Elsa Emilie Ulbricht (1885 - 1980)

Birth date: 3/15/1885 Death date: 1980  
Birth location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin Death location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin  
Media: Decorative Art , Graphic Art , Painting , Textile Web site:
Comprehensive (file rating) - Major Wisconsin artist file that includes comprehensive documentation on artist's life that can be researched on site at MWA.


Elsa Emille Ulbricht
Born 1885 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Died 1980 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Elsa Ulbricht (born March 15, 1885 in Milwaukee) was an artist and an educator. She studied at the Milwaukee Normal School, receiving a degree in education before attending the Pratt Institute in New York, from which she graduated in 1911. During those years she was influenced by Wisconsin artists Alexander Mueller, George Raab, and Frederick Fursman. She attributed her lithographic skills to Robert von Neumann. 

Ulbricht was a Director of the Milwaukee Art Institute. Her diverse skills for teaching clay modeling, weaving, basketry, mechanical drawing and bookbinding helped her organize and develop the WPA Handicraft Project. This project employed 9,000 unskilled women during the Depression.

In 1955, Ulbricht helped found and chaired the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her summers were spent at the Ox-Bow Summer School of Painting in Saugatuck, Michigan, where she served for many years as director of the school. She was also a member of the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.

Summers provided Ulbricht time to paint, and she was at her most prolific in the 1920s and 1930s. Ulbricht's paintings reflected a serenity that masked the anxieties present in America during that time. Broad areas of light color and relaxed poses were her hallmark. During the Depression, in 1935, Ulbricht wrote a proposal for the WPA's Milwaukee Handicraft Project to help put hundreds of unskilled women to work creating well designed useful articles. When the proposal was approved Ulbricht was appointed Art Director and General Supervisor. Mary Kellogg Rice and Anne Feldman were also supervisors. The project ended in 1943.

Ulbricht is remembered as a pioneer in Wisconsin art. Her students included Ruth Grotenrath, Albert Sessler, Robert Schellin and Santos Zingale. Ulbricht taught printmaking in her own studio while continuing her own work. “I believe that real understanding comes only through doing.” She was a tireless teacher who had a deep impact on Wisconsin art, particularly in bringing an arts and crafts influence to the lives of the general population.

Selected One-Person Exhibitions

1973 Charles Allis Art Library, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Selected Group Exhibitions

Milwaukee Art Institute, Wisconsin (also 1926, 1930, and 1936)
Wisconsin Salon, Madison, Wisconsin
1982 Reflections on the Journal Gallery of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin,
Collecting the Art of Wisconsin: The Early Years, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, Neenah, Wisconsin
  • Facebook icon
  • Twitter icon
  • Instagram icon
  • Flickr icon
  • Youtube icon
  • E-News icon