JERRI ELSNER BOWLES : ORLANDO ARTIST DIES AT 51; HER COLLECTION AT CITY HALL
Her legacy lives in the permanent art collection of Orlando City Hall, in a little gallery she opened downtown, and in a grandchild, her first, born in the spring - just before the cancer came back.
Jerri Elsner Bowles of Altamonte Springs, an accomplished painter and co-founder of Art Works Orlando, died Monday. She was 51.
"She was my dear friend for many, many years," said Jeanne Schubert, Bowles' partner in Art Works Orlando, a gallery and studio. "She was the most energetic, wonderful person - and I am empty."
Robert Bowles, her husband, said his wife had been very ill in recent months. "Jerri was a great actress. She didn't want anyone to know how sick she was," he said. "She was a very special lady."
A full-time homemaker before she devoted her energy to art, Bowles entered her first show in 1982 - and proceeded to sell her first painting and win an honorable mention. Her memory of that day, however, was not uniformly fond.
In an interview with Florida magazine a year ago, she said: "You are baring your soul. I got out of the car that morning and I said, 'I can't do this. I can't put these out there. . . . I would 10 times rather take my clothes off and stand on that street corner than put my soul out here on display.' "
Three years ago, she discovered a lump in her breast, though her mammogram had been clear. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery - and in the middle of it opened Art Works Orlando in the old Acme Glass Warehouse with two colleagues. She also continued to paint - bold, poignant pieces in acrylic pastels that expressed the sense of isolation, anger and fear she battled along with the disease.
"You have to communicate your feelings in some way," she said. "If you don't express it in words or song or art, you'll go out and rob and kill people - you'll communicate it that way."
One day last year, Bowles went to Frontline Outreach and painted murals in the nursery and game room with visiting high school students. She also volunteered her time by mentoring art students at the University of Central Florida.
The Arts Services Council of Orlando, of which Bowles was a member, has created a fellowship award in her name to be given each year to a deserving visual artist.
She is survived by her husband and three daughters - Leslie Quattrone, 30, of Orlando; Teresa Lynn, 22, of Miami; and Ashlee Elaine, 17, a high school senior. Her mother, Martha Elsner, and sister, Jennifer House, live in Jacksonville.
Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) - December 14, 1993