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Artists Melinda White, left, and Dorothy Stevens, work with Ray County Community Arts Association to promote cultural arts in the community. White painted the top three pieces. The center painting is of the James Craven homestead in Wood Heights. Stevens painted the two lower level paintings. One is a pheasant and the other is of her granddaughter, Bobbi Stevens, when she was little. (Photo by Liz Johnson/Richmond News)

Artists Melinda White, left, and Dorothy Stevens, work with Ray County Community Arts Association to promote cultural arts in the community. White painted the top three pieces. The center painting is of the James Craven homestead in Wood Heights. Stevens painted the two lower level paintings. One is a pheasant and the other is of her granddaughter, Bobbi Stevens, when she was little. (Photo by Liz Johnson/Richmond News)

Finding your inner artist after age 50

by Liz Johnson, Richmond News Staff Writer

There’s a reason so many become artists over the age of 50. Going through life in our 20s, 30s and 40s means working hard and raising a family for most of us. Interests and opportunities get set aside until the rat race of a younger life begins to slow down, resulting in more flexibility and freedom to pursue an artistic talent.

And so it was for Dorothy Stevens and Melinda White, just two of Ray County’s local artists over the age of 50.

Stevens is known for her love of painting porcelain china (see the April 1 edition of Living 50+), but she has also been painting on canvas for more than 25 years. She said she finds it difficult anymore to go to the basement to paint and run the kiln for the china painting, so she is back to oils on canvas.

“My real claim to fame,” she said, “is that I’ve painted most of the backdrops for the Farris Theatre.”

Stevens said she’s had help on some of the backdrops, but the forest scene was painted entirely by her.

“I’ve always loved art,” said Stevens. “I took art in high school. But I figured I couldn’t afford the paint (to do it at home) and years later realized I could afford it.”

She said she has always had the desire to create and paint. Early on she took painting classes held by Dolores Roberts in Lawson. “She was wonderful and I learned a lot there.”

Stevens is detailed-oriented as was evident in the two paintings she brought with her to the interview. One was a beautifully detailed painting of a pheasant and the other was of her granddaughter, Bobbi Stevens, when she was younger. Stevens said she enjoys painting portraits.

She prefers painting with oils rather than watercolors or acrylics. She added that her husband prefers her paintings over her china work. “My husband has always loved my oil paintings,” she said. “Not so much the china.”

White, the current president of Ray County Community Arts Association, is also over 50 and has been painting since she was a freshman in high school.

“That was one of the things I really looked forward to,” said White, referring to high school art classes. “I loved art and felt comfortable with it. It got me through school.”

White had praise for the three high school art teachers she had – Jerry Miller, Terry Baker and Bill Taylor. She praised Taylor as a very good painter.

School art classes included working with clay, stitching and working with mosaics, in addition to painting.

“I love everything,” said White. “I still do. I love it all!

“You could lock me up in Hobby Lobby all night and I’d be very happy.”

White and Stevens agreed that they painted less while they were raising their kids. Once the kids were grown, they had more time to devote to painting. White said she returned to painting more often once she quit working and began babysitting her grandkids.

“The kids were interested in touching the oils, so I switched to acrylics for a safer, cleaner, less fragrant medium,” she said.

White said she also prefers acrylics because they dry much quicker than oils. They dry so quickly, in fact, one has to paint faster to beat the drying process.

White said her husband enjoys her hobby, as well. “My husband, Ron, is my best critic. He has a really good eye,” she said.

White took classes early on from Faye Walters in Excelsior Springs. “She taught me a lot,” she said.

Stevens added that taking a painting class can be intimidating at first, because the teacher is always so good. “And you think you won’t be as good as the teacher.”

“But the teacher usually doesn’t expect you to be good,” added White.

Both women encourage budding students to take a painting class.

Having an artist’s eye means one has an eye for color. “I just see color differently,” said White, “because of being an artist. I just love color!”

Stevens and White are both involved in RCCAA and love the arts – all the arts. Stevens was in charge of the Mushroom Festival for RCCAA for a long time. “I must have done it at least 15-20 years,” she said.

The Community Arts Players formed in 1992 with their first play being “Lil’ Abner.” They have been going strong ever since. They usually produce at least two plays a year and have “Hello, Dolly” coming up April 22, 23 and 24.

RCCAA sponsors the Mushroom Festival art show, which includes 13 categories of exhibits. During the fall Outlaw Days festival, RCCAA holds a photography show.

RCCAA has awarded a $500 scholarship to a high school senior in the county since 1991. At Christmas, in conjunction with the Farris Theatre, the group had a gingerbread house exhibit for the last two years, plus a raffle – winning names receive a piece of art.

White is the 2016 president of RCCAA and is chairing this year’s art show for the Mushroom Festival.

Both women pointed out that other artists associated with RCCAA work in different ways. Irma Brown, a past president of RCCAA, quilts and sews. “She makes a lot of items for Farris productions,” said White.

“Sharon Cox is a great quilter,” she added.

RCCAA, founded in 1988, is a non-profit organization that promotes cultural and educational opportunities in Ray County. Thegroup welcomes new members anytime. “We would love to have people join us,” said White. “We meet on the first Tuesday of the month at the Eagleton Center. If you’re interested in the arts … join us!”

White also teaches painting elssons for up to 10 people. Each class is $30 and includes materials. Students, of any age may choose the picture they want to paint. To join RCCAA or sign up for an art class, contact Melinda White at 816-456-2870.

Budding artists do not despair – the learning curve is continuous. It never stops. Stevens and White encourage others over the age of 50 to have courage and step out of the box and discover their own unique personal art.

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