The Alliance Art Gallery in Hannibal will soon welcome two artists to the space.

The Alliance Art Gallery in Hannibal will soon welcome two artists to the space.

It’s often that art makes us soar: it lifts us to a higher level. The Alliance Art Gallery’s July guest artist, Mary Jo Kattelman, loves soaring birds and that love takes viewers on an unexpected inner journey. 

Kattelman lives in the country, hangs her clothes on the line, grows her own food and has witnessed the flight — and the death — of her avian companions. Nature is important to her.

As an elementary art teacher for 26 years, she explains, “My focus has been to convey the interconnectedness of history, art, and nature — including our impact on the environment. Nature is important, especially the birds who live near me.”

Strangely most of us have rarely seen a dead bird. Yet she sees them, and deeply touched, offers us a moment to stop and see life stopped, in beauty.

“When I find birds dead, it is a gift to study each individual closely as a testament to the spirit of life. One can’t help to ponder the effect of future environmental changes on bird populations. Everything changes, degenerates, decomposes, and regrows,” she said

She hopes every species she has captured in drawings and watercolors will flourish decades from today.

For Mary Jo Kattelman, art is a messenger, a reflection of nature and its inherent wisdom. She knows we, as a people, cannot thrive or even survive apart from our forests, birds, butterflies, earthworms. She knits us together—viewer and viewed—through her art.

July’s featured member artist Debra Myers brings a love of color and fluidity to a wide range of media: watercolor, print making, acrylic, oil, pastel, encaustic. When looking at her portraits, landscapes, and abstracts, it feels as though you are entering into a story—an open-ended invitation to join the scene being offered to you. Her work has a soft yet vivid quality. She moves so deftly from medium to medium because she teaches her students at Culver-Stockton University to do the same.

She never doubted her passion for art, even as a child. English assignments became illustrated adventures; math allowed boredom to be endured by artistic compromise. Her practical parents, who never had the opportunity to go to college, were aghast at her desire to choose such an ill-fated major as art. Even extended family, friends, and neighbors saw little benefit for a first-generation college student to study art.

Adjusting to the practicalities of life, and her parent’s wishes, she garnered K-12 education credentials and still wanted to be a pure artist.  One day, during her mother’s vigorous spring cleaning, she brought the subject up. 

“I want to get a master’s degree in art,” she confessed to her mother. This time her mother said, “You need to do what’s right for you.”

It became, perhaps, the most important blessing of her life, as her mother passed away suddenly the next day. And Debra, having her mother’s blessing, returned to college, got her MFA, and ventured into a fulfilling life as an artist—and a teacher.  She did not leave teaching behind. In fact, this year she won the Culver-Stockton College Helsabeck Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Perhaps she was honored because she touches her students lives at every juncture whether it is in the studio, preparing for a gallery art exhibit, supporting an independent study, or simply being there the way her teachers, and her mother, were once there for her.

An opening reception will be held at the Alliance Art Gallery on July 8, from 5 to 8 p.m.