The legacy of Wendell Mohr - Fort Madison Daily Democrat: Opinion

The legacy of Wendell Mohr

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Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 12:00 am

Shooting Star

Out of the void

he came

like a shooting star

touching her shoulder

"A grand adventure,"

he said,

igniting the darkness.

"Let there be light."

and so it is that they

turned the nights to diamonds

turned the days

to gold

and painted

once upon a time.

Wendell Mohr passed away in 2008, but his work lives on, gaining momentum, adding fame to an already famous artist. Wendell lived in the tiny unincorporated village of Vernon, Iowa which is on the other side of the Des Monies River from Bentonsport, another unincorporated village in Van Buren County. He lived in the old Vernon school, a two-story brick structure, complete with bell tower, gymnasium, and loft apartment. The school, a historic landmark, was the ideal setting for isolation, a place of peace and beauty for Wendell's imagination to run amuck, free. From the Des Moines River, like carp, he pulled ships and sailors to paint from memory. There was no email, cell phone, or internet in Wendell's school/home, where he sometimes conducted art classes. A simple land-line phone, without a recorder, was his only connection to the outside world. If he answered, he was there.

Recently, his wife, Julie Powell-Mohr, also an artist, spoke at an exhibition of Wendell's work at the Keokuk Library/Art Center. He was mostly known for his watercolor trains, ships, bridges, and seamy city scenes and skylines. There was usually a touch of the abstract in his work, which adds emotion, Wendell Mohr's drawing card. Later in life, he did some completely abstract work. Those would sell as soon as they were finished, but they were never fully satisfying to him. He was surprised by the demand, always thanking those who kept his dreams alive, the customers.

Wendell and his wife Julie would sometimes collaborate on a watercolor, she making "his hard edges soft" and he making "her soft edges hard." And they would jointly write.

"…so we traveled on shafts of light, gathering in, gathering in, yellows, reds, blues, a holy gathering of primary colors to paint the earth…

"Put your mind in neutral," he said. "Let the patterns speak. Patterns tell the truth." So the hard edges became doorways, and the windows opened to let in the light.

Wendell Mohr was a great teacher, conducting classes all across the Midwest. He shared his knowledge of beauty and the world and was known for his wit and wisdom. He would say, "Watercolor is sort of like life. You take what you get. Each painting is unique. You are never done. There is no masterpiece. You learn to paint by painting. Correcting a drip? It's like trying to correct something you've said. You can't do it. Sometimes you need to be reckless. Patience and impatience are needed with watercolors. Don't be afraid to exaggerate! Paint boldly. Take risks. Put your darkest darks next to your lightest lights. Listen. Watch the colors mingle. Wait. Let yourself be surprised. Add some detail at the focal point. Leave something to discover. Four and five-year olds are the real artists. They don't care if their skies are green or their trees are blue. And they don't care if their cows look like dogs and their dogs look like cows. Paint every day. Find a way to heal the world."

Wendell Mohr's art was about drama and adventure. Art was his first language, as it was man's.

Wendell Mohr is gone. We miss him. His work lives on.

Have a good story? Call Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526 or email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com.

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