'Visions of the Flying Artist'

'Visions of the Flying Artist'

Medora Nankervis, a long-time doyen of Rogue Valley arts and activism, has put down her paints long enough to write the story of her life. Her new book, "Visions of the Flying Artist," (282 pages, $19.95 plus $5 shipping) can be ordered from 308 SW I St., Grants Pass, OR 97526.

Nankervis, 83, has been known for years as one of the Rogue Valley's foremost artists, art patrons and activists. She was honored in a 2006 celebration in downtown Grants Pass and exhibited a new series of 20 paintings plus two retrospective collections in a one-woman show called "Three Series" at the Grants Pass Museum of Art in 2007.

Now she tells how she came to be where she is.

"Since my flying days in the 1950s, friends have suggested that I write my story," she writes in the book's introduction.

She put off the chore, feeling that her energies were better spent on drawing and painting. She says the change came when Grants Pass artist Randy Johnson asked her, "How did you become the person you are?"

The answer, she says, was to work on her autobiography as she was preparing her one woman show in late 2006 and was too tired at night to paint anymore.

Nankervis grew up in Lynwood, Calif., near Long Beach when it was open fields and white farmhouses, the daughter of a Mormon mother and a Christian Scientist father. She taught herself to read as a youngster but was first and foremost an artist.

Her first medium of choice was Crayola, and her parents' walls were her surface of choice. She remembers beatings with switches and the rebel spirit of an outcast.

She married young, and she and her husband, who installed sound systems in nightclubs, began hanging out in clubs to catch artists such as Nat "King" Cole. They drank cheap wine on the weekends, and she taught herself to draw in pencil from movie magazines.

Art would be the one constant in Nankervis's life for seven decades, as color reproductions in the book testify. Here are colorful still lives, quirky interiors, animals (a freaked-out cat, a psychedelic frog) and people, always people.

In 1998, Grants Pass Mayor Gordon Anderson insisted that the city have the right to censor art exhibited at the Grants Pass Museum of Art, which Nankervis had co-founded. He didn't realize what he was getting himself into.

Nankervis likened the mayor's position on the arts to Hitler's, and a brouhaha ensued, with angry meetings and plenty of press. In the end, Anderson was a no-show for a debate, and the museum was relocated to its present home in downtown Grants Pass.

"Visions of the Flying Artist" (the name stems from Nankervis' days as a pilot and flight instructor at the Sunset Beach Airport in California) is full of such incidents, most of which the author seems to recall in amazing detail. She could have used a little editing here and there, but art lovers and admirers of independent women surely won't mind. (Correction: See below.)

Correction: This story has been corrected to include Nankervis' experience as a pilot.

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