Artist Carol LaChiusa — pictured with a couple of her watercolors — is the subject of a retrospective art exhibition now on display at the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens.

Artist Carol LaChiusa — pictured with a couple of her watercolors — is the subject of a retrospective art exhibition now on display at the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Painter’s retrospective exhibit captures moments in time

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 27, 2018

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — When she looks at her paintings, memories from those times and places flood back for Carol LaChiusa.

“I always painted, everywhere I went,” the Grosse Pointe Farms artist said. “(The paintings) give an overview of my life.”

LaChiusa’s watercolors are the subject of a solo retrospective show on display through Dec. 21 at the Anton Art Center in downtown Mount Clemens. She’ll be giving an artist talk that’s free and open to the public from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 1.

“I feel the spirit of a place, and that’s when I have to paint it,” LaChiusa said. “I feel the beauty and the ambiance. I meditate before I start working. I just become this world of my own. I have to work fast, because the ambiance changes, the light changes.”

At 88, LaChiusa continues to teach, paint and stretch herself creatively.

“I have been in a critique group with Carol for a number of years,” Grosse Pointe City artist Lori Zuvalec, a Pointe Studio Ten art critique group member, said by email. “She inspires me every time we meet with the amazing work she continues to create, her willingness to learn new techniques, her openness as an artist. Carol is the epitome of a classic watercolorist. Her work is fluid and fresh, always.”

Growing up in Cleveland, LaChiusa was drawn to art as a child. When she was 9, her beloved aunt, Polly, enrolled her in an art program at the Cleveland Museum of Art. She would go on to attend the Cleveland School of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she majored in sculpture and met her first husband, Sy LaChiusa, an abstract artist. The couple moved to Detroit in 1959.

LaChiusa continued to create while her four children — sons Drew, Dean and Dane, and daughter Syd, her second-oldest — were young, but her art career began to soar in the 1980s as she started to show her work, landing her first solo show in 1983 at the Carriage House Club in Detroit. Her retrospective covers most of the art series she has created over the last 35 years.

“There’s so much beautiful work in the show,” said Anton Art Center Executive Director Phil Gilchrist. “We’re really excited to have an opportunity to show such a variety of work from Carol’s career. This is a really exceptional display of watercolors that is nicely situated in this Petitpren Gallery.”

Anton Art Center Exhibition Manager Stephanie Hazzard said there are roughly 35 works in the gallery, with several additional works waiting in the wings, in case art lovers purchase any of the paintings on display and can’t wait until the close of the show to take them home.

“I enjoy how detailed (she’s) gotten as a watercolorist, because you don’t see that a lot,” Hazzard said. “The way she uses watercolor to reflect the surfaces of buildings is beautiful.”

LaChiusa taught art classes at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial for more than 30 years, at the Anton Art Center for almost 20 years and at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center for a decade. She’s a past president of the Grosse Pointe Arts Council, the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, and the Grosse Pointe Artists Association, and has served on the boards of the Michigan Council of the Arts, the Southeast Michigan Council of the Arts and the Michigan Watercolor Society. LaChiusa continues to lead small art workshops, and she said she considers her students her friends.

“In addition to her having a large body of work, she’s a great example of an artist who’s active in the community and the state as a watercolorist,” Hazzard said. “She’s been a part of many different artist groups over the years. Her work is a very good representation of our region.”

LaChiusa has a particular fondness for water, and many of her paintings include lakes, rivers or streams.

“I fall in love with it,” LaChiusa said of water. “I relate to it.”

She said shadows and light are also important to her.

While her work includes many Michigan scenes — from Eastern Market in Detroit to northern landscapes — LaChiusa has also painted around the country, and around the world. The retrospective includes paintings from California, Maine, Hawaii and Arizona, as well as Italy, Greece and other international destinations. LaChiusa said a gallery in Sweden chose one of her vehicle paintings, “The Olde McCormick,” to represent the United States. After Sy LaChiusa died in 1992, she met and married real estate company owner Paris DiSanto, with whom she traveled the world.

“He changed my life in a wonderful way,” LaChiusa said of her second husband, who died in December 2016. “He was always supportive. He started taking me on all these trips so I could paint there.”

LaChiusa formerly used pen and ink, oil and pastel, among other media, but found that watercolor suited her interest in capturing the moment.

“I really enjoyed it because of the spontaneity and the colors I could use,” she said.

Putting this show together, “I started reliving different periods of my life,” LaChiusa said.

“I remember the experience of almost every painting — where I was, who I was with,” she said.

While she’s been blessed with undeniable artistic skill, LaChiusa’s life has been marked by profound loss. Her oldest child, Drew, died on Christmas Eve in 1968 when he was only 15; he had been born with a congenital heart defect. Her daughter, Syd, a successful businesswoman, died of pancreatic cancer at age 59 in 2014. Drew, who was a fine artist, inspired LaChiusa to approach War Memorial officials about offering art classes in 1970.

“It was because of him I started teaching young people at the War Memorial, because I wasn’t a teacher (by training),” LaChiusa said.

She has continued to teach since then. Those who know her say LaChiusa is generous with her time and talent.

“Carol is a wonderful and creative artist and friend, always helping and encouraging other artists with new ideas and techniques,” fellow artist and Pointe Studio Ten member Zena Carnaghi, of Grosse Pointe Shores, said via email.

The retrospective is a first for LaChiusa.

“I’ve had a lot of shows, and I’ve never shown all of my work together,” she said.

About 10 years ago, LaChiusa began working with a new, larger color palette. She once used small brushes, but now prefers larger ones; all the same, she’s able to refine her work with remarkable detail.

“Carol is a dear friend and a beautiful and sweet person,” Grosse Pointe City artist Linda Allen, a Pointe Studio Ten member, said by email. “Carol is very inspirational to me. She is actively working on art all the time. She teaches plein air painting. She said at an early age that she discovered as an artist you could move trees where you wanted them to be, and she’s been creatively moving ever since.”

Next year, LaChiusa said, she hopes to travel to Spain to paint. She continues to grow artistically and capture the beauty in the world around her, whether she’s painting a landscape or a domestic scene, and she has no plans to slow down.

“I have more passion (now),” LaChiusa said. “I’m more excited than ever.”

The Anton Art Center is located at 125 Macomb Place in Mount Clemens. For more information, call (586) 469-8666 or visit