Smiling widely and eager to chat, 100-year-old Clara Straight comes to the door, as birds in nearby bushes and blooming flowers chirp merrily.

Clara was born in 1919, and her family moved to Yarrow, southwest of Kirksville, when she was just six weeks old. Her love for nature and painting both came early; Clara started her craft with shoe polish and a cereal box at the age of three. Her passion grew as she did, and Clara eventually became an art instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1945. In 1948, she took her talents to the Design Department at Cornell University in New York.

Her next forty years were filled with teaching, learning, and traveling, painting and creating memories all along the way. She spent some time in the ’50s circling the Pacific, and started many paintings and finished them when she was home. In 1984, Clara returned to Yarrow to live with her brother Paul in their childhood home. Clara never married. She smiles mischievously as she says, “I always thought you were supposed to get married and have kids, but then I thought, why would I do that? I’m having too much fun.”

Painting to Clara is more than art, it is her personal connection to humanity. Her works have been featured worldwide in various private collections and personal homes. She has sold hundreds of works, especially in the local Kirksville area, and the Kirksville Arts Association has been one of her biggest supporters.

Clara paints landscapes almost daily, or rather “whenever there is something to paint,” inspired by the grassy surrounding farmland and scenes of the Chariton River. Her style is impressionistic.

“My favorite thing to paint is landscape. Flowers are pretty darn tedious, but they are always pretty,” Clara says as she shows off paintings hanging on her walls of Queen Anne’s lace and spring daffodils.

Clara paints in shifts to get the rhythm of the object she is painting. “It’s a pretty complicated thing,” she says. “I’ll go out four or five different times with a solid two-hour stretch without looking up, and then it takes a long time to touch it up.”

Watercolor has always been a favorite medium for Clara, though she has mastered other media as well. “I had just got my first taste of watercolor my third year of high school,” Clara says as she showed her first major watercolor success, painted in 1937. “I love watercolor. I did it all my life, but then I got into acrylics because they are a lot like watercolors. I mostly paint outdoors, which is easiest with watercolor.”

Clara’s first successful watercolor painting, from 1937, hangs in her home with photos of her siblings below. Photo by Danielle Bopp.

Watercolor is actually a family affair with Clara’s sister being a watercolorist all her life. Clara’s niece and her niece’s granddaughter have also mastered watercolor painting. Every year, her niece’s granddaughter comes down and paints a watercolor picture with her. “The painting is what really kept me alive,” Clara says.

Visit for more information on Clara and her work.