Her paintings had a sense of authenticity, art critics said, capturing the farmlands and lives of people with an empathy that comes from being one of them, and an appreciation of color and an eye for detail that seemed almost intuitive.
Lois Ireland Zwettler was largely self-taught and painted her corner of the world — central Wisconsin — beginning in the late 1940s. Her work drew the attention of one of the nation's most celebrated American scene painters, John Steuart Curry, who was the artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Zwettler, 92, died Dec. 30 of COVID-19. In recent decades, after the death of her husband, she lived in Hastings and Mahtomedi to be closer to family members in Minnesota.
"She is a fairly singular person in the history of American art, specifically, American modernism, the art that developed in the United States from 1900 to 1950," said Michael Hall, a retired arts professor from Hamtramck, Mich., who was a friend of hers in later years.
A retrospective of her work was shown at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, Wis., in 2007. She joked at that time to an interviewer from Wisconsin Public Radio, "I define myself as a Halley's comet. I show up every 75 years."
Curry first discovered Zwettler's art and encouraged her when she was a teenager. Her paintings appeared in expositions for about 10 years in Madison. "Lois Ireland became sort of the poster child for the rural arts program," Hall said.
She continued studying art and traveled to Europe to see the work of the world's great painters. In 1958 she married John Zwettler and moved to Oconomowoc, Wis., where John was a barber and she became a homemaker, raising a family.
In the late 1970s she resumed painting watercolor landscapes. One of her works was part of the 2000 exhibition "Illusions of Eden: Visions of the American Heartland" and was shown in several cities in the United States and Europe. Nannette Maciejunes, executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, met Zwettler when the exhibition appeared at her museum. "She was important," Maciejunes said. "She was a woman painter in an art world that was still very much dominated by men. She was talented. We were proud to have her work in our show."
Zwettler is survived by two sons, Scott Zwettler of Eden Prairie and Chris Zwettler of Grant, and two grandchildren.
"She continued painting right up until Christmas," Scott said.
See her work at galleryofwisconsinart.com.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224