Art grows from hobby to passion for Cape Girardeau couple

Friday, November 6, 2009
Ray and Ann Ritter of Cape Girardeau. (LAURA SIMON)

Dr. Raymond Ritter sees the world in the terms of a painting -- the light on someone's forehead or the shine of her hair.

The retired orthopedic surgeon started taking art classes from Cleda Curtis-Neal seven years ago at his wife's urging, and the couple been painting ever since.

"The trees that used to be just regular trees are more beautiful now," he said. "We look at the world differently."

The doctor and his wife, Ann, have shared a lot over the 51 years they've been married -- three sons, a love of traveling and, most recently, wall space at Mollie's Cafe for November with a First Friday reception from 5 to 9 p.m. today.

Ann said she thought learning to paint would give Ray something to do once he retired from his orthopedic surgery practice, Orthopedic Associates.

"He would sit and sketch on trips all the time," she said. "I thought he needed a hobby."

Ann went with him to the first few classes and found she enjoyed painting as well. From there, the couple's art grew. Nearly every wall in their home has at least one painting by one of the Ritters.

"We're not professional artists," Ann said while sitting in a chair in her sunroom. Across from her, the couch was covered with framed artwork by Ray. These were the paintings the couple chose to be included in their upcoming art show at Mollie's. Ann's paintings leaned against the walls and fireplace in the living room.

The two belong to the Arts Co-op and show a painting a month at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri gallery, but Ann said it's been several years since they've signed up to do a separate show. When John and Jerrianne Wyman asked the Ritters to show in Mollie's, Ray said there was little hesitation.

"I thought it'd be fun," he said.

Much of the couple's artwork comes from photos they took in foreign countries. They have traveled to about 50 countries and take pictures everywhere they go -- France, India, Peru, Tibet.

Both Ann and Ray were raised in Cape Girardeau. The high school sweethearts married in 1958. They lived in Germany from 1967 to 1970 while Ray was in the Army and traveled back there as a family some years later to show their sons where they had lived. The boys' baby sitter was from Yugoslavia, so they traveled there and the trips snowballed.

"It just seemed like one thing came from another," Ann said.

The Ritters said they loved India, Tibet and what was then Yugoslavia because of the cultural differences they saw. Much of Ray's art shows close-ups and portraits of people on the streets or in the fields in other countries.

"We go out of our way on trips now to get close-ups of people," Ray said.

He stood next to a girl in Cambodia for 10 minutes before she looked at him and he snapped a picture, he said. He also painted an older Argentinian tango dancer.

He was past his prime, but he was still dancing in the streets, Ray said. "I like the people."

Ann paints mostly landscapes and still lifes. If she paints a person, it's usually a family member, she said. Her paintings tend to depict the scenes and settings of a country while Ray's paintings show the people.

Ray said about half of the art the couple has displayed in their home is their own and there's much more in cabinets in the basement. Some of the art that will hang in Mollie's will be for sale.

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