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Autumn leaves are a favorite subject for Kansas City artist who loves the 'bones of the trees'

Julie Denesha
Sitting on a bench, artist Nano Nore tries to get the proportions right at the Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary in Liberty, Missouri. When leaves begin to fall, Nore heads out to sketch.

Artist Nano Nore hikes the trails in Liberty, Missouri, to capture the colors and shapes of a changing season. She's drawn to the subtle beauty of the late-fall landscape.

The days are getting shorter. Leaves are beginning to fall and the sun is hiding behind a blanket of gray clouds. This is Nano Nore’s cue to head to her favorite spot on Rush Creek at the Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary in Liberty, Missouri.

For almost three decades, Nore's been coming here to work. On this day, she’s packed a sketchbook and graphite crayons, but she’s also ready for anything.

“I've got insect repellent, number 50 sunscreen lotion, Band-Aids,” Nore says. “You just have a kit for this.”

At 69, Nore uses a walking stick to navigate the trails. She grew up in small-town Nebraska in the early 1950s among Danish, Swedish and Norwegian immigrants.

“I was raised in a town of under 2,000 in the middle of farm country on the edge of the Sandhills,” Nore says. “And I got to spend some time on the farms of my grandparents. So I think I’ve always loved nature and always felt kind of a oneness with it.”

Julie Denesha
Nore studies a work in progress before driving out to make more drawings. The 90-inch panorama will be the centerpiece of her multi-year study of Rush Creek.

While some artists are drawn to the leafy green landscapes of spring and summer, Nore prefers the russets and deep browns of autumn.

“I love late fall because you begin to see the bones of the trees. That's what I like to see. I like to see the way light might hit it. And then I start finding different kinds of color, complementary colors," she explains.

Rush Creek runs through the nature sanctuary surrounded by native cottonwoods, oaks and sycamores. Nore says her frequent trips are an examination of the changing seasons.

Nore has spent the past 30 years returning to her favorite spot along Rush Creek. She says she loves drawing in late fall because you can "begin to see the bones of the trees."

“I like to take the unusual approach to landscape,” Nore says. “I don't want it to look like a postcard. I want it to look like this is a section that's been investigated, and it's about structure, and it's about form, and it's about light and it's about a passionate line.”

When Nore is looking for a scene to draw, she seeks out the ropey roots and crooked trees that line the banks of Rush Creek.

“It’s that first, 'Aha,' on a clear day,” Nore explains. “You saw the shadows. The shadow is marvelous. It was so asymmetrical. So were the trees. You know you start making this grand list of all the things you love that move you.”

Julie Denesha
Smudging a line, Nore works on a sketch of the cottonwoods, oaks and sycamores native to the area.

Nore moved to Liberty, Missouri, to teach studio art and art history at William Jewell College. Since retiring three years ago, she’s been able to spend more time on her own work.

“I just get passionate about being out there and looking at it and having that quality of being in the scene, if there's any other way of looking at it, getting that quiet and then blocking it out and going on from there,” Nore says.

At Rush Creek a scene is beginning to take shape on Nore’s sketch pad.

“I'm starting to get the values in here and starting to build up some of my darker lines,” Nore says. “This is just a sketch of the time, but it leaves me with a lot of feeling about being here today.”

Julie Denesha
Her work done for the day, Nore heads back along the trails of the nature sanctuary.

No matter how many times she comes here to sketch, Nore says she always finds something new.

“You come into a presence and it's that one stage before awe,” Nore shares. “You can sit there and just draw and feel like you're in a new place. That's what I found is the truest part is just responding with joy to the created world. And it doesn't have to be the most beautiful, it can just be interesting.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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