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Sketching memories: Retired teacher discovers talent for drawing, painting

Flanked by two of her watercolor paintings, Vera Rachuy holds her most recent barn drawing -- all entries in the Nobles County Art Center's annual Area Art Show.

WORTHINGTON -- Vera Rachuy (pronounced rock-way) doesn't particularly like to draw animals, and she doesn't consider herself a dog lover.

But when the severity of the recently passed winter resulted in a prolonged stay at her daughter's house in Iowa, Vera took advantage of some captive subjects -- her daughter's canines.

"I was home alone during the day, and the dogs were there all the time," she explained.

Vera's drawings of the Welsh corgi, golden retriever, giant schnoodle and standard poodle are among the entries she has entered in the Area Art Show at the Nobles County Art Center, which opens Sunday.

Drawing and painting have become more than hobbies for Vera, a retired teacher from rural Westbrook. Art has become a later-in-life passion.

She didn't have many chances to explore art as a young girl growing up in Hinckley.

"When you go to a one-room country school and a small high school, you don't have much opportunity for those things," she said.

Vera attended Augsburg College, where she pursued a degree in math and science education. She taught for 33 years, most in the Westbrook and later Westbrook-Walnut Grove school district, retiring in 1993.

That's when she started drawing in earnest.

"I came down to Worthington and took a class through community ed," she recalled. "Rita Becker offered a drawing class that was quite extensive for community ed. There were only four of us, but she was willing to do it with only four because she wanted teaching on her résumé.

"She always said to draw that with which you are most familiar, so I started out with old-fashioned things. I call it 'Bygone Era Designs.'"

Vera began sketching rural landscapes and still lifes that she knew would invoke a feeling of nostalgia, and she began peddling her wares -- prints and note cards created from her drawings -- at area craft shows. She currently has several stationery assortments that she takes to the larger craft shows and to the Odin Craft Mill.

"The people who were going to craft shows, a lot of them were about my age, and could remember these things," she explained. "My best sellers have been my note stationery."

She also found a niche drawing buildings that are a familiar sight on the rural landscape -- barns.

"It seemed like barns are disappearing from the countryside," she noted. "If people connect me with something, know something about me, it's that I draw barns."

Most of Vera's barn drawings are commissioned by owners or families who want to preserve the image of their barn for posterity. Using photographs, she has drawn farm structures located as far away as Missouri. She brought that particular Missouri barn drawing for entry in the Area Art Show.

"One of the reasons I have only one barn here is that most of my barns are drawn by request, and then that person buys the original," she explained. "This one is also by request, but I haven't delivered it yet."

While the bulk of her work has featured buildings or inanimate objects, Vera was first asked to draw living creatures -- horses -- for the Murray County Classic Draft Horse Show.

"I don't do animals, but when they wanted something for the horse show, I did struggle and do something with horses," she said. "And then I saw a former student at the beauty shop, and she wanted me to do her Great Dane."

And so, when she found herself spending the winter at her daughter's home in Norwalk, Iowa -- instead of risking getting permanently snowed in at her Westbrook farm --Vera began sketching the resident pooches.

"I'd be home alone during the day -- they'd be off at work and school -- so I'd sit and draw," she said. "I never did any drawing while anybody else was around.

"I told a friend that I didn't know if I wanted to take (the dog drawings) to the art show, because then people will think I want to do dogs," she added.

While Vera has worked predominantly in charcoal, pencil or ink, more recently she began to experiment with a new medium -- watercolor.

"I decided it would be interesting to do something with color, so I went to Senior College in Marshall," she explained. "The drawing I was doing, that type of thing had to be pretty precise, so I had to learn to loosen up to do the watercolor."

During a watercolor seminar in Worthington by Brazil native Sebastiao Pereira, Vera learned "to let the paints do the work." She's also taken a number of Senior College seminars with Charlene Buescher in Marshall.

"Senior College in Marshall is two six-week sessions during the school year. You meet once a week for two hours," she explained. "One time she did an intergenerational workshop and I took my granddaughter from Sioux Falls along, and we both painted."

For the Worthington show, Vera has submitted several watercolors, one including imagery she can see outside her window.

"I live by a lake -- one of multitude of long lakes in Minnesota," she explained about the landscape. "It's small, but boy does it have beautiful sunsets. I added the windmills and called it 'Changing Horizon.'"

During her retirement career in art, Vera has amassed quite an inventory of works, and the favorites are those that she chooses to hang in her home, including a barn collage, a watercolor of Split Rock lighthouse and another of sailboats on Lake Superior. The latter painting she wasn't initially satisfied with until Buescher advised her to get rid of a sailboat in the foreground and add some cattails. She has also given away many of her favorites to her two daughters and hopes they will someday be appreciated by her five grandchildren.

While Vera insists it's really just "a retirement hobby," art has filled many hours since her husband's death and provided her an outlet for her creative energy.

The Area Art Show will open with a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center, located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building, 407 12th St., Worthington. Awards will include Best of Show, the Gene Schar Award for Excellence in Painting and honorable mentions in a variety of categories. The show will continue until May 10. Hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, phone 372-8245.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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