Linda Skrainka, whose brush strokes reflect everyday life and transform the banalities into large, exquisite tributes to architectural stasis, nature and ordinary moments in time, died yesterday morning.
Her oil paintings are imbued with minute details that human eyes often fail to register, making them a treasure of rediscovery. They are also, often, literal reflections as Mrs. Skrainka painted shadows and mirrored surfaces to create pictures within pictures.
Much of what she painted was visible inside her University City home or what she could see from the window of her studio, just across the way.
She worked slowly, meticulously.
“Linda was such a perfectionist about her paintings,” said her friend Madge Treeger. “She lived in the world in a way no one else I know did. She was extremely intelligent, keenly observant and so appreciative – sensuously so – of the world around her.
“(Her work) is in a lot of people’s homes in the community.”
Mrs. Skrainka died of cancer at her home “among the beauty she created” on Monday (June 2, 2014), her husband, Stephen Skrainka, confirmed. She was 74.
Funeral services will be today at Central Reform Congregation, where she was a founding member.
I walk to work,” she wrote on her website, “cup of coffee in hand, making my way through the garden (a three dimensional extension of my painting) to the studio. My work is deeply rooted in what is right around me, but hopefully encompasses what is far afield."
A 1988 St. Louis Post-Dispatch review of her exhibit titled Everyday Miracles said: “Linda Skrainka's oil paintings are characterized by restraint coupled with keen observational skills.”
A work in that group depicts a stark white, formal table setting punctuated by the shadows of filled wine goblets and the spiked greenery of a centerpiece of white peonies. She used elements of the original painting to create additional art. Each new painting portrays a different perspective and gently leads others to see all that she saw.
The technique was poignantly on display in Charlie’s Gift, a 1990s series of six paintings. The images are the gradual deterioration of a handful of freshly picked plants in clear, side-by-side vases – and the shoots their stems bore even as the leaves died.
“She was extraordinary at reproducing reality,” said Lynn Friedman Hamilton, founder of the arts organization, Maturity and Its Muse. “She was very interested in the home and she celebrated that in her work.”
Hamilton was the curator of a 2010 exhibit that included Mrs. Skrainka’s painting, What Can Be Known. It is a multi-reflective painting of her husband, who shares billing with nature through windows and some of the robust architecture of their home.
“She knew architecture,” he said.
It was a feature of another group of paintings, Close to Home. Among her models were comfortable cushions below the latticed windows of her landing, the double bathroom sinks of a shared life and a brick chimney framed by treetops. She had a bachelor’s degree in art history from Wellesley College with an emphasis on modern art and architecture.
Mrs. Skrainka’s paintings reflected both the joy and macabre of the mundane: A sun-soaked breakfast table marred by a headline of war or a shattered dish obscuring the face of the star on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Her work often hinted at something not quite spoken. It was part of her artistic origins. She began with a deep interest in abstract expressionism.
“She loved color,” Stephen Skrainka said. “(Henri) Matisse was her hero; she has him all over the house.”
In recent years, she paid homage to her first love through a series titled Reflections on Matisse.
But early on, she became a representational painter along with her friend (artist) Phyllis Plattner.
“Her paintings often have this abstract matrix, but they have a story to tell – she was painting what she called ‘everyday miracles,’” her husband said.
The ‘eyes’ have it
Linda Dubinsky was born Feb. 10, 1940, in St. Louis, the daughter of Saul A. Dubinsky, the president of a realty company, and Dorothy Pearlstein Dubinsky, an artist. She began exploring her own artistic talent around the fifth or sixth grade, using crayons to recreate the leaves on a cherry tree.
“From that day of confrontation with the cherry tree, I have felt a need to grab experience, hold on tight and try to prevent its disappearance into the pain of passing time,” she wrote.
She graduated from John Burroughs School in 1957. After earning her degree at Wellesley, she worked for Alfred H. Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. While there, she met her husband, who was attending law school in Boston.
“Unfortunately for Alfred Barr, I persuaded her to come home after six months,” Stephen Skrainsa laughed.
After returning to St. Louis, she earned a bachelor's of fine arts degree from Washington University in 1966. For a time, she ran the gallery at John Burroughs as a volunteer and wrote art reviews as a stringer for the Post-Dispatch.
She had been a Democrat since her brother took her to hear one-time presidential candidate and governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson, speak. She was a strong supporter of art, music and social justice through numerous organizations, including Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Art St. Louis, COCA, Central Reform Congregation, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.
Known throughout her life for her athleticism, she could, her husband said, “teach a rock to swim.”
Mrs. Skrainka was also known for her engaging blue eyes.
“When she looked at you, you knew that you were the only person that mattered in that moment,” said Rabbi Edwin Harris of Central Reform Congregation. “Very few people have that gift.”
Mrs. Skrainda was preceded in death by her parents.
In addition to her husband of 52 years, her survivors include her children, Benjamin Skrainka of Seattle, Sarah Skrainka of Rock Island, Ill., and Kate (Eric Stradal) Skrainka of Durango, Colo., and two brothers, Robert (Louise Gish) Dubinsky of Washington, D.C., and John (Yvette Drury) Dubinsky of St. Louis.
Her funeral service will be at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 3, at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Blvd., in St. Louis, followed by private burial.
The family will welcome visitors at their home in University City on Wednesday, June 4, from 4 to 8 p.m.
Memorial contributions may be sent to Opera Theatre of St. Louis or the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.