OLD SOUTHWEST: Watercolor artist Mary Lou Corn, 83, never stops painting

Friday, December 2, 2011 | 3:48 p.m. CST; updated 10:57 p.m. CST, Monday, December 5, 2011
Mary Lou Corn, center, an 83-year-old watercolor artist from St. James, talks with Phyllis Wulf, right, and other guests at a small exhibition of her works at her son's home in Columbia on Nov. 20. Corn has won national recognition for her paintings on Ozark lake landscapes, flowers and still life.

COLUMBIA — The beauty of the world has driven Mary Lou Corn to keep painting for more than 50 years.

Corn, 83, of St. James, works every day, painting watercolors of delicate antiques, exotic fabrics, food, flowers and Ozark landscapes.

She has earned national recognition for her watercolors.

As a signature member of the Missouri and Kansas watercolor societies, the Honor Society of Watercolor USA and the National Watercolor Society, Corn has exhibited her work in national juried shows for the past three decades.

Corn's son and daughter-in-law, John Corn and Sandy Gummersheimer, held a small exhibition on Nov. 20 at their Columbia home. She will be part of a group show, "Bella Arts," being held in March at Rolla's The Centre.

People can also see her work at the Meramec Vineyard in St. James and at the Dunklin Street Gallery in Jefferson City.

Corn attended William Woods College in Fulton, where she majored in art. She married Arthur Corn after graduation and decided to put her career as an artist on hold to raise her family.

During the 1960s, she returned to painting and hasn't stopped since. Corn said she finds her inspiration in the eternal beauty of natural scenes.

"Every time I'm out driving, even coming here today, I see 'paintings' in the countryside," she said.

One of her paintings is a still life of purple peppers and glassware based on the colors of fresh produce sold at Columbia's farmers market.

"I had never seen purple peppers before, and they were so beautiful," Corn said.

Corn is always working on something at her easel.

"It’s rare that I don’t have a new painting every months," she said.

Corn doesn't do plein-air paintings; usually she takes photographs of an area she loves, then goes back to her studio and rearranges the photos to make a pleasing composition.

Every once a while, when she gets tired of her realistic work — especially after she has finished a really tedious realistic painting — Corn said she experiments with abstract subjects.

But, she said, she always goes back to realistic watercolors of still life and landscapes.

"It seems to be the way I have to do it," she said.

Corn also collects beautiful objects, often the subjects of her art. At her home in St. James, she has several drawers full of old embroidered textiles and handmade crochet in a house full of antiques.

She and her husband built the house from stone, bricks and wood on a hillside overlooking forested valleys.

"She has a good eye for anything good, not just art works, but also on design and antiques," said Gummersheimer.

Aside from her success in painting, Corn also dabbles in handicrafts. She made most of the Christmas ornaments and painted the gourds in her son's house. She also braided many of the wool rugs on their floors.

Corn's love for art and the longing for aesthetic gratification has become a family tradition. Her daughter, Joanna Macpherson, collects vintage glassware, also a common subject in her paintings.

Her son is interested in woodworking, and a grandson, Zane Corn, graduated from MU with a degree in art. He works as a graphic artist.

After more than 50 years in the field, Corn has established a clientele and a lot of the guests at her Nov. 20 event have some of her paintingsin their collection.

"She is just an expert at watercolor," said Anne Jacobson, a florist, client and long-time friend.

Jacobson's husband commissioned Corn to do a painting of zinnias to honor his wife's business and her friendship with the artist.

"It just looks like you can reach out and pluck the flower out of the painting," Jacobson said.

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