Artist Michaela Groeblacher said her life has been like a boat rowing across a great ocean.

Artist Michaela Groeblacher said her life has been like a boat rowing across a great ocean.
Some would argue Groeblacher has lived three lives. Her first was as a physical therapist working in her native country of Austria. Her second was working as a landscape designer in Seattle. Her latest reincarnation is as an artist and art teacher at Bethany College. She spoke during the "What Dream May Come" lecture series sponsored by the McPherson Museum Monday night at The Well.
"I think about rowing through my life, and I have not been rowing very gently," she said. "I had to go across an ocean, and I did not know if I was supposed to be here."
When Groeblacher was in high school she wanted to be either a doctor or an artist. Her father told her there was no money to be made as an artist. Her mother told her there was no use in trying to be a doctor because she was going to get married.
She did become a physical therapist and eventually opened her own clinic in Austria.
"I loved my patients, and they loved me," she said. "It was beautiful."
Groeblacher married and moved to the United States.
"Suddenly I was unsuccessful homemaker. I had to change from one language to another," she said. "It was very difficult. I had absolutely no idea how things in this country worked. I didn't know how to meet people. I didn't know how college worked. I didn't know how to approach things.
"I kept dreaming and hoping and working and rowing," she said.
Groeblacher finished a degree in landscape design shortly before her family moved to Seattle. She knew nothing about the climate or fauna of the area, but she said when her boat landed in Seattle she thought she had landed on heaven's coast.
She worked designing large gardens and won two prestigious contests for her designs.
However, in 2000 her life took a turn again. Her family moved back to McPherson. Although she was not happy to leave the life she built in Seattle, a new opportunity presented itself to study art at McPherson College.
Groeblacher had come from an artistic family where she learned to paint and draw at a young age. However, at McPherson College, she was introduced to clay.
"Art has been my friend my whole life," she said. "Every time in my life I had to make a big turn, art was my outlet. It was my therapist — my place to go."
As most clay students do, Groeblacher started with mugs and bowls, but she said she did not find that satisfying.
"I was searching for more and more. I was asking and pushing," she said. "I had so many disappointing moments."
She asked herself what she had to offer the individual observer of her work.
"It is about how you feel about the work and how I feel about your reactions to it," she said.
Groeblacher always had a found affection for the elderly. She went to a local nursing home in Lindsborg and asked to sculpt the residents.
She has been sculpting life-size head to torso figures of the residents there for the last seven months, which is an experience Groeblacher described as priceless.
Groeblacher sculpts her subjects without hair as she says hair distracts observers from the subjects' faces.
"My thoughts revolve around old age and beauty. As a society, what do we think is beautiful in a body? How narrow minded are we to just think that only young, tall, skinny, preferably fair skinned is beautiful? ...
"As an artist I am questioning this. When I think about this, I like to compare humans to trees. As you think about this, a young tree is very flexible and smooth skinned and beautiful, but you would never call a young tree magnificent. Only an old tree can be magnificent. I am not to say every old person is magnificent, but there are some who are so magnificent."
Groeblacher said her works causes observers to look at people they might not normally see.
"My work reminds us of our mortality and the inescapable march of time. What I try to do is to display noble souls. My goal is to give each of those humans dignity that is hard to deny," she said.
Groeblacher ended by encouraging her audience to go back to their true and creative 10-year-old selves.
"Creativity is in everybody," she said. "It is like blood. Creativity pumps through our spirit and body."