This artist’s work made one young mother burst into tears. She paints bold, beautiful women in bright colors but also cozy, quiet cottages in pastels. Her intriguing tiles can be creative accents in any room. Discover where to see her work.

One moment at an art show continues to inspire Lake of the Ozarks artist Rita Orr. Rita sets the scene by explaining you don’t always speak to every visitor to your booth. Sometimes, people come into a booth and talk about the art as though the artist is not even there. Perhaps they don’t realize the artists generally run their own booths at art shows.

On this particular hot summer day, Rita was sitting in her booth amongst her images of cozy little cottages, the kind you might rent for a summer vacation. This was before she began doing her pictures of women. A young woman pushing a stroller came in, looked at a few paintings, and burst into tears. She looked at every picture, wiping her eyes. Rita says she didn’t know whether to approach her or not but finally asked her if she was okay. The young woman replied, “These really speak to me. My husband and I haven’t been able to buy a house yet, but these paintings embody everything I want in a home.”

Even though the young woman didn’t buy anything, moments like that keep Rita going back to her studio, she says. She hopes the young mother got to buy her house and wonders if she’s ever come across Rita’s art again.

Rita has been interested in art since she was a child. She loved to color and make things and was overjoyed when she discovered art was part of her school curriculum. The teachers put her pictures on the blackboard, and in high school, she took every art class possible. She would draw things she saw in magazines and even enrolled in a Minneapolis School of Art correspondence school.

But she never had an inkling that she could support herself with art. She worked for a medical center in Columbia, and a colleague’s wife was involved with the Columbia Art League. She also always had friends who were interested in art. But it wasn’t until she met Joseph Orr, a notable artist himself, that she realized making art could provide a living. 

Rita Orr

She and Joe got married in 1974, and going with him to art shows, she discovered all kinds of different artistic media. She settled on batik at first, since not many artists were doing that.

Eventually, she saw a serigraphy, or silk-screen printing, exhibit. It was the same principle as batik, and so she became a printmaker, partly because she could do three or four editions more easily and have more to sell at art shows. She also took on the responsibility of bookkeeping and framing her and Joe’s work, so serigraphy seemed to fit her time well.

About a decade ago, Rita realized she was finding the physical challenge of pulling an edition of prints more difficult, and she could also see she didn’t want to keep doing art shows the rest of her life. So she began to paint with acrylics.

“I wanted to keep the style that I’d developed doing serigraphy, so I use big brushes, and bolder colors now than the pastels I used in the past. Somewhere around age 40, I threw caution to the wind and began doing what I really felt like doing. I had recently seen a Modigliani exhibit and was blown away. I’d seen his work before, but this time I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I went into the studio and started painting women in bright colors. When people responded to it, I had to do more and more.”

About a year ago, Rita began having her serigraph images put on tiles using a heat transfer process. “So now my earlier serigraphy can be transferred to tiles, which people have bought to use as accent tiles, for hanging on walls, or displayed on stands. Many are bought as girlfriend gifts”, she notes.

She finds her inspiration everywhere, from watching people, looking at a fashion magazine, seeing the way someone’s standing or holding her head, even driving in the countryside. “I might see a little house with a fence and hydrangeas beside the fence, and a dog beside the house. Then I’ll really want to paint that.”

Even today, cozy little houses are still her favorite thing to paint. 

Find Rita’s work at her studio at the Lake of the Ozarks, at 1405 Hwy KK, Osage Beach, where she is open by chance or by appointment, between 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, or at Missouri Life Mercantile in Rocheport, Castle Gallery in Fort Wayne, Indiana, or the Blue Dolphin in Door County, Wisconsin. To see more of Rita’s work, visit her website here. To make an appointment with Rita, phone 573-480-5258.

Read about the beautiful art glass by Wanda Tyner here.

To purchase Rita’s art works and to see many more Missouri Life Mercantile artists and products click here.