Painting ladies open 'painted lady' studio

Aug. 16, 2007

"One painted lady, two lady painters."

That's how artists Nancy Lee Davis and Thea Kovac are billing their studio open house and sale this weekend at Davis's charming "painted lady" Victorian home, 2588 S. Delaware Ave.

The house, surrounded by English-style gardens, is a perfect setting for the luminous bouquets of roses that Davis brings to life in oils. In a sunlit studio in the front parlor, a palette of fresh paint and a series of small photos clipped to an easel create a still life hinting at the artist's approach to a work-in-progress.

On her canvases, though, the "still life" is far from still. Davis's work is often surreal, incorporating meticulously rendered images of doors and portals framing fragments of lush gardens and fantasy forests.

"She creates whole cosmos within her paintings," Kovac said.

Midsummer dreaming

The result is like a midsummer day's dream.

This summer, Davis has been dreaming about having a little more fun with her work.

She decided that she was "not going to worry about being serious; I'm just going to play and paint," she said.

Although almost all of her paintings include roses, Davis said she had never been particularly fond of the flowers before she started to paint them. Once she began to put them on canvas, they became more of a challenge than she might have imagined.

"You don't want to make them look like they're made of stone - you want them to look like they're living," she said.

Davis has been a featured artist at Milwaukee's Lakefront Festival of the Arts and has exhibited her work at the Edgewood Orchard Gallery in Door County, Portals Gallery in Chicago and in a 2004 solo exhibit at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

Kovac teaches continuing education classes and workshops in creativity and art at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Cardinal Stritch University, Carroll College and Alverno College. She works in watercolor, acrylic and collage.

Layers of color

In her Lost Playground loft studio in Walker's Point, Kovac experiments with layers of color and pattern to produce unpredictable images.

Her subjects range from a small canvas featuring a delicate bouquet of June wildflowers to an exuberant, wall-sized painting of tropical blooms to an abstract interpretation of a cityscape.

In her classes and workshops, Kovac advises her students not to wait for inspiration to tap them on the shoulder.

Creativity, she said, "is a practice and practice involves commitment. You enter into the process."

Kovac teaches a class called "The Secret Life of Artists" aimed at identifying ways to unblock the creative process.

She tells art students not to put all of their energy into one particular project, but to think in terms of producing a series of drawings or paintings.

"When you put all of your expectations into one painting, your ego gets involved and you end up with too many ideas in one piece," Kovac said. "I do that all the time."

To resolve that issue, Kovac sometimes cuts her paintings into pieces and reassembles the fragments into a collage to make her ideas work.

"It's joyful and empowering," she said.

Kovac's work can be seen at the Art and Soul Gallery and Katie Gingrass Gallery in Milwaukee and the Garden Room Atrium Gallery in Shorewood. It is also featured in the online gallery at

Davis and Kovac became friends at a small artists' group that meets twice monthly over breakfast. Members of the group act as cheerleaders and constructive critics of each other's work, Davis said.

"Co-conspirators, all," Kovac said.

Nan Bialek keeps tabs on the South Shore's creative side. To contact her about an art topic, call South Shore NOW at (262) 446-6632 or send an e-mail to


WHAT: Studio open house and sale featuring the work of artists Nancy Lee Davis and Thea Kovac

WHEN: 2 to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18

WHERE: 2588 S. Delaware Ave.

FEATURING: Original paintings, reproductions, note cards, hand-painted ornaments and gifts


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