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Arts & Life

Kansas City Artist Displays 'Lifetime Of Work' After ALS Diagnosis

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Anne Kniggendorf
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KCUR 89.3
Marcia Streepy shows a piece that's comprised on years' worth of watercolor postcards.

Marcia Streepy has produced art in Kansas City for decades. Hundreds of pieces are on display at InterUrban ArtHouse through June 5.

Marcia Streepy was a nurse for years, but even in nursing school most people thought she was an art major. It wasn’t until poor health forced Streepy into an early retirement in the late 1980s that she gave herself to her craft.

And because her health has limited her participation in big art fairs like the ones on the Plaza and in Brookside, over the decades she’s amassed an enormous collection—hundreds of pastels and watercolors.

“It’s a lifetime of work,” Streepy says.

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Anne Kniggendorf
Marcia Streepy's work ranges from large canvases to postcard art starting at $20.

Diagnosed with ALS in November, Streepy has put all of that art up for sale in a show at the InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park, which is sponsored in part by a grant from the Johnson County Art Association. The show is called the “Marcia Streepy Retrospective: Glorious Days," and 20% of the proceeds will go to the Mid-America Chapter of the ALS Association.

Streepy says her mother, Pat Potucek, was a working artist and modeled a strong work ethic and hustle that she admired. Even so, Streepy thought it wise to have a day job, so she studied nursing.

“Art was really part of my life, even as a nurse,” Streepy says.

Her favorite classes were those in which the teacher did a lot of drawing, like one she recalls at Hutchinson Community College.

“[The professor] sketched every little tiny part of the kidney across the board, then he did the same with muscles. For me, as a visual learner, it was the best class to watch him draw,” Streepy says.

Throughout her time as a nurse, Streepy used art to better communicate with her patients. For a few years she worked with pregnant teenagers at Maternal and Infant Care in Topeka — illustrating the reproductive system and growing embryo to help patients visualize and understand what was taking place.

Even before her ALS diagnosis, Streepy had managed lupus and avascular necrosis in her knees and ankles, so she’s sensitive to others seeking medical care. Art had always been an escape.

“I painted because I never felt pain when I painted," Streepy says. "I painted because it was joyful. It was a reason to be outside. It was a reason to go out and be in nature. I painted for joy."

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Anne Kniggendorf
Marcia Streepy's style has changed as her motor skills have worsened. She shows recent portraits of her grandchildren that aren't as crisp as she says she would like.

Her work is mostly in pastels and watercolors, with subjects ranging from landscapes and streetscapes to fashion, portraits, and life drawing.

Streepy actually started a life drawing class at the Buena Vista Studio with Images Art Gallery in Roeland Park, managing it for 15 years until someone else took over.

Among her many accomplishments, Streepy is particularly proud of how she jump-started a dormant love of art in others. Her long-time friend, Peggy Cook — now of Austin, Texas — says that after earning an art degree, she felt that if she didn’t move to New York City she couldn’t really have a career in art.

Cook married, had two daughters, and dropped her goal of painting. As she told herself, not only did she not live in New York, she was a mother and wife, and couldn't see how art fit in.

Then the church that Streepy attended in Shawnee hired Cook’s husband as its new priest. After meeting Streepy, whose life was very similar to her own, Cook remembers a moment when she thought, "Wait a minute. Marcia did those same things and painted.”

When Streepy offered a pastels class to parishioners 25 years ago, Cook attended.

“She opened the door, not only to the medium of the pastels, but to hear that I was an artist inside and that I had to consider that what I had to say was important," Cook says. "She just made something come to life in me.”

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Peggy Cook
Artists Peggy Cook (left) and Marcia Streepy, and Cook's mother Suzy Roper in 2003.

Since then, Cook has shown her work all over Kansas City and, more recently, in Texas, and has earned several awards.

“I feel like I have been like a battery or something," Streepy says. "I jump start them in a class, encourage and see their skills, and then they go on to produce and have fun.”

As for Streepy, her work has most recently been on display at the Eva Reynolds Art Gallery, Late Show Gallery, Green Grass Gallery, the Kansas City Artists Coalition, Tim Murphy Art Gallery and others.

She continues to produce work today, despite her increasing physical limitations. Streepy says a friend who’s a doctor told her frankly that she’d just have to adapt.

“And, boy, that was good advice. I have adapted,” Streepy says.

Streepy now mixes her colors with both hands and a trowel, and uses her non-dominant hand to paint.

Her subject matter has also altered slightly. While she’s painted every single bouquet she’s every received, she now waits a bit before she begins.

“I want to make sure I also get the irises that are dying. You know how they shrivel up and they look old?” Streepy asks. “I think that’s life. I want to show the process of living and dying in my art. That’s really new. I never thought about it.”

"Marcia Streepy Retrospective: Glorious Days" is at InterUrban ArtHouse from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. onWednesdays through Saturdays until June 5 at 8001 Newton Street Overland, Park, KS. Due to COVID, use this link to sign up for a time to visit.

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