Art students call it “the Landscape” — a wooded bluff overlooking a sweeping vista of Wright State University’s north campus. It’s here that they often gather for painting and drawing classes.
Among them is Aileen Cave, who on this day is dipping her brush in tiny puddles of paint on her palette and stroking the canvas as a blizzard of falling leaves flutter and pinwheel to the ground.
“Being outdoors just soothes my soul, which is probably one reason I’m considering really focusing on landscape painting and drawing,” said Cave. “It’s artist therapy.”
Cave has taken the long way around in pursuing her love of art. The 55-year-old Wright State student has worked in the banking industry, attended multiple colleges and universities, spent 17 years as a paralegal and raised a family.
“But I have always had some sort of an art outlet,” she said.
Her father worked as an electrical engineer but is also a cross-stitching artist and photographer; her mother is a writer. As a young girl, Cave remembers running to her room and grabbing her pad and pencil when her parents bought a bright yellow Buick Skylark and pulled it into the driveway.
“I went out on the porch and sat and just sketched that car,” she said.
Cave grew up in Tampa, Florida, but was drawn to rural life and would spend summers with relatives who were dairy farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A year after graduating high school, she spent an entire year on the farm, where she would rise daily at 2 a.m., milk cows for six hours, eat, nap and then milk again for another four hours.
She loved the simplicity of the life but also realized how badly she wanted a college education so that she wouldn’t have to work so hard physically. So she took her cow-milking money and enrolled at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
Cave’s money ran out after one year, but she later attended Florida State University and then Tallahassee Community College, where she got her associate degree. For the next 17 years she worked as a paralegal, raised a family and studied journalism at the University of South Florida.
In 2004, Cave and her family moved to Springfield, Ohio, where she took classes at Wittenberg University as an English major and classes in watercolor painting at the Springfield Museum of Art.
She enrolled at Wright State in 2012, is taking classes in intermediate painting and advanced drawing and is scheduled to graduate in May with her bachelor’s in fine art.
“I loved the fact that they were giving me answers, things I didn’t understand about art, teaching me things I didn’t have a clue about,” she said. “Learning doesn’t have to be at a formal institution, but it sure speeds up the process. You can do it by the school of hard knocks — which I have done — but I am ready for the fast track.”
Cave’s goal is to get her master’s degree in fine art and become a studio painter.
“I think you have to paint a whole lot of paintings to own the knowledge,” she said. “I really want to learn how to express the things I want to express.”
In the meantime, Cave is reveling in her experience at Wright State.
“What really has made it amazing is the humanity — the students, the professors. It feels like a family. There is encouragement. There is true kindness,” she said. “I go home all the time saying, ‘I just love these people.’”