning painting was an acrylic rendering of pink roses on a solid black background, a painting she named “Morning Rose.” It was the fourth acrylic painting that she made.
As a result of winning the exhibit, her painting was first on exhibit at the Wisconsin State Art Show in Madison and then was part of a traveling art exhibit that moved throughout the state for a year.
The judge’s comments included the following:
"Nicely rendered. Very delicate. Realistic. He liked the way it was painted and the effect it has on the viewer. The three roses together were nice. The top rose was a little too close to the edge."