Inspiring in Nature

Gloria Gaus Draws on a Lifelong Love to Launch Her Second Act

Art Off the Trail, Gloria Gaus’ new studio and art gallery, is — as the name implies — only a few blocks from the Katy Trail in Rocheport. She can be found there on Fridays and Saturdays, when she opens her studio to the public. But on other days, she’s not as easy to locate. She could be anywhere outside with her canvas and paints, immersed in Missouri’s woods and fields. For Gaus, a plein air artist, nature is inspiration. She loves painting landscapes, flowers and still lifes, working mostly outdoors but putting finishing touches on her work in the comfort of her studio. Although she tried retirement for three years, she opened her new gallery this past May, and is as enthusiastic about her business venture as she is about her life.

“I feel like I’m living the life I should have lived all along, and I now
have a zest for life I never had in the corporate world,” Gaus says.

It took a while for Gaus to discover that life. For 34 years, she owned a landscape and plant maintenance company in Columbia. Nature had always been a passion, whether she was studying plants in school or exploring the great outdoors. Her own nature is that of a thoughtful, observant artist who has anchored her life in small-town practicality. Her course through life has never been straight or narrow. She had started her college career taking nursing courses. “It was a time when a woman could either become a nurse, a teacher or a housewife,” she says. She soon realized that nursing wasn’t for her, so she transferred to the University of Missouri and started taking art courses. Giving into her more practical side, she switched to horticulture, a field with more job possibilities.

After graduating, it wasn’t long before she started her own business. Before she knew it, three decades had passed. She thought she’d own her company forever, “and die at my desk,” but she received an offer to buy the business and took it.

Through all those years, business responsibilities filled her days, but she still made time to paint in the evenings and on weekends. Although she was satisfied with the success of her business, she wasn’t satisfied with her development as an artist. Then, she was introduced to Billyo O’Donnell and the world of plein air artists. Taking a few days away from her company, she took part in one of O’Donnell’s Artists Along the Katy Trail events.

“We started painting in Clinton and progressed each day to a different stop on the Katy Trail until we ended up in St. Charles,” Gaus says. The experience changed the way she approached painting, brought her new friends and has led to travel adventures throughout the U.S. in her search for beautiful settings to capture on canvas.

Some of those scenes can be found on the walls of Gaus’ studio or on her website ( Her gallery also includes the work of fellow artists, such as Stephen Rust, Liz Schlup, Vince Houston, Lisa Hirlinger and her good friend, Julie Wiegand. Gaus and Wiegand, who lives in Berger, Missouri, meet occasionally at plein air events or along the Missouri River to paint together. “We pick some of the most wonderful laces to go to,” Gaus says. They’ve travelled together to the Flint Hills of Kansas several times, to New Harmony, Indiana, to Door County, Wisconsin, and to Augusta, Missouri. Noting the similarities between Gaus and her art, Wiegand says, “Both are sensitive, full of depth and spiritual.”

The pandemic has limited Gaus’ travels, but hasn’t limited her ability to
appreciate the world around her. “Staying closer to home, there’s still so much beauty to be found in tiny moments or tiny scenes that I think you can find a painting in just about anything — the way a vase looks with light on it, the color, the texture of things,” she explains.

Gaus is committed to both her art and her lifestyle as an artist. When she realized that toting her canvas and painting gear through the woods was getting difficult, she started workouts with personal trainer Nate Kesterson. She still keeps up with her online sessions where Billyo O’Donnell serves as a mentor, critiquing her works. But don’t ask her if she’s reached her prime. “I hope not,” she says with conviction. “I hope I’m going to get better. I’m just starting to click.”

Anyone strolling down Central Street in Rocheport, can’t miss Art Off the Trail. It’s housed in a brick storefront that is more than 100 years old. Two windows face the street, and a welcoming turquoise bench is positioned next to the front door. Walking through that door, whether to browse or in search of art, visitors can watch Gaus at work and enjoy spending some time in the presence of beautiful paintings and sculptures. When asked what she hopes to achieve through her art, Gaus considers the question awhile then answers, “I really want people to just connect with my art — to find joy in it. And if they take it home and it brings them joy continuously, then I think my job is done.”

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