by Bruce Strand, Arts Editor
Judy Hallbeck Meyeraan started drawing pictures right after she got out of the cradle and, from earliest memories, always wanted art to be her life’s work.
Starting with painting grocery store windows in eighth grade, through fashion illustration as a young adult, then portraits, commercial art and teaching over the years, she’s made it to age 71 without ever having any other kind of job.
“It’s been a wonderful living that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” said Meyeraan, a Big Lake resident who still produces a large volume of art in semi-retirement and is very active in Elk River Area Arts Alliance.
“Art is simply my life. It is my reason for being. It is my excitement, my sorrow, my passion, my hope, my obsession, my frustration, my entire focus.”
Currently, Meyeraan favors the watercolor medium with themes of faces and flowers, always pursuing a strong visual reaction.
“My portraits are usually my vision of a person, exhibiting some kind of emotion. I hardly ever do a formal pose.”
“Refugees” on this page was created from a news photo. Struck by the colorful scarves and the fear, anger, sadness and perplexity in the eyes of women stranded in a desperate situation, Meyeraan concentrated on bringing out these wrenching emotions.
On a sweeter note, she loves portraying children, especially her niece and nephew, most notably in “Innocence,” where she caught one impulsively bussing the other on the cheek. And those shimmering floral scenes are a frequent subject.
She grew up in Worthington in the 1950s, known as Judy Hallbeck then, where her dad operated a couple of O.P. Skaggs grocery stores.
During high school, she felt bored and repressed by remote small-town life, dated athletes but was uninterested in sports, and didn’t get much out of the art classes. But she found salvation doing art work on her own.
“I’ve known since I was 2 that I wanted to be an artist,” Meyeraan said.
At 13, she accompanied a grocery salesman friend of her dad’s to other towns and painted signs on store windows for 10 bucks a pop, good money in the ’50s.
“I’d come home with 40 dollars and my friends were babysitting for 50 cents an hour,” she said.
She also remembers painting a road sign for a church and for a bar.
One winter she was asked to paint angels on the school’s windows for Christmas and spent many evenings on ladders happily creating serene scenes on stained glass while the custodians scurried about.
Graduating in 1959, she lit out for Minneapolis, attending the University of Minnesota as a fine arts major. She dropped out after two years because she wasn’t getting much out of it with regard to developing as an artist. Instead, she got a job as an illustrator with the John W. Thomas company at age 19 and eventually became their advertising director.
Meyeraan moved on to freelancing as a fashion illustrator, producing black-and-white pencil drawings and ink washes for big downtown stores like Powers, Donaldsons and Peck & Peck. She later taught fashion illustration at Minneapolis College of Art and Design for two years.
However, when the mega-stores like Daytons made the switch to using photos instead, and others followed, she found herself out of a livelihood.
“I was kind of branded as a fashion illustrator, so they wouldn’t hire me to paint a truck or something like that,” she said. “Even though I could have.”
At that point she decided to learn about working in color and began by taking water color painting classes at Minnetonka Art Center for two years. As a child she’d been bothered by turpentine fumes while oil painting and found acrylic to be a poor substitute for oil, so she embraced watercolors.
She became proficient quickly and caught on with Bradford Exchange of Chicago, which sold dolls, ornaments and collectibles. Impressed by children’s portraits and baby clothes illustrations she showed them, Bradford Exchange contracted her to create pretty things with angels, elves and fairies themes.
She also illustrated for various manufacturers of greeting cards, calendars, school visual aids and medical equipment, throughout the U.S., working from home in Plymouth at the time. She was with Bradford many years and still works for them occasionally.
“I officially retired five years ago,” she said, chuckling, “but it seems nobody paid any attention to that.”
Meyeraan still freelances and especially enjoys requests involving the human form. Nativity scenes are her favorite.
It would be difficult to make a living doing watercolors, she said, so currently she has moved more into showing and competing and doing what she enjoys most. She’s entered Arts In Harmony, the huge nationwide show held at Sherburne County Government Center each winter, for many years, and picked up an Award of Excellence one year. She got the Buffalo Arts Guild Award once.
Married twice, but single for many years — “I married athletes and found we had nothing in common,” she reflected — she still goes by her second husband’s last name (for Social Security purposes). After residing in Plymouth much of her adult life, she moved to Big Lake 17 years ago because she could afford a few acres there, and she lives next door to her only son, Shawn, a contractor. She had three dogs when she moved there but is down to a couple of cats now.
Meyeraan has exhibited at Minnesota Watercolor Society, Minnetonka Center for the Arts, Arts in Harmony, Thrivent Lutheran (three-person show), Byerly’s Edina (private show) and Elk River Arts Alliance (two-person show). She frequently helps organize and publicize Arts Alliance shows.
In her seventh decade, Meyeraan sums up her outlook on art and life this way: “I believe that all of the events that preceded this time of my life took place to form the present: the real beginning.”
Meyeraan’s website is www.jehmages.com.