RENSSELAER -- In a rural corner of northwest Indiana, Doris Myers has made a life – and lifetime – of art. Myers has been leading workshops this summer and is exhibiting her life’s work at the Carnegie Center in Rensselaer in Jasper County.
Just how long has Myers been painting? Here's how she put it to the crowd of former students and admirers at the opening of her “Retrospective: 1930 to Present," “My first oil painting I did in my freshman year in 1935. Oh, do your math! It was a long time ago.” The crowd erupted in laughter.
At 93, Myers is one of Indiana's oldest working artists. She was born in November of 1921, just a year after women got the right to vote. She knew at a young age that she wanted to be an artist. Not having paper to draw on during the Great Depression, Myers recalls using “farmer” matches to burn designs into paper bags with her mother. Her father was a jack-of-all-trades, and her family followed the work wherever it was available. Myers attended nine different schools in 11 years.
“My happiest years were spent with my paternal grandparents in De Motte. I was there several years – two different times," Myers said. "They were wonderful. Avid readers, the kind of people that introduced me to books.”
Back in the '30s & '40s, rural young women were mostly expected to get married and stay home. And that’s exactly what Myers did...for a while. At 19, she married Richard Myers on Dec. 7, 1940, exactly one year before Pearl Harbor. The young couple lived in the upstairs of his Richard’s parent’s farmhouse, just outside Wheatfield in Jasper County. They had four children, three girls and a boy. For 10 years, Doris didn’t drive, but her desire to be an artist grew. She got her first commission before she got any formal training.
“I was commissioned by a banker’s wife to do a still-life of flowers, and I did it in oil, and it was called 'Asters and Fern.' And she just dearly loved it. She gave him this painting for Christmas, and he bought her a case of gun shells,” Myers said laughing.
Myers describes her husband as “old school”, but he slowly warmed to the idea that she should pursue her love of art and teaching. After she went to work as a secretary in the Wheatfield grade school, the superintendent recognized her talents and encouraged her to go to college.
So in 1957, at the age of 36, and against the wishes of her in-laws, Myers enrolled at Valparaiso University. After five years of night and summer school classes, she was teaching things in Wheatfield like physical education, English and biology. Valparaiso didn’t have an art program, so in 1962, she started commuting in the summers, sometimes with kids in tow, to Ball State in Muncie.
“I took pottery and painting that summer and I couldn’t quit – that was just it. I would go down and stay during the week and come home on the weekends," Myers said. "I got a license to teach that next year and I continued on five more summers and got my masters.”
She taught a total of 23 years, retiring at the age of 62 – over 30 years ago – but Myers still loves being an artist.
"If I want to relax, I’ll do the potter’s wheel. If I want to think, I paint," Myers said. "I think I’m pretty optimistic at 93. I bought a new set of oils a couple of weeks ago – big tubes. I like the softness of oils. My acrylics are a little bold.”
Regularly seeing a massage therapist and a personal trainer to work on balance and strength, Myers is happy where her life is now.
“I think probably it’s just a feeling of accomplishment. Just knowing that there’s something I can do that I can be satisfied with and people enjoy," Myers said. "I wish quite a few more people enjoyed it. I’ve got a few paintings that aren’t sold.”
The “Doris B. Myers Retrospective: 1930 to Present” runs through Sept. 11 at the Carnegie Center in Rensselaer.