THE DALLES — Laura Ashbrenner, an accomplished fashion illustrator and artist who’s dedicated much of her life to capturing the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, turns 101 years old Saturday, Oct. 3.
Born in Battleground, Washington in 1914, Ashbrenner has lived most of her life in The Dalles and currently resides at Columbia Basin Care, a long-term care facility in The Dalles.
After high school, she attended Oregon School of Fine Arts, and built a career as an artist for advertising agencies. In the 1930s and 40s she worked as a fashion illustrator for top Portland retailers, including Meier & Frank department stores, Charles F. Berg Company, and Lipman Wolfe department store. Her work frequently appeared in the Oregonian and The Oregon Journal newspapers.
“She says that a lady came to see her from New York and told her that she should be working in New York,” recalls Janet Meader, Laura’s daughter. “Instead mother married my father and moved to Wishram, Washington.”
Edgar (Ed) and Laura Ashbrenner, along with their three children (Vern, Janet, and Marcie), moved to The Dalles after the dam was built in 1957, and Laura turned her focus to painting landscapes.
She and Ed would often take drives through the country, where Laura would gather inspiration. “I loved all the old barns,” she says. “Some days, Ed would go fishing on the Deschutes River and I’d paint the water and the rocks.”
Laura and Ed were married 75 years. Ed passed away in 2013 at the age of 106.
Laura’s paintings of bucolic landscapes are on display at Columbia Basin Care. Her artwork is often seen for sale at online auction and collector sites such as Ebay.
Even now, she continues to paint. Just days before her birthday, she’s putting the finishing touches on a Christmas card she’s creating for Columbia Basin Care.
“I’m just dabbling,” she says, grinning. “I’ve still got it in me, I guess.