Southeast Missouri State University alumna and modern abstract painter Teresa Mosley Dirks will return to her alma mater Homecoming weekend, where Southeast will honor her with an Alumni Merit Award and with a reception marking the opening of a month-long exhibit of her work to be displayed at the River Campus.
The exhibition of her work will open with a reception in her honor from 4-5 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Dobbins Center Gallery. The exhibit will remain on display through Dec. 9.
Later in the evening at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4, she will be honored with an Alumni Merit Award presented by the Southeast Missouri State University Alumni Association at the Copper Dome Society/Merit Recognition Dinner in the Show Me Center. Since 1958, Alumni Merit Awards have been presented to Southeast graduates who have brought distinction to themselves and the University.
Dirks, of Kansas City, Missouri, and a former educator, graduated summa cum laude from Southeast in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in art. In 2005, she earned a master’s degree in education from William Woods University.
She always wanted to be a painter, but she didn’t know it “back then,” back when she was raising children, cooking, baking, sewing, gardening and taking pictures of anything that caught her fancy. Back when she was living a full rural life on a farm in the Missouri Bootheel, where vegetable gardens were her sustenance and wildflowers her own private Monets; a sacred space she shared with her husband, Dave, and their two sons. Back when the light at dusk on those muggy summer evenings stirred her imagination about the meaning of colors and how they made her feel. All of them—bold orange sunsets, clear blue skies, dark gray storm clouds, the blinding white of a mid-December snowstorm, the rich brown soil of a freshly plowed field—swirling and melding and shifting their hues, taunting and elusive, until one day, they surrendered to her wonder and lodged themselves deep into her soul. And it came to her: she was a painter.
Born in Kennett and raised in Malden, Missouri, Dirks spent most of her life in Southeast Missouri, absorbing the essence of rural, farm life and the relationship between life and nature, a theme she has captured in her photographs, poetry and paintings.
After raising her own family, she enrolled at Southeast Missouri State, earned her degree and began a career in teaching. She taught environmental education and then art education in public schools for several years. Along the way, she earned her master’s degree.
An epiphany in her early 30s led Dirks to pick up a paint brush fulltime.
“I had to paint, but I didn’t know a successful career path as an artist,” she said.
Although she was compelled from an early age to be creative, starting with cooking, sewing, gardening, and photography, her pivotal moment was the realization that her essential nature is to express herself with paint.
“So now, when I create art, my aim is to reconstruct those experiences from my life, from my environment, and share the connection that I have,” she said. “I strive to recreate a conceptual experience whether it is the complexity of urban decay, the intensity of the sky, or the linear connection to cultivation, nature and the horizon. The proportions and structure I portray within my works come from my subconscious need to create with some sense of balance, and also with a tension that is derived from the power of my experiences, and the sense of my being a part of something bigger.”
Over the years, her work has developed texturally and organically by using the visual elements and principles of color, line, texture, movement and pattern. The resulting variants and contrasts reflect the complexities and tension of her experiences. “My art has come to symbolize my inner strength and connection with my world and years spent watching the brilliance of the world.”
Dirks and her husband, Dave, have two sons, Jared, and his wife, Amy, and Jesse, and his wife, Reema, and four beautiful grandchildren. Dirks holds numerous awards including the 2011 Missouri Arts Council (MAC) Poster Award. Her work was featured on all 2012 MAC publications. Dirks’ work is held privately and corporately. She has served on the Art in Public Places Committee in Warrensburg, Missouri; organized Paint with Your Girls, a fundraiser for breast cancer research; and served on the boards of Southeast Missouri State University at Malden and the Bootheel Youth Museum, where she was also a volunteer programmer.
Other Alumni Merit Award recipients this year are: Dr. Jerry D. Durham, ’68, of Waterloo, Iowa, chancellor of Allen College; Janet Perez Eckles, ’75, of Orlando, Florida, inspirational speaker and author; William T. (Bill) Gamewell, ’72, of Ballwin, Missouri, senior vice president with Commerce Bank in St. Louis, Missouri; Pamela Macke Johnson, ’77 and ’00, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, criminalist supervisor and forensic scientist with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E Crime Laboratory in Cape Girardeau; Pamela McClune, ’72, of Denver, Colorado, retired compliance manager with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and retired attorney and U.S. Navy captain with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, U.S. Navy Reserve; and Dr. Pernell Witherspoon of St. Louis, Missouri and Huntington Beach, California, associate professor of criminal justice at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.
Receiving the Faculty Merit Award will be Dr. Julie Ray, professor and chair of the Department of Elementary, Early and Special Education at Southeast. The Faculty Merit Award is presented for excellence in teaching.