Ahwahnee artist Norma Rogers knows it’s never too late to learn something new. After all, she enrolled in California State University, Fresno’s graduate art program at age 68, and earned a master’s degree at 73.
Rogers says her artistic sensibilities were first awakened during her 1930s childhood in Michigan. The Great Depression had left her family with few resources for entertainment or artistic pursuits, so young Norma was fascinated when she got to visit the Detroit Art Museum.“I fell in love with those famous paintings by the Old Masters. I wanted to become an artist then and there. I really wanted to paint beautiful work like that,” she said. “I tried oil painting, but I found out I really didn’t have a talent for that.”
So she went to college, got married, raised four children, and did crafts whenever she found the time to nurture her artistic side. She also worked full-time during most of her adult life.
“I majored in psychology, but math [her minor] was where the jobs were in the 1950s, so I went to work for Douglas Aircraft and then the Rand Corporation,” Rogers told Sierra News Online during last weekend’s 10th annual Sierra Art Trails.
During the better part of the next four decades, her urge to create had to take a backseat to everything else in her busy life – which included owning and running a company, Mountain Comforts (Mountain Glass when they bought it in 1976) in Oakhurst, with her husband John.
In 1991, however, when Rogers was nearly 60 years old, she discovered 3-dimensional art in the form of bronze casting. Art combined with physical activity was just what she needed to reawaken her yearning to become an artist.
“I took a bronze-casting class at Fresno City College and fell in love with the process,” she said. “I was much better working in three dimensions than I was trying to paint on a 2-dimensional canvas.”
She enjoyed the class so much that she signed up for a sculpting class next. Working with clay, wax and sculpey (polymer clay) appealed to her detail-oriented side because she was able to control the process and the results.
Later, she followed her favorite instructor, Ed Gillum – a friend and mentor ever since – over to Fresno State. Gillum introduced Rogers to the joys of working with molten glass. That art form definitely appealed to her serendipitous side, which was always thrilled at the unpredictability of working with glass.
“You never know exactly how it will come out. A lot of times, what a piece becomes is just an accident,” she said. But accident or no, the results are always fascinating.
Rogers works now with wood, glass, silver, bronze, lead, aluminum, acrylic materials and even stone.
While her favorite subjects are human figures – many with mythological origins – she has a hard time deciding which materials are her favorites.
“Whatever I’m working on is my favorite,” she said. “When I’m really immersed in a piece, I’m just having fun!”
To see a gallery of her sculptures and installations, visit normarogers.com.