Passion for painting and people

"Cisco at Sunset," Nantucket, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. —Meris Keating

Artist Meris Keating has been painting since she was in high school. Having traveled extensively, she has captured nature scenes in the places that she loves, including the Vineyard, where she now lives. However, painting is really her second love. What she is truly passionate about is working with the elderly. She does both private-duty work and serves as part-time outreach worker for the Edgartown Council on Aging. Combining her two worlds, Keating now has a selection of her work hanging at the Anchors senior center in Edgartown.

The 10 oil paintings on display represent some of Keating’s favorite places. There are scenes from Italy and the Vineyard, as well as a number of pictures of the Nantucket landscape. Keating Island-hopped when she relocated here from her birthplace of Nantucket. Keating’s family goes back to the settlement of that island, although she lived all around Cape Cod as well.

Her work is professionally executed, making good use of light and shadow, and she provides a real feel for her scenes with her impressionist style. Many of the paintings feature lanes and pathways, inviting the viewer into the scene. Keating studied art education at Johnson State College in Vermont. After graduating, she traveled throughout the East Coast and honed her craft, studying under the tutelage of several muralists and nautical painters. “Originally I planned to be a high school art teacher,” says Keating. “Then I considered art therapy. I ended up working with older adults as an activity director.”

When the time came to decide on a career, Keating chose to focus on the field of gerontology. Now she is working toward a master’s in gerontology from UMass Boston. “When I’m painting I love it, but it doesn’t nourish my soul the way that being in the helping field does,” she says. “I feel very lucky to have this skill to share with people, but I feel much more gratified with my work in gerontology. It can be very lonely standing at a canvas every day. The reward doesn’t outweigh my benefit of showing my work and having people interested in it.”

Still, Keating maintains a studio in the building where her husband conducts his business, Valley Timberframes, which specializes in heirloom furniture and timber frame homes and barns. Adding to her duties with Council on Aging, Keating is about to give birth to their first child. Once the baby comes, she will continue painting at her home, where she is setting up a studio.

Although currently the bulk of her work features scenes from locations other than the Vineyard, Keating has fallen in love with the Island landscape, and started painting more local scenes. “I really like the light on these islands toward the golden hour,” she says. “I tend to always paint in that light as the sun is setting across the landscape.” One of the paintings currently hanging at the Anchors is of Waskosim’s Rock: “When I was first dating my husband, that was where we would go on long walks with the dog. I really love that whole area of Chilmark.”

“The Vineyard is so different from Nantucket. It reminds me of a combination of England and New Hampshire. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with the Island,” she says. Keating met her husband when both were living in New Hampshire. It’s just one of the many places she has lived and painted. The exhibit includes scenes from Nantucket, Scituate, and other parts of the South Shore.

“I think a lot of painters in resort areas get stuck in a box of painting only what’s around them,” says Keating. “If you think about it, people on the Vineyard are pretty well traveled. People see my painting of Italy or other places and recognize the scenes from their own travels.”

Though she is enjoying getting a chance to show another side of herself to her co-workers and visitors to the Anchors, painting is really just a side pursuit for Keating. “Whether it’s on an individual basis or a community-wide basis, I am fulfilled by advocating for the elderly,” she says. “It’s important to really listen to what people want, and take myself out of the equation. It sounds really simple, but it’s not something people tend to practice — really listening and giving people what they want. We all should be the guide of our own best quality of life.

“The Anchors is such a wonderful place to work. I really think it serves as an example of what a successful council on aging should look like. Every single person who works there is committed to helping people every single day. I feel so lucky to be part of the world there.”