Marilynn Derwenskus fully embodies what it means to live out your passion. At 85 years old, her resume features nearly 260 national and international exhibitions, 15 residences, 23 grants and honors, and hundreds of awards; and she has no plans of slowing down. She always knew art was what she wanted to do, but it wasn’t until she had a health scare at age 47 that she decided to reenergize her art and pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts. Her life has been full of ups and downs including losing her husband at a young age and even recently breaking her hip and wrist in 2019, but her love for art and sharing it with the world has never waned.
Teaching the Next Generation
With forty years of experience, Marilynn came to Ball State to teach the next generation of art students and to live out her passion for sharing art with the world. Her goal was to not only share the basics of art but also inspire students to connect with who they were as artists and what mediums allowed them to express themselves fully.
“Ball State was like heaven. The students were wonderful and they taught me as much as I taught them sometimes.”
When she was hired, there was no class she wouldn’t teach as each course explored a new topic or theme she could dive into. In the beginning, Marilynn was tasked with teaching a basic design class. Although this was a more rudimentary course, she found a way to make it interesting and students flocked to her classroom. She stated, “I took time to get to know the students so they knew I cared for them and so they could see that my classes would teach them something meaningful.” In addition to the design classes, Marilynn regularly taught three different watercolor classes as well as specialty medium classes. This included a hot wax painting course and an egg tempera course, which is egg yolks mixed with dried color pigment. She loved training students in these ancient mediums as she believed it brought the young artists back to their roots.
Marilynn was never shy when it came to seeking financial support for her students. During her time as a professor, she stated that wrote over fifteen grants to get her students funding. Through these grants, Marilynn and her students were permitted to do a wide variety of projects and exhibitions that would normally be out of reach. “I loved getting to do shows with my students.
When we received a grant, they would create alongside me and it was really just an amazing experience.” She also got to hire apprentices through the different grants that she received which allowed her to pour into her students even more and provide them with one-on-one guidance.
“I was not a traditional professor. I did nothing but live, sleep, drink, and watercolor. My life is great because I love art so much.”
Marilynn ended up teaching at Ball State for twenty years and became one of the most well-loved and adored professors on campus. Although she is now retired and resides in Franklin, TN, she has not forgotten the meaningful experiences she had with her students and finds ways to get them involved with her work to this day.
“She is truly one of a kind. I am impressed with her enthusiasm and love of the arts. She just glows with warmth and passion for her work and just as or maybe more importantly, her love for her students. She truly cares about them and their interests. I love how she has invested in them. This is what Ball State does exceptionally well. It invests in people who invest in others. In an era when the value of a degree is sometimes debated and students are often just an enrollment statistic, there is no debate in the value that Marilynn has (and will continue to do so) in her students and her craft. “ – Michael Carey, Director of Development for the College of Fine Arts at the Ball State University Foundation.
In 2019, Marilynn’s world was flipped upside down. She fell, breaking her arm, wrist, and hip, and was no longer able to hold a paintbrush in the way she used to. After her accident, she was worried that her time as an artist was over as she would never be able to draw and paint the way she used to. That fear did not stop her, however. Fueled by determination and passion, Marilynn decided giving up was not an option and decided to simply create a new way to paint.
“After I fell, I could barely hold a pencil to draw in my sketchbook.”
Over the last four years, Marilynn has combined several different techniques to be able to continue to do art. She retrained herself and began studying abstract artists and the postmodern movement.
Defying the Odds
After a few years of determining what was next, Marilynn has been able to get back to art and has put out several new pieces, including a massive exhibition that ended recently. Throughout October in Franklin, TN was one of her biggest exhibitions yet. Titled Life is Art: Life is Art, the exhibit featured 150 of Marylinn’s new creations. This show was a huge sucess as people filled into her galleries wall to wall. In addition, all of the proceeds made from this exhibit are going to be funneled back to Ball State through a scholarship being created in her honor. This is just one of the many ways Marilynn continues to support BSU and its students.
She also has a show titled Marilynn’s Magical Flower Garden that is going up this month at the Jewish Community Center in Nashville. This exhibit will showcase the remainder of the pieces from a previous show along with many new paintings based on flower arrangements she was gifted.
Her goals don’t stop there. Marilynn hopes to have her art on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of their permanent collection. In addition to art, she has also ventured into the world of writing and recently published a book based on her journey through the world as an artist.
Even though Marilynn’s successes have taken her all over the world, she has never once forgotten her roots at Ball State. To this day, she remains connected to the university and often seeks out opportunities for current students whether that be spending time with her in her studio or offering them free tickets to her exhibitions where they can witness her story. No matter where her life is headed next, there is no question that Marilynn’s impact on Ball State and her students will last for the foreseeable future.