A deep love of art, animals and teaching make Mariann Menges a sought-after art teacher. Where else can students of all ages arrive for art lessons and have the rare opportunity to be taught in a zoo-like setting? Where else can students pet, feed and draw seven live animals that include two box turtles, a rabbit, hamster, toad, dog and ‘Little Guy,’ a 47-year-old talking parrot who speaks two languages and sings opera?
Menges, now in her 70s, began drawing at the age of 3. At a young age, she remembers doing “the perfect little drawing of a horse” that her father kept it in his wallet his whole life. “I’ve always loved animals and art,” she says.
Her mother, an accomplished artist, attended Washington University Art School, “which was rare in her day,” Menges notes. “She knew every medium and technique, which I learned through the years.”
At age 16, the former Mariann Rosenfeld graduated from University City High School. She then graduated from Washington University with a lifetime teaching degree. Turning down a full scholarship at Lindenwood University, she was able to attend Washington University tuition-free because her husband, Edward Menges, taught there. “I married my high-school art teacher, the most handsome man of the time,” she declares.
Mariann and Edward waited two years after she graduated to get married. And although her parents were opposed to their daughter marrying an older man, her mother made the wedding dress, and mailed it to her for her Iowa wedding.
Married for 30 years, the couple stayed a year in New Year while Menges studied at the Art Students League, and spent summers teaching and painting in Martha’s Vineyard. They also spent a year in Europe with their 13-year-old daughter, Kristen. There, the family traveled via Volkswagen camper to paint the different landscapes and changing of the seasons.
“We painted in almost every European country and visited every church and art museum we could find,” Menges recalls. She says with very little money, they could not afford down sleeping bags so they slept in their clothes to keep warm. Meals were cooked on a Coleman burner. “We ate a lot of stew and canned foods with fancy European names,” she remembers, adding that they parked their van on the parking lots of famous European hotels. “We stayed at the finest hotels in Europe—unfortunately, it was only in their parking lots. I hope it was not sacrilegious that I washed dishes on the grounds across from the Vatican in Rome!”
At one time, when her husband was working as a photographer for the St. Louis Football Cardinals, she sketched portraits of the players for the NFL program cover that she later sold at a private art show.
Following her divorce from Edward, Menges returned to Europe to attend the International Toy Festival in Nurenberg, Germany. “I was making Medieval cottage kits for children to construct themselves.” She’s also traveled to Kentucky with a cardboard stable kit she designed and sold to The Horse Museum. “I used to ride horses in St. Louis and they, too, became a love of mine.”
Menges also taught art at Forsyth School for 17 years. She then opened her own art school that she ran for 10 years, teaching 450 students annually. She has owned and operated a pottery studio Amazin’ Glazin & More in Creve Coeur, and has taught art at local private schools and retirement homes.
Menges now teaches 16 students, ages 5 to 80, privately in her University City studio surrounded by her pet animals. “Children get such pleasure from them,” she says. “The rabbit is their favorite, and they love feeding both the rabbit and the parrot.”
Menges also travels to the home of an adult student who is unable to come to her studio. She explains that there is not much difference teaching youngsters and adults. “The main difference is that most adults believe that they cannot draw. I have my methods and simplify the process,” she explains. “My adult students are surprised with the outcome—it is beyond their wildest expectations.” She enjoys introducing her students to a wide variety of media, including colored pencil, clay, watercolors, acrylics, dry and oil pastels.
Menges is proud that some of her former students are now professional artists, jewelry, fabric and paper designers. One former student works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and another is a handbag designer for Judith Leiber.
However, Menges admits her main love always has been animals. She belongs to the House Rabbit Society and helps find homes for unwanted rabbits. Also a member of the St. Louis Herpetological Society, Menges sadly recalls her two pet snakes that escaped from their cages in her first home and disappeared. Using her lifetime experience with pets, she recently began writing and illustrating a children’s book about a snake magician who entertains at children’s birthday parties and zoo fundraisers.
Menges also has added photography to her art repertoire and is developing a new website. “I am finally coming into the 20th century,” she says amusingly. “I am also thinking of buying a banjo and would love to play again. It is a beautiful instrument and I miss it dearly.”
When she enrolled in college, Menges initially wanted to become a fashion designer, but she now says she no longer is interested in clothing. “I’m happy in a 10-year-old sweater and 20-year-old boots.”
Unfortunately, an illness many years ago changed her life. “I was in the hospital on IV therapy for three months and ill for four years after that, losing much of what I had financially,” she says. “When my life changed so suddenly, so did my values and interests. I experienced many losses, including the loss of my art school and lovely home in Ladue.”
Menges adds that when you have experienced hardship, it is sometimes difficult to be grateful for what you have. “My spiritual studies teach me that gratitude is a prerequisite to true happiness and success in our relations. I now live in a tiny house; and instead of teaching 450 students a year at my art school, I teach 16 students at my studio filled with my own personal zoo. But what matters most today is that I am happy, and I am grateful for the life God has given me.”