October 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the other little girls in Nancy Beal Meyer’s third grade class were coloring and making crafts, Beal Meyer was begging her mother for an opportunity to learn about art. Not the art from her elementary school classroom, but rather the strokes and techniques behind such Impressionistic artists as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

And lucky for her, her mother said yes.

Finding a teacher would prove the bigger issue. Private art classes for younger children didn’t extend into actual technique and structure of oil painting, and Beal Meyer was yearning for more. The only classes her mother could find were led by Dorothy Ruge, and those were just for high school students. But that didn’t stop Beal Meyer.  She jumped right in and learned alongside students double her age. When Ruge retired five years later, Beal Meyer, at just 14 years old, took matters into her own hands. She found Augustus W. Dunbier, a renowned local German Impressionist painter. But like Ruge, he would only teach adults. He told her that she could observe but couldn’t be an actual student in his class. Following his strict instruction, every Saturday morning, Beal Meyer would set her easel up directly in back of Dunbier and observe every stroke and detail of what he painted. Finally, after seeing her potential, he relented and brought her into the fold, eventually becoming her mentor and ongoing teacher.

Since then, Beal Meyer has spent her lifetime not only painting, but teaching others that art is truly limitless. As an artist-in-residence for Millard Public Schools through a grant from the Nebraska Arts Council and individual schools’ PTA funding, Beal Meyer’s not just teaching the mechanics of art, but also the power of what art can do to your life.

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And it’s amazing how far her reach has spread.

After graduating from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BFA as well as K-12 certification in art instruction, Beal Meyer taught after-school art programs to the at-risk youth at Omaha Home for Boys. She knew then that she had found her gift, “it just takes someone helping them to take them where they want to go.”

From helping a student with his scholarship portfolio to design school, to showing them careers in graphic design they never knew existed, Beal Meyer has always been dedicated to helping students see beyond what’s right in front of them. “Art isn’t just about drawing and painting,” she explains. “It’s about career opportunities and seeing what they can do with art.”

Since those early days at the Omaha Home for Boys, Nancy has been an advocate for the power of art programs in elementary-based education programs. “Art is what grounds people, it makes people kind and sane.” She fears where our education system is going with the cutting of art and music programs from the younger-aged school programs. Millard School District has already cut their art programs at the elementary school level and only offers art curriculum by individual classroom teachers. Beal Meyer is able to teach at schools like Sandoz Elementary and Wheeler Elementary because of Nebraska Art Council grants and PTA fundraising. But every year her fate is unknown. “It’s sad,” she explains. “Kids need this. They want to learn.”

That is obvious from the pile of thank-you notes from her most recent students stacked on her table. Each with a message of hope for a world Beal Meyer opened up to them. A hope she’s happy to give. “They need someone telling them that they can do it.”

And it’s not just for them. “This work in the schools is my heart. These kids are my heart. I want the world to see that they deserve more.” And she’s doing just that—one artist at a time.

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