Article by Columbine Quillen
Art – August 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine
IN SALIDA, where every restaurant and gift shop hangs art, and where galleries are more common than clothing stores, the artwork of Gloria Jean Countryman still stands out. Her watercolors are vibrant, impressionistic landscapes, still lifes, and Salida street scenes that show an attention to detail and a touch of realism which reveal the artist’s dedication to practice and education.
Countryman has been painting for more than thirty years, seventeen of them in Colorado, and she has always loved art. “My mother and sister are also artistic. We frivolously pursued it, but as I got older there wasn’t as much time.”
Countryman finished high school, got married, and had three children, and the children consumed much of her time. She wasn’t able to work on her art as much as she wanted. She took a job at Dupont in Corpus Christi and failed to finish the degree in art that she’d always wanted when they sent her to school for an associate’s degree in industrial psychology.
Industrial psychology is the study of placing people in a job that they will excel at with their given personality — a fascinating pursuit — but Countryman continued taking art classes at Delmar College in Corpus Christi in her spare time, regardless. At that point, she had not begun specializing and was taking general art classes, but after deciding that painting was her passion, Countryman started four years of instruction at the Dick Turner Art School in Corpus Christi. Turner was a well-respected Texas oil painter who inspired Countryman, and thus in those days she often painted in oils.
[Into the Sun by Gloria Countryman]
“I took classes from accredited teachers so that I could learn everything that I could. The application of water color was the hardest thing.”
But watercolor would become her passion. “I love watercolor. I love watercolor. I just love watercolor.” She especially likes the way the colors mix and mingle with a plan of their own. “It’s the surprise. Especially for a controlling person like me.”
SHE THEN DECIDED to move to Colorado. “It was a dream to move here.” She wanted to leave southeast Texas because of the climate. “I always painted mountains; even before I moved here.” She created them in her head when she had none to look at. “It was destiny for me to come here.”
Countryman took a job in Pueblo working for Yellow Freight as an operational supervisor. She still wasn’t able to work on her art as much as she wanted until about a decade ago when she retired from Yellow Freight. “About ten years ago I devoted my life to learn everything that I could.” With the children gone from the house and no more career to attend to, she was able to put most of her time into her painting.
She was also able to devote more time to teaching art, which is an aspect of her talent that she enjoys — sometimes more than painting itself. Countryman has been giving painting lessons for twenty years. It’s not easy to acquire Countryman’s level of control or excellence and she is well aware of that. “Students come to me and say that they want to paint something beautiful. They think that they can do it in a day, but they can’t. I tell them that I have thirty years behind this brush. It takes practice.”
[First Street Cafe by Gloria Countryman]
COUNTRYMAN TEACHES ONLY watercolor now. “The difference between oil and watercolor is the difference between having a dog or a cat. A dog is like oil. You can train him to do what you want him to do. A cat is like watercolor; it’s going to do what it wants. It is not forgiving.”
Countryman paints a lot from the area, which she did not do as much when she lived in Texas. She paints landscapes, townscapes, and wildflowers. She also paints some still lives. “They have to have a lot of meaning, I cannot just paint a bowl of fruit.”
[Tree-fis by Gloria Countryman]
In Salida, she is most recognized for her charming watercolors of the historic downtown area. Although they are of Salida today, they catch the quaintness of what Salida has been in the past.
To get the overall feel of a street scene, Countryman takes a series of photographs of the street or building she wishes to paint. Then she uses several of the photographs to create the scene. She does not get out the compass, graph paper, or a calculator to certify the perspective, yet she portrays easily identifiable local scenes with energetic colors. “I like the unevenness, it sometimes is what creates spontaneity.”
Countryman is now moving a bit away from watercolor towards pastels and mixed media. “I want to do something not quite so rigid, more abstract.” She is not sure if people will like it, but she looks forward to doing something new. “I am pulled between two different things. I teach so I have to pay attention to the academics of it, but I want to do something that is more creative.”
[Bottled Up by Gloria Countryman]
Countryman now lives in Howard with her husband and continues to paint and teach classes. Although she does not make her living from her painting, their sales allow her to support her habit. She does have prints made which she keeps very affordable. “Some people will buy a collection of prints and then one day, they are ready for the big painting.”
You can see Countryman’s art in Ol’ Town Gallery in Old Colorado City, Mountain Spirits Gallery in Salida, and Ann’s Art Gallery in Cañon City. She teaches beginning through advanced art classes through the Sangre De Cristo Arts Center in Colorado Springs or by contacting her at: email@example.com.
Columbine Quillen was once the arts editor for the campus newspaper at Western State College in Gunnison.