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Mountain Home Magazine

Living to Paint

Jul 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon

Outside Hannelore Wolcott-Bailey’s Keuka Lake home, a clump of white snapdragons mysteriously sprouted from the foundation and burst into bloom. The artist, who has invested nearly a century in seeing and preserving the beautiful, often finds the beautiful looking for her.

Graceful posture and long, elegant fingers belie her ninety-eight years, though the scope of Hannelore’s recollections span a period of difficult history—for her as well as for the world. Born in pre-WWII Germany, young Hannelore Fuhr loved drawing and painting from an early age, preferring those to other activities. But after the war began, acquiring an education became difficult.

Nonetheless, she persevered, and in high school she learned of an art competition. The prize was learning cartoon animation—she applied and won a place in their classes. Because her family lived in the Berlin suburbs, she took the train twice each day, except for the required overnight shifts each student was required to take. These were to protect the school by throwing any dropped bombs off the roof before they could explode. One night a friend asked to take Hannelore’s shift in exchange for a later night she wanted free. “That next morning, the building was in ashes,” she says. “My friend was killed.”

The constant danger didn’t end with the war. The area where her family lived became East Berlin, under Russian domination. Hannelore, her sister, and her mother had a terrifying encounter with drunken Russian soldiers who celebrated by shooting everything in their path. When the three were ambushed, then pursued, by soldiers bent on harm, they took refuge in a neighbor’s house, frantically dodging bullets as they raced up the stairs, finally barricading themselves in the attic. The soldiers broke through the door, aimed, and fired. The guns clicked, out of bullets. They escaped before their pursuers could reload.

Hannelore and her sister were later able to escape to relatives in West Germany, where her sister met her future husband, an American soldier. They got married and moved across the ocean to Elmira. Hannelore worked in a Berlin plastics factory and attended art school in Frankfurt.

“My parents worried, ‘How can you support yourself with art in a country that just lost a war?’” They suggested she follow her sister to America, an arduous voyage by boat made worse when she contracted dysentery during the trip and nearly died.

Through new neighbors, she met her future husband, co-founder (with his brother) of Seneca Foods, though it was some time before the pair could understand each other. She found work designing greeting cards for Artistic Greetings in Elmira. When she married in early 1953 and moved to Dundee, it was a huge culture shock for someone who couldn’t understand her neighbors, drive a car, or easily shop.

“For ten years I didn’t paint,” she says. Instead, the young mother concentrated on her family. After they moved to Penn Yan, she met other artists and re-discovered her passion.

“I took every workshop that came along,” she says. And while she’d previously painted in oils, she began working in watercolor, finding it the medium that best expressed her vision. She traveled to France and painted in Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. Her art became a colorful diary of travels with her husband, and workshops with other artists. After her husband died of Alzheimer’s, she married a widower from Wellsboro, dentist Tom Bailey. She survives him as well.

For twenty years she hosted a barn show in Penn Yan for herself and other artists, a successful and much-anticipated annual event partly prompted by Dr. Bailey’s joke: “You have to sell some paintings! We have to eat!” She sold paintings, painted more, mentored young artists, and won the respect and esteem of her fellow Penn Yan artists, who named her Artist of the Year in 2023.

For many years the family swam and sometimes stayed at a small cabin on Keuka Lake with a tiny sliver of lakefront. Hannelore redesigned it into her permanent home, with a wall of large windows offering a panoramic view of Keuka Lake, and a roomy loft studio where she paints, mats, and frames her work.

She’s often inspired by her lake views, new with each seasonal change. And she paints every day. “It’s all I can do,” she says. “I can’t do a flower garden”—because she broke her hip last winter—“but I can paint flowers.” Because it takes time to finish a painting to her satisfaction, she’ll take photos to capture the light and refer to them later. A recently-completed painting on her worktable is a visual reminder of a trip to the Galapagos, where she saw sea lions atop a small boat, looking as though they’d assumed command of the vessel.

“I always want something alive in every painting,” she says.

A picturesque barn is set off with self-possessed sheep; a spring landscape becomes even livelier with people enjoying its blossoming trees. A viewer can vicariously enjoy a lake scene with a glimpse into a sailboat whose passengers are themselves watching the scenery, and each other. A painting of the Berlin Wall includes a protester on its west side. Look closely at her cherished painting of her childhood home and see children clustered around the mother sitting in the shady doorway, one child on her lap.

From July 2 to August 10, 2024, Hannelore’s paintings, along with works by landscape painter Jay Costanza, will be on exhibit at the Arts Center of Yates County, 127 Main Street, Penn Yan.

“Over the last four decades, she’s become one of the most popular and recognizable artists to be associated with the Arts Center,” says Arts Center Director Kris Pearson. “She’s also generous in sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for art.”

Find out more about the summer exhibit at or call (315) 536-8226.

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