An award earned at the age of 9 set local artist Val Mayer on a path of creativity and challenge. She took first place in a drawing contest, and that recognition inspired her to continue drawing and studying art. Val continued to draw, study, and paint through her 87 full years.

An award earned at the age of 9 set local artist Val Mayer on a path of creativity and challenge. She took first place in a drawing contest, and that recognition inspired her to continue drawing and studying art. Val continued to draw, study, and paint through her 87 full years.

Early Years

One of Val’s earliest paintings, the canvas brittle with age, shows a girl wearing capri pants and a bright red sweater on ground Val remembers well — a shady glade on her father’s farm near Macomb, Mo. The painting shows a girl in contemplation, perhaps dreaming of a future full of possibilities.

Other paintings shed light on the woman she is today. Two cats keep her company these days, evidence of the kittens she played with as a child. More evidence of her love for cats can be seen in paintings and photos on display throughout her home.

Other memories from her early years find their way into her paintings as subjects. One shows her father asleep in his favorite chair after a hard day at work. Another in the spirit of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” shows a Brangus cow standing between a couple much less stoic than those in Wood’s original. That cow is a nod to Val’s life on the farm.

Many of Val’s paintings feature water, stormy and calm, deep and shallow. With these, Val commemorates her love of swimming and fishing Missouri waters. One painting of a stream brings to life a single, large dragonfly floating the air over a river coursing across gem-like stones, the fly’s wings iridescent in the low light. 

Iridescence is a feature in several of Val’s paintings. One big beautiful canvas in oil reveals Surprise Lilies against a background sky glowing in soft pale hues. Yet, another painting in oil, one of Val’s earliest, is a sharp contrast to the lilies’ pastel sky. A vibrant yellow field of wheat dominates the small canvas. That field is the color of warm sunlight, its expanse as impressive as the sun and rendering all else shadowy and small, especially the men standing at its edge.

 

School Years

A teacher in high school taught Val the art and craft of batik, an ancient process of painting on fabric with wax and dye. A small batik of bright daisies dating from Val’s high school years hangs in Val’s home, proving that award for drawing won at the age of 9 was no mistake. Another batik features spiders and a network of threads or brambles. Each dark line had to be meticulously imagined and drawn before dark dye was applied to the cloth while wax protected the lighter areas from that dye. The complexity of the whole piece proves the gift of patience and a keen eye applied to the work.

 

Adulthood

Val graduated from Southwest Missouri State with a degree in art. She married Lloyd but lost him after a car accident 28 years ago. Together, they brought three beautiful daughters into this world, and those daughters have added four granddaughters and two grandsons to Val’s life. Their smiling faces have been rendered in pencil drawings and oil paintings, using photos and a great memory.

After Lloyd’s death, Val wanted a new home, one that didn’t remind her of Lloyd and their life together. She moved to Lake of the Ozarks and joined Ozark Brush and Palette Club where she’s won several ribbons for her work. She’s also earned a Best in Show ribbon during a Springfield art exhibit and has sold some pieces in Springfield.

Now Val enjoys the help of an assistant, Kelly Banning, who found a lifetime of Val’s work stored in a closet. Determined to bring Val’s story to life by displaying it throughout the home, Kelly even built easels for some pieces when wall space was not available. Now the home is a gallery of personal history and talent.

Kelly also helped coordinate an exhibit at Lake Fine Art Academy and Galleria. Three more of Val’s paintings sold during this exhibit, and the artist herself enjoyed the truth — others appreciate what she’s spent a lifetime expressing.

 

A Lifetime of Expression

At 87, Val remains young because she remains curious about different media and styles. She’s worked with watercolor, oil, and pencil. She’s created on canvasses of cloth and paper. She’s found frames that match the size of her pieces in antique shops. She’s created originals, and she’s reimagined classics in order to learn while paying close attention to another artist’s techniques in light, shadow, composition, and color. 

Recreating a painting titled “Orphan Girl in Graveyard” by Eugene Delacroix, Val added her own vision of a pastel sky, lightened the color of the skirt, and added another layer to the horizon. On the other hand, she perfectly captured the original expression of a girl orphaned during a war and learned about technique as she imitated a master.

One genre Val wishes she understood better is the abstract. She has experimented with it and produced a painting she calls “Stages of Life.” It reveals her personal stages as seen in the faces of a child, an adult, and an older woman, each within an oval — perhaps resembling the circles in life.

Currently, Val is working in mixed media. A large canvas titled “Sand Cranes of Nebraska” rests on the kitchen dining table. Shells and sand have been applied to it, but it is definitely a work in progress, one still coming to life. The subject came from another personal connection — family with experience and a photo of sand cranes in Nebraska.

Perhaps the most personal connection of all can be seen in Val’s self-portraits completed while looking in a mirror. From that early oil showing a young girl in a red sweater to a lovely woman in two stages of her adult life, Val seems to reflect her life in art, one that continues to sustain her.