Mary Lou McLagan soaks paper and crushes it into a wad. But it’s not destined to be lobbed into a trash can; it will become the canvas for her impressionistic art.
McLagan, 82, moved to Pleasant Hill from Norfolk, Va., 47 years ago. As she raised her five children with her husband, she continuing to train herself as an artist by reading, taking workshops and communing with other painters.
When her kids were young, she sometimes painted with a young child on her knee.
Her art is on display at Lee’s Summit City Hall until mid July.
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She exhibits at local art festivals, but most of her effort goes into her gallery Art Craft Crossing and the classes she has been teaching for 26 years at the historic train depot in Pleasant Hill, at 100 Wyoming St.
She also paints landscapes and portraits on commission. That work involves a level of difficulty, she says, as it requires connecting with the emotion the client feels for the subject, whether it’s a person or a place.
She says art has been her obsession since she first developed a passion for painting at the age of 10.
“You can call me very dedicated or not very well-rounded. If I’m reading a book, it’s about art.
“I love color, harmony and I’m really heavy on design,” said McLagan, who describes her work as stylistic.
She teaches the principles and elements of design, which she said helped her dramatically improve her work. Those formalized ideas reach back to classical Greece, she said. A lot of people intuitively understand what makes a good design, she said, but in her classes she gives them the vocabulary for communicating about art and understanding what they might read in an art magazine.
Some of her students have been painting with her for many years and have gone on to teach workshops themselves. After each session, they critiquing each other’s work.
Gloria Davisson, a member of the Pleasant Hill Art League, is one of her students and is also self-taught. She said McLagan has spent years going to workshops with nationally recognized artists and passes along what she’s learned from them.
“She’s just a wonderful teacher; everyone loves her to death. That’s why we continue to go (to her classes),” Davisson said. “It’s like a social club.”
“I hope they learn from me. I certainly learn from them,” McLagan said.
At her gallery and studio, she said, she has eight or nine students working on their own projects. If they’re having a problem, she’ll demonstrate a fix on a separate canvas or piece of paper, but won’t touch the artist’s work, she said.
She said her own style shifts every five years or so. A while back, she found a style that sold well, but she got bored and moved on. McLagan said she was more interested in teaching and exploring her art than seeking financial success on the art fair circuit. Her husband supported her and made that possible, she said.
She still works in oils, pastels or other paints when requested for commissioned pieces, but recently she’s devoted her personal efforts to painting on masa — a versatile paper also known as rice paper. The style originated in Japan.
To achieve the look, she soaks paper in water, wads it a ball, soaks it again, then again wads into a ball. Then she spreads it out and glues it to a canvas. The somewhat abstract, impressionistic result doesn’t appeal to everyone, she said.
“When it sells it’s a bonus,” McLagan said.
“My teaching is my love and my passion. I sell enough to keep me going to the art supply store. It’s like going to the candy store.”