Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Merry Gay Mesker: Bringing merriment through her art

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The Courtyards of Lake Granbury enjoyed a night of culture on Saturday, Nov 25 when they were treated to a Pop-up Gallery of the work of resident Merry Gay Mesker, age 86. 

The attendants were delighted but none quite so much as the artist herself. The Pop-up Gallery was a surprise to Mesker. Mesker was looking forward to seeing the art that was to be displayed at the Courtyards but she had no idea the work displayed would be her own. 

Equally exciting, her family and friends were in the “gallery” waiting to surprise Mesker. They had traveled from all over bringing their Mesker paintings with them. There were over 37 paintings in the gallery. Paintings came from homes of daughters, grandchildren, and friends in Granbury, Houstin, Galveston, Lubbock and Greenville.       

“The art gallery for mom was amazing! My mother gives of herself so freely and generously it was an honor to have her artwork displayed for others to enjoy. Rebecca Stewart did a wonderful job bringing it together,” shared Bridgette Bednarz, Mesker’s daughter.

Rebecca Stuart is the Lifestyle Director for the Courtyards. It is her responsibility to offer several activities to the residents each day. Stuart had asked for Mesker’s help in teaching the residents in a paint-a-longs, a role Mesker joyfully filled while adding her expertise.

The two women would collaborate in planning so that all residents can participate. Q-tips and bubble wrap and various materials are used to lessen the need to hold a paintbrush, which is difficult for some. 

Stuart got the idea to surprise Mesker with a Pop-up Gallery when planning these one-day paintings. A national program called Second Wind Dreams (registered trademark) inspires assisted living and other groups working with elder care to make elder dreams come true.

Mesker majored in education and minored in art at Sam Houston State, taking summer classes to graduate in three years. It was during this time she would meet her future husband in February of 1958. 

Mesker recalls a conversation on their second date, “He said he didn’t want to get married. And I thought, “Well you little twerp, what makes you think I want to marry you? I don't want to get married; I want to have a career.” They would marry November 28 of that same year. 

Both Meskers enjoyed a long career in education; the first couple of years in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district to be followed by over three decades in Odessa where the Meskers would raise their three daughters. Debra born in 1961, Melissa born in 1965 and Bridgette born in 1968. 

Besides an early dalliance in oil painting at Sam Houston Mesker did not paint again until moving to Odessa where she took oil painting lessons from Lela Wilson. Working full time as a teacher, serving at church, while raising the Mesker girls and supporting all their sports and activities left little time for art. 

This would change when Mesker retired at age 56. She joked that she knew it was time to do something more when she looked forward to the arrival of the mail and the newspaper. Her best friend Christie Ray talked her into taking watercolor lessons. 

Most people find watercolor to be a challenging media, Mesker was no different in this regard. “I enjoyed watercolor, but it was more difficult because you have to think in reverse and make sure there was white in your painting (by leaving some areas of white paper). You couldn’t add white afterward. I remember the first watercolor I did, there wasn’t a lick of white on that paper!”

Many of her works, especially earlier work is floral as Mesker says that is a subject where many hone their skills, but her favorite subject is seashore scenes and tropical fish - inspired by the many trips the Mesker family took to the beach as their girls were growing up. Mesker was additionally inspired by husband Clinton’s photography. A hobby he took up after Mesker began painting in earnest.

Mesker became very involved in the Odessa Art Association, she wrote the newsletter for four years, writing and reading being additional loves for the artist. She also became serious about furthering her skills taking drawing from Odessa College in their continuing education classes. She took workshops from national artists like Ken Hosmer, Tony Couch, Judi Betts and Marvin Steenson and Ken Roland. 

The artist had shown in group shows at the Ellen Noel Museum in Odessa with a watercolor group called Watercolor Horizons. Mesker would even take the position of chair of the show committee for one year. Mesker never cared to sell her work. She explains, “I was not interested in selling or having another job. I painted for the love of color and the love of painting.”

Mesker had been looking forward to the art show not knowing it was a solo exhibit of her own work, “I was coming to the art show that Saturday, to not only see the art but to the support the artist! I felt very honored.”

Never had Mesker had a solo exhibit until the Pop-up Art Gallery at the Courtyards on November 25. Mesker and her husband, who passed away several years ago moved to Granbury and the Courtyards after Clint Mesker broke his hip, daughter Bridgette lives nearby.

“I was so proud and happy to see her talent displayed, it was a moving moment to see her beautiful artwork shared at the Courtyards. I know Daddy would have been so proud,” daughter Melissa Robinson said.

Daughter Debbie Mesker agreed, “This event celebrating my mother’s art, what she has enjoyed sharing all her life, was a wonderful tribute to her talent. She was so honored, and it made me grateful to be one of her children. Dad would have loved to see her art displayed. He was always so proud of his beautiful bride.” 

Equally proud was best friend Christie Ray who had traveled with husband Bob. “The art show/gallery displaying the talents of Merry Gay Mesker was outstanding in all the medias she has pursued through the years. She continues to paint and inspire others. There was a large variety of paintings beautifully displayed.”

Ray continued, “We came from Greenville to share the joy of seeing her artwork and reminiscing about our shared days in Odessa in the Watercolor Horizons Group and the Odessa Art Association.”

The Mesker paintings hung just one day in the dining hall/commons area of the Courtyards where black fabric drapes and easels brought by Ray transformed the space. Stuart was assisted in setting up the gallery by Kaleigh Helms, Baylor Occupational Therapy Doctoral student, in addition to staff of the Courtyards and Mesker’s family and friends.

In attendance besides the Rays and Mesker’s daughters were grandchildren Sherree Gillen-Cooner, Brynn Bednarz, Rayna Gillen, Megan Bednarz and Ashlyn Bednarz. Mesker has 11 grandchildren in total. Friends Julie and Scott Yater were also in attendance. Refreshments were provided by Cornerstone Caregivers who provide senior home care services.