Cedar Rapids, IA

Ann Royer: an artist for her community

Taylor Coester

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Ann Royer poses with her dog Sam for a photo in her studio among a selection of her works.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

(CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa) By 8 a.m. every morning, Ann Royer is in her quaint, little studio – rustic white brick and her vivacious abstracts lining the walls – fulfilling her drive to create as she focuses on her subjects of women, horses and flowers.

“It’s like brushing my teeth,” the painter and sculptor said.

For Royer, this need to make art has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.

While joking about coming out of her mother’s womb creating art, the now 88-year-old artist said, “I probably etched on the side of her placenta! Who knows?”

Royer’s art journey was set in motion by her mother, Margaret Avery. According to Royer, her mother would scrub the floors of the art center in Sioux City, Iowa, where Royer was born. A small child at the time, she would go with her mother. The exposure to the Sioux City Art Center sparked her desire to create and her mother’s support fostered it.

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A portrait by Ann Royer sits on top of a filing cabinet at her studio.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

From there, her teachers growing up recognized her talent and one teacher, in particular, made sure Royer pursued her passion.

Miss Peltcher – Royer’s art teacher from St. Mary’s Hall in Faribault, Minnesota, where she attended high school – called her father.

“Mr. Avery, Northwestern is a fine school, but not a very good art school. Your daughter has to go to Colorado College,” Peltcher said, according to Royer.

The directness was unusual for a woman during the 1950s.

“I mean you just didn’t do this,” said Royer.

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Paints, pastels and other supplies sit on a table in front of Ann Royer's abstract of a race horse and its female rider.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

With that, Royer made a deal with her father to attend Colorado College, where she met her husband, Henry Royer.

Henry was a volunteer giving rides to campus for new students who were coming in on the bus without their families. As he was standing in line with the rest of the volunteers, he suddenly went to put a trunk on the top of his friend’s Model A car.

His friend questioned him asking why he went to help the girl at the back of the line.

He said, “Have you looked at her?”

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Ann Royer examines the yellow paints on her canvas.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

Once married, the two frequently moved, living first in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Ann attended the University of Minnesota and eventually taught lithography there.

They then lived in Omaha, Nebraska, had a house in Tuscan, Arizona, and eventually settled in Duluth, Minnesota.

Duluth is where Ann first began to sink into her community. She had a spacious, beautiful studio overlooking Lake Superior, and the community was drawn to the place.

Life at the studio was a “happening.” She did not want to leave, but when Henry received a phone call recruiting him to work for Merchants Bank in Cedar Rapids, IA, they packed up 23 years of their lives and moved.

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A photograph of Ann Royer's favorite piece "Paio" sits on a table among other images, portfolios and files near her work station.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

Upset about leaving her former community behind, Ann was determined to find the perfect house. In tears after looking at what seemed like 50-60 homes, they went to look at one more.

Ann took a few steps into the foyer of the house, looked at the living room to her right, the dining room to her left and said to her husband, “I don’t know where you’re living big shot, but if I’m coming to this place, I’m living here.”

Since 1983, the couple has called Cedar Rapids their home, and Ann finds time to satisfy her artistic needs daily.

However, she reminds herself each day that the desire she feels to make art that can be enjoyed universally stems from something much bigger than herself.

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The photo of cave drawings at Chauvet Pont d’Arc from 36,000 years ago that Ann looks at every day.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

Each day in her studio starts the same – Ann takes time to reflect on the glossy, slightly worn magazine page picturing the cave drawings at Chauvet Pont d’Arc. She understands that, even 36,000 years ago, people had the same drive to create.

“Cavemen – man or woman – felt the need to put their mark on the walls,” she said.

Expanding her thoughts to Incan, Aztec, African, Chinese and other cultures of art across the world and throughout history, Royer said, “It’s everywhere – this need to make. I don’t know that it’s different, that I’m any different from that cave person.”

Above all, Ann understands that art is meant to be shared.

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Ann Royer guides the brush full of paint gracefully across the canvas.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

It is this understanding that has sent her art to be displayed as solo exhibitions in the following locations:

  • 1973 Tweed Museum – Duluth, Minnesota
  • 1975 Sioux City Art Museum – Sioux City, Iowa
  • 1977 Harrison Gallery – Wayzata, Minnesota
  • 1978 Grand Avenue Gallery – St. Paul Minnesota
  • 1989 Percival Gallery – Des Moines, Iowa
  • 1980 Zoma Gallery – New York City, New York
  • 1981/1982 Rachel Davis Gallery – Houston, Texas
  • 1983 Engal Gallery – Jerusalem, Israel
  • 1984 Jewish Community Center – Houston, Texas
  • 1986 Dallas Ice House – Dallas, Texas
  • 1990 Cedar Rapids Museum of Art – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • 1998 Cornerhouse Gallery – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Nonetheless, she knows that displaying art is not the only way she can support her community.

“As an artist, I think you have to give back more than anything,” she said.

Ann has donated her art to various places across the city. Bronze abstract sculptures of people and dancers rest in downtown Cedar Rapids and at Mount Mercy University. Golden horse sculptures and a variety of paintings reside at Mercy Hospital.

“People come up to me and say, ‘Are you Ann Royer? I see your work at Mercy [Hospital] and it makes me happy,” said Ann.

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Royer works on her next abstract painting while in her studio in Marion, Iowa.(NewsBreak/Taylor Coester)

And although some of her work is met with backlash for being too “pornographic,'' as well as various other criticisms, she continues to share her passion, work and advice with the community.

When asked what her advice to any aspiring artist would be, she said, “Marry a rich husband. Oh, Absolutely. Or if you are a man, marry a rich woman.”

However, she finds herself lucky enough to have support from her husband in more than just finances. He also supports her passion for art and desire to give back to the community.

“My husband Henry always said, ‘you're only as good as the community you live in,’” said Ann.

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Taylor Coester is a journalism student at Boston University. Through her studies and as a correspondent for WTBU News, she has had the opportunity to report on natural disasters, government elections, and COVID-19. Based in eastern Iowa, she is excited to recount local news and culture, share people's stories, and be a voice for the public.

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