Tag Archives: Eleanor

Ella Bolli Van Gilder, Hull House Volunteer, Woodcarver

1911 Ella Bolli Van Gilder oil portrait

My Great Grandmother was Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1874-1958. Before her marriage to Walter Atkin Van Gilder (1870-1943), she worked at the famous Hull House in Chicago with Jane Addams (Co-founder of the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union).  Like Jane Addams, Ella Bolli was a suffragette (feminist) working for women’s rights.

Hull House became, at its inception in 1889, “a community of university women” whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people (many of them recent European immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhood. The “residents” (volunteers at Hull were given this title) held classes in literature, history, art, domestic activities (such as sewing), and many other subjects. Hull House also held concerts that were free to everyone, offered free lectures on current issues, and operated clubs for both children and adults. (from Wikipedia)

My mother, Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, was very close to her Grandmother and called her “Gram”. Gram was formally trained as a woodcarver in Chicago and carved furniture during most of her life. My mother remembers helping her: sanding, waxing, and polishing wood endlessly as a young teen.

I have several of Gram’s pieces, along with mirrors and stained glass designed by her husband (created by the Dutch workers in his glass factory). When we sold my mother’s house in San Francisco in 2012, we had to clean out fifty years of stuff she and my father had collected.  Some of it went to my mother’s apartment, some to my brothers and me (see Distributing Family Stuff for how we decided who got what), and the rest into storage.

During the big 2012 move, we were surprised to find a previously-unknown carved chair by Gram shoved into a corner of the attic crawl space. We have all but two of the pieces. John and I are finally now discussing how best to restore it. Some of the carved furniture by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder:

unassembled Fumed Oak carved chair by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder

Fumed Oak carved chair by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder

Fumed Oak carved table by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder

Fumed Oak carved piano bench by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder

Cheval standing carved mirror fumed Oak by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder, glass by Walter Atkin Van Gilder

detail of Cheval standing carved mirror fumed Oak by Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder

1951 Ella Bolli Van Gilder

Additional information provided by my Aunt Louise Creekmore Senatore on 14 June 2016 – added here with her permission:

That was a great Blog on some of the history of your great grandmother – Ellen Rachel Bolli Van Gilder – aka Ella to her friends and Gram to her grand-children. I actually remember a fair amount about her as I was 14 when she passed away. Her birthday actually is 12/2/1874 according to mother and the cemetery records. While at Hull HouseJane Addams encouraged her to travel to the Philippines on missionary work. Fortunately she returned to Knoxville [Tennessee] to marry Dink – Walter Atkin Van Gilder. She told me that grand-dad said when he first laid eyes on her when they both were quite young, that he was going to marry her one day!

The pictures of the furniture that she carved that you have are just lovely. Too bad not to include the chair we have that she carved with the Esperandieu coat of arms or the large bench that she gave to Mark [Dickinson]. Just beautiful workmanship! She also painted in oils but we only have one of her paintings. Gram also sewed beautiful clothes – she was so artistic by nature and in thought as is seen in her poetry and her opinion pieces.

She loved animals too! Eleanor and Wade [Dickinson] were given a beautiful black Persian kitty as a wedding present in 1952, named Duchess. They not being able to take care of a kitty at the time, Gram said that she would take her and after that Duchess was always with Gram, on her bed, in her chair. She was a sweet, loving kitty who, unfortunately, was allergic to her own fur and sneezed a lot. Gram would recite poetry to me while she ironed clothes and would read stories to me to while away the time.

She loved gardening and was always at Faraway [in Knoxville] every Spring to weed and plant and to cut the gorgeous Jonquils. She and Mom would pile them in the car in baskets and take them around to give them to friends. I got to sit in the back of the car, surrounded by bushels of wonder smelling flowers! She tried also to keep a little garden going at Elkmont [Tennessee] just on either side of the front, stone steps. She planted many ferns and bulbs. They didn’t have much success, however, since they needed water and tending more often than we were there. She is the one who named the [Elkmont] cabin “Dear Lodge.”

Note: None of the items pictured are for sale. I do not provide pricing or sales advice for similar items. Please do not ask.
Images Copyright 1951-2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Moving Day for Mom


Yesterday was tough. About 12 of us (5 family members plus a great team of professional movers) spent 12 hours shifting my mother from her Independent Living apartment to a new Assisted Living apartment across the parking lot on the same campus. My kids took their Grandmother out for the day (to breakfast and church and to visit the Cantor Arts Center) while my brother, husband, and I moved her stuff. She did not want to move but her family and doctors all see that with progressive memory loss, my mother needs more help than we can provide with less-than-fulltime caregivers. We hired movers who took photos of everything and did their best to set up the new apartment in exactly the same arrangement as the old. Her cats were unhappy to be kept safe in carriers all day – and are probably still hiding under the bed.  We moved everything: furniture, kitchen, art, more art, art supplies, her big easel, electronics, and an entire deck-full of heavy plants and planters.  The point in reproducing the old place in the new was that she would not notice – and she didn’t.  Success meant that our day of sorting, heavy lifting and tricky decision-making went largely unrecognized.  Hooray?

A few years ago, I was touched when my younger brother sent me this poem about difficulties in taking care of our mother. My two brothers live much farther away, so I manage her day-to-day business, caretakers, and medical decisions. My brothers and I confer on resolving larger issues.  Sometimes it feels like having another child myself – but one who gets less mature as time passes.  No matter what, we love her as she is.

The Guardian
by Joseph Mills

I don’t think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
We talk about how he might bring this up
with the staff, how best to delicately ask
if they’re using her shampoo on others
or maybe just allowing her too much.
“You only need a little, Mom,” he said,
“Not a handful.” “I don’t have any!”
she shouted before hanging up. Later
he finds a bottle stashed in her closet
and two more hidden in the bathroom
along with crackers, spoons, and socks.
Afraid someone might steal her things,
she hides them, but then not only forgets
where, but that she ever had them at all.

I tease my brother, “You always wanted
another kid.” He doesn’t laugh. She hated
her father, and, in this second childhood,
she resents the one who takes care of her.
When I call, she complains about how
my brother treats her and how she hasn’t
seen him in years. If I explain everything
he’s doing, she admires the way I stick up
for him. Doing nothing means I do nothing
wrong. This is love’s blindness and love’s
injustice. It’s why I expect to hear anger
or bitterness in my brother’s voice, and why
each time we talk, no matter how closely
I listen, I’m astonished to hear only love.

“The Guardian” by Joseph Mills, from Love and Other Collisions. © Press 53, 2010.





Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Republican Elephant Killed in Accident (1956)


I grew up knowing about Dolly, the baby elephant my parents took care of during the August 1956 Republican National Convention. I was sad today to learn the end of her story. I have been looking through a family treasure box recently and came across a folder of newspaper clippings from 1956. Some I had seen before – of my parents dressed in Indian finery escorting Dolly, an eight month old elephant from the Louis Goebel Wild Animal Farm in Southern California. There were cheerful news stories from New York, Chicago, Pacific Palasades, my mother’s hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as from the San Francisco Bay Area. Dolly as the symbol of the Young Republicans, went to all of the convention social events and even greeted President Eisenhower (who was successfully re-elected several months later). She was usually pictured wearing her big “Elephant License 1” from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

It was a shock to come upon two final news stories about how Dolly was killed in a traffic accident when the truck taking her home from San Francisco overturned. She died near Watsonville, California, in need of a blood transfusion and far from any elephant who could give it to her.

Four years later, by the 1960 presidential election, my mother had become a Democrat, firmly opposed to my father’s continued support of the Republican party. 1960 was the first election I remember: my 3-year-old self was so delighted that my candidate, John F. Kennedy, won.  I wonder if Dolly’s death had anything to do with my mother’s shift in politics?

Wade Dickinson with elephant at Goebel Wild Animal Farm 1956







1956 Dolly elephant

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Family Treasure Box

Wade Dickinson 1964 Louis Goebel Wild Animal Farm with elephant

The family that purchased our San Francisco home three years ago is remodeling and found a big flat metal box in the attic. I am grateful that they were kind enough to ship it to me since it is stuffed with family documents and photographs. I have been sorting and scanning the contents, finding both treasures and surprises. There was a stack of small faded family photos of Swiss ancestors, dated 1863 to 1890 (I recognize a few names and faces). There were also photos of military bomb tests taken my father (Wade Dickinson) in the 1950s, and a picture of my father taking delivery of a baby elephant at the Louis Goebel Wild Animal Farm. He and my mother wrangled the elephant for the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco. Also included were my mother’s diploma from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville 1952), my father’s diploma from West Point (USMA 1949) , plus a humorous 1951 diploma for “Doctor of Nuclear Phenomeknowledgy” from the researchers at the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology where my father studied Nuclear Engineering. There is even a flyer from my mother’s first art exhibit in San Francisco (1965?) and a photo of her modeling in the Junior League of San Francisco fashion show.  Unpacking treasure is interesting.

family treasure box 2015

Eleanor Dickinson Junior League Fashion Show San Francisco 1955 . Wade Dickinson USMA 1945

USAF military bomb test 1952?

Wade Dickinson certificate Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology 1951

1870 Washington DC . Grandma Lily in Geneve 1871

Photos Copyright 1951-2015 by Katy Dickinson


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Art Trust


My mother, Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, has been an artist all of her life, including teaching for decades as the Professor of Life Drawing (and Gallery Management Program Director) at the renowned California College of the Arts (in Oakland and San Francisco). She has been creating in one medium or another pretty much daily since she knowingly composed her first photograph in 1941 at the age of ten. Even though she sells pieces regularly, this still makes for a huge collection of artwork – many thousands of framed and unframed works (mostly on paper or fabric). After my father Wade Dickinson passed away in 2011, we moved Eleanor and her art from San Francisco to San Jose.

For the last year, I have been working with my mother and brothers Pete and Mark, advised by an Estate CPA and an Estate Planning Attorney as well as experts in art, to set up a charitable Art Trust to maintain and manage my mother’s collection. Art is very complex in terms of taxes and valuation, and we want to get this business sorted out while our mother can be actively involved. I was very happy to finally get most of the Eleanor Dickinson Art Trust paperwork signed last week.

In addition to managing the business side of Eleanor Dickinson’s work, we also want her art to be exhibited – to be seen and enjoyed and not just kept in storage. However, even setting up a small local art show takes weeks of work for both the artist (or her family) and the gallery, museum, or exhibit space. Many shows require special framing, shipping, documentation, and insurance, all of which take time and money. We know from experience it can take many years of negotiations to donate an art collection to a museum or university. Within my mother’s larger collection, there are many sub-collections, including: Old Testament drawings, dream pictures, crucifixion velvets, animal portraits, plus drawings and photos and artifacts associated with Revival! and her other big traveling exhibits. We have set up the new Art Trust so that sales of art can pay the insurance and exhibit costs for the collection long-term.  We hope that our mother will be creating new art for many years to come.  We are doing our best to care for it!



Images Copyright Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson 1975, and Katy Dickinson 2013-2014

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Rock People


We are rock people. When my family travels or goes camping, we come home with rocks. We send each other photos of the rocks we have collected, and give garden stones for holiday and birthday presents. I have shipped rocks home from trips to Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. (When a Customs agent asked “What do you have in there – rocks?” I replied “Of course!”) After a trip to Brasil and a week camping in the Sierras, I gave my mother a necklace with a natural Brasilian agate pendant, plus a river rock from the Sierras. These were much appreciated!


Images Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson

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Drawings vs. Cartoons vs. Caricatures


My mother, Eleanor Dickinson, sketched my husband John Plocher during Sunday brunch last week. I have been thinking how different even a quick fine art sketch is from a cartoon or caricature. John had a caricature drawn at a conference last year by Jon Casey and has been using that image for his web thumbnail image. I experimented with the Avachara self-portrait website. While the Dickinson portrait and Casey caricature both show recognizable aspects of John, the Avachara image somehow manages to include all characteristics without being a likeness.




Photographs Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson, Drawing Copyright 2014 by Eleanor Dickinson

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