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Gallery showcases fine art from around the world

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FORSYTH – Joan Winters has a 'let's do it, you're never too old' attitude. 

At age 87, she'll be 88 in June, she's not ready to call it a day and retreat to the rocking chair.

After a lifetime in the art world, she's embarking on a new venture, a top quality art gallery in Hickory Point Mall. A reception at 2 p.m. today marks the official opening.

“There's something inside me that won't let me quit, that challenges me,” she said. “I'm as retired now as I'll ever be. I've had a boutique gift shop in the mall for a year and a half. Now it's time for the gallery.

“My husband, Jerry, and I are going to give it our best and see what happens. We're not handling low-class stuff. It's museum quality. We've had many customers from Chicago and from St. Louis in the past. We hope to see them.

“To start, we'll have more than 20 paintings by Igor Levashov from Russia. He specializes in huge oil paintings of flowers.”

Levashov was discovered by Winters in 1998 in a show she presented in her gallery in Carmel, Calif.

She and her husband opened the Carmel gallery in 1980 after successfully operating five other Carmel shops selling flowers, sweaters, leather goods and boutique items. One of her Carmel friends is Clint Eastwood, the movie actor and director.

Now the Carmel gallery is closed in favor of the Hickory Point Mall.

“Here's how I got started in art,” Winters said. “When we were operating the Carmel stores, a friend of mine across the street had a little art gallery. She told me she couldn't make a living, she was leaving. I got in touch with my brother, Albert, who was selling cars. I told him to come to Carmel and run this art gallery, I'll put up the money. And the little art gallery became ours. At one time we had three galleries in Carmel.

“Now we're in Decatur to stay,” Winters said.”I'm honored to walk on the ground Abraham Lincoln walked on. I've never seen such a beautiful city. We bought a home, we looked at downtown locations for the art gallery, finally settled on the mall.

“Maybe I'm a homing pigeon. I'm from a Southern Illinois farm, a 1945 graduate of Okawville High School. I had relatives living here during World War II. When I was 17, I spent a summer in Decatur working at the Decatur and Macon County Hospital (now Decatur Memorial Hospital) emptying bedpans.”

“My mother was an artist. She lived to be 94. My Dad was a poet, and we had a musical family.”

This is not her first Decatur-area selling experience. Winters and her husband operated a series of shops at the Franklin Mall just before it closed in 2008.

Winters had a job selling Mary Kay cosmetics when she first wound up in Carmel from Dallas. Her husband was an entertainer at a Cannery Row nightspot. They've been married 40 years, successfully merging their talents and careers. They also own a farmhouse in the Burgundy area of France.

“Joan has mentored more than 100 artists,” her husband said. “I'm an artist, too, with a specialty of folk paintings. We're a winning team.”

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