The Ottumwa Courier

November 19, 2013

Art, not fear

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The two artists featured at the Indian Hills gallery create art without fear.

"It surprises me when people are interested in the same things I am," said Lisa Fritz, an artist who teaches at the college.

Though it's a nice surprise, she acknowledged, she doesn't create her work with the idea of impressing anyone.

"I generally don't have an audience in mind," she said.

Monday night, at the Indian Hills Art Faculty Exhibition, visitors — some shy, others bold — expressed interest in her work. The large stoneware faces especially drew attention.

Mark McWhorter was the other art instructor who was showing work. Again, while working, he doesn't worry about what others will think.

"As a realist painter, I get to go to the place I'm painting," he said.

He's an "avid backpacker," so a lot of his work shows views he won't easily see again. Most are a day or two walk through wilderness.

"You can't just drive up on a road," McWhorter said.

He'll do preliminary sketches on site, then paint later, in his studio.

"It's a selfish art, in a way, because I get to relive that experience, to 'take a trip' a second time," he said.

He said because artists "have to make a living," they sell their work at shows. But are there views that mean something to him, paintings he won't display for fear they might sell?

"I'll show them. I just won't put a price on them," McWhorter said.

It's actually rare now that he does that; there's only so much space on his family's walls at home. Or upon their shelves: Besides painting, McWhorter creates pottery pieces. And though those drew attention, the landscapes seemed to draw the most interest. One series the artist was asked about was something he started for the first time this summer; he bases each painting on a high-tech image from Google Earth maps.

But the piece that was the center of his attention was of a much older technology: The watercolor was of a stone wall in a green yet deserted Kentucky field.

"These walls are made of limestone. Some of the are 100, even 200 years old," he said.

McWhorter is originally from Kentucky. He explained that the walls are built by collecting flat pieces of limestone while the field is being cleared. They're stacked, then covered tightly with limestone that looks like it's standing up. In a way, it is, the artist explained. Each piece is pressed tightly against the next, and the weight of the whole thing holds the stacks underneath.

All they need is for someone who cares to stop a moment, and push a few fallen stones back where they belong.

That one painting, McWhorter said, is going home with him.

To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark