Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2004

Artist, known for flowers, came to her specialty only gradually

April 8, 2004

Mary Jane Choice has a passion for painting flowers, but it hasn't always been that way.

When she took early art lessons, she took portrait lessons with Harry Fredman, who painted a portrait of president Harry Truman.

Then she began painting several animals, especially pheasants and quail, so many in fact that people started to wonder what her fascination was with them.

"One day, people started saying, 'Mary Jane, how come you never do flowers?'" Choice said.

Choice took the suggestion to heart and has since become famous in Leavenworth for her flower paintings, especially her irises. Many of her flower paintings will be on display for the month of April at the Agricultural Hall of Fame, 630 Hall of Fame Dr.

Her fame for her flower paintings has taken her to many art fairs and competitions, and she has had numerous solo exhibitions of her work. She also sells her paintings in her grandson's art gallery in Leavenworth, the River Gallery, and they are some of his best sellers.

"He teases me all the time because my paintings are not cheap, but people like what I paint," Choice said.

Choice has always had a natural talent for art, which is in her genes. Her grandmother was a painter, and she said her father was a talented artist as well.

"My father could draw anything, though he never showed me how," Choice said.

Choice said she's been painting since she was 4 years old, growing up in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. She had brains as well as artistic talent, graduating with a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma Liberal Arts College at 20 years old and earning a membership in Mensa.

She moved to Kansas City, Kan. after getting married, and then to Leavenworth, where she operated a high-end dress shop until five years ago.

Though she was busy with her dress shop, Choice still found ways to stay connected with art. She created a room in her shop for art lessons, and in 1983 she co-founded the Leavenworth County Arts Association and served as its president for many years.

Choice has also worked with the state capitol to help them select art, and she even painted a picture for former Gov. Joan Finney's office.

Since she can no longer play golf, her other favorite activity, Choice spends a lot of time painting. She now works in oil, watercolor, acrylic, and charcoal.

"You'd think I didn't do anything but paint," Choice said.

She still paints the occasional rural scene or portrait, but she makes sure there are plenty of opportunities around to paint flowers, her new favorite subject, which she always tries to capture at their most beautiful.

"I grow the flowers to paint them," Choice said. "I have a rhododendron and one day it was in full bloom, and my husband said, 'you better get out and paint it.'"

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