Creating watercolor paintings for several decades does not qualify E.J. DeVore to call herself an artist — yet.
That changes this week when an exhibit of the 91-year-old’s work will hang in the hallways of the Knolls of Oxford for the start of a 12-week display with those paintings available for sale at the end of the show on Sept. 28.
“I cannot call myself an artist until I have a show,” she said.
DeVore’s exhibit will open at the Knolls with a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 10 in the Commons Art Gallery. Refreshments will be served.
Her watercolors cover a wide range of subjects from people in her family to the famous to some she invented. Her favorite subjects, however, are flowers, still life subjects, and houses of friends and family.
At 91, she enjoys her time with her watercolor paints, some of which is spent alone and some with friends and other art students in classes and workshops around the area.
“The girls in my church were doing it. My brother in Continental, Ohio was doing it, too. I was in my 60s or 70s, and the women in my church choir said they were going to the senior center to take a class. I got involved in it because I loved it. Just like that,” she said as she snapped her fingers.
Her interest in art actually goes back before she started college at Bowling Green State University, where she took an art class but was flunked by the teacher.
“I was going to paint,” she said.
That took a backseat, however, until that invitation to the watercolor class. But she kept busy with efforts to make life better for others, mainly with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is celebrating 50 years of service this year. She said she helped get it started and is proud of what the organization has become.
“It grew wonderfully, with support from United Way,” she said, noting the formal start was 1968 “when we got the Inc.” but Big Brothers Big Sisters had operated informally before that. “We would find a good guy and he would go fishing with a kid. Big Brothers Big Sisters has really grown and they do so much.”
DeVore has been working for several weeks to get her watercolor pieces ready for the Knolls exhibit. Still, there are plenty on the walls of her house to show a range of her skill and subjects.
Most are of subjects she could see and paint, but she points to one of a woman on the wall of her living room.
“My subjects are anything I really like. Any home I like. Faces. That one, I do not know her. She is in my head. I just like her,” she said. She brings to the table a painting of flowers in muted green shades with two prominent red stalks in front. “That is a South American flower. I don’t know what it is, but they are ‘purty.’”
DeVore’s watercolor painting efforts picked up steam over the years with the support of her late husband, Forrest known as “Frosty.” They met at Bowling Green one day when she was lying on a wall listening to a poet from Kentucky and Frosty came and sat down next to her, and they began talking.
“It sure turned out all right,” she said with a smile. “He backed me all the way. He encouraged me.”
Frosty DeVore was a math teacher, and the couple spent two years in Australia in the 1990s as part of an effort by that country to make up for a shortage of teachers. One teacher from each state in the U.S. was sent there to teach.
That trip inspired another effort into the arts for E.J., who had taken a journalism class earlier in order to write for “Country Living” magazine, published for electric cooperative customers. After Australia, however, she turned that writing training into a novel.
“I wrote a manuscript in the 90s about Australia,” she said. “I thought it was pretty good. Nobody else did.”
They spent a few weeks every year in Florida until Frosty’s stroke which limited travel and changed their lives until his death Jan. 2, 2016.
A tour through her house reveals a wide range of painting subjects — angels, flowers, a barn she says “everybody likes,” her son’s home. On the wall leading to the basement is one of renowned animal conservationist Jane Goodall mugging with a chimpanzee. A painting she particularly likes is one of vegetables, including two eggplants in the foreground with a nice contrast with the background.
“You don’t get rich painting. You just do it because you like it,” she said.
The exhibit at the Knolls will be her first except for a few group exhibits with other members of classes she has taken. One teacher insisted no piece should be displayed with a price under $200. She said she does not agree with that idea. Only one painting sold after that class exhibit, and that went to someone involved in the class.
After Tuesday, she can officially call herself an artist and then, some of her work will also be on display at Mary’s Plant Farm in McGonigle from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 12 for an Art in the Garden exhibit as one of a group of artists whose work will be on display.
She has been working on gathering pieces for the Knolls exhibit but looks forward to the experience of her first exhibit.
“The exhibit is in the Knolls because I’m old. You work and you work. I had about a hundred paintings. I’ve been working hard getting this ready,” she said.