“I do enjoy showing my work,” Nancy Nordloh Neville told me. “It’s my life on review.  You remember how and where you were when you painted it.  You remember if the rain came before you were finished, if you made friends with the neighbors’ dog, or if you forgot an important supply.” A plein air painting day, she went on to say, makes for fun memories.

Watercolor painted from still life set up.

When it’s Nancy Nordloh Neville’s plein air painting day, it also makes for engaging works, a fact well known to the Cincinnati art world. Her most recent honor was the Joan Cord Memorial Award in the 126th annual juried exhibition sponsored by the Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati. “It was painted in a friend’s garden last spring.  It shows you never know when you’re doing a prize winner – not necessarily by spending hours in the studio,” she said. The judges’ comments gave her immense pleasure, as they recognized the elements that are her particular aim: “charming, juicy, painting with spontaneity, vibrant sense of light.”  Her award, from the Cord Foundation for $1,500, was the top prize among nearly twenty monetary recognitions to exhibiting artists, ranging from $50 to $1000.

Chicago in Bloom oil 18×20 oil

Neville’s works (signed Nancy Nordloh) may well bring a smile of pleasure to the beholder. People themselves are not the subject, but their flowering plants and now and again their houses in the background suggest a pleasurable way of life for those who grow the flowers and live in the houses. All this suggests an inviting urban world where flowers are valued and their presence shared with all who pass by.

We talked in the generous studio she shares with her husband, Bruce Neville, also an artist, in The Pendelton at 1310 Pendleton Street in Over-the-Rhine. This turn-of-the-20th-century building now houses more than 200 artists in its eight floors of studios but originally was home to a shoe manufacturer. Its ambiance these days, as Final Friday visitors are well aware, is one of energy and accomplishment.

Plein air Yellow cottage painted in Bay View Michigan. 11×14

Now retired from an architectural career, Bruce “was painting when we got married, but then stopped to concentrate on architecture.  When he was 60 I gave him a gift of a workshop that took place in Florida and he’s been going strong ever since,” Nancy told me. The studio, which seems to be divided down the middle and is on two levels, gives each of them generous work and display space.  At the time of my visit Nancy’s area was brim-filled with flowery watercolors. It’s apparent that they spend much time there, but their home now is in Terrace Park “after living for years in Pleasant Ridge,” she said.

Although she also works in oils, watercolor seems to be the medium this artist turns to most often. It’s perhaps the most widely practiced of the visual arts (kindergarteners do it, young wives do it, vacationers tired of cameras do it) and certainly many people do it badly but it is a continuing pleasure to look at Neville’s results. She teaches watercolor weekly and twice a year gives a three-day workshop in the Pendleton studio. Students are there from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and many come from out of town. This summer she and Bruce will give a joint workshop in mid-July in Charlevoix, Michigan, concentrating on still life and architectural elements. (For more information see www.nancynordloh.com)

Oil 9 x12 painted plein air Roaring Brook Michigan

I mentioned to her that people do not turn up in her paintings and she replied that it’s true, she does very few “mostly little characters, children” and received by email a charming example.  In answer to questions about her own children she told me “We have three; our youngest daughter is a graphic designer with her own company in Chicago.  All of our children have artistic ability that comes out in different ways – in their gardens, in their homes.”

Neville herself is a Cincinnatian, grew up in Indian Hill, and is an Ursuline graduate (“very strong art department” she told me). An early influence were classes at the Art Museum (“when I was eight years old, the Saturday morning program.”) She attended the University of Cincinnati, studying what was then called advertising but is now graphic design. “I took every art course I could.  Many classes from Bob Fabe and Reginald Grooms, later Jack Meanwell and Don Dennis. All were big influences for me.” She and Bruce clearly enjoy sharing their artistic lives. “Our best time is painting on site together.  Especially when we travel to Michigan, to Charleston, or down into Kentucky.”

The Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati also is an important part of her art life. This venerable association, established more than a century and a quarter ago, helps to give structure to the artistic lives of its members through workshops, exhibitions and the exchange of useful information. It’s a useful reminder that women have been making art for a long time, with devotion and often admirable skill. Nancy Nordloh is a prime example.

–Jane Durrell

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