Ellen Gantner, former Director of the Illinois Artisans Program

Ellen Gantner, former Director of the Illinois Artisans Program

Obituary; Bonnie Styles, former Director of the Illinois State Museum

Ellen Schmitz Gantner 1929-2017


Ellen Schmitz Gantner formerly of Chicago, Golf and Glenview died peacefully in her sleep on April 1st. She was 87. Ellen is survived by her husband of 67 years, Robert J. Gantner of Glenview, IL and her 7 children: Sarah Granados (Mariano) of San Antonio, TX, Jim (Pam) Gantner of Woodstock, IL, Gregory (Jane Sassaman) Gantner of Harvard, IL, Paul (Liz) Gantner of St. Charles, IL, Mark (Molly) Gantner of Northfield, IL, Jenny (Charlie) Herrmann of Shaker Heights, OH, and Dan Gantner of Evanston, IL. Ellen also leaves behind 21 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. She is survived by two sisters, Mary Polhemus of Colorado Springs, CO and Betsi Orr of Lake Barrington, IL and a brother, Tom Schmitz of Rossville, IL. She was predeceased by a sister, Barbara Larson and a brother, John Schmitz. Visitation Friday April 28, 2017 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Donnellan Family Funeral Home, 10045 Skokie Blvd. at Old Orchard Road, Skokie, IL 60077. A Mass of Christian Burial Saturday, April 29, 2017, 11:00 a.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church 1775 Grove Street in Glenview, IL 60025 . Info:www.donnellanfuneral.com or (847) 675-1990.

In 1985, Ellen was selected the first Director of the Illinois Artisans Program (IAP) which she headed for the next 16 years. Operating under the Illinois State Museum, the IAP, originated by Governor James Thompson, showcased Illinois craft art and artists through galleries and retail stores operated in Chicago, Springfield, Dickson Mounds and Rend Lake, IL. Ellen served in the same position for Governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan administrations, with their First Ladies, acting as the IAP official representatives. She was also instrumental in having Illinois artists featured annually in the Artisans Village at the Illinois State Fair.

Under her leadership, the Illinois Artisans Program became an inspiration for other states to celebrate its artists while exploring a new economic alternative. Ellen played a key role in the Craft Organization Directors of America which produced the first economic survey of craft in the United States. This survey brought to light the importance of craft art to a state’s economy.

She was a tireless champion of Illinois art and artists, “Illinois crafts...were always here,” she said. “They’re a part of our history. It’s a point of pride for the state and the artists.” Over the years, she developed many treasured friendships with artists and associates.

Comment from Bonnie Styles, former Director of the Illinois State Museum:

I had the great pleasure of getting to know Ellen in the 1970s when I was a graduate student in anthropology at Northwestern University. She was working with the Northwestern University Archaeology Program and the Kampsville Archeology Center (later called the Center for American Archeology). She played a variety of roles for this program including administration of the Early Man Store. I also met her daughter Sarah through this same program. Ellen exuded intelligence, competence, and grace and was wonderful to work with. Her experiences with archaeology and archaeologists clearly deepened her sense of the fundamental importance and long history of art and artisans.

Our lives fortunately intersected again when she was hired by the Illinois State Museum to direct the Illinois Artisans Program. I was working as a Curator of Anthropology and then as Director of Sciences at the State Museum during this time. Ellen was instrumental in building an outstanding Illinois Artisans Program. She could charm everyone from governors to artisans to support this wonderful program. She enriched the Illinois State Museum and the lives of those around her. She will be greatly missed by friends, family, and colleagues, but her legacy continues through her work and family.

Bonnie Whatley Styles, Springfield, IL