Roger Medearis; American Artist

From a Times Staff Writer

Roger Medearis, an artist of the American Regionalism school who studied with Thomas Hart Benton, has died. He was 81.

Medearis, whose work focused on American life and landscapes, died of cancer Thursday evening at his home in San Marino.

Born in Fayette, Mo., Medearis grew up in Missouri and Oklahoma and was greatly influenced by the landscape and culture of the Midwest.

At the age of 18, Medearis enrolled in the Kansas City (Mo.) Art Institute, where he studied with Benton. In an interview some years ago, Medearis recalled Benton's classes.

"Paintings by the old masters were projected on a screen, and we would redo them as blocks and cylinders and spheres," Medearis told a reporter for the Washington Post. "And before we began painting, we would model the entire composition in clay--a feeling for weight and depth comes from that."

Medearis defined his own regionalism, eventually painting works that now hang in the National Museum of American Art in Washington, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, the New York Public Library and in a number of prominent private collections.

His career as an artist was interrupted by World War II, when he served as the Navy's chief topographic draftsman.

After the war, Medearis had some success selling paintings, but he also discovered that the rise of Abstract Expressionism had made the regional art he loved less popular.

As a result, Medearis turned to the business world to make a living, becoming a salesman for Container Corp. of America.

He stayed away from art until the late 1960s, when encouragement from his second wife, Betty, prompted him to return. For 30 years, he produced a stream of paintings, drawings, lithographs and bronzes.

Medearis is survived by his wife; a son, Tom Medearis; four stepdaughters, Katherine Sterling, Jennifer Syme, Leslie Sterling and Wendy Mclean; a brother, Miller Medearis; two sisters, Dorothy Boto and Marian Merryman; three grandchildren, and seven step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the San Marino Community Church.

The family asks that any memorial contributions be sent to a charity of the donor's choice.

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