- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - DeAnn Meely never intended on getting involved with one of the city’s most popular holiday events - at least not during her first year in town. By reaching out to the organizers of the Christmas home tour, the newcomer to Decatur thought she could develop connections with her neighbors in historic Albany and Old Decatur. The organizers thought differently.

Along with showing her Jackson Street Southeast home on the tour, the transplant from Arizona is playing an instrumental role in the development of a new tour tradition.

“The historic Christmas home tour is one of the city’s great traditions. With a few additions, though, it could be even better,” said Brenda Henson, lead organizer of the 26th annual tour scheduled for Dec. 12.

The tour’s new features include a people’s choice decorating award, structures in various stages of renovation and a poster displaying an artist’s rendering of a home. Meely volunteered her talents to the effort.

“This gives me the opportunity to be part of the community and contribute to my new neighborhood and home,” Meely said.

A bright glow - courtesy of the flood lights Meely’s husband installed - filled the dining room, which on most days serves as an artist studio. A plastic cloth splattered with paint protected the wooden table from the palate of colors as Meely hopped between painting roses, poppies and a landscape of mountains.

“I’m best known for my flowers. When people hire me to teach, they want me to do flowers. But I also do seascapes, landscapes and houses,” Meely said, picking up a home tour poster.

For 40 hours, Meely, a broadcast journalist by training and artist by choice, painted the porch, clapboard siding and gabled roof of the Victorian cottage Cartwright House on Line Street Northeast. The name of the home built in 1890 references the first owner, Matthew Cartwright, who opened a general store in Decatur after fighting for the Confederacy in Richmond, Manassas, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Gettysburg.

Meely selected the home based on the structure’s details.

“The way I painted it, the home could be in any historic community, but I also included details that make it identifiable to Decatur,” Meely said, pointing to a slight curve in the iron fence on the poster. “The bend in that fence, that is unique to this home. If you walk past this home, you will see that bend.”

The prints, which cost $30, and posters, which run for $10, are available at The Print House on Second Avenue Southeast. Proceeds will benefit the historic districts and parks. Each year, a new poster featuring a different home will document the tour.

“We hope people start collecting the prints and posters each year. We also hope that the possibility of a painting will encourage more homeowners in Albany and Old Decatur to participate in the tour,” Henson said.

Meely never questioned whether to donate her time to the tour. By painting a home in one of Decatur’s historic districts, Meely was able to combine her passion for art with her growing love for the River City.

“My husband and I had 10 days to find a home. We instantly fell in love with Decatur.

“It is very artsy and there is a sense of community,” Meely said.

Michael and DeAnn Meely moved to Decatur from Arizona in April due to a transfer in Michael’s job as a test pilot to Redstone Arsenal.

The couple will open their home at 643 Jackson St. S.E. to the public for the Christmas home tour.

A walk-through of the home provides a glimpse into Meely’s transformation as an artist, from her craft-style paintings and ornaments to her detailed scroll work in roses to her impressionistic productions of seascapes.

The creations cover linen canvases hanging in the hall, wood tables lining the wall and pillows in the sitting room.

“Art is a journey with one stage leading to another. I have been pleased with my growth, especially over the last four years, but if you are driven to be the best in something you love, you are never completely satisfied.

“I always try to stretch myself,” Meely said.

For Meely, art did not come naturally. As a child, she struggled to draw stick figures and avoided any extracurricular activities that involved art. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, Meely searched for an escape from the daily stress of her job.

She found art.

“My first painting was a chicken in a bonnet. Art was a form of therapy for me. Art allowed me to release the tension I built up during the day,” Meely said.

“I believe art can be taught because I truly was not born with a talent of painting.”

Taking what she learned from her fellow artists, teachers and mentor David Jensen, Meely, who works in acrylics, is teaching others. In her first education gig, she taught art to elementary and middle school students at her daughter’s school. Now, she travels across the United States and Canada to teach new and intermediate artists.

“I really grew as an artist when I started teaching. Kids are the best to teach because they are uninhibited. They are free and confident with their art.

“It is very different teaching teenagers and adults. They have expectations and put pressure on themselves and want everything to be perfect,” Meely said.

She continues to challenge herself, experimenting with different techniques used by artists that inspire her, such as Louis Aston Knight, Eugene Henri Cauchois and Albert Bierstadt.

“At the end of the day, my art is mine. It’s an expression of me on that day. No matter what’s going on in my life, I create and what I create is a part of me and a reflection of me,” Meely said.

“I love to paint. I need to paint. It feeds my soul.”

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml


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