Laura Mehmert’s remarkable career as an artist started with paper and pencil.
“I started drawing when I was six,” Laura says. “I got my first oil-painting set from my grandmother when I was eight. Somewhere in here is my eight-year-old painting of a horse” she says, with a twinkle.
“Here” is her Meadow Drive studio, a sunny, spacious and well-equipped converted garage. “Somewhere” is a necessary verbal shrug, because Laura’s studio is a hard-working work-space simply bursting with art in every stage of creation.
“I’m usually working on 10 or 12 paintings at once,” she laughs. “I just finished one that sat on the floor for a year and a half.”
If horses are still an important source of inspiration for Laura, she’s since expanded her catalogue to include moose, and bears, and mountain lions, and buffalo, and dogs, and even – when the spirit moves her – people. Fact is, about the only thing Laura won’t paint is herself into an artistic corner.
“When I see something I like, I want to do it.”
Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, she wanted to paint. She took some art classes in high school, and some more at the University of Missouri. And then Laura went to work as a reservation agent for Braniff Airlines and started studying the schussing arts.
“I used to come to Colorado on the weekends to ski. I loved it so much that in 1968 I put in for a transfer. I didn’t expect it to be approved so fast, but a week later I was driving out here with all of my belongings in the trunk.”
Laura was working for Braniff airlines in Denver and living in the Cherry Creek area when she met a handsome young geologist named Mike. The two married in 1971, and Laura’s parents, owners of a thriving pump and well-drilling company, offered Mike a place in the family business.
“I said ‘Don’t work for my family!’” Laura laughs. “’They’re all pile-drivers and you’ll get squashed!’”
Fortunately, Mike didn’t get squashed, but as his work took the couple to cities from the Lone Star State to the Beehive State, they seemed always to be circling closer and closer to the Centennial State. It was during a hitch in Houston that Laura discovered she had a bad crown.
“It would cost $300 to fix, and that was a lot of money. I had never stopped painting, and I asked the dentist if he would trade the crown for an oil painting. He said he liked watercolors, so on my way back from his office I bought some watercolors and taught myself how to use them. He never did go through with a trade, and I had to pay for the crown. But I painted watercolors for a long time after that.”
It was at home in Bountiful, Utah, in 1977 that Laura took a small but important step forward in her artistic development.
“A neighbor liked my paintings and said she wanted lessons. I don’t know if I was any good at teaching back then. But people seemed to like what I was doing, and I got better fast.”
The Mehmerts closed their circle in 1983, bringing their young son and daughter home to Colorado.
“We looked at Boulder, but they have too many rules and restrictions for me,” grins Laura. “When we saw Evergreen; it was perfect.”
Lavishly outfitted with windows and all the amenities, the Mehmerts’ detached three-car garage made an excellent studio. It also made an excellent classroom, and Laura wasted no time putting it to work. These days, she offers private lessons to those who want one-on-one instruction, and group classes in oils, pastels and watercolors.
“Teaching is fun, and I’m a good teacher,” says Laura, without even a shred of conceit.
Like every good teacher knows, any challenging endeavor is best approached by way of the fundamentals. Taking a page from her childhood folio, Laura encourages serious students to begin their journey in one of her drawing classes.
“I’m big on drawing,” she explains. “I make everybody draw with a permanent marker. Talk about nervous! But people still tell me they can always tell one of my students because they know how to draw. In art, it all starts with drawing.”
Then again, for the hopeful artist it could all start with the Artists of Evergreen’s annual Open Door Studios tour. For years Laura’s studio has been among the most popular stops on the tour for the simple reason that, when it comes to her art, Laura’s an open book.
“I share absolutely everything I know,” she says. “I do a lot of demo-ing, usually in watercolor because it’s faster and they can see a painting happen from start to finish. People like to see how I get a painting done, and I love showing people what I do.”
Laura’s success as a teacher may be in part due to her enthusiasm as a learner. After she and Mike lost a third child to leukemia, she launched a popular and long-overdue art program at Children’s Hospital in Denver. That’s how she learned to work in pastels. In 1987 she turned her hand to sculpture, and today she can see her powerful 8-foot bronze statue “The Foreman” from the front door of her studio. Depicting a cowboy carrying a newborn calf, it’s the first thing greeting visitors to the Hiwan Homestead Museum and a genuine Evergreen icon.
“It was January, and we had to drop everything and run up to Greeley to be there when the calf was born. After I sketched him, I made them promise they’d never kill or eat him. He’s still alive,” she says, with a pleased smile.
Laura took some photography classes awhile back and has since traveled as far as New Mexico and Wyoming to capture on film the raw materials for canvas and clay. She’s currently a serious student of the fine arts of prose and poetry, and she’s a devoted member of a weekly quilting group.
“You can be a perpetual student,” she says. “Every day I learn something new.”
But if Laura’s nature runs to both teacher and student, her first, best destiny is to create. Her works are available to peruse or purchase at the Stoneheart Gallery on Main Street in Evergreen and the Artists with Altitude gallery in Genesee. Her captivating line of gift cards is sold at more than 150 locations across the region. And her heart and hands are always open to worthy requests for help.
“I donate a lot of art to local nonprofits like Bootstraps and Colorado Horse Care. If one of my paintings can help somebody, I’m happy to give it.”
Laura Mehmert may have started with pencil on paper, but her ability, curiosity and generosity have made her one of Evergreen’s most versatile and valued artists.
“You should never limit yourself,” says Laura. “I believe we are limitless creatures.”