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On Art and the Love of Learning

A Talk with Gloria Miller Allen and Sherian Miller Lewis

Published in the July 2022 Issue Published online: Jul 20, 2022 Articles, Arts & Culture, Best of IF, Discover Idaho Falls, Education And Arts, Events Annie Carbutt
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IT TAKES PATIENCE TO WAIT FOR A GOOD THING. For anyone who has visited the new exhibit at the The Idaho Art Museum featuring the work of Gloria Miller Allen and Sherian Miller Lewis, it isn’t hard to say the wait was worth it.

Most people don’t realize the exhibit was initially planned to open two years ago. A series of setbacks, namely Covid, delayed the opening until May 12 of this year. The exhibit features 40 years of art from both Gloria and Sheri and will run through August 13. In the gallery, you can find everything from Gloria’s beloved rock paintings, travel sketches and 7-foot giraffe sculpture to Sheri’s stunning pottery and feather-adorned head sculptures. There’s even a soft sculpture body-puppet named “Granny.”

The museum is filled with masterpieces. If there’d been room for it, both Gloria and Sheri could have displayed truckloads more. Though the exhibit primarily features 2-D art from Gloria and 3-D art from Sheri, also featured are a few non-typical pieces from both. We sat down together about a week before the exhibit opened so I could talk to both Gloria and Sheri about their experiences as artists. When I asked where their love of art began, they did what artists do best: they painted a picture for me.

“We were kids who actually blended crayons with pencil erasers to change the effect,” Sheri said. “That was when we could fit in the same big wingback chair and mother put a table board across there and we’d just color for hours.”

“Our mom and dad were cheerleaders. They encouraged us to play and create, and so we did,” Gloria said. “We were never not creating something.”

Though neither of the sisters initially considered herself an artist, the practice of playing and creating never died for them. It followed them through the years and grew into something more.

“That’s really what this exhibit is about,” Gloria said. “It’s different from the commercial galleries we’ve done shows in before. It’s a retrospective. It covers the journey in our art through the years.”

“Gloria has one painting from the 5th grade and I have some bronze pieces from my early college years,” Sheri said. “Most of the work is from later on, but it does cover our progress through the years.” When I asked the sisters what they’ve learned about creating art and how to do it well, they both laughed.

“There’s a few highs and few lows and the rest is work,” Gloria said. “But the truth is, we do it because we love doing it, because we couldn’t not do it.”

“I think all artists start with really humble beginnings,” Sheri said. “We’re just trying to do something we really like. Pretty soon other people like it and then we get a little more courage to try other things, and we keep going. Before you know it, someone calls it art.”

At some point along the way, both Sheri and Gloria discovered the joy of offering a boost of courage to those just starting out in their own art journeys. It was this realization that led them both to teach art.

“One of the things I love most about teaching is helping people give themselves permission to just be,” Gloria said. “Sometimes people come here with this desire to create, but then they get told not to do it or that they’re doing it wrong. To say to somebody that you can’t create something is just ridiculous. As teachers we can help students let those fears go.”

“I also really like teaching because in order to teach something you have to really analyze it yourself,” Sheri said. “I’ve learned more as a teacher through trying to explain how to do something than just about any other way.”

Whether they’re teaching art or sharing it in a gallery, one thing both Gloria and Sheri agree on is the satisfaction that comes from helping other people see the world through art.

“This is one of my true joys,” Gloria said. “People come to me and tell me there are these beautiful rocks that I need to see. What makes me so happy is knowing that I helped these people see rocks differently by first painting them.”

Gloria has certainly made her mark on the world by painting rocks. She recalls a time when people thought it was strange that she would paint “just” rocks.

“I remember making the declaration to myself that I wanted my art to stand in awe of the planet and the creator,” Gloria said. “When I’m painting rocks, I’m standing in awe of the planet. It’s interesting that this is what has really opened doors for me. I began entering my paintings in national shows, and it was the rock paintings that really won me recognition.”

Though Gloria didn’t take a formal path to recognition as an artist, she holds the coveted credentials of the National Watercolor Society (NWS) and American Watercolor Society (AWS). 

“Those are absolutely legitimate credentials,” Sheri says with a loving firmness when Gloria attempts to brush it all aside.

Gloria’s credentials have opened doors. Opportunities to teach have come in abundance as she’s grown in recognition, especially in recent years. The chance to work with students has proved satisfying and meaningful to her.

Sheri took a more direct path into the art world when she began as a double major in theater design and art at Kansas State Teacher’s College of Emporia, Kan. Soon after, she decided to transfer schools so she could learn bronze casting and pottery. She funded the move by selling some pottery of her own to purchase a train ticket to the University of Kansas.

After graduation, Sheri got her teaching certification and started art departments in two different community schools in Nebraska. Eventually she helped start an art gallery in Nebraska called the MidAmerica Arts Studio. Through the years, she has worked with countless students, teaching them techniques of all varieties and challenging them to create new techniques of their own.

Whether they’re mixing paints or working with clay, it’s the act of creating that really matters to Gloria and Sheri. And it is the results of their creative play that brings the community so much joy. 






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