Those Who Can, Teach

Artist Maria Winkler Dedicates Life to Love of Art

By Jessica Laskey
January 2019

Maria Winkler is, as she puts it, “a maker of things.” The artist is well known for her paintings of landscapes and waterscapes, as well as her more whimsical—yet no less technically stunning—portraits of vintage toys.

“I get bored,” admits Winkler, who retired from a 40-year teaching career in 2010. “I’ll do watercolor for 10 years, pen and ink for another 10 years, acrylic for the next 10 years, then I’ll dabble in sculpture and art books. I try to be as versatile as I can. I’m never satisfied with just one thing. I like to push the boundaries and keep myself interested.”

Winkler is most certainly versatile, if her proficiency in a multitude of media is any indication. She credits this ability to her “very traditional” art education as a young person—something she holds very near and dear to this day.

“I started drawing when I was 3 and, even though we were very poor, my parents arranged for private oil painting lessons when I was 9,” Winkler says. “I was interested in other artistic disciplines, but I really excelled at visual art, so I focused on that for the rest of my life.”

Winkler’s youth is remarkable not just for her talent and dedication to art, but for the events that preceded it. Her father is a famed Polish scientist and Holocaust survivor who helped rebuild the petroleum industry in Poland in the early 1940s before becoming a commercial attaché to the Polish embassy in Washington, D.C., in 1947. It wasn’t long after he brought Maria and her mother over that the entire family applied for political asylum to remain in the U.S.

Because her father needed to find work, the Winklers moved around a lot,  

 

which is why the artist and longtime Arden resident doesn’t consider herself “from anywhere in particular” (though she’s now spent more years in California than anywhere else).

You might expect this fraught upbringing to have a negative impact on such a young artist, but it’s in fact had the opposite effect.

“I could dwell on it and be bitter or provide harmony for other people,” says Winkler, whose work graces hospital waiting rooms all over California. “My peaceful, reflective, meditative art comes from a desire to bring peace to the world—perhaps as a reconciliation with my history.”

Winkler’s family background not only gave her an appreciation for peace but also a penchant for experimentation (“my father’s scientific part of me,” she says). Winkler was one of the first people to offer a computer graphics course at Sacramento State in 1981. Fascinated by the artistic possibilities of the new medium, Winkler asked one of the engineering professors to teach her the basics, and then designed classes based around her newfound skills.

“I’m a big believer in demonstration—you can’t teach it unless you can do it,” Winkler says, who holds a Ph.D. in curriculum development from Pennsylvania State University. “I taught all kinds of students—ones who’d never had an art class before, as well as art majors—so I had to be able to communicate what I was teaching so everyone could comprehend. It was the greatest fun.”

Winkler’s love of new media continues to grow. She’s a huge proponent of computer sketching, which enables her to compose and rescale her work on a computer before committing it to canvas. One of her most recent projects is a public commission to resurface the utility boxes at the corners of Franklin Boulevard and Mack Road and 10th and G streets with huge images Winkler designed on the computer, then printed on vinyl and affixed to the boxes.

“I love public commissions because they allow people to see my work for an extended period of time,” Winkler says. “I still get fan mail from pieces that have been hanging in the hospital for 20 years.”

But far be it from Winkler to rest on those laurels.

“I’m doing more art now than ever,” she says. “I’m a nervous, Type-A personality, so I’m always making things—jewelry, stitchwear, art books, new paintings. I’ve waited my whole life to devote myself entirely to art.”

Check out Winkler’s impressive portfolio at mariawinkler.com.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com.

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