For Marilee B. Campbell, art is what gives balance to her life and keeps her going. "It has become almost a spiritual thing, especially when I work outdoors," she said. "It lifts my spirit."
The fact that prints of her pastel "The Lord's Harvest," depicting two young men gleaning wheat, hang in thousands of LDS homes is proof that her work lifts the spirits of others as well.The popularity of that work has recently been matched by national recognition of another of her works. "Prelude to Autumn," painted on location at Granite Flats in American Fork Canyon, won one of two $1,000 prizes awarded by the Pastel Society of America in New York City.
The painting was selected from among 1,200 entries. Previously, it won a top cash award in an exhibit at the Springville Art Museum and was in a yearlong traveling exhibit.
"The experiences with this painting have been exciting because of happy memories of a crisp fall afternoon with light softly glowing through the foliage," Campbell said. She also recalls that it was so cold that day two years ago, her fingers could hardly grip the pastels. Still, it was an exhilarating time.
Although painting outdoors is more challenging because the light is constantly changing, she said her work is better for it. "There's more feeling, more vitality to it when I paint outdoors, rather than from photographs I've taken. You discover subtleties and beauty you didn't know existed in nature, because photographs conceal so much."
Nature is so unpredictable, she said. "It's like trying to grasp a whisper in your fingers. Patterns change every few minutes, so you must take something large and distill it into a manageable, well-designed whole very quickly."
The patterns of Campbell's life seem ever-changing, too, and she is constantly trying to manage it. She credits her art with saving her in some difficult times. She is the mother of five children - two with serious health problems - and grandmother of four.
Her husband, M.K. Campbell, a professor of elementary education at Brigham Young University, willingly cares for the two children so Marilee can teach a weeklong seminar or go somewhere and paint for a day. Although she has a studio in her basement, she feels the need to get out and away from interruptions and be able to have some quiet time to paint.
She and three women friends who are also artists spent time camping and painting this past summer in Zion National Park and in the Uinta Mountains. Campbell carries a cumbersome load of complete color equipment so she can return home with a finished painting, rather than just sketchy impressions.
The 1960 BYU art graduate emphasized that art gives her life balance. She also wants her work to balance what she sees as a negative trend in art with the feeling that life is good. "Positive art doesn't have to be trite," she says. "I want my art to say peace and rejoicing."
After all, that's what the combination of art and nature says to her.