As part of Women’s History Month, the City Museum is featuring a local female artist who lived and worked in West Chicago. Zelda DeTray was also featured during our 2016 Tales Tombstones Tell at Glen Oak Cemetery.
Zelda Jewel DeTray was born in Quincy, Illinois, on July 6, 1895. She lived there for just a short time though, as her parents Floyd and Mary DeTray moved to Chicago, Illinois, and then to her father’s native Ohio, before returning to the area. The family settled in Aurora, Illinois, by the time Zelda was in grade school. Zelda graduated from West Aurora High School in 1914. In 1918, the family relocated again, this time to West Chicago.
In West Chicago, her father first worked for the Union Tool Company and then opened the DeTray Lock Nut Factory. His business was positioned perfectly along the rail line, right near the family home at 187 W. Grand Lake Blvd. Floyd marketed his unique lock nut and washer combo (photo of ad at right) as economical and efficient and was quite successful. Floyd held patents for other inventions as well. His successes allowed his family to be rather prosperous for the time and also allowed his daughter Zelda to pursue her passions in the arts.
While the family was still living in Aurora, Zelda took up photography at the Aurora Studio. When the family moved to West Chicago, she opened her own studio in the family home on W. Grand Lake Blvd. Zelda was a lover of all the arts and also studied dramatic arts at the James School of Expression in Aurora and took up oil and water color painting. For over 20 years she took portraits of local people and photographed local events, hand coloring many of them. (See below)
Zelda not only wanted to learn multiple art forms, but also taught others. She gave private lessons and open classes for adults and children. She also started the DeTray Dramatic School, which presented plays by and for children. It is no doubt that Zelda gained some of her artistic talents and love for the arts from her father’s side, direct descendants of the old and noble d’Estrees family of Paris, France (DeTray being the Americanization of the French surname).
At the age of 60, Zelda married George W. Dunbar, a widower with two daughters. The nuptials took place at St. Michael’s Church on W. Washington in 1957 in a very fashionable wedding for the times. The newspaper reported that Zelda wore a ballerina length gown fashioned from pink taffeta and lace. Her pink nylon shoulder length veil was held in place by a floral coronet matching the blooms in her white colonial bouquet. The couple honeymooned on a trip to Niagara Falls, New York City and Washington D.C. Her husband George, pictured here, worked for the Chicago & Northwestern and was a prominent and active citizen of West Chicago. Sadly though, their happy marriage was very brief. George passed away on June 3, 1962, after a brief illness. Zelda was widowed after just five years of marriage.
In her later years Zelda spent time doing the things she liked best – portraying the beauty of nature on canvas. She loved the outdoors and that she wanted others to enjoy it too through her work. Her paintings were exhibited for several years at the West Chicago Public Library during the West Chicago Woman’s Club annual art show. Zelda passed away on October 26, 1978, and is buried in Glen Oak Cemetery in West Chicago.