Siblings Elaine Mayer, Diane Knight, Ivan Gilbert and Leon Gilbert are opening the Old Bank Art Gallery in Whalan on June 22 at 1 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce at 1:30 p.m. The gallery, so far, only contains works created entirely by members of the family.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Siblings Elaine Mayer, Diane Knight, Ivan Gilbert and Leon Gilbert are opening the Old Bank Art Gallery in Whalan on June 22 at 1 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce at 1:30 p.m. The gallery, so far, only contains works created entirely by members of the family. SUBMITTED PHOTO
"When we were young, we never called it art," stated Elaine Mayer, who, along with her younger sister, Diane Knight, and twin brothers, Ivan and Leon Gilbert, will be opening their own art gallery in Whalan on June 22.

The close siblings have each contributed original pieces to the duly-named The Old Bank Art Gallery and when the ribbon is cut at 1:30 p.m., theirs will be the only artwork on display. In an endeavor which was new for each family member, the gallery has already become the family's own canvas; one that has had the pigments of memories, lessons and stories painted onto it. The result has been both familiar and unexpected for the four, who have also used the gallery as a way to pay honor to the people most responsible for their creativity.

The siblings grew up in the town of Clinton, Iowa, with their parents, Orval and Lindy Gilbert. All four remembered their late mother as always making something, and encouraging her kids to be creative.

"I don't remember having paint," shared Diane. "We just used common materials. She gave us things to entertain ourselves."

Being bored in the Gilbert house was against the rules, as Ivan recalled. "I remember one time we said we were bored. She gave us a handful of burnt breadsticks and told us to go play in the sandbox," he said. "She would not put up with us being bored."

According to Elaine, the way their mother was able to take insignificant things and make them into something else was in part because she went through the Great Depression. "She was raised in a poor family with 12 children and she got married during the Depression," explained Diane. "She enjoyed making things stretch. She recycled things, but we didn't call it that at that time."

According to Ivan, Lindy was always busy making something. Orval was a handyman and machinist during the day and so she stayed home with the kids. "If she wasn't making a meal, she was making something else," Ivan said. Quilling, quilting, sewing, flower arranging, and many other creative activities filled her days and influenced her children.

"We didn't have TV, we listened to the radio only on Saturday nights, so our play was in making things," explained Elaine, adding that their mother was supportive of their creativity.

Their father also taught his kids how to solve creative problems.

Leon explained, "He encouraged us to use our imagination. We would turn stuff around the house into toys."

Leon's twin, Ivan, said their father kept his tools down in the basement. "He would let us use them so we would learn by doing that. There were a lot of scraps of wood, so we would make things and he helped us envision what we wanted to accomplish," he shared.

These early influences stayed with the four and were, at different times, rediscovered through hobbies and talents. Diane, 75, discovered a passion for art early in her life and obtained a degree in art education. She worked for The Masque Theater in Rochester for 30 years making masks and puppets and she also worked in the graphic art department at the Mayo Clinic.

Considered by her siblings to be the "artist" in the family, her current work are small multi-medium figures set in environments that suggest stories. She has lived in the Lanesboro area since 1991.

Elaine, 76, worked at the University of Iowa and developed a CPR training program for the university's hospitals and clinics. She considered herself more of a crafter than an artist. She enjoys gathering weeds and flowers she finds where she lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and in other places she visits. Once collected, she presses them to preserve them in framed pictures. She also uses recycled beads and chain to make jewelry.

"I like all-natural things. When I'm outside, I see everything, even the rocks. I never stop looking for things that I can use," she explained.

Ivan, 69, and the younger twin, worked as an electronic package designer, but has been creating art as a hobby just before he entered into semi-retirement in Arden Hills, Minn. He specializes in making tree sculptures using copper wire. He has shown and sold his work at art shows before.

"The copper wire was just for fun and then people told me that they liked it," he shared. The technical aspect of his work caused him to develop special tools to make foliage and other effects. "It's about getting into it with your hands," he explained.

Leon, 69 and the older twin, has been on the art scene for only two and a half years with his wood turning skill. Soon after he retired as a repair technician for bank security in Santa Rosa, Calif., a liquid amber tree in his backyard died. He noticed the tree had a beautiful grain and decided to see what he could do with it. After taking some classes and researching on the Internet, he began shaping the wood into functional pieces of art.

He had always had woodworking abilities with which he made furniture, but recycling wood to make bowls, plates, and other smaller pieces fast became a hobby. Like Elaine, he considers his work more craft than art.

"When do you become an artist? I don't know. It doesn't mean it's not good," he said.

The pieces he creates satisfies his own requirement for art. "It has to have balance to it, texture, and it should be something you can touch." He said he relies a lot on what Mother Nature has given him in the wood he recycles.

Each family member had been engaged in a creative activity for a while, but it took a few other conditions to allow the art gallery idea to come forward.

Diane lived in the old bank building in Whalan when the ground level flooded and was remodeled two years ago. In the fall of 2012, she came up with the idea to turn that room into an art gallery for their work.

"I think we were all drawn to the idea, both the family aspect and sharing our work with other people," stated Elaine. She also explained that it fit with what their mother had instilled in them.

"It's a great legacy to her," Diane said recalling when Lindy lived in Lanesboro and the family would have big Thanksgiving family dinners in the building, just a short drive down the highway.

The room being used for the gallery had to have lighting installed, but most of the preparation time was spent on arranging the artwork and creating the gallery's atmosphere. The gallery has been open since May 18 and Diane said positive comments have come in about the space.

"My vision of the gallery wasn't as nice as it's turned out," Diane remarked. "Ivan really wanted to do it well and pushed for the quality." With Leon mailing pieces from California, all four siblings are represented through their art work.

The uniqueness of the gallery is that all the work is from one family. "People are usually surprised and impressed about that," said Ivan.

The decision to name it The Old Bank Art Gallery came about because other artists may be allowed to show their work there in the future. It's not exclusive to the family.

The feeling the gallery is meant to evoke is inviting. "

We wanted the space open so the flow is easy," shared Diane. "We want people to look around and closely at things."

Ivan and Leon both said they are looking forward to talking with people and answering questions about their work. Diane said her work especially challenges people to come up with their own stories.

Visitors will be able to see the artwork from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekends through October. The grand opening on June 22 will begin at 1 p.m. with the ribbon cutting at 1:30 p.m. The open house will include refreshments and the siblings will be there to talk.

Diane thanked the Lanesboro community and the Chamber of Commerce for being very encouraging in the art gallery's startup. She is considering holding mini-lessons or art classes on Saturdays for people who show interest.

"It's nice to sell your work, but you also want to share it."

Ivan agreed, saying he didn't need to sell anything, but liked finding others who want to make art. "Art is what inspires you and impresses you," he said.

"It was very important that we were all retired and able to do this together," said Diane.

The gallery made sense to all four because they were used to working together when they were younger. "We play together, we laugh a lot, we want to be together because we always have fun," Elaine shared.

Ivan said everyone has their own opinions on each other's work, but they all have respect for what each does. "I never would have thought we would have put something together for our work," he said.

Now they have, and for a family which has already formed close bonds through the expression of creativity, the gallery will serve to strengthen them.

As Diane put it, "It shows how much we care about each other and the support we have for each other."