Louise Zimmerman was born in Philadelphia in 1920. Her mother was a “warper” (the person who did the vertical setting of the loom) and her father was a weaver. They met at a ribbon weaving plant in Phoenixville. She thinks it’s interesting that her parents, who had no art interest and no formal education, had a daughter who devoted her life to art, and were very supportive of her education. She remembers painting as young as five years old, and even remembers her first paint set.
She credits her high school art teacher, Charles McCann, for enabling her to continue her education in art because her parents did not have the money for her to attend college, Each high school in Philadelphia was given one scholarship for a deserving student. Louise was third on the list at Olney High School. Mr. McCann knew Harriet Sartain and convinced her to give a half scholarship to Louise. He then personally visited with Louise’s parents to convince them to let her go to college for art. In the end, she received a scholarship for the other half of her tuition. She says repeatedly that she owes her career in art to Charles McCann.
She went to Moore to study in the art education department and graduated with a BFA in 1942. At the time she attended Moore, it was still known as the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. She remembers being called in to Harriet Sartain’s office for wearing an eyelet pique blouse, which was considered unsuitable attire! During the summers, she taught arts and crafts at a camp in Maine.
She was always very interested in the commercial aspect of art. Her first position was in a stationery store that did their own printing and design. This was during World War II and one of her assignments was to draw a B-29. Next, she got a job in the Art Department at Curtis Publishing, which came about because a former teacher worked there. She also worked at the Saturday Evening Post (and remembers loaning Norman Rockwell $5). When her husband returned from the war, she stopped working outside the home.
She remembers many wonderful teachers – Henry Snell, Paulette Van Roekens, Arthur Meltzer, and Daniel Garber (at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she took continuing education classes).
She was asked by Harriet Sartain to teach at Moore in the Color Department in 1947. Although she was originally a watercolorist, Harriet Sartain told her to take time off and develop a course in color when her son was born. So, Louise spent the time translating Goethe, developing lesson plans, and understanding the Bauhaus attitude about color. At that time, there were no books on color in English. Louise, who knew German because she grew up in a German neighborhood and had studied German for seven years, was able to translate books coming out of the Bauhaus into English. These translations became the basis of her course, particularly the teachings of Albert Munsell, who was the creator of the Munsell color system. The course that Louise developed was different from anything that had preceded it.
Louise was awarded the Outstanding Educator award at Moore either six or seven times. She says she was a good teacher because she has a good sense of humor, believed in her students and gave them good learning experiences as long as they were willing to work. She thinks that you have to want to be an artist very badly in order to succeed. She does not think artistic talent is inherited. She thinks it takes stick-to-itiveness. Students need to be willing to fail, learn from their failures, and then keep trying.
Louise thinks that an all women’s school allows the students to focus on their work. She believes that students choose Moore because it has a good reputation, not because it is an all women’s school. But every time an occasion has come up to make the school co-educational, the students always vote against it. She also thinks it’s a good option for students from foreign countries, countries where the sexes do not mix together typically.
Louise stays in close contact with her former students because she wants to know what’s happening. She also stays close in touch with the alumnae association. She is still very active and enjoys attending art openings. She says that many of her former students are teaching color theory at Philadelphia University, based on the course she developed. Adrienne Vittadini was one of Louise’s former students who always thanks her when she visits Moore. Vittadini says that everything she does in design was based on Louise’s teaching.
Louise officially retired from Moore in 1997, after teaching there for 50 years. She taught under seven different presidents. After she retired, she focused more on exhibiting her work, though she exhibited all along because it was highly encouraged at Moore.
Louise’s granddaughter, Nicole Losse, is also an artist who graduated from Moore in 2005.
In 2006, the renovated main residence hall was named the Louise Zimmerman Stahl Hall.
“If I hadn’t gotten that scholarship [to attend Moore], I would have been somebody’s awful secretary. Why shouldn’t I be more than grateful because it changed the direction of my life?...I owe everything to Moore.”