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In Memoriam Exhibit: The Artistic Legacies of Miriam Gibbs & Cheryl Whelan

The ACWL-Nuveen will be honoring the lives of two prominent local artists in an exhibition entitled, In Memoriam: The Artistic Legacies of Miriam Gibbs & Cheryl Whelan

– April 29 – May 28. The show will include a variety of artwork curated by each of the families selected to represent the individual style and unique talent of their loved one. The public is invited to share in the celebration of Cheryl and Miriam during a reception at the ACWL-Nuveen on Friday, May 6 from 5 – 7pm.

Cheryl Whelan was well-known in the White Lake area as a prolific and talented artist with a

generous spirit. She passed away in 2020, at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer. Cheryl was deeply involved and committed to community service, especially through her dedication to the Arts Council of White Lake. She served as the Chair of the Arts Council in 1988 and 1989 and notably helped organize the first Art in the Barn fundraiser along with her husband Howard Whelan. Cheryl was a founding member, volunteer director, and the first paid bookkeeper at the Arts Council’s White River Gallery -the start-up for what is now the ACWL-Nuveen. She was honored with the Cathy Seggie Service Award in 1999 for her leadership in support of the arts. Cheryl was also a founding member of the Arts Council Legacy Circle, a group of donors invested in the continued future success of the Arts Council.

Before moving to Whitehall, Cheryl studied to receive her captain’s license, which was unusual for a woman to earn at the time, but she did it so that she and her husband could run Tanbark Sailing Adventures. Her creativity spilled out into all aspects of her life, and she was known as a brilliant gardener. Cheryl even earned her Master Gardener certification. Her friend Patti Townsend said, “she was so inspiring. She designed my gardens and they’re extensive.” Another close friend Susan Newhof noted, “she built her gardens the same way she would put together an art piece. She combined color and texture, light and shadow, depth of field and height, and she knew how to design according to when the plants would bloom. She used her gardens like canvases for paintings.” Cheryl was an amazing individual who helped her family, friends, and community in a myriad of ways. She is deeply missed but she left a legacy that continues to support the community she loved.

Miriam Gibbs, who passed away peacefully in January 2021 at the impressive age of 104, was an ebullient member of the art community. When speaking of Miriam, what sets her apart is her long life and ability to retain that spark of creativity well into her 100s. Her daughters Margaret and Janis said, “life changed for Miriam when she decided to go to college in her 40s. She lived on campus and was often the oldest person in her class. She returned confident, eager to learn new things, and teach”. Miriam taught 3rd grade at Whitehall Elementary school from 1967-1977.

After retirement she traveled and used her gift for teaching painting to novice students who didn’t think they could make art. Her simple, fun methods gave needed encouragement to her students who were unsure of their ability. Her daughter Margaret said, “Mother identified herself as a painter, that was who she was, and I believe it added to her longevity. She was always creative, loved to write and kept a journal for 30 years. She wrote books and stories for all her children and loved to write Haiku poetry”. Even with failing eyesight, suffering from macular degeneration, she managed to paint almost every day up until her death. Miriam was an amazing artist, whose creativity bled into every part of her life. Her presence is missed by her four children, grandchildren, and many friends but her extensive body of art continues to bring great joy.

In Memoriam: The Artistic Legacies of Miriam Gibbs & Cheryl Whelan can be viewed during regular ACWL-Nuveen hours Tuesday – Friday 11:00 – 5:30pm and Saturdays 11:00am – 3:00pm. For more information about the show and the scheduled reception on May 6, call 231-893-2524 – or stop by 106 E. Colby Street – downtown Whitehall.

This article was written by ACWL-Nuveen High School board member and Honor Society member, Alison Chen, a senior at Whitehall High.


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