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Grace Gilbert lived an artist’s life

By: Bob Cudmore

Date: 2017-04-15

Grace Gilbert lived an artist’s life
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 04-15-2017

After Grace Cermola Gilbert of Amsterdam died at age 98 on January 15 this year, her wake featured what was called a final exhibit of her popular art work.

Born on July 4, 1918, Grace’s parents were Maria Petruccione Cermola and Anthony Cermola. Her mother and father were from separate towns in Italy, Benevento for her mother and Amorosi for her father. They met in Amsterdam. Her father was a Bigelow-Sanford carpet weaver who also operated a neighborhood store. The Cermolas lived upstairs in a two family house on upper Brookside Avenue.

Grace’s mother wanted her to study piano as everyone in the family was encouraged to play an instrument. But Grace preferred visual art even at a young age. As a child, she drew sketches of her cousins.

After graduating from Amsterdam High School in 1936, she went to Syracuse University and majored in art education, finishing college in three years. In 1939 she and three other Amsterdam Italian-Americans who had graduated from college were honored at a banquet sponsored by the Italian Federated Societies.

After college Grace taught drawing for several years in the Gilboa-Conesville Schools but then moved home to teach at Amsterdam High School. She was a public school art teacher for thirty-three years.

While Grace was attending college, she had met a U.S. Navy machinist’s mate from Texas, Clinton Wayne Gilbert, who had been sent to school in Syracuse by the Navy. Grace and Clinton married at St. Michael’s Church in Amsterdam in March 1945.

Clinton worked for General Motors in Schenectady after the war. They had two sons, Timothy and Thomas. Clinton was laid off by GM in 1959 then secured a post in Westchester County with the New York State Thruway Authority. The Gilberts relocated to Mamaroneck and Grace taught art in the Pelham schools until her retirement in 1977.

Her husband retired the next year and they moved back to Amsterdam. Clinton, who died in 1985, loved the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course. “I still love Amsterdam,” Grace said in a 2011 interview.

For many years Grace volunteered at the Walter Elwood Museum teaching art classes and serving on the board. She also taught private art classes at the former St. Stanislaus School on Cornell Street. She said every doctor’s wife in the area took her class, “The community needs art.”

Grace said, “I have a style all my own.” Some of her paintings are in the style of Dutch masters; some are similar to French impressionists. She once did a modern style self-portrait which her friends didn’t like, but she was proud of. She mainly worked in oil or acrylic and sold hundreds of her paintings.

A frequent traveler, Grace explored Italy, Egypt, China, Russia, Greece, Morocco, England, Spain and France.

In later years Grace kept company with widower Louis Hildebrandt, Sr. They did not know each other at the time but both were graduates of the class of 1936 at Wilbur H. Lynch High School. They met when Hildebrandt brought Grace information on an upcoming class reunion.

Hildebrandt had been a jockey for the Sanford Stud Farm in Amsterdam. Grace encouraged him to write his memoir, “Riders Up.” Hildebrandt had more than 480 mounts in his eleven year Sanford racing career.

Grace accompanied Hildebrandt to many public appearances including events sponsored by the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm, of which he was a founding member, although she feared horses. Hildebrandt died in 2011 at age 93.

“My age is not a detriment,” Grace once predicted in an interview with The Saratogian. “I’m going to keep painting until the day I die.”