Rivers inspire the hidden artist in ordinary people, proving they are not really ordinary. Or extraordinary people are irresistibly drawn to rivers to express their artistic natures, maybe both. My river is teeming with artists.
The Klamath is my river. I own the Klamath; the Klamath owns me. That’s how it goes. Let me tell you about an artist on my river.
Gloria Chappelear lives on the Klamath River. Right on it. When the river floods, her vegetable garden is under several feet of water. Since 1964, Gloria has lived on the Klamath and painted the woods, and trees, and people that surround her.
Gloria was born in 1934 in South Dakota, to a mother who was a painter, and father who farmed a rented section of land on the Sioux Indian Rosebud Reservation. There they farmed and raised seven daughters. Some of her mother’s paintings grace the walls of the house on the Klamath. Gloria attended the University of Iowa, majoring in art education.
She moved to Happy Camp in 1964, with two children, and three more children were added to her home. She has lived in Alturas, Tulelake, and Lake Tahoe, always returning to Happy Camp; even after a short time in Arizona, Happy Camp called her back.
During all this time, she painted, persevering even when one child tried to eat the yellow paint. She painted church nursery walls, and illustrations for church and Sunday school lessons. Gloria has taught art in the elementary school and was an art instructor for a while at COS.
She does plein-aire painting with her best friend Dian Hokanson, and paints from her own photographs, and photos borrowed from friends. Many of Gloria’s paintings are of the forest and individual trees, because “they’re always there.” But she paints portraits and rodeos, and zoo animals, and any subject that captures her spirit. The poet in her names the paintings. “Tenacious”, and “Old Timer” are trees, and “Modern Madonna” is her daughter with a grandchild.
Like many artists, Gloria has more than one area of expertise. One of her arts is woodworking. She builds her own furniture and carves it, and paints the carvings. No need to build something functional without making it also beautiful. And she improves on the gingerbread houses in the magazines because they forget to make the shingles overlap; being a woodworker she knows all shingles overlap!
As if this were not enough, she quilts, bakes her own bread, and makes the most delicious cookies. She raises her own vegetables, and keeps chickens for eggs.
When asked why she paints, she struggles with an answer. After talking about composition, and the path the eye travels with good composition, she finally says she paints “to remember things…because I love to.” And then it all comes out. With a feisty grin she says she paints because ”I’m gettin’ good at it!” That’s humility. She’s been more than good for decades. Now she is approaching her own standards of excellence, which are high indeed.
Marilyn Townsend can be contacted at
Gloria Chappelear can be contacted at