Third Time’s a Charm – Alum Finds Her Way Back to Art in her ‘Encore Career’



Some people have one career in their lifetime. Others have two. Laura Rhodes Waller (NC ’66, SW ’68) is now on her third.

After she graduated from Newcomb, she earned her master’s degree in social work at Tulane and began a career as a therapist. Eleven years later, she became a financial planner, and ran her own company for decades. When she retired in 2012, she sold her business to her son (who is also a Tulane graduate) and began her third career: full-time artist.

She admits the transition may seem strange, but her enthusiasm for art started long before she began making it. She credits her Newcomb art history professor Roberta Murray Capers for generating her interest in researching art. Waller was assigned a term paper for class, and she chose an artist whose work she had just seen at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Jules Bastien-Lepage. “I saw his massive painting of Joan of Arc, and I was just floored by it. But [Capers] came back and said, that’s not a prominent enough artist to do a whole paper on. I said, you’re trying to teach us enough so that we can walk into any gallery or museum and identify good art, and this is what I did, I used what you taught me. It worked out and I got an A on the paper. But that class stayed with me, and taught me how to see things, not only art but the world around me at more than just a brief glance.”

But it would be years before she turned her interest in art into something more. First, there was the financial planning. It was a great career move, but it came with a high stress level. “To relieve that stress I would go to watercolor workshops. It was a way to totally get away from the market,” she said.

When she decided to pursue art full time, she had the advantage of her business experience to help jump start her career. “I also switched at that point to oil paints; I studied one-on-one with a woman artist to make that transition, partly because I think oils are taken more seriously, even though I love watercolors and still do them too.”

Today, Waller is about to start her fifth residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Many of her paintings focus on urban landscapes; one series was on the Port of Tampa Bay. “I love what I call ‘drop-ins,’ where you enter a new world that you’ve gone by all the time, but you’ve never been in it, and maybe it’s also a place where very few women have entered. So painting the Port of Tampa Bay meant going to our port and getting sponsored in; there are very few women in the port. I got in and learned something totally new.”

She is represented by two galleries now, one in Maine and one in Florida. She divides her time between the two places. Both galleries are run by women, she notes. “I had two solo shows this year that were initiated by women curators, and I have a large show that will be opening in Florida in January that again was initiated by a female curator. I point that out because I think it’s interesting the way all of a sudden women—and particularly older women—are being discovered by the commercial side of art. The Whitney Museum just had the first retrospective of Carmen Herrera’s work when she was 101. So, maybe I’m just entering the prime of my career.”

“The nice thing about having an encore career like art is you’re giving up managing people and all the extraneous things you have to do in a business career, and you can just focus on learning your craft, and developing what you want to create through your art. I think we’re forging a new way of looking at this stage in life, which used to be you retired and died, but now you retire and if you’re lucky you may have 20 to 30 years. To me, playing golf or whatever is not enough. If you’re at this stage in your life just go for it. This is the time to try what you’ve always wanted to do, have some adventure.”

Laura Waller’s next solo exhibition Rockland, Tampa and New York: Recent Works by Laura Waller opens January 11, 2019 until March 1, 2019 at Dunedin Fine Art Center in Dunedin, Florida.

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An Interview with Laura Waller | Elizabeth Moss Fine Art Gallerist Falmouth, Maine

An Interview with Laura Waller

We are so excited about the the opening reception for Laura Waller’s “Industry and Urbanity” opening reception tomorrow night at the gallery.  We hope you will join us but if you can’t, you can come in to see her work on display until July 14th.

In anticipation of the opening we presented Ms. Waller some questions relating the show and her life and she very graciously responded with some very thoughtful answers.  I am happy to share our interview today on the blog and know you will enjoy learning more about this accomplished artist!

Your show “Industry and Urbanity” is opening this Thursday at the gallery. Can you tell a little bit about the show and how you chose the pieces to include?

After four years I finished the Working Port Series but I am still exploring two themes that run through these works.

The first theme is what I call Drop Ins. I am fascinated with situations where I am dropped into a world I don’t know. It is there but I don’t know it is there—hence the Port, the cement plant and in some respects, the theater.

How many times over the past 25 years have I passed through Dragon Cement on US1 but not passed into it?  The plant and the excavation site exist on either side of the road but are shielded by the foliage. I had the opportunity to do an after hours private hard hat tour and was amazed. To look down from the 9th floor of the tower and see the deeply terraced landscape of the limestone vein on one side of the road and the simple industrial shapes of the massive plant in all hues of grey on the other side of the road was astounding.

Dragon Cement No. 7, 2018,
Oil on linen,
36 x 48 inches

Dragon Cement No. 7 is an attempt to capture these shapes which remind one of a Morandi-type still life of a landscape.

Dragon Cement No. 4, 2018,
Oil on linen,
36 x 48 inches

Dragon Cement No. 4 is the scene in the harbor across from my house in Rockland where a family of osprey has built their nest atop the ladder on the Dragon Cement barge. The barge has not moved in over a year. Giant wings flap if you approach the nest warning one away from this locale where nature and industry’s needs have met.

As I understand it, you developed your passion for art while in college at Tulane University. Can you share what sparked your passion and the path you took to follow it?

After falling in love with art history classes in college, I of course got a Masters in social work, became a therapist then naturally morphed into financial planning before segueing into painting. I joke, but that is the real path I pursued. Along the way I used art as a way to escape the stresses of the stock market while I ran my financial planning firm. I firmly believe all of these life experiences shape the way I perceive the world which consciously and unconsciously becomes part of my paintings.

You currently live and work in your studios in both Florida and Maine. Are your studios and work habits similar in both locations? Are you inspirations easier to come by in a certain location?

My work habits and days are similar in each place. An early riser, I transition from home to studio by going to a local restaurant( Rock City Cafe in Maine) and painting or drawing in my sketchbook over a pot of tea and surrounded by neighborhood friends. I then return home to my studio and paint from 8 am to 2 pm. It works best for me to have regular hours as I did as a businesswoman lest I get distracted.

You have often painted works related to the waterfront but you have recently begun to focus more on industrial sites. Can you tell me more about your interest here and inspiration?

The concept of “wabi sabi” intrigues me—there is beauty in the humble, the incomplete… Hence, the luscious shades of rust in Dragon Cement No. 2 with its crisscrossing pipes intersecting on the canvas. A colleague once said that I paint the grit that starts the pearl. A poetic way of saying it!  Radio City Music Hall No. 1 celebrates the jewel of neon on a cold December night in the city.

Can you tell me about the theater paintings featured in the exhibit?

Shubert Theatre: NYC No. 2, 2018,
Oil on linen,
36 x 48 inches

Shubert Theater NYC No. 2 shows the restless anticipation before the curtain rises. I painted it during an artist residency. A fellow artist from France wanted me to remove the exit sign and then the painting would be timeless and could be the 1850s. Never mind that women didn’t streak their hair then, I felt sadly that the exit sign is so much a sign of our times. When we enter the plane, the theater, the movie house, one notes the exit in case of an incident. There is a person pointing in the foreground. Is it because the curtain is rising; something unexpected is happening; or there is danger?

I know you have inspired many artists but are there some that have inspired you?

There are so many. They are truly the muses who sit on my shoulder in the studio. To name a few:

Tina Ingraham who taught me how to transition from watercolors to oils.

Helen Frankenthaler whose painting, Canyon, best captures the awesome feeling of looking into the canyon. I tried to emulate that capture of the sensation when I painted 57th Street NYC and hoped to share a bit of vertigo when looking up.

Giorgio Morandi’s beauty in simple subjects.

The Ashcan School and its celebration of the real life of real people.

Do you have a favorite painting in the show?

This is like asking me to play favorites with my children. Perhaps 57th Street NYC explains the second theme I continue to explore. I usually paint angles. Often the vanishing point is off the canvas so the viewer has to join me in completing the image. This often hints at the massiveness of the structure as you are only seeing part of it on the canvas. I am intrigued by why, when I look with my head bent to the side , does the horizon still seem straight across or the skyscraper still look straight up in my mind? I am rarely holding my head vertically straight and yet lines are straight and perpendicular in my perception. This painting lets the  buildings tip dramatically as in reality they did  when I snapped the photo to paint from. This particular painting ,which seems to have a house at the intersection of the cranes way up in the sky, brings to me a childhood image of the giant in Jack in the Beanstalk.

Thanks again to Laura Waller for giving us an in-depth look into her paintings and her work. You can find her website HERE as well as following her on Facebook HERE. Don’t forget to come to the gallery tomorrow night to see the paintings discussed here and celebrate Ms. Waller’s opening. It is an evening we are very much looking forward to!

Waller’s Ships at Port Combines Abstract Sensibility with Representational View

By: Tom Hall:

May 11, 2018

On view in the main gallery of the Alliance for the Arts is a two-artist show titled Along the Coast. Sarah Hull invites viewers to explore feelings of loneliness and isolation within the confines of surf-side recreational spaces, while fellow Tampa artist Laura Waller cajoles viewers to join her on an abstract exploration of massive commercial vessels where they alone control the path and destination of the journey.

To appreciate what Waller has accomplished with the paintings in this series, it is helpful to harken back to some lessons taught roughly 150 years ago by the Impressionists. Then, painters such as Manet, Monet and Renoir operated from the premise that in real life, our eyes are only capable of focusing on a single spot at any given point in time. The rest of the picture is supplied not by our optic nerve, but our minds. We know what’s in the background or periphery of a scene, but we don’t actually see it in the depth or detail previously provided by realists and hyper-realists like DaVinci, Rubens and Vermeer.

Waller applies a similar concept to her paintings of massive cargo ships and commercial freighters. Except from a great distance, you simply cannot take in a 400 or 500 foot vessel all at once. Because of their size and scale, you can only experience a ship like this by focusing on some detail or component part.

“By focusing on some detail or portion of the vessel, I’m asking the viewer to join with me in an exploration,” Laura explains. “The vanishing point is well off canvas, so you know it’s a massive ship that goes way back. You know it’s there, but I’m asking you to experience it in a different way.”

But Waller’s compositions provide an even greater degree of immediacy. If you stand close to the linen support, you see a collection of one-dimensional shapes and colored planes. But as you stand back, an image emerges that depicts some part of the vessel that suggests or implies the existence of the entire ship in much the same way as viewing a tusk, trunk or tail connotes the presence of an elephant.

This result obtains because of the way in which Waller creates her compositions. “When I paint, I’m standing at the length of the brush from the support,” explains Laura. “It’s only when I stand back that the form emerges from the brushwork.”

Up close, there’s a very abstract quality to these paintings. The emphasis on flat color, geometrical shapes, parallel lines and other forms is vaguely reminiscent of Mondrian’s use of the pure geometric forms underlying all existence to convey absolute reality. But as you retreat from proximity to the canvas, the composition becomes representational. Even then, however, your mind has to finish the image because the actual subject extends hundreds of feet off canvas.

“I like to subject matter where if you made a viewfinder with your hands, you can go anywhere within the composition and find something interesting to look at,” Waller adds. “This lets viewers choose which part of the composition to connect with, and that enables them to have a different experience each time they look at the painting. If you do a representational painting of the entire ship, you’re telling the viewer what to see. But here, they get to choose the relationship they forge with the composition.”

Laura’s developed an interest in cargo ships, freighters and tugs after a friend suggested she visit the Port Tampa Bay for nontraditional Florida motifs.

“I didn’t really want to do cruise ships because the shapes are not that interesting compared to other ships, so when someone suggested the working port, I became intrigued.”

Of course, you just can’t go wandering about a commercial port handles more than 37 million tons of cargo annually, ranging from liquid and dry bulk to containers and automobiles.

“I got one of the big companies to sponsor me. They gave me a hard hat and an adorable security guard in a golf cart, and we rode around and took pictures, which I took them back to the studio to paint.” Painting on location was not an option because while the port was happy to assign a security guard to show her around, they couldn’t spare someone to sit with her all day as she painted.

Still, her time in the port was as exciting as it was novel. “I’ve always been intrigued by what I call ‘drop-ins’ – where you’re dropped into a new environment, someplace you’ve never been before. It’s a new world. There are very few women in the port. People can’t see the port when they drive by, so they don’t really know what’s in there.”

In addition to the time she spent being squired about the port by security, Laura also accessed the port aboard her son’s power boat, and she did have occasion to cop a ride on a 12,795 ton, 472-foot-long freighter named Clipper Newhaven that sails under the flag of the Marshall Islands.

“You cannot go in or out of the harbor without a harbor pilot taking over the ship. There are only two female harbor pilots in all of Florida, and I got to go with the one at the Port of Tampa when she took Clipper Newhaven out to sea,” Laura recounts. Although Laura did not identify her by name, that would have been Capt. Carolyn Kurtz. She is one of 23 harbor pilots working for the Tampa Bay Pilots Association. The rest are all males. (The only other female harbor pilot in Florida works in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Out of 1,200 harbor pilots nationally, just 30 are women.)

“When we got out in the Gulf, a pilot boat pulls up alongside the ship and [Capt. Kurtz] tells me we’re going down to get off the ship,” Laura continues, a wry smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Well, I didn’t realize until that very moment that they don’t stop the ship. It’s going along at 12 knots, and [Carolyn] says, ‘Don’t get upset, Laura, and don’t look down, but we’re going to climb down that rope ladder hanging off the side of the ship. I’ll go first, and when it’s your turn, just take one step at a time and when you get to the bottom, reach back, and I’ll pull you onto the pilot boat.’ I didn’t look down, but I was thinking the whole time that if I die, I’m going to have the best obituary – crushed between two ships.”

Obviously, she did just fine and now has a Laura Croft moment to share at art exhibition opening receptions.

Laura found it interesting to not only learn all the different parts of the ships she painted, but their history, as well. When a collector acquires one of these nautical works, they not only get a nuanced, ever-changing painting, they become privy to the history of the vessel. And through a vessel tracker app, they can follow the ship’s whereabouts on their phone. In fact, the tracker even sends out notifications.

Laura has no plans to add to the series. In her mind, it is now complete. Instead, she is now painting commercial and residential buildings under construction, as well as industrial processing site. “After a private hardhat tour of an historic cement plant in Maine, I was inspired to explore similar industrial sites as part of my ongoing investigation into urban landscapes.”

As she did with ships at port, Waller feels equally compelled to uncover what lies beneath the surface of massive, imposing structures – buildings and industrial plants which are historic as well as others not yet complete. “It is their dynamic sense of scale that I seek to convey through tight, focused composition of color and form.”

And as with her ships at port, the new series of urban landscapes will be devoid of either animal or human figures. “I am primarily in what humans have built; the awe-inspiring powerful character and tension of interior or exterior spaces,” Laura explains. In her capable hands, each of these new constructions becomes an intimate personal portrait that reveals complex multi-layers, underpinnings and exoskeletons.

Along the Coast runs through May 26 at the Alliance for the Arts. For more information, please visit or telephone 239-939-2787.

Alliance for the Arts: In the Gallery: Along the Coast Featuring Laura Waller and Sarah Hull


Explore the works of two award-winning painters from Tampa who have a fresh eye and exciting new take on the coastline. Come mingle during our opening reception or discover the inspirations and processes during a conversational artist talk through the gallery. Our galleries are free and open to the public, although a $5 suggested donation keeps programming affordable.


Opening Reception: Friday, May 4, 2018 • 5-7 p.m.
Artist Talk: Saturday, May 5, 2018 • 10 a.m. during the Alliance GreenMarket
Member Galleries: Colleen North • J.T. Phillippe

Along the Coast – Artist Talk

Join artists Sarah Hull and Laura Waller as they discuss the intricacies of their exhibit: Along the Coast.

Man at Work No. 1, 2016,
Oil on linen,
36 x 48 inches

Experience a sunny state of mind this May. Our galleries are free and open to the public, although a $10 suggested donation keeps programming affordable and accessible.

Opening reception: May 4, 2018 • 5-7 p.m.
Walk and talk: May 5, 2018 • 10 a.m. during the Alliance GreenMarket

Member Gallery: J.T Phillipe
Theatre Lobby: Colette North

Image: Man at Work #1 by Laura Waller

Painting Beyond Numbers

Bay Magazine – December, 2017

The decade she spent as a mental health counselor taught Laura Waller how to decipher and understand clients’ thoughts and behaviors. That ability adapted perfectly when she switched from social work to financial planning, founding Waller & Wax Advisors. Now she applies her analytic insights to her third career, a full-time artist concentrating on urban landscapes.

“Therapy is really a great background for anyone,” Waller said. “But now I deal in tangibles. I take more risks with my art, but there’s less stress.”

Waller’s work has been featured in four exhibitions in Florida and Maine in the past two years. Tampa’s Clayton Gallery hung Working Waterfront: Port Tampa Bay in 2015 followed by her Port Side series in 2017. Elizabeth Moss Galleries of Falmouth, Maine, showed Working Waterfront: New Work in summer 2016 and plans a second show next year. Last month she exhibited solo at the ArtCenter Manatee in downtown Bradenton.

“Finding a gallery is like a marriage,” she said. “You meet … then you date … then you commit.”

Waller closed her private counseling practice in St. Petersburg and began training to be a securities broker with Raymond James Financial in 1978.

“I called Tom James (chairman emeritus) and asked if he wanted a social worker on his staff and he responded, ‘Do you want to sell?’ ” James saw the many parallels between the two professions when it comes to building relationships and trust.

Diving into the financial world was all-consuming, she said, “like learning a foreign language.” Over the next 34 years, Waller earned local and national recognition including a Money magazine ranking of the nation’s Best Financial Planners in 1987.

All the while, Waller found respite in her art.

“I started with scenes along the waterfront, fishing villages and lobster boats in Maine where we have a second home,” she said.

A cancer diagnosis in 2005 precipitated her move away from wealth management, with encouragement from husband Ed Waller, now retired after 50 years of law practice.

“Breast cancer is terrifying, but there’s a plus to it,” she said, “…permission to redesign your life. As much as I loved my clients, I hated the stress.”

The solution was born many years earlier, son Jon Wax, 48, a Raymond James broker, would merge his practice with Waller’s group in 2006.

Acclimating to solitary hours in her home studios in South Tampa and Rockland, Maine, took some time, she said, happy to have her miniature Australian labradoodle Teddi for company.

“I also embraced social media as a way to stay in touch and be seen in this new role,” said Waller, 72.

When she mentioned looking for subject matter to develop as her own, a friend suggested she visit Port Tampa Bay. Waller was immediately intrigued.

“It’s huge, behemoth … there’s an awesome sense of power,” she said. “Ships tethered to the shore a few days, then gone to ports around the world.”

In her research, she spent hours aboard a freighter with a harbor pilot friend. “The public doesn’t have access because of homeland security, but it’s such a vital part of our community.”

She has completed more than 50 paintings in the port series and expanded to include other industrial zones, “construction sites, unfinished condos and a cement plant,” she said. “I like the feeling of being dropped into an environment you didn’t know was there.”

Waller is pleased with sales; her work is collected by individuals and corporations nationwide.

“Life is a journey,” she said. “You need goals to know what you’re heading toward.

“If I ever feel that I’ve become irrelevant and not being taken seriously, I’m going to dye the tips of my hair purple.”

PRESS RELEASE: ArtCenter Manatee Presents: Port Side

Port Side features the paintings of Laura Waller.

By: Carla Nierman, [email protected]

BRADENTON, Fla. Sept 20, 2017 – We bring Laura Waller’s Port Side paintings to ArtCenter Manatee October 3 to November 3, 2017.As a full-time artist, Laura Waller works out of her two studios in Maine and Florida. Her Working Waterfront: Port Tampa Bay paintings were featured in a solo exhibition at the Clayton Galleries in Tampa.

Porto No. 1
Oil on Linen
36 x 48 x 1.5 inches

Her Working Waterfront: New Work paintings were featured in a solo exhibition at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Maine. New paintings from the Port Side series were featured in a solo exhibition at Clayton Galleries in Tampa.Waller was awarded the Arts Council of Hillsborough County 2016 Individual Artist Grant in 2016. Her paintings are collected by individuals and corporations nationwide.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Laura Waller received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Newcomb College and Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Concurrent with studies in sociology, psychology and social work, she developed a passion for art and art history.

There will be an opening reception for the show on Thursday, October 5, 2017 from 5-7 p.m. The reception and exhibits are free and open to the public.

About ArtCenter Manatee

Founded in 1937, ArtCenter Manatee celebrates its 80th Anniversary this year. Located in downtown Bradenton, Florida, ArtCenter Manatee is the premier center for art, art education and unique gifts in Manatee County. The nearly 10,000 sq. ft. building features three galleries, five classrooms, an Artists’ Market gift shop and an art library featuring over 3,000 art volumes.

Day, evening and weekend art classes for adults and children are offered year round in painting, drawing, pastels, pottery, jewelry, photography and more.

The Artists’ Market features unique, affordable gifts by local, regional and national artists. Exhibitions in the galleries change monthly and showcase local, regional and national artists. Meet the exhibiting artists at the monthly evening opening receptions.

For more information please call 941-746-2862 or visit ArtCenter Manatee is located at 209 9th St W, Bradenton, FL, 34205. Hours are M/F/S 9 a.m – 5 p.m. and T/W/Th 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Closed Sunday.

PRESS RELEASE: Port Side: New Paintings by Laura Waller

Laura Waller
OIG Giant II No. 15, 2016
Oil on Linen
36 x 48 x 1.5 inches

PRESS RELEASE: January 4, 2017, Tampa, Florida:

Clayton Galleries, 4105 South MacDill Avenue, will open its 2017 season with a one-person exhibition: “Port Side: Paintings by Laura Waller.” The show opens on January 27, and runs through March 11th, 2017.

There will be an opening reception for the artist on Friday, January 27, from 7- 9 p.m. Waller, a Tampa-based artist and Florida resident since childhood, has focused on working waterfronts in Florida and Maine for the past ten years. Port Tampa Bay has been of specific interest to her because of the massive scale of the freighters, cranes, docks and forklifts.

“The landscape at industrial marine ports, with its rust and grit and the worn, aged sur­faces of the ships docked at port are of primary interest.” Waller explains in her artist statement for her current show. “Vessels serve as a metaphor and provide the narrative for my paintings which have recently become large in scale, with cropped images of sections of ships merging into abstraction.”

Waller works out of her two studios in Maine and Florida. Her paintings can be found in the permanent collections of: American Victory Museum, Tampa, FL; Eli Lily and Company, New York, NY; Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg, FL; and Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.

Gallery Hours are: Tuesday though Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.