Mildred Lenore Weenink, who would become a well-known Iowa artist and arts advocate, was 2 years old in 1891 when her parents moved from Wisconsin to Dillon, Mont., where her father, H.D. Weenink, opened a photography studio.
One of four children, she graduated from Beverhead County High School and the Montana State Normal School in Billings, a school for training teachers, where she taught briefly before enrolling at the Pratt Art Institute in New York City. She studied there for two years before returning to teaching.
She came to Iowa in 1917 as the bride of Louis Pelzer, an Iowa native and 1907 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he taught history and earned his PhD.
Shortly before the holidays in December 1916, Louis disappeared from Iowa City. No one knew where he was. He didn’t reappear until Jan. 5, when he arrived in Iowa City with Mildred. The two had married on New Year’s Day in the Weenink home in Dillon.
In Iowa City
Their first home was in Iowa City’s first apartment flat, the Summit, designed by Chicago architect Parker Noble Berry.
They moved to 127 Ferson Ave., where Mildred Pelzer focused on raising their two sons, Parker and Henry.
She became active in the arts community and a strong advocate for art. She also devoted more time to painting, studying with Iowa artists Grant Wood and Marvin Cone and also working as Wood’s publicist.
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Several of Pelzer’s paintings and portraits were displayed at Cedar Rapids’ Little Art Gallery in March 1929. The gallery’s director, Edward B. Rowan, planned to exhibit them around the state and in schools, calling them examples of perfect “design and color.”
Her works also were shown in Kansas City, Minneapolis and Philadelphia and often competed in art shows with those by her mentor, Grant Wood.
Wood was at the top of his game in 1930. He had just won national recognition when his “American Gothic” was purchased for the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In a speech to the Times Club in Iowa City in March 1931, Wood said that art like that being produced by Pelzer showed that America was developing its own artistic style.
Pelzer gave radio talks on contemporary art in Iowa and also judged garden club shows at Brucemore. When speaking at meetings, it was common for her to paint while she talked.
In October 1933, her painting of zinnias, “In the Window,” qualified her for membership in the Iowa Artists Association, an honorary organization of state artists. She presented her plan for an Iowa library of art at the club meeting in Des Moines.
A few months later, she was paired with Marvin Cone in an exhibit at the Glasell Galleries in Dubuque. Pelzer’s work was a precursor of her murals, showing events in Dubuque’s history, from missionaries to Julien Dubuque to the Mines of Spain and the city’s churches and theaters.
She later would paint eight murals for the Hotel Jefferson in Iowa City, and she won the national competition to paint historic murals at the Waverly post office in the late 1930s.
Work and Loss
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After a long association with the Women’s Club and her work with the Caravan of Art that exhibited works by Iowa artists across the state, Pelzer established her Stone Studio on a hill north of Iowa City. Much of her work during the 1940s was done there.
She also designed historical maps. One of them, “Iowa, Prairie Chronicles in Pictures,” was placed in many Iowa libraries.
The World War II years were tough ones for her. The Pelzers lost both their sons in the war — Parker in a military training flight in California in 1942 and Henry in Europe in 1945 — and then Louis Pelzer died in 1946. A widow and childless, she moved to Hawaii in 1949, creating landscapes and a line of hand-painted dresses.
In 1952, she married retired Army Gen. George A. Lynch.
After painting flowers, murals and portraits for four decades, Pelzer retired to Florida in the 1960s with her husband, who died in 1962. .
The UI Art Building’s Main Gallery in 1966 hosted a solo exhibition of Pelzer’s later works. The works came from sketches she had made during her travels to Europe and the Orient, and she was an artist in residence at the UI School of Art during the summer session.
Pelzer was in her 90s and living in a Orlando retirement home when the wreckage of a World War II bomber was found in a ravine near Redding, Calif. Among the remains was a name tag with “Pelzer” printed on it. The supervisor of the retirement home said staff decided not to tell Pelzer about the discovery of her son’s remains.
Pelzer was 95 when she died April 24, 1985.
In 1992, Richard T. “Dick” Feddersen of North Liberty donated three of Pelzer’s murals to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which also has five other works by her in its collection. Her “Symphony of Iowa 1833-1933,” a 7-by-10-foot work created for the Iowa City Press-Citizen building, portrays Iowa’s history and is installed in the museum’s Stamats Library.
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