If you’re walking downstairs at the Cherry Hill Public Library this month, you might stumble on Edna Ryan’s art exhibition, “96 and Going Strong,” a 29-piece display that features realistic paintings of flowers and scenes in nature mostly done in pastel.
“That’s almost everything I liked,” Ryan said, referencing the art on display. “If I start something, I usually stay with it until it gets finished and framed.”
Ryan noted that she doesn’t have half-finished drafts lying around at home or unfinished paintings. She also does not do portraits of people as she feels they are too difficult.
Many of her paintings begin as pictures. Ryan finds her inspiration in day-to-day life, like when she saw the way the light hits the flower bowl in her kitchen. From there, Ryan works to recreate an image first in a pencil outline and then in pastels. The finished product is chalky and can be ruined easily if she’s not careful.
On average, Ryan tends to complete one painting a month, though she notes that some months fly by without any work.
“Now I have time on my hands,” she said. “That’s why I thought, ‘I’m going to continue doing it.’ It’s something I do best and just love doing.”
Ryan has worked with pastels for 12 years but has been interested in art since she was a child in grade school. She majored in art and secretarial studies at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia and was the art editor of the yearbook, for which she created ink drawings.
Though a nun offered her a scholarship for Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Ryan chose to become a secretary for Smith Kline and French Laboratories to help support her family.
“I thought that you had to have more of an imagination, creativity (to have a career as an artist) and I thought, ‘I don’t really think I’m that creative’ and I didn’t want to take it,” she recalled.
Not taking that scholarship led Ryan to her meeting her husband Frank at a mutual friend’s wedding while she was working as a secretary. They hit it off quickly; Frank had been discharged from the Coast Guard when they met and later joined the Navy.
The couple lived in Marlton for 50 years, raising three children before moving to Cherry Hill. During that time, Ryan continued taking art classes on the weekends and had opportunities to show her artistic abilities along the way by designing covers for her company’s employee magazine. Two of her children passed away, and Frank died in 2019 after 68 years of marriage.
For Ryan, finding beauty in nature and creating art to reflect that is something that makes her happy.
“I’ve reached my goal, I think. I feel successful,” she noted. “(I want to show people) how much beauty there is in the world. There’s so much. You put the TV on and you see all these crazy commercials about medicine, things like that.
“Everything is not as happy as I’d like it to be. I’d like the world to be happier.”
Ryan has exhibited her work at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, the Hawthorne Gallery and Frame Shop, the South Jersey Center for the Arts and other locations.
Her current display will be up at the Cherry Hill library until Aug. 31. Prints of the pieces are also for sale.