Making the scene
NORTH LIBERTY– Susan Miller has a room with a view.
Though Miller has lived in the same modest two-story at 245 N. George St. in North Liberty for 33 years, through many different seasons, she is treated to a springtime view overlooking a pastoral pond teeming with wildlife every day of the year.
Miller painted the scene on her fence.
“I wanted a deer,” she said. “My neighbor had seen deer in our alley, but I never had, so I wanted to be able to see a deer in the alley, too.”
She first painted a whitetail buck, and then added a doe for company. But the scene was too austere.
“The neighbors said it was lacking, so I added a pond.”
Eventually, the scene developed into a woodland pond, with rabbits frolicking under a flowering bush, a flock of birds in the distance, a squirrel watching from a rock and a bright red cardinal perched in an Iowa birch tree.
Miller, 65, has no formal training in the fine arts, but she does have a knack.
“I went to Iowa City Regina, and we didn’t have art classes in high school then,” Miller said. She learned to draw and paint on her own. “Meanwhile, my friends at City High were designing stage sets and such.”
But while Miller worked at ACT, from which she retired after almost 30 years of service, she began painting Christmas ornaments for friends. One of her first ornaments was made for the daughter of a co-worker, a little ballerina. The co-worker liked it so much, she asked Miller to paint more as the child grew and milestones occurred; sports in school, when she was married, the birth of her own child. Eventually, Miller became known for her hand-painted, personal ornaments.
“I had about 30 people I would paint ornaments for every year,” Miller said.
Word of Miller’s artistic talents spread to others, and she began painting for other projects; she designed a flag logo for a rock band, painted craft items for friends, decorated store windows, and, more recently, has been asked to draw the designs for the North Liberty Community Library’s Summer Reading Program T-shirts each year since 2006.
“I enjoy it, because there are 500 little kids running around wearing my shirt design,” said Miller.
But her favorite subjects to paint and draw, she said, are those found in nature.
“I love to paint animals, deer, wolves, and even cats.”
Art critics may not have formally recognized Miller’s artistic acumen, but her abilities were confirmed by another expert after the fence was complete.
“There is a cardinal that visits our yard every morning,” Miller said. “We heard him carrying on and flying back and forth one day after the fence was done; my husband thinks the bird was upset because he thought another cardinal had moved in on his territory.”
Miller said she received lots of other feedback while painting the fence. She worked on it from September to October, 2010. Her husband Jim draped a tarp from the golf cart to the fence to ward off the mid-day sun and seasonal rain. Neighbors and others walking or driving by would stop to check on her progress and offer comments.
“People would make suggestions, and now my neighbor has said I can add an eagle to his garage, which sticks up over the fence,” she said. “I like that other people are enjoying my painting, too. That’s the fun part.”