Longtime Port artist to close downtown studio

After painting and selling her work in the city for 40 years, Shirley Schanen Gruen has retired; new studio to open in her Franklin Street location

SHIRLEY SCHANEN GRUEN, whose paintings of Port Washington have defined the city for the past four decades, posed for a portrait in her studio last yea). Her Franklin Street studio is closing Saturday and will reopen in May as the Blue Awning Gallery under the tutelage of Linda Sanduski of Mequon. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press Staff

Port Washington artist Shirley Schanen Gruen, who has had a studio in downtown for 40 years, is putting down her palette and taking down her easel.

Her studio at 303 N. Franklin St. will close with a reception from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 24.

“It’s the end of an era,” her daughter-in-law Jean Gruen said. 

But that doesn’t mean Port will be without an art studio. 

Mequon resident Linda Sanduski will open Blue Awning Gallery — “For its iconic blue awnings,” she said — in Gruen’s studio.

“I’m so excited,” Sanduski said. “I’ve always dreamed of having my own gallery, and I’ve always admired her (Gruen’s) work.”

She said that several years ago, she wrote Gruen a letter, expressing interest in continuing the gallery if Gruen ever wanted to retire. Her husband Steve has an office at the Port Harbor Center, as does Gruen’s son Gerry, and when they met at a holiday party last year “things just moved from there.” 

The gallery will be closed for some minor renovations, said Sanduski, who plans to reopen the shop around Memorial Day.

Sanduski noted that she’s not an artist, but she’s always been interested in art. She plans to carry works by eight to 10 Wisconsin artists — including Gruen — in a variety of media.

“There’s a great tourist crowd that comes through Port Washington, and a lot of tourists look for something to take back with them,” she said.

For decades, Gruen’s watercolor and acrylic paintings of Port Washington cityscapes and beach scenes have been that iconic item sought by tourists. 

Throughout her career, she painted more than 550 pieces that are sought by area residents and tourists alike.

Her works have been shown in juried shows and competitions throughout the state and country, and she’s won numerous awards.

Art has always been her passion, Gruen said in an interview last year.

As a child, the Port native said she always drew, but she didn’t have any formal training until she attended Port Washington High School.

She studied art and art education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and later attended art school in California.

She taught art at Milwaukee Area Technical College and, after marrying Gerald Gruen Sr. and moving to the Town of Grafton, she moved her studio from Glendale to downtown Port in 1978.

The move was important to her, Gruen said.

“Port is my inspiration — it’s my hometown,” she said. Gesturing around her studio, she added, “If you look around, you can see it’s all Port or boats. That’s what many of my paintings are about, the city and harbor, the beach. I love the water. The lake changes all the time.”

She doesn’t have a favorite piece, Gruen said.

“I like the scenes with fishing tugs and all the people who sailed on them, and all the coal boats that used to come here,” she said. “I like the scenes of the (St. Mary’s) Church, the Light Station and the lighthouse and lakefront.

“I like them all.”

But age has caught up with Gruen. Now 94, she hasn’t been to her studio in months,  her daughter-in-law said.

“She always worked large, and stood when she did it,” she said. “That’s too difficult now.”

Gruen will be at Saturday’s reception during the afternoon, signing works that she sells that day.

 “She has a lot of inventory,” her daughter-in-law said.

While Sanduski will handle Gruen’s notecards and some of her original pieces and prints, she won’t handle all of them, she added. The remainder will be donated to the Port Washington Historical Society, while many of her art supplies will be given to the artists at Studio 224.

“The page has been turned,” Jean Gruen said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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