98 years of memories: Moments in Missouri turned into art

Clara Straight, 98, creating a painting (KTVO)

Clara Straight has 98 years’ worth of memories.

Many of them, still hanging on her walls, in a home that’s the exact age as she is.

It was that home, built by her father near Yarrow, Missouri, that was the foundation of Clara’s career and success as an artist.

For 36 years, Straight was a professor of art at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“My basic course was called color and design, and they just turned it over to me, they knew I had a masters in painting and sculpture and I could do anything with it that I wanted so I drew up on my sculpture and painting training and I introduced a lot of interesting things,” Straight said. “They turned over the design art gallery to me to put on our shows, and I had to bring up a new show once a month so I was a busy girl but it was a lot of fun.”

In between teaching and creating art, Straight also got to see the world.

“I did a lot of traveling,” Straight reminisced. “On sabbatical leaves I could do just about anything I wanted to, so one time I spent my sabbatical leave in Australia, and another time I was on an art and music study tour of Europe, and one time, I just came back to the farm and painted all winter long. I told myself I’m going to paint one painting a week, and I did.”

But Straight says there was nowhere like home.

“Everything else was foreign, it still is,” she explained. “I never felt at home anywhere else.”

It is a home that she shared through brushstrokes.

With just some paint and a blank canvas, a moment turned into a memory.

“When I decide to paint something, it’s because I just caught a glimpse, and that’s it, it struck me,” Straight said. “I get myself all acquainted with whatever has attracted me and I try to feel it out, and express the mood of it, not just painting an object, but I want to get the mood, and the life, of whatever I’m looking at.”

Clara never had a day of art class until she attended high school.

“I’ll never forget the thrill I got of her [the art teacher] showing me how you flowed watercolor on the page," Straight remembered. "I thought that was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. From then on I just was all out."

Across 98 years, Clara has painted thousands of memories, and still paints every day, sharing the beauty of her Missouri home.

“The greatest compliment I’ve ever had was one of my little students who said, ‘Ms. Straight, when I look at your paintings, I know there really is a place like that somewhere.’ And I thought, that’s just what I’ve been trying to do all my life.”

Straight’s paintings are displayed at the Kirksville Public Library, in a show right now at the Kirksville Arts Center, and in countless homes across the country.

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