After decades of globe-trotting, Lawrence painter finds art is truly ageless

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Lawrence artist Wendy Rose uses her husband’s photographs and memories of their time living abroad in half a dozen different countries as key inspirations for her artwork.

A trip to another country has inspired many an artist, including Lawrence painter Wendy Rose, who, after a lifetime living abroad, has stored up more artistic fuel than most.

Recently one of Rose’s paintings was chosen for the cover of a national calendar celebrating seniors and creativity called “Art is Ageless.”

Wendy, 73, and her husband of nearly 55 years, Bob Rose, began their life together here in Kansas and, after decades of globe-trotting, find themselves settling back in where they started.

Before retiring in 2013, the Roses were educators — Wendy teaching elementary students and Bob teaching biology — and stints with the U.S. Department of Defense saw them stationed at schools around the globe. Today, it’s a program known as the Department of Defense Education Activity. After starting out in public schools in the United States, the Roses spent the majority of their more than 30-year careers living and teaching in Portugal, the Philippines, West Africa, Tunisia, Japan and England.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Wendy Rose has a mural in her studio that she painted with a granddaughter. Another work in progress is visible on an easel nearby.

Not all of those were government placements, Bob said. Some were just independent international teaching jobs. The couple learned about the government program while based in Portugal for Bob’s prior military service, and from there they stuck with it up until they’d both retired.

“I think 99.9% of Americans don’t realize we have over 300 American schools overseas for the dependents of our service members,” Bob said. “And some of the assignments are really cool — ours were.”

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Wendy often will include tiny surprises in her works, such as the butterfly visible among the flowers in this composition.

The couple have countless stories to share, all of them interesting and some even harrowing. Their 11 years teaching in Japan, for example, overlapped with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that still registers as the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

The teachers at the Roses’ school were classified as essential personnel and had to stay with the students. For Wendy, that was the kindergarten group, which comprised 10 classrooms of students whom she quickly had to learn more about and help to stay calm.

“…I’m glad I was such an experienced teacher,” Wendy said. “These were little (kindergartners). If a truck drove by, they all started screaming because it sounded like something happening.”

Wendy’s works are mostly paintings, ranging from oils and pastels earlier in her life to acrylics and watercolors more recently. She’s also produced some needlework pieces, which hang in the family’s home.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Much of Wendy Rose’s earlier art was more muted, from the colors she used to the subject matter.

Many of her works begin with subjects inspired by photographs that Bob took in foreign locales or even right here in the Midwest. Wendy then adds detailed and colorful backgrounds to create something entirely new.

For example, one diptych hanging in the couple’s home portrays a peacock on one side and a peahen on the other. Bob said he took the photo of the peacock at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas, and the photo of the peahen at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Of course, the backgrounds I just made up,” Wendy said. “This is not the zoo — they were walking around on sidewalks.”

Some of her other works are more rooted in actual places, like a painting based on a photograph Bob took in Tunisia of a man guiding a “wedding camel,” which is used to transport and hide a bride before her wedding.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Based on a photograph taken in Tunisia, this painting by Wendy Rose portrays a “wedding camel,” used to transport and hide a bride before her wedding.

Their shared artistic sense is rooted in their shared life experience. They were born in the same room at Lawrence Memorial Hospital less than one year apart. They also both earned the same accolade in 1991, just months apart from one another, while teaching at Wichita Collegiate School — the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. That meant two separate trips to the White House to receive the awards from President George H.W. Bush.

“As far as we know — I don’t know now, but at that time — we were the first couple that ever won it in the United States in the same year,” Wendy said.

One of Wendy’s most recent works, a piece titled “Baby Giraffe Dreams,” was chosen for the cover for Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America’s “Art is Ageless” calendar. Wendy entered the work in the competition last year, at the coaxing of friends she met after getting involved with the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County’s Tuesday Painters group.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Wendy’s piece titled “Baby Giraffe Dreams” was chosen for the cover art for this year’s “Art is Ageless” calendar.

“Something that helped me with my retirement was finding the Tuesday Painters at the senior center, where we found out about the competition,” Wendy said. “…We loved it, as a group. That was my group, and that was a group that gave me all my humanity back during COVID.”

They would all speak together on conference calls coordinated by the senior center during the height of the pandemic, which is how the group began a weekly activity where they’d agree to paint a specific subject and share how it turned out the next time they spoke. It was an interesting time, Wendy said, and it helped the group feel less isolated.

The contest win, like her world travels, has proved energizing. She’s already got her submission for the 2023 contest all set, she told the Journal-World, but she plans to keep it under wraps until it’s time to submit it.


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