Gretchen Garner



Artist: Garner, Gretchen

Title/Date: Colored Houses, 1976-1978

Description of the work:

A series of eight color images of houses arranged in two rows with a title Colored Houses printed on the mat, below the photographs. The mat has 8 bevel-edged windows framing each picture. The photographs are all front yard views of homes built in, or follow the style of, late Victorian. The two- and three-story houses have a pitched roof, covered porch and gray skies overhead. The soft lavender, greens, pale yellow and fading reds are further subdued by the muted, natural light of the winter day and the melting snow casts a cool chill on the composition.

Taken with a handheld 2-¼ square, medium format camera, the images are one part of a larger collection of 27 categories. There are eight photographs in groups of what Garner refers to as ephemera –“an ironic encyclopedia.” These series of photographs were taken over three years driving around the city of Chicago. Garner writes, “These photographs are basically what you can see from a car window.” The groupings were assembled in catalog entitled An Art History of Ephemera: Gretchen Garner’s Catalog.

Artist’s Biography:

Born in 1939, art teacher, critic and self-taught photography enthusiast, Gretchen Garner says of her work, “I am fascinated by the unintentional man-made beauty in the world,” and specifically attracted to recording the quickly changing aspects of the urban landscape that are often missed or ignored.

As college student at the University of Chicago in the 1960’s, Garner was interested in photography but, at the time, there was no program. She studied art history instead and that foundation informed her subsequent work. She took her father’s 35-mm camera and left school for a year to practice photography on her own. She never took a formal photography class until 1975, when she earned her MFA from the School of Art Institute in Chicago.

Primarily recognized as an art historian, Garner has taught and lectured at over 20 different universities and her work is held in the permanent of most museums. Garner’s work was reproduced in numerous photography publications and, over 20 of her essays, were published in academic journals and popular magazines like Harper’s. Garner has also written seven books and catalogs. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, and continues to write about art history. In September 2016, she published Winold Reiss and the Cincinnati Union Terminal, celebrating the artist who designed and installed the 23 monumental glass mosaic tile murals in the Cincinnati train terminal in 1931.


Signed: Inscribed in a black ink flourish across lower right corner of the back mat, “A page from my catalog” Gretchen Garner ©1978.

Dates and Dimension: 1976-78, photographs ~4 ½” x 4 ½” cut unevenly; Full mat 20” x 24”, beveled windows 4” x 4” 

Medium: color photography, 50mm wide-angle lens.

Accession and Acquisition: # 1979.07.01 Date: 1979

Condition: Good.

Provenance and Exhibitions: UNK; Hayden Gallery MIT, New Mexico State University, Friends of Photography Carmel, Evanston (IL) Art Center, Dart Gallery Chicago

Framed or Flat: Unframed

Current Location: Piece is part of the University Art Gallery’s permanent collections at New Mexico State University.


Nancy Timmes Engle. “Gretchen Garner’s Catalog: A self-taught photographer discovers her own urban paradise.” Popular Photography, February 1982, pp 84. Accessed November 18, 2017. accessed November 18, 2017

Garner, Gretchen Winold Reiss and the Cincinnati Union Terminal accessed November 18, 2016, http//

Reproductions: The prints were reproduced for the catalog publication in both hardcover and paperback. No print run information is available.

Researched by: Carleen Cirillo, 20 November 2016.