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August 23, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
If she goes to bed without painting, Hannah Ingmire says she feels as if she’s been cheated out of the day.
Ingmire, 68, spends six hours daily in front of an easel. When a stroke put her in the hospital in 2009, she insisted her husband bring supplies to her so she could continue painting in watercolors, something she had been doing since she was 5 years old.
Prior to her stroke, her style was representational, meaning her artwork depicted real objects. The smooth, intricate brush strokes in her paintings created still-life pictures. In one piece, Company Coming, a table is set for dinner guests. A potted plant of cyclamen sits as the centerpiece on a white lace tablecloth, and an empty crystal wine glass casts a shadow. She says it looks as if the sun is just setting.
Soon after her hospitalization, she discovered that tremors, a side effect of the stroke, made intricate watercolor work impossible. But that didn’t stop her from doing what she loves.
Ingmire reverted to an abstract style opposite of representationalism called non-objectivism. She learned the style in the ’60s at the University of Iowa where she studied for a year. She no longer envisions her artwork for days before starting to paint in her home studio. Her new process is unplanned, and the product fosters imagination instead of reflecting reality as still lifes do.
Using acrylic paint, large brush strokes and mixed media such as birch bark from her backyard and seashells collected from beaches she’s visited, Ingmire produces abstract art that lets viewers’ imaginations wander. Ingmire often finds unintended subjects in her work, including a white swan, feathers and leafless trees.
It’s not always easy to see the beauty in a painting with no obvious meaning; her husband can’t seem to identify with abstract art. She advises him and other viewers to blur their eyes and see if the painting inspires a feeling in them. “Maybe not a thought in the brain, but a feeling of beauty,” she says. “If they see that, then they might understand what is in that artist’s heart that they’re trying to show.”
Columbia Art League’s education director, Patty Groening, says Ingmire’s stroke liberated her art. “Her work is more intuitive because she doesn’t have a clear idea of what she’s going to paint,” Groening says. Ingmire is a member of the Art League and also a teacher. She’ll begin teaching classes and private lessons in her home in the fall. Student Holly Stitt says Ingmire is eager to help others discover their own styles.
It would be difficult to understand the passion Ingmire expresses through her paintings without knowing the impact art has had on her life. For her, painting is necessary, enjoyable and also healing. The night her father died, Ingmire agreed to paint a 25-foot mural for the Quincy, Ill., library. In just 30 days, she completed a painting of an enchanted forest with 32 animals hidden throughout the scene. It consoled her and helped her through the experience.
Ingmire says she’ll be painting until she dies or goes blind. For now, she hopes people will know her as someone who tries to bring some beauty into the world.