Joseph Orr is one of Missouri’s premier artists with a national reputation as an acrylic landscape painter. Showing in galleries and special shows around the country, his landscapes seem to deliver beauty, peace, and serenity to the beholder.

Joe has painted from his home and studio in Osage Beach since it was built to his specifications in 1987. He lived in Eldon before constructing his Osage Beach home. “This area is so great for an artist,” he says. “The community supports us, as artists and also individually.” Joe was one of the first artists painting Lake of the Ozarks landscapes to achieve national acclaim. He recently donated his painting, Spring Bejeweled, to the area’s Summer Gala Celebration, which is a benefit for the University of Missouri’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. The 12- by 16-inch painting was sold in a silent auction for about $3,000.

He tries to paint every day when he’s not traveling. An annual trip to the Lowcountry of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is on his painting itinerary, as are other places he  and Rita, his wife of 43 years, want to visit. Rita is an artist, too, and both have separate studios in the upstairs of their home, built so each would have north-facing windows and light. (See a glimpse of Rita’s work here.)

Joe’s studio shows o his collection of antique and other fishing lures as well as an assortment of retired paintbrushes.

“I can’t throw them away,” he says. “They’re like good friends to me.”

He opens a big drawer to show a large inventory of brand-new paintbrushes of all sizes, awaiting his use. “I used to paint them all down to a nub, but I don’t have to do that anymore,” he says.

The bottom-story walk-out level is the Orrs’ home, but their work goes there, too. “Painting can be a mind game.” Joe says. “I’ll bring a painting downstairs and stare at it until I’m cross-eyed, finding the little things I can do to improve it.”

He might spend a couple of weeks on average creating a typical size painting— such as 18-by-24 or 30-by-40 inches—start to finish. On his easel this past summer sat the start of Eggs for Sale, a painting that began life as a vertical and still retained the ghost of that vertical sketch, but Joe had switched the orientation to a horizontal landscape as he continued the composition. “It can take the same amount of time to plan out the composition, color, and mood, before you get to the details,” he says.

Joe creates about 25 to 30 new paintings a year, and he likes to paint the things he’s seen.

“I try to transport that peace and tranquility of the landscape to people who are plugged in all the time,” he says. “People value a sense of escapism.”

Joe’s journey to art was roundabout. Born in post-war Japan in 1949, Joe lived in an orphanage until he was 4 years old. Adopted by a military family, Fremont and Leona Orr, he arrived in the United States in 1954 at age 5, moving around to different military bases—including time in Germany—as his father received different assignments.

“I appreciate this country and the opportunities it offers,” Joe says. “Who would’ve thought a Japanese boy in an orphanage could have a career as an artist?”

He considers Salinas, California, the place where he grew up, as his hometown. That’s where his father’s last posting was and where he went to high school, came of age, learned to surf, and formed lifelong friendships. He started college at Hartnell Junior College there.

When his father retired first to Stover and then Peculiar in 1968, Joe made a summer visit to his parents, and he never left. He took a series of jobs, eventually landing as a machine-operator at Hallmark in

Kansas City in 1971. He admired the beautiful artwork flowing through the folding machine he operated, and he made friends with Anthony Allison, one of the Hallmark artists. Joe asked Tony to teach him to paint, and his career path was set.

Except for that artist-friend’s coaching and a few classes at Longview Junior College in Lee’s Summit, after he’d already started painting, Joe is self-taught. He reads books and visits museums in order to figure out how artists achieved the effects he observes, such as a color transition.

He remembers his first show in Kansas City on 69th Street, which featured about 30 or 40 artists. A fellow artist next to him learned Joe had not sold anything yet near the end of the show. Out of sympathy, he suspects, she offered $1 for one of his paintings marked for sale for $5. Today, most of Joe’s paintings sell for several thousand dollars.

“Artists are loners,” he says, “but I enjoy the cheese-and-cracker moments when someone buys the paintings.” And he may be more sociable than he lets on. He describes spending an hour with a visitor to his studio, talking about his paintings as well as the ones he and Rita collect. They stop at estate sales and flea markets and, because of their knowledge of art and artists, have found some real treasures, including a painting of Venice by Italian artist Alfred Pollentine at a farm auction and a large painting by British artist A.H. Marsh, who exhibited at the Royal Academy, in a grand frame at a roadside antique shop.

Joe and Rita love Osage Beach, and the Lake of the Ozarks is a prominent feature in many of his paintings. Lately, though, he’s focusing more on streams. “It’s nice to paint something different,” he says. “I’ve fallen in love with the small dry and wet creeks around here. I suspect I’ll be doing those for the next couple of years.”

Although he lives practically on the lake, he’s never owned a boat. Instead, in his driveway, covered with a protective tarp, sits a 1960 aqua blue Ford 100 that he had restored—fitting for an artist who shares the beauty of water seen from land, and landscapes, in his paintings.