Mary Spears is the mother of four grown children, grandmother to six, and great grandma to two. Yet at the age of 81, she's discovered a hidden talent for art – whether it's in sketching or working with watercolors.
"I'm still in a state of shock," she says, while shuffling through some of the sketches she's done of puppies, squirrels, rabbits and horses. "I just can't believe I can do this," she says of her artwork laid out on the kitchen table of her tidy apartment in West Union.
During all the years that she watched her children blossom from infants into adults, she saw how creative they were: albeit in very different ways.
Oldest daughter Cyndi Spears will soon retire from a career of teaching art in the Osage School System. Son Rod enjoyed pottery and photography and vows he'll have a ceramics studio in his home, someday. Youngest daughter Sarah Moeschlin, who lives in Germany, has an art studio in her home and not only paints and draws, but makes jewelry and works in fiber arts.
Another child, Kim Harper, of West Union, was more of a "late bloomer", after being influenced by her daughter Lakisha, as both paint abstracts in acrylics. In fact, Lakisha was commissioned, with a friend, to paint a mural at the Des Moines Zoo. And so seeing her ability to draw a likeness to photographs and other scenes she sees, Mary now admits her children's talents may have been passed along in the genes from her side of the family.
"I've kind of found my sense of worth," she says of how rewarding she has found it to be, to sketch, or work with watercolors.
It was while Sarah and her son, Kaden, were here from Germany visiting Mary this summer, that they saw the extent of her skill. Sarah had brought watercolors from her studio and some books from the library detailing basic sketching to tempt Mary into adopting a new craft.
"Kaden and I sat down with her one afternoon to paint and draw. She sat and drew some animals out of one of the books. I looked at it and was like "WOW!, Mom... you CAN draw!" says Sarah.
Before Spears had originally left West Union, locals might remember that for ten years she'd worked as a clerk at Traeger's Jack & Jill. After moving to Waterloo, Spears was employed in the kitchen of a nursing home – now New Aldaya. Nearing retirement, she was ready to cut back to working a couple of days a week, and was offered a position in crafts and activities at the center. One of her ideas was to assist residents in cutting designs from used greeting cards to recycle the designs into cards that could be purchased for less than a quarter.
Perhaps it was that memory that spurred Spears to the idea of crafting hand-drawn Christmas cards this last December, for family members. She also painted small pictures for some of those in the family who have shown an interest in her work.
"I know that next year I'll need to start a lot earlier," she laughed. "I didn't get them out very early." Spears said the discovery of her artistic ability has been a godsend in many ways. Suffering from migraines and occasional anxiety, she says she's found sketching to be relaxing, and even a comfort.
Even when her grandchildren from Kansas were much younger and would visit, she recalls sitting at a kid-size table doing crafts, as she told them stories about how she had been raised, including making kites from comics and popsicle sticks. She also shares an interest in Legos, with grandson Zach.
Perhaps not surprisingly, with this much artistic talent in one family, the Spears kids annually hold an Easter Egg design contest at Cyndi's house in Osage. Sarah, husband Mattias and son Kaden participate too, mailing photographs of their eggs. Son-in-law Brian Harper is the judge.
After so many years, it would seem art has given the Spears family a common thread and much to discuss when they get together.
For Christmas, Mary received more art supplies and is excitedly looking forward to trying out new watercolors that are similar to colored pencils.
"She's been bitten by the art bug!" says daughter, Sarah, proudly.