This week, we take a look into the inspiration behind a colorful Lyle Hehn painting that hangs at Hotel Oregon in McMinnville. The image has been used for many different types of promotions over the years – for winery events, for music programming, Mother's Day and beyond. But what's the real story here?
Introducing Nellie Edith Latourette. She was born March 24, 1877, in Oregon City, OR. She was the third child of Lyman D.C. Latourette, who was an early Pacific Northwest pioneer, having migrated west in 1848 as a member of the very first wagon train to cross Mount Hood on the Oregon Trail. He settled a farm in Maple Lane, just outside Oregon City, but was also involved in many businesses intown.
The photo at left was taken of Nellie when she was just 18 years old. She was a bright girl, especially talented in music. During her three years of prep school at Baptist College of McMinnville (since renamed Linfield College), where Nellie was one of eleven students in the Class of 1897, she took music courses as an extracurricular. The cost for her piano lessons for the entire year would have been $34, on top of an annual tuition of $180. However, her brother D.C. was on the college's Board of Trustees, so perhaps her fees were waived.
After graduating from prep school, she enrolled at the University of California, but only stayed for one year before returning to Oregon. She taught piano at Coos County Academy, in Coquille, OR, then decided to continue her own music education back in Portland, where she studied with a teacher who had been a pupil of world-renown pianist Theodor Leschetizky.
Nellie opened her own music studio in Portland, where she taught for many years. She also enjoyed writing and poetry - she worked for decades on a lyrical poem she called "The Oregon Country" about her family's early pioneer experiences. She kept the inch-thick manuscript tucked away where it remained, unpublished.
Nellie was published as a co-editor of The Correspondence of the Reverend Ezra Fisher: Pioneer Missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Oregon (1919). The Rev. Fisher (her grandfather) had assisted in organizing many Baptist churches in Oregon, including First Baptist Church of Portland, of which Nellie was among the older members. Fisher's name is among those of other notable Oregon pioneers that embellish a dome in the State Capitol in Salem.
Ms. Latourette never married or had a family of her own. She confided to Troutdale historian Sharon Nesbit that she'd been in love once, but that marriage had never materialized. "I had spunk enough to scare off the rest of the men who were interested in me," she told Sharon, with a laugh. Nellie's one-time love died at the age of 90.
In advancing years, Nellie moved to the Edgefield Manor nursing home, where she lived out her final days. She passed away on February 4, 1980, a month and half shy of her 103rd birthday. Her story is now memorialized in Lyle's painting (as well the Nellie Latourette room at Edgefield) for generations to come. Here is Lyle's description of his work:
"In this painting, Nellie is sitting in the 2nd-floor balcony of the Hotel Oregon, but the scene beyond the cast-iron railings is of Edgefield, her other place of residence. Opposites are depicted all over the picture – warm vs. cool colors; chastity vs. license; freedom vs. immobility. Virginal white flowers are pinned under the piano lid, while lush pink flowers try to encroach from the outside. Nellie's dress seems made out of inescapably thick cloth, with an absurdly imposing belt keeping it all together -- yet her feet are bare. She's either just drained her wine glass, or it never held any wine to begin with. Despite all the confusion, she's beckoning you to join her in a duet. Incidentally, the piano in this painting is based on one that was found in the auditorium of the St. Francis School in Bend when McMenamins first began converting the building into a soaking pool in 2004."
We end with a fitting quote by the aforementioned pianist Theodor Leschetizky: "No art without life, no life without art."