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Lee’s Summit artist Ivey Zoellers finds her calling with colorful birds

Lee’s Summit artist Ivey Zoellers adds the final touches to one of her bird paintings, “Summer Social.” Zoellers is currently exhibiting a show of her bird-themed paintings at Lee’s Summit City Hall. The exhibit, “Flock Together,” will run through Oct.12.
Lee’s Summit artist Ivey Zoellers adds the final touches to one of her bird paintings, “Summer Social.” Zoellers is currently exhibiting a show of her bird-themed paintings at Lee’s Summit City Hall. The exhibit, “Flock Together,” will run through Oct.12. Special to the Journal

When she was 4 years old, Ivey Zoellers discovered she loved painting.

“My mom was always doing fun things with us,” Zoellers said. “We had a “Barney” box filled with arts and crafts. My brother, sister and I would pull out all of the supplies and make things. It was a magical box filled with amazing things to do.”

But while she always had a passion for painting, it has been a journey to find her artistic niche. Eventually she found her inspiration in nature, and now the Lee’s Summit native is currently featured in a one-person show at City Hall.

Her path began in elementary school, where art was always her favorite subject. By the time she was a high school freshman, she envisioned a future as an artist.

But then Zoellers’ dream took an unexpected turn.

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For the past two years, Zoellers has focused on painting birds. “I asked myself how I could take people’s minds off of the negativity that surrounds us and bring more color and happiness into the world,” Zoellers said. “Birds became the language for that joy.” Anne Marie Hunter Special to the Journal

“As a freshman, I took Art 101. I always turned my homework in on time. But I didn’t do well in that class and didn’t have the grades to go on to the next course. It devastated me.”

At the end of her freshman year, that disappointing turn was followed by another unexpected twist.

“A lady walked into the room to look at our final work on display,” Zoellers said. “She picked up one of my pieces and asked whose it was. When I told her it was mine, she asked if I was taking art next year. I told her I didn’t make the grade to go forward.”

 ‘We’ll see about that,’ she shouted. She threw down my work and stormed out of the room. It was really intimidating,” Zoellers recalled.

It turned out the woman was Julie Bandy, the school’s advanced art and painting teacher.

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During a recent class at Got Art Gallery on Third Ivey Zoellers helped guide Lydia Novak, 12, as she drew the head of an eagle. Anne Marie Hunter Special to the Journal

“When I went to sign up for next year’s classes in August, Mrs. Bandy came up to me and told me I had already been signed up for Advanced Art. She said to make sure and schedule the rest of my classes around that class.

“This was a big turning point. Mrs. Bandy was my teacher through my senior year, and I wouldn’t have become an artist if it wasn’t for her. I’m really grateful for having her as my teacher.

“It’s amazing the universe puts these people in your path who are urged to say something. As a teacher, I hope I can do for other students what Mrs. Bandy did for me.”

Zoellers graduated from high school well on her way to making her dreams come true.

She attended the University of Central Missouri and pursued a dual degree. In 2012, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in painting. In 2013, she completed her Bachelor of Science in Art Education.

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During a recent drawing class at Got Art Gallery on Third, Ivey Zoellers taught Hannah Batts, 12, about the details of an eagle’s anatomy. Anne Marie Hunter Special to the Journal
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Jacob Hunter (left), 7, and Aiden Morris, 11, learn to see the finer details in an eagle’s feathers from their instructor, artist Ivey Zoellers. Anne Marie Hunter Special to the Journal

Since graduating, Zoellers has pursued both painting and teaching careers. In addition to her show at City Hall, she regularly exhibits in venues throughout the metropolitan area. She is also a professional art instructor at Got Art Gallery on Third in Lee's Summit.

However, the past five years have not been without their creative challenges.

“It’s always been my goal to use my skills as an artist and educator to bring about meaningful change for the good. But from 2013 to 2015, I was lost and went through a crisis. I didn’t know ‘why’ I was doing ‘what’ I was doing, and felt creatively adrift.”

After much soul-searching, Zoellers reinvented her creative vision.

“I was a much different artist in 2013,” she said. “For quite some time, I’d been working aggressively on a cancer awareness series, inspired my younger brother, who was going through cancer treatment.”

As Zoellers’ work helped her through the pain of her brother’s illness, she envisioned a future focused on raising cancer awareness through her art.

“My art was my therapy. At the same time, I also I thought I would have the stamina to keep creating on this subject, but it was a really tough subject.”

So Zoellers shifted her focus and began to make work reflective of the current political landscape. But she didn’t see the politically themed work bearing the fruit she hoped for.

Zoellers had a creative epiphany near the end of 2016. “I realized that if I wanted to see a more joyful world, I would have to transform my art.”

Zoellers did, indeed, transform her art. She developed a new, more lyrical, whimsical style and chose to focus on a single subject: birds.

“I realized political themes weren’t working for me. I felt I was fighting fire with fire. I decided I would fight fire with water, be the positive change, and build that with my art.

“I asked myself how I could take people’s minds off of the negativity, and in what ways I could bring more color and happiness into the world. Birds became the language for that joy.”

For the past two years, Zoellers has immersed herself in studying and painting birds. Most inspired by species native to the Midwest, she studies everything from their physical structure and songs to their flight patterns and nesting habits.

“I want to distract from the issues at hand and generate content people want to have around them,” she said.

Zoellers is also focused on sharing her vision with her students.

“At the same time I teach art theory, elements and principles, I also remind kids that success is about their character and heart — and art is a way to share those.

“I tell them, ‘You are allowed to be you, and you don’t have to fit any mold.’ I remind them they are individuals, they have freedom of expression, and one raindrop can be the change.”

On display

Ivey Zoellers’ exhibit “Flock Together” is on display at Lee’s Summit City Hall, 220 SE Green St., through Oct. 12. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. More information at cityofls.net.

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