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Rural Advocate: The Paintings of Nora Othic 

Stretch your metaphysical imagination a bit and you might conjure up a molecular geneticist working with an artists palette of DNA segments from Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and Edward Hopper to create a hybrid creature of the arts known as Nora Othic.

San Francisco-born but raised in Missouri since age seven, Othic may seem an anomaly to some in today's art world a self-proclaimed "Neo-Regionalist" whose works reflect the style but not necessarily the sweet sentiments evoked by illustrators like Norman Rockwell and by some of the Depression-era painters whose works were focused on pastoral landscapes and picket-fenced small-town America.

"My work is not involving nostalgia," Othic says. "I justThe Farm Accident want [to show] some intensity to the rural experience to convey that its a very vibrant, vital life stylea lot of life and death.

"I feel like the whole rural way of life needs to be advocated, Othic adds. The rest of the world feels like its time has come and gone by, but thats not true."

More than 50 pieces of Othics art, including large-scale pastels, oils and watercolors, are being featured in a new exhibition opening Jan. 20 in The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist University. Titled Rural Advocate: The Paintings of Nora Othic Plus Portraitures from the Permanent Collection, the exhibition will run through March 4.

Among the 25 portraitures in the show are works by George Caleb Bingham, Aaron Bohrod, Charles Banks Wilson and two artists with Fayette connections: Monte Crews and Edna Schenk. Crews was born in 1888 in Fayette. Both his father and mother were descendants of pioneer Missouri families. His father was a merchant in Fayette and his mother was a cousin of the much-decorated German painter Ludwig Knaus (1829-1909). Many of Crews' later illustrations reflected scenes during his growing up years in the Fayette area. He returned to Fayette in 1917 and bought the local motion picture theatre and remained here for several years and then moved to Kansas City.

Schenk, who died in May 2007, was a 1935 graduate of Central College (now Central Methodist University). She taught art in the Boonville School District from 1937 to 1942, and then moved to Illinois briefly before settling in Ventura, Calif., where she taught for many years in the public school system. She became a well-known West Coast artist, who also traveled extensively in Europe, which is portrayed in much of her life's work. The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art featured her works in a retrospective exhibition in August 2007.

The large-scale pastels by Othic depict the realities of everyday life on the farm and in rural communities, including tragedies such as a lad injured when his tractor overturns and two young men in a bar fight. Other works by Othic include a number of oils and watercolors in a smaller format. Among these are older houses and other structures in rural communities, landscapes and small animals such as domestic rabbits. There is much whimsy in her works portraying people and farm animals.

Othic likes to utilize people and scenes familiar to her rural community near Marceline. On one occasion, when a carnival was in town, Othic showed up with a pocketful of $5 bills and got some of the carnies to pose for her paintings of the fight scene and other group art pieces she painted. Sometimes she works from photographs that she takes of animals at the Missouri State Fair each August.

While much of her work is in pastels, Othic says she would like to spend more time working with other mediums. "I'm inhaling way too much pastel dust," she half jokes and adds, "Id like to do more oils and possibly acrylics; Ive pretty much abandoned by Nora Othicwatercolors." As to subject matter, Othic says she is gravitating more toward livestock and rural scenes, landscapes and houses.

Although she didn't begin formal art studies until later in life, Othic says she has always been interested in art. "I was the kid in class (grade school) who people would ask, 'Are you going to be an artist when you grow up?' And I guess I was."

At the age of 33, while working in a Marceline factory, Othic suddenly decided to go back to college and study art. She first went to New York City, where she took part in a workshop by contemporary artist Daniel Green. The following year (1988) she entered the University of Missouri and graduated four years later with a bachelors degree in fine arts. This was followed by several years of participation in art fairs before Othic began exhibiting in galleries, including Legacy Art and Bookworks and PS Gallery in Columbia, Albrecht-Kemper Museum in St. Joseph, Gallery V in Kansas City and Beauchamps Gallery in Topeka, Kan.

Art awards Othic has received include the First Premium Missouri Top 50 award at Sedalia; Best of Show, Old Capitol Art Fair, Springfield, Ill.; Best of Show, Mosaics, St. Charles; and Best of Show, Columbia Fall Festival.

Future endeavors include a commission from J.E. Dunn Construction Co. in Kansas City, to paint large-scale pastels in industrial art such as construction workers on the job to be placed in the companies new corporate headquarters currently under construction.

Othic says the industrial art commission fits in with her focus as an artist on the ordinary aspects of life. "What has evolved," she notes, "is a growing confidence that allow me to be as abrasive, humorous and energetic as I want to be."