Creativity, family color life for retired teacher

Shirley Farmer paints watercolors of things she's seen, many from her travels.


Creativity has always mattered to retired teacher Shirley Farmer. The art of watercolors expresses her view of landscapes, often from her European travels. Farmer creates detailed paintings of rural vistas including barns, doorways, fields and flowers.

Art is only one portion of her lifelong interest and talent. Her passions include education, music and family. She's devoted to her family, husband, children and grandchildren.

As a child, Farmer loved to draw. She knew right away the importance of balancing creativity with other aspects of life. Her pursuit of painting began with oils and wet to watercolors. Watercolors are her special creative outlet, not done as something for work or income, just joy and beauty.

The paintings are done from a photograph she's taken or a postcard. "I paint the things I've seen," she explained. The paintings are small-sized, detailed and use color to portray depth and texture. A mix of browns, greens and blue depict Palouse Falls, another painting shows her love of old barns. While watercolors aren't known as a forgiving medium, Farmer knows it's done for the joy of creativity and for relaxation. No worries.

"It's only paper, you can rip it up," she laughed.

As a teacher she helped kindergarten and second-grade students enjoy art. "I taught kindergarten at the old Prospect Point for a number of years. I just loved teaching. We would do so much art in kindergarten, woven in with everything else." She mixed in music for the class and enjoyed how it unfolded for everyone involved. "Every week we would do one big painting. We'd start with one color and I'd have them tell me what it was about. Then we'd move to two colors."

As paintings progressed, so did the stories, and the class learned about language, too. "We did a lot of finger painting," she said. "It was just great, we had a wonderful time."

She first moved here in 1951 with her husband, the late Dick Clem, for his job at Whitman College. Over the years they often traveled back East to visit family. She kept teaching after he died in 1974.

Later she married Bobb Farmer, left the Walla Walla School District and they moved to Burns, Ore., where she also taught. She retired in 1987. Bobb retired several years later and they came back here.

The couple love to travel. Her European travels have left a lasting impression on her and her art. "We went overseas for five weeks. I couldn't get over it, we were actually so brave," she said. Her travels have taken her all across Europe, so she has created many paintings of beautiful sights in France and Germany.

She also has a painting of Lake Louise in Canada, where she was on 9-11-2001. "For some reason, as we were leaving for that trip I grabbed our passports as we were going out the door," she remembered. The impulse was prescient and saved them a lot of difficulty. With the country on lockdown, trying to get back across the border without the passports would have been much more difficult.

Her life experiences are conveyed through her paintings, a love of beauty and peacefulness.

"I've always, always loved art," she said. Farmer enjoyed teaching art to the students at Prospect Point Elementary School.

She took oil painting classes for three years from Bette Rollins. Then she moved to watercolors. "With oils if you make a mistake you just gloss over it," she said. But watercolors have a different disposition. Later she took classes from watercolor expert Joyce Anderson. Farmer enjoyed taking painting classes with friends. Now she carries on that tradition in a weekly painting session with a good friend. It's scheduled so there's a commitment to stick with it, but it's informal and at their own individual pace.

Although she's very busy in her retirement she tells people who have just retired to "take awhile before signing up for things." Relax. There's an adjustment period and many people need to kick back a bit from the hectic schedules of their working lives. Farmer has managed to hit her stride with a balance of family, social activities and her creativity.

"We have a nice life; we're very lucky. We have kids and grandkids that are great. It's very interesting," she said.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at


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