Jerry Maxfield, 83, in his home art studio. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

To read this story, please sign in with your email address and password.

You've read all your free stories this month. Subscribe now and unlock unlimited access to our stories, exclusive subscriber content, additional newsletters, invitations to special events, and more.


Jerry Maxfield first took up painting back in 1959, dabbling in oils while in college.

Then he took a break for 28 years.

When his sons, Tracy and Shawn, flew the nest in the mid-1980s, it was time for a change. Maxfield's wife, Kay, earned her master’s degree in education, while Jerry worked in sales and took watercolor classes at night.

He added his name and the date to his paintings. The last was in 1989.

In 2023, Maxfield picked up his brush again.

Starting July 2, he will present his first show — as the featured artist at Tea Bar & Bites Bakery and Café in Springfield.

He is 83 years old.

Discovering art will still life painting

Artist Jerry Maxfield’s work in the 1980s indicated a more realistic style. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

Maxfield points out a painting he did in the 1980s – a still life of a kettle and three cups. But his realistic style has turned into whimsical works.

Why did he try painting again 34 years later?

“I don't know,” Maxfield said. “Probably Tracy said, ‘Why don't you paint a picture?'”

“I did encourage him, but I didn't press the issue,” his son Tracy, 60, said. “I just mentioned it a couple of times, so I was actually surprised when he started painting again.”

Tracy Maxfield remembered his dad painting “all the time” when his mom was in grad school.

But first, we return to 1959.

“I started when I was 19 years old, using borrowed oil paint supplies,” Jerry Maxfield said, “And drinking too much beer.”

He was raised in Wichita, Kansas, and briefly attended college. Then he joined the U.S. Army Reserves with a buddy and they completed basic training at Fort Leonard Wood.

“I got out, got various jobs and never saw him again. He got pneumonia,” Maxfield said.

The worst job? Bending springs for a subcontractor of Boeing in Wichita. But he married Kay and they had Shawn and Tracy in short order, so they had to make do.

A working life with art in the margins

Painter Jerry Maxfield recently used an older brush to create whiskers with metallic paint. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

Kay worked as Larry Mueller’s secretary at Paul Mueller Company, among other jobs. She would start with entry-level jobs, then get promoted to a supervisory role within a few weeks, according to her widower.

“She was super smart, and a natural born teacher,” Maxfield said.

Eventually, Kay Maxfield moved into education, teaching earth science in Springfield Public Schools — primarily at Central High School — until 2005.

Jerry Maxfield worked in sales for Celotex, a national manufacturer for building supplies. insulation, roofing and sheet rock.

“Heavy stuff,” he said, “And not glamorous.”

But he could do it and he could sell it.

“I've been selling stuff since I was 16,” Maxfield said.

In the mid-1980s, with Shawn and Tracy out on their own and Kay in graduate school, Jerry Maxfield took up watercolor painting. He spent his evenings in night classes at the former Southwest Missouri State University.

“I was the one guy that really wanted to paint a good picture,” Maxfield said.

The rest of the students just worried about a pass or fail grade, he said.

He also took classes at the Springfield Art Museum.

Then Celotex doubled his territory and responsibilities. He signed and dated his last painting in 1989, then set aside his brush.

After leaving Celotex in 2000, Maxfield worked several jobs. His favorite was with Liberty Advertising and Marketing, selling “trinkets and trash,” as he called it — drink koozies, pens and other promotional materials. He worked with friends.

Then, Kay was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer around Christmas of 2015. Maxfield cared for her until her death in July 2016.

Seven years later, he picked up his paintbrush again.

He started with a turtle.

‘A little bit off-kilter

Jerry Maxfield’s sketch of poet Kate Murr. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

Today, Maxfield has dozens of works on his walls, and he’s deciding which 12 or so he’ll show at his first art show in July.

“Everything starts with a sketch,” Maxfield said.

At his easel, he displays a drawing of a bespectacled woman looking bemused.

“I'm pretty happy with her,” he said. “I've got another one under construction that I can't quite get. But I'll keep at it.”

The woman is Kate Murr, a poet he met at a wedding reception. She was writing poems by request on a turquoise 1967 Smith Corona Super Sterling typewriter. She’d seen Tracy and Jerry around and admired their father-son bond.

“When I see them,” Murr said, “I always think, ‘Oh, they're best friends — how cool is that to be sharing so much together?’”

They talked art, and Murr wrote a poem for Tracy. Jerry asked if it would be all right to take a photo.

“I had seen her before,” Maxfield said, “And I thought, ‘That's an interesting face. So I took three pictures, and she was very nice about it.”

Maxfield isn’t aiming for a replica in his sketches and paintings, but rather a whimsical impression.

“I'm not even consciously trying for it,” he said. “It's just what I do, and they do turn out to be a little bit off-kilter, I'll say.”

‘I build stories in my head

Springfield artist Jerry Maxfield holds three tubes of paint – two turquoise, and one teal. He said they all differ but he likes creating works with different shades. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

“And I make myself laugh out loud sometimes,” he said. “I'm constructing a painting, kind of, but I'm also constructing a story.”

It starts with a picture, a drawing, an image, in his mind. Sometimes the Muse wakes him up.

“I’ll wake up at like 2 a.m. and something has just made me laugh, or something just won't go away,” he said. “So, I'll come out here and do a sketch, then finish it up later.”

He said it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but when he first started painting again last year he woke up most nights with ideas, and promptly got out of bed to mark them down.

Occasionally, he does a couple of crossword puzzles first.

“When I sketch something, I don't know what the end result is gonna be. I know it's gonna be a barn or dog or, you know, whatever. But I don't know the colors.”

Tracy Maxfield said his dad’s transition to whimsical painting is a surprise given how detail-oriented Jerry has always been.

“His paintings have become a lot more lighthearted,” Tracy said. “They are a lot more open to interpretation, but he puts a lot of thought and a lot of effort into the work he does.”

Tracy, a neuromuscular therapist and a Pilates instructor, has a surprising explanation. Father and son spent years studying with Erin Owens, an expert on using movement to create new neural pathways in the brain.

Or, as Tracy said, moving to “upgrade your brain.”

Jerry took a refresher on brain movement recently. Both he and his son, Tracy, practice regularly.

“I believe that his freer, more lighthearted, more whimsical artwork is a manifestation of his efforts to upgrade his brain on a daily basis,” Tracy Maxfield said.

Supplies and demand for Jerry Maxfield's art

When Jerry Maxfield returned to painting in 2023, he was shocked that his paints were still viable. Since the National Art Shop closed, he now picks up fresh paint at Michael’s. He keeps the thin tubes in a small Tupperware box.

“Here's my current supply,” he said. “Some of these are actually 30-plus years old, but they're still good.”

He favors orange and turquoise, but said the color tone will change from one side of the painting to the next.

“Anyway, you just give it a dunk, depending on how much water you want,” he said.

Luckily, Maxfield worked as a paint matcher many years ago. Back then, he’d write out a formula so the company could account for costs in making 10,000 gallons of one color combination.

His pallet board is an old refrigerator tray he picked up at a flea market 30 years ago on the advice of his late painting teacher, Bill Senter.

Dragons, monsters, and geometry; oh my!

A recent work by Jerry Maxfield. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

He points out a painting:

“Now, when you can figure that one out, let me know,” Maxfield said.

A friend sent a photo of a lighthouse, so Maxfield painted one. Then he added a geometric pattern.

“I did this as a kid — hundreds of times,” he said. “It was fascinating to me because it's all straight lines, but you see curves.”

Last year, his hairstylist bartered several haircuts for a painting of a giraffe, and later, a dragon for her boyfriend.

“Those are dragons — which don't exist — so they can't be portrayed wrong,” Maxfield said with a grin. “You get to be 100% right no matter how you draw.”

He added a creature that resembled a stegosaurus.

“It just got there,” Maxfield said. “What I've come up with is maybe a Nessie — emerging and headed back for this sea, which is that dark blue gray over there.”

An active ‘retirement'

Tracy Maxfield frequently goes bicycling with his father, Jerry. (Photo by Mary Ellen Chiles)

When Maxfield is not painting, he’s probably bicycling. He rides a recumbent bike during the winter, and a mountain bike during the other three seasons.

Maxfield takes West Coast Swing dance lessons every week and goes out to practice with Tracy and friends.

“It’d kind of a neat for me, because he has a group of dance friends,” Jerry Maxfield said. “I've always danced but not really West Coast Swing like they do — but now I'm pretty good at it.”

He cooks. He practices Pilates.

“He’s dedicated his retirement to personal growth,” Tracy Maxfield said.

He may still learn a lot, given he doesn’t seem to age.

“He’s fantastic,” Tracy said. “When you upgrade your brain, in essence, you're growing younger, and I think his artwork looks like he's actually growing younger.”

“I spent very little time just doing nothing,” Jerry Maxfield said.

Jerry Maxfield’s work will be on display at Tea Bar & Bites Bakery and Café for the month of July. It will also be a part of First Friday Art Walk.

Mary Ellen Chiles

Mary Ellen Chiles is a freelance photographer and writer based in the Ozarks. She graduated from Missouri State University with a bachelor's in creative writing and a master's in English, Creative Nonfiction Writing. More by Mary Ellen Chiles