“Iam so sorry to inform you that our good friend Glenna Hartmann died earlier tonight at Cottage Hospital. It is hard to conceive that she has left us. Her sweet spirit, rigorous mind, huge talent, positive attitude, and unstinting hard work have always been an inspiration.”
My short, sorrowful email, sent Sunday, May 25, announced the passing of a close friend and colleague, but more than that, in all matters concerning the Oak Group, our right hand and left brain. For the last few weeks of her life, Glenna had been using an oxygen tank. Her lungs were rapidly failing, but still her radiant smile and enthusiasm for life disguised for us the imminence of her death.
We invited Glenna to join the fledgling Oak Group in 1987. She quickly became an indispensable force, helping the group get off of the ground and then soar. She joined many other groups and participated in invitational trips that took her to the Forbes’ Ch•teau de Balleroy in Normandy, a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, and many other places, but her passion and commitment remained with the Oak Group and our causes. Of particular importance to her was the collaboration with the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Cruz Island project. She conceived the audacious idea of having a yearly art show on the island’s main ranch, to benefit the island and its creatures.
Ray Strong, the spiritual father of the Oak Group, often told this anecdote: Someone asked Rembrandt if he was the greatest painter in the world. With a sigh, he responded: “Alas, no, there is a Spaniard who can paint an empty room full of air.” This is why, in Ray’s opinion, Glenna was the most fully realized painter in California. He admired her ability to paint mountains and trees enveloped in air.
Many of Glenna’s painting adventures culminated in important shows and sometimes in national art magazine articles. Glenna enjoyed painting the historic ranchos and remote ranchlands of Santa Barbara and Marin counties; she also collaborated closely with her good friend Ellen Easton in the realization of a series of books published by the Easton Gallery, where her work was represented for 18 years.
In her twenties, Glenna battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After that, her strong spirit willed her often frail body to amazing feats of achievement. She and her former husband, Albert Stevens, spent considerable time exploring Baja California. Their many whale encounters and experiences diving with dolphins inspired Glenna to paint numerous large paintings of marine mammals, including a collaboration with fellow Oak Group member John Iwerks on a mural for remote Santa Barbara Island.
Despite her many accomplishments and honors, she remained unassuming, warm, and accessible. She was down to earth and enjoyed simple pleasures. She loved her many pets throughout the years, including the pair of geese that used to fly behind her as she ran down a hill behind her house. She also enjoyed reading Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton novels. She loved to solve sudoku puzzles and looked forward to her weekly outings to the movies with her beloved brother Robert.
Now Glenna has literally run out of air. She has gone to paint the other side of the horizon with Strong, who died two years ago at 101. Herself and her life “a thing of beauty,” she has left us her paintings of many things of beauty that will never pass into nothingness.
People touch our lives; some we love, some we take for granted, and some we hardly know. They are all unique, interesting, and important. Are we less, a little poorer, when we lose them? I think not. Paradoxically, I think the fullness of our love for them comes to the surface, sometimes from a depth we did not suspect. I think the blessing of our relationship remains, and if we allow it, it flowers in our painting, music, or other chosen mode of self-expression. In our loss there is an opportunity to realize that we are left enriched, and inspired to contribute to those that we will eventually leave behind.
- A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
- Its loveliness increases; it will never
- Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
- A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
- Full of sweet dreams, and health, and
- quiet breathing. - John Keats