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Kathee Kiesselbach: Artist finds ‘the flow’

Published 3:38pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

Maureen Lighthall looks forward when she has lost herself in the moment of the “flow.”
“For me, every painting goes through its terrible period where it looks like it is not working, then I am able to pull it out where it starts to work,” she said. “You are working in the moment.”
Lighthall says expressing herself in visual art has been therapeutic as she continues to explore new techniques, most recently working with encaustic painting, which is done with layers of wax.
And as those layers reveal depth to her work, her own journey to this point has layers as well.
Born in England during World War II, Maureen Lighthall’s parents were German refugees who fled to Glasgow, Scotland, in 1939 before moving to England. Once there, her father joined the British army, where he remained for the next six years before emigrating to Chicago.
Growing up in Chicago was difficult for a second-generation German refugee, but Lighthall pursued a degree in English literature and teaching at Roosevelt University, then on to a master’s degree in high school reading and teaching at Chicago State University. Next, she attended the University of Chicago, where she received a certificate in school administration. She taught high school English at various levels for the next 29 years while raising two sons.
It was later in life that Lighthall decided to pursue art studies. In 1998, she began working with painter Nifodora Dhimitra Elias-Krumrie at the Scarlet MacCaw art center in Sawyer. After years of creative writing, which she also had studied while in college, she felt compelled to pursue different media as art therapy.
“At one point, I just couldn’t write anymore. I wanted to express myself in something more visual, something more abstract,” Lighthall said.
Lighthall did not come to art out of the blue. Her mother, Ruth Vamos, was trained in traditional oil painting in Germany and, in Chicago, was the family artist. But Lighthall had felt until now that the spot was filled.
Lighthall pursued education classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met professor and artist Alain Gavin, with whom she continues exploring various media at his studio in Evanston.
“I feel I am way beyond where I started (in 1998),” she said, “and my work is widely accepted. I do mostly nonrepresentational pieces, but some are abstract where you can identify things, like bones in a piece I did about a French cave excavation. I am also proud to belong to the Indiana Women’s Caucus, a very professional group.”
She has also become more academically inclined after years of study. Lighthall says she started with merely expressing herself abstractly, but then wanted to learn the academics behind what she was doing.
“I still attend class once a week,” she said.
Her favorite artists include Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky, whose work was compared with hers by one reviewer.
Besides the Indiana Women’s Caucus for Art, Lighthall belongs to several other artist groups including the Berrien Artists’ Guild, and the Chicago Women’s Caucus for Art.
She has shown her work most recently at the Buchanan Art Center, the Hershberger Gallery at Goshen College, the Box Factory for the Arts and the Judith Racht Gallery in Harbert, as well as galleries in Chicago.
She has won several purchase awards, including the Liberty Steel Purchase Award (MAAC, 2009) and the Pfizer Purchase Award (KIA, 2004).
Asked what is on the horizon for her work, Lighthall told me, “I’d like my work to be more experimental and more edgy than it is.
“Right now, I’m working on a large watercolor, I’m working with encaustic; I want to try different media.
“I use lots of texture in my work to show depth, either with transparent overlays or thick paint.”
Lighthall looks forward to passing on her love of art to her 10-year-old granddaughter, who lives with her parents in San Diego.

If you have comments or suggestions about this column, contact Kathee Kiesselbach at

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