Abbie’s art Rarely viewed treasures to be exhibited

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Painting of a Lady
Yellow Roses
Yellow Rose with Blue Pot (top) and Jeptha’s Daughter (bottom, left) are two of several works by the late Abbie Granni Griffth that will be displayed at an event later this month.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

A public look at a private art collection is set for later this month when pieces by Abbie Griffith Grannis go on display for the first time in 15 years.

Abbie’s impressive body of work includes many still life watercolors but there are also numerous oils on canvas, charcoal drawings and painted china pieces. Most of the art was created before 1915 when Abbie was a young woman. The pieces were last seen in 2004 at an Elkader Opera House exhibit.

“Grammie’s artwork was part of our lives—it was in her home and in our homes, and it was always treasured,” said her grandson, Bob Griffith of Elkader. Griffith and his sister, Nancy Griffith Kuehl, also of Elkader, as well as other members of their extended family own most of the pieces.

In 2010, Griffith assembled photos of Abbie’s works into a slim volume that also includes a biographical sketch. IN the bio, he relates that his grandmother, whose full name is Abbie Helen Grannis Griffith, was born December 23, 1883, in Fayette County. She was the youngest of five children and at her death on November 18, 1968 she was the last surviving member of her family.

During the Civil War, Abbie’s father, Henry James Grannis, was the color bearer of Company C, 12th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He is believed to be the only color bearer to survive the war. The flag he carried into battle is on display in the Upper Iowa University Library.
After the war, Henry farmed in Illyria Township before moving his family to West Union and later Fayette.

Because of ill health, Abbie did not attend school regularly during her childhood. However, she later attended Upper Iowa where she studied vocal music and art, and played on the school’s first conference champion women’s basketball team.

Abbie married Harry Llewellyn Griffith of Elkader on January 1, 1907. Harry and his father ran the Elkader Register (later the Clayton County Register). Abbie and Harry became sole owners of the newspaper when Harry’s father died in 1910.

Abbie and Harry had five children, including a set of twins. The demands of raising a large family and helping her husband run a business left Abbie with little time for artistic pursuits. In fact, Bob Griffith said, she quit painting altogether after the couple’s twins were born.
“She didn’t take it up again until she was in her 80s when my mother, Louise, gave her a set of pastels,” Griffith continued. “By then Grammie had cataracts and you could tell in her later works that her eyesight was fading.”

Many of Abbie’s works are still in their original ornate frames. The frames were sometimes a bone of contention for Abbie.

“She had these wonderful paintings in beautiful gold frames,” said Griffith. “People would stare at the painting, step back and then say ‘What a beautiful frame.’ That used to make her so mad.”

Abbie’s artwork will be exhibited at a showing and reception February 22 from 5 to 8 p.m. at G’s Closet and Gallery in downtown Elkader. The event is a fund-raiser for Art in the Alley, a project that has recently received a $5,000 grant from Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation that must be matched with $5,000 in donations. For ticket information, stop by G’s Closet or the Main Street Elkader Office in the Elkader City Hall.

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