“Stay on your feet and keep moving,” says 89-year-old local artist Delma Tayer. She claims the key to a long life is that simple.
If her successful career — including 50 years of creating multi-media art, 500 college credits earned and countless lives inspired — is any indication, this is one octogenarian who hasn’t spent much time sitting down.
“I was raised on a sheep ranch and never remember about seeing art on the wall,” the artist reminisces. She does remember her aunt’s pretty wallpaper, from which she would make paper dolls with the scraps.
At Central Washington University, then Central Washington State College, Tayer studied English literature, art and philosophy. She earned her bachelor’s in English education and philosophy in 1962, then her master’s in English in 1970. Her passion for education led her to take not only all of the English classes CWU offered, but the art classes, too. Central’s art professors taught abstract impressionism.
“They’d give us a big brush and a bunch of oil paint,” she says. “I liked painting large canvases in a free expressionist manner.”
Her need to create art grabbed hold in the 1960s and hasn’t let go yet.
She taught English at Yakima Valley Community College for 20 years, then joined the administration and served as dean of Arts and Sciences for five. Starting in the mid-1970s, she was also responsible for the Larson Gallery until her retirement in 1990. In spite of her heavy work schedule, Tayer still found time for her husband, Harold, a Selah dentist and Selah’s mayor for a time, and son Stephen. Both have since passed away.
And she made time for art, of course.
Tayer has worked to promote the arts, both performing and visual, too. She served as president of the Board of Trustees of Humanities Washington, earned a Ford Foundation Scholar award, and received the Allied Arts Council Award for contribution to the excellence in arts. She was also recognized with the YWCA’s Woman of Achievement Award, the Washington Community College Humanities Association’s John N. Terrey Award, the Humanties Washington Heather C. Frank award and the Larson Gallery’s 2000 Woman of the Year award.
Instead of slowing down and relaxing when she retired, Tayer had a burst of creative energy.
“I’ve never stopped painting,” she says, “When I retired, I needed something to occupy my time. You never want to be bored.”
She began spending more time in the studio behind her house and laboring in her beautiful Japanese garden. Working with oil, she continued to paint large abstract canvases, portraits of friends and landscapes of iconic regional sites, like her sweeping depiction of Washington’s Dry Falls near Coulee City.
In the 1980s, her son worked for Northwest Airlines, and Tayer had the opportunity to fly with him to Asia on several occasions. She fell in love with the culture and brought back rolls of Oriental papers that led her to explore the art of collage. Mixing Japanese paper with paint and the gold backdrop of an old Japanese screen, Tayer brings a new take to this ancient Asian art form. A stunning example can be found in the Japanese-inspired collaged screen triptych that dominates the wall of her dining room.
“I use all kinds of materials,” Tayer explains. “I just love materials and enjoy the process of creating more than the finished product.”
Never one to stick with a single medium, she also has an enormous pottery kiln installed in her studio. Tayer studied for her MFA at Central, and though she didn’t complete the degree, she did take an advanced pottery class at the suggestion of Richard Fairbanks, who was the professor and a friend of hers. Fairbanks is a renowned potter, so Tayer enrolled without any prior experience — she didn’t even know how to use a potter’s wheel. She began by using the slab method for her clay pieces and eventually turned them on a wheel to fashion her ceramic work.
Today you can find Tayer working in her studio almost every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with only a 40-year-old television for company. If she’s not at her easel, she may be reading from her huge collection of art books or magazines.
“If I get stuck on a painting, I look at a book and it gives me an idea.” she says, “That’s my joy. I love to look.”
Her creative process never stops, and she thinks nothing of making a change to a painting that has been in her studio for several years.
Tayer has shown her artwork throughout the state of Washington. At the time of this interview she was preparing for an art show in Prosser.
“I’ve discovered that an artist doesn’t necessarily have to retire,” she said in her “artist’s statement” from the Larson Gallery Retrospective Exhibition in 2004. “So, I don’t plan to ever retire from this, my latest career. It truly is my raison d’etre!”