At 92, Jane Stewart, of Sedalia, is chock-full of life experience and not much could surprise her until, with the stroke of a paint brush, art classes opened up a new new world of simple beauty, clouds and bright sunsets.
Seeing through the eyes of an artist and with new gained confidence, Stewart, who never touched a paint brush until recently, has entered two of her pieces in the amateur division of the 2014 Missouri State Fair Fine Arts Competition.
Art has changed her perspective on life.
“It’s so much fun,” Stewart said. “I love to do clouds, I look at the sky all the time when I’m out. I have a west window and I like to do my landscapes and sunsets that I see out my window.”
Much like Henry David Thoreau, who said, “You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds,” Stewart added that art has made her more aware of the world around her.
“I pay more attention,” she said.
Stewart said she plans to attend the Missouri State Fair Fine Arts reception Wednesday night.
“It’s my first art show,” she said. “I always wanted to go to that artists exhibit, and now I will.”
Having lived in Sedalia since 1956, Stuart was a stay-at-home mom and the former Director of the Sedalia-Pettis County United Way for nine years. Her husband, Robert Stewart, was a radiologist at Bothwell Regional Health Center.
“He started the x-ray department here,” she said. “He was the first board-certified specialist in Sedalia.”
With so many events in her young life, Stuart had no time to explore art. But things changed in her 80s while at Winchester Meadows.
“We had a girl, it was sad, she had a paint-by-number (class) — great big kindergarten pictures to do, with crayolas,” Stewart said. “I mean it was an absolute insult. I went to the director and said everything here has really impressed me but this class says it’s beginning art, and it was — it was kindergarten stuff. So then we got Jodi.”
At the insistence of Stewart, then 88, artist Jodi Harsch, of La Monte, began teaching art classes about five years ago at Winchester Meadows Assisted Living in Sedalia, where Stuart lives.
Harsch, a professional colored pencil artist, instructs the class in watercolor, watercolor pencil, pencil and colored pencil and provides two art shows a year in the upstairs classroom for them.
“We have champagne and an artist reception,” Harsch said, pointing to a 12-foot long wall sporting colorful art from her students. “They love it, they do.”
Stewart has two watercolor cityscapes, an abstract and a painting of hot air balloons in the class art show.
Harsch teaches a morning and afternoon class with each class having about seven students. Stewart attends the Friday afternoon class.
Harsch said she has three students from other area classes who will have art in the Missouri 50 at this year’s state fair, but Jane is the “star.”
“She said she never drew before,” Harsch added.
“I couldn’t draw anything, except for a stick-man,” Stewart said, smiling demurely.
Stewart at present paints with watercolor.
“Well, when I started that it was something brand new,” she said. “And it gave a venue, for my family to give me things. So they inundated me with art and it happened to be watercolor. So I had all the watercolor stuff, I’ve never done anything else except started with pencil.”
“We’ve done some projects like birch trees,” Harsch noted. “It gets them dabbling in it, and then they learn they have to get everything wet.”
“People say it’s harder than oil,” Stewart added. “And I say, ‘I wouldn’t know’ because I’ve just done watercolor.”
Harsch teaches the class painting techniques such as wet-on-wet, that creates a feathering effect with the paint. Stewart used this technique on one of her paintings entered in the state fair.
In another painting, not in the competition, she emphasized the sun. She painted what she thought the mountains in Colorado would look like and then added a bright red setting sun.
“This red sun, I was trying to get her to put a little bit of orange on it or yellow,” Harsch said, always the teacher. “And she said, ‘Oh no, that’s exactly what it looks like out my window, you just have to see it. It’s red, red red!’”
“When I painted that, I was looking out my window at that sun,” Stewart said. “And it was that red.”
Besides landscapes and clouds, Stuart has painted a series of African animals from photos.
“The first things I did were giraffes,” she said. “I had actual photos from Africa, so I used my own pictures, not books or something. I did all animals at first.”
During her class on Friday, Stewart, who will be 93 on Sept. 12, wanted to work with clouds.
“Jodi teaches us to enhance,” she said.
Harsch ran water over the watercolor paper for Stewart, who then applied a thin coat of blue paint for the sky. To make clouds she took paper towels and wadded them together.
“I don’t like my clouds too white,” she said.
She added that the technique to creating perfect watercolor clouds was to make sure the towels have “crinkles.” As one dabs up the blue paint the crinkles prevent all of the paint from being removed, giving the clouds a natural, shaded and reflective look.
“You know clouds have a lot of color,” she said while taking the towels and dabbing up the blue paint. “If I had my way I’d do clouds everyday. Oh the sky just gets gorgeous.”