Award-winning Sedalia artist Marlis Wise has always loved art, but she didn’t grasp the enchantment of it and the concept of becoming one with it until she found pastel painting 10 years ago.
Pastels have brought her peace and insight. Her philosophy is to celebrate the moment and to take each day as it comes, savoring it as a gift.
“I try not to look too much into tomorrow, I have only this one day,” she said recently from her home studio north of Sedalia. “I need to celebrate this day.”
Her motto to all aspiring artists is, “If it speaks to you let it sing.”
Wise, a spiritual person of the Catholic faith, said she knew from an early age she loved art.
“There was no other choice for me,” she said. “As far as my talents.”
Her aptitude tests in school reveled strengths in conservation and architecture.
“I have such a love for nature, and of the land,” she added. “You can tell that in my paintings — I want to be one with nature. My art is very comforting to me. I have my art and I have my faith.”
Wise graduated from high school in 1960, came to Missouri and attended Park University in Parkville and the Kansas City Art Institute with an emphasis on art history. She began painting with oils, but soon married, had a family and her art ceased for a time.
She began to paint with oil again in 1985.
“I didn’t get into pastel until about 10 years ago,” she said.
Every Tuesday, for the last 16 years, she has traveled to Cole Camp to artist friend Maren Schenewerk’s home to paint. On one such visit a pastel artist came by and helped the once rigid, analytic Wise to loosen up artistically.
“We used to have a lot of guests come through who wanted to see the studio at Maren’s,” Wise said. “One day this lady came that did pastel work. She came and she demonstrated, several days, to Maren and I. I thought I didn’t want any part of that messiness, it just didn’t talk to me at that time. And I kind of half listened, I went on with my oil painting (using) my t-square. Then something she said kind of caught my ear.”
Wise decided to listen.
“I thought, I should think about this more seriously before she leaves,” Wise said. “She showed me all kinds of papers and sanded mediums, different textures of pastels. And the more I asked, the more she wanted to tell me. Then I couldn’t get enough information. She was trying to get out the door and I wouldn’t let her go — that’s the beginning. I’ve never looked back.”
She found using her fingers to paint with soft “buttery” pastels was much different than using a brush — it spoke to her. She fell in love.
“I liked the sensuality of it,” she said. “You’re one with your artwork. You don’t have a brush between you and the paper. You are your medium, you are working with your actual fingers — you don’t have that extension.”
Wise said she becomes so engrossed in painting with pastel that her stress evaporates.
“There’s no worries, there’s just you and your painting,” she added. “Sometimes you don’t know where the piece is going to lead you, and you just let it go, and it will take you where it wants you to go. It may be just a little mistake or a stroke of color over here, that wasn’t even speaking to you. Then all of a sudden everything flows around it. Like God said ‘get on over here.’”
Her love for conservation and historical architecture comes out in her work, first in the oils painted years ago featuring old churches and schools in northern Pettis County, and then with pastel depicting the landscape.
“I just love old, old architecture just like I love nature,” she said.
With pastel she creates landscapes, sunsets and sunrises, cloud-covered meadows and tree-canopied country lanes.
“I get the chills sometimes when I start a new painting,” she said. “I just get so excited — I paint a place that I would like to be, that I would like to visit. I love the Missouri prairie — it holds so many secrets and mysteries. Everywhere you look there’s something unique. I should have been a conservation agent.”
Wise said Sedalians should be aware of all the creative people they have in the area.
“Sedalia, for a small town, has an amazing amount writers, poets, musicians, artists,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to live in this community. I wish more people would realize it and would come and partake of the shows. We have some real talent here.”
Her word of advice to other artists would be to never give up.
“You might not see it at first, you might not have been struck by that feeling at first,” she said. “But it will hit you, and it will hit you hard. Don’t give up. Be comfortable with it, be one with it.”
Wise added that “everyone has a gift” and it makes her sad that some people can’t find or recognize their talent.
“It’s sad,” she said. “That’s why we have so many restless souls, restless people. They’re searching … but they don’t know what they are searching for.”
With an ironic twist on words, Wise’s pastel paintings can be found at “Finds, An Uncommon Shop,” in downtown Sedalia, which carries local artwork.
“They are so kind to represent me, they have faith in me and my work,” she said.
For more information call Wise at 826-8660. To view her artwork visit her new website at MarlisArt.com.