116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - While cleaning out her mother's home after she died in 2013, Tara Moorman opened an old trunk to find a collection of family photos dating to the late 1800s.
Moorman, a watercolor artist based in Cedar Rapids, was inspired to bring the black-and-white and sepia-toned photos 'back to life.”
As she sat down to paint from a photo of her grandmother - who she'd been very close with growing up - Moorman said she could 'feel her energy” as if her grandmother was there in the room.
'I just recognized her energy and started having a conversation with her,” she said.
The conversation guided her as she painted, she said, similar to 'automatic writing,” which is said to be a subconscious, spiritual ability that allows a person to write without consciously thinking about it.
'It became this obsession of mine,” Moorman said. 'I wanted to paint the light of their spirits.”
Each painting starts with the 'foundation of light” - a glowing aura of color vignetting the subject - that unifies much of Moorman's work. When painting her subjects for this project, Moorman tried to blend her imagination with what the photograph may have realistically looked like if it had been captured in color.
'I wanted to bring them to life, but also wanted people to recognize they were old photographs,” she said.
Since the first painting of her grandmother, Moorman has painted several of her deceased ancestors, from grandparents to great grandparents, great uncles and others from her maternal side of the family.
She said the project gave her a deeper appreciation for her family and developed an interest in history.
'I realized, when your family dies, all their stories go with them,” she said. Learning about their stories made her feel 'they really aren't that far away.”
Starting this weekend, 22 of these paintings are showcased at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in an exhibition entitled 'Letters to My Ancestors.” The exhibition runs through Aug. 27.
A reception June 1 will preview the exhibition and another, 'Uncharted Waters: The Fine Art of Watercolor Painting,” opening June 3.
Moorman's presentation is two and a half years in the making and this marks the first time she exhibits at the Cedar Rapids museum.
'It's kind of like a dream,” she said. 'I've always hoped to have an exhibition there.”
But Moorman has been painting most of her life. She started taking painting classes as young as 9 years old.
A native to Sedgwick, Kan. - a farming town of fewer than 2,000 people - Moorman said there weren't many opportunities for art in school. She begged her mother to drive her the 30 minutes to Wichita to attend classes at the Wichita Arts Association. As a 9 year old, she was painting alongside adults.
'I had a really good teacher, Betty Dickerson, who taught me a lot about color - how to properly mix colors to get good flesh tones and avoid muddy colors,” Moorman said.
She also studied art in college, graduating with a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Then, after stepping away from her graphic design business in the early 1990s, she began taking workshops from well-known water colorists including local artist Joe Messner and Wisconsin artist Karlyn Holman. In 1996, she started painting full time.
While Moorman primarily works with watercolor, she also works with acrylics, inks and mixed media.
'I love the thing that a lot of people hate most about watercolor,” she said. 'It's hard to control. The water in watercolor has a mind of its own. You get these miraculous things and don't even know how you did it. It's always a challenge - even when I'm 100, I won't beat it.”
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