Velma Wallace Rayness

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Velma Wallace Rayness (1896–1977) was an American artist, author, and instructor who lived in Iowa.


Velma Wallace-Rayness was born October 31, 1896, in Davenport, Iowa. Velma Wallace Rayness was a daughter to William W. and Eva Wallace. According to Iowan historical archives, William W., Velma's father, was employed as a "painter" during the Des Moines, Iowa 1910 census. Thereafter, William Wallace was listed as a "house painter" in 1920. Velma herself was employed as a "school artist" in 1920.

Nine years later, Velma married Gerard M. Rayness on 22 November 1929 in Des Moines, Iowa. Both Velma and Gerard were students of artist Charles Atherton Cumming. Both artists taught at the Cummings Art School in Des Moines.

Educated at East High School in Des Moines and studied art with Harriet Macy, Velma Wallace Rayness studied with Charles Atherton Cumming and graduated from the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines where she then taught painting from 1926 to 1931.

With her husband, Gerard, the couple built a home and studio in 1934 at 3022 Oakland Street in Ames, Iowa where Velma lived for over 50 years. Many Ames children and housewives took art lessons here.

According to the Iowa census, Velma was living with her husband and her husband's parents in Ames City, Iowa in 1930. Velma was listed in employment as a "private school teacher". Gerard M. Rayness was employed as a "public school teacher".

Velma and Gerard moved to Ames, Iowa permanently in 1932 and opened a studio near Iowa State College. Andrew Rayness, Gerard's father, was occupied as a "college teacher" in 1930, which may have influenced Gerard and Velma's choice.

Gerard and Velma taught art to adults and children, and Velma continued to teach after Gerard's death. Their studio was open for 23 years. Velma also worked under Grant Wood in the Public Works of Art program in 1933. Both Gerard and Velma were active in the Iowa Art Guild.

Velma Wallace Rayness was also an avid sketch artist, author, and book illustrator. Velma Rayness sketched and wrote the book Campus Sketches of Iowa State College. The book was published in Ames, Iowa by the Iowa State University Press in 1949. The second edition of the book was published in 1962 and named Campus Sketches of Iowa State University. The first edition book can be located at the Iowa State University libraries in their Special & General Collection department. Velma also collaborated on Charles Atherton Cumming: Iowa's Pioneer Artist-Educator in 1972 published by the Iowa Art Guild. She also illustrated a book called The Corn is Ripe in 1944. Velma is also mentioned in the 1939 book, "The First One Hundred Years of Iowa Artists" by Zenobia Ness & Louise Orwig.

Velma Wallace Rayness was mentioned in Dictionary of Women Artists by Pettys, Who Was Who in American Art by Falk, Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide, Index of Artists by Mallett, as well as several editions of American Art Annual. Velma can also be found in Who's Who of American Women by Marquis. She won numerous awards and prizes for her work as an artist.

There are only three privately owned paintings currently known to exist. One of such is called Roof Tops in Fall on Gouache paper, which is a sketch/watercolor that measures 16x20 in sold at auction in 2005.

Velma Rayness died in April 1977. Her husband Gerald Rayness died 31 years earlier in 1946. Both artists died in Ames City, Iowa.

Velma and Gerard Rayness left archived information, diaries, paintings, and sketches with Iowa State University.


Velma exhibited her sketches and paintings at the:

  1. Des Moines Women's Art Club
  2. Iowa State Fairs
  3. Davenport Museum of Art
  4. Sioux City Art Center
  5. Corcoran Gallery of Art 1934
  6. Cornell College
  7. The Iowa Art Guild
  8. All Iowa Exhibit
  9. Iowa Art Salon, 1935
  10. Public Works of Art Project Exhibition
  11. Carson Pirie Scott and Company, Chicago
  12. Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE
  13. Brunnier Gallery, 1976

Some examples and dates of exhibits include:

  • Iowa Art Guild 59th Annual Exhibition at the Gallery, Iowa State Memorial Union, August 21, 1973 – September 13, 1973 – includes a brief history of the guild by Velma as historian
  • Iowa Art Guild sixty second annual exhibition of paintings, Iowa State University Memorial [Union] Gallery, Sept. 12, 1976
  • Brunnier Gallery, August 22–24, 1976;
  • Artists in Ames: an exhibit drawn from the Gerard & Velma Rayness Collection Dept. of Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, through April 23, 1976

Her paintings and sketches can be found at other locations as well.


  • Nude (1919)

Oil on canvas, 24 x 16 in. Study of a young black woman; a very early work done at the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines where the artist was a student and later teacher. Conserved November 2007 by David Marquis at Midwest Art Conservation Center, Minneapolis, with funding provided by Dennis Wendell.

  • Cafeteria (1952)

Casein on board, 14x18 in. Rustic frame with glass; subject: hogs and chickens feeding in front of red barn; exhibited at Memorial Union Gallery August 22–25, 1976 courtesy of Dr. and Mrs. George Hegstrom

  • Untitled (1959)

Watercolor, 12x18 in. Matted and framed with glass 20x26; subject: wooded hillside in winter with house in distance [probably on Oakland Street]

  • Fruit and Flowers (1966)

Oil on canvas, 14 ¼ x 30 ¼ in. Exhibited in Brunnier Gallery, Aug. 22–24, 1976. Given to Betty Teague by the artist in 1977.

  • Hillside in Winter (1971)

Oil on Masonite panel, 18 x 24 in. Scene on Oakland Street in west Ames. Exhibited at Iowa Art Guild, 1971.

Examples of her art exist in Ames in private collections and at the university. Families treasure portraits of their children painted by Velma. By her own count, she painted 200 portraits and as many landscapes. Portraits of Dr. Charles E. Bessey and Dr. I.E. Melhus painted by Velma hang in Bessey Hall on campus. In addition, Brunnier Gallery has four other works. Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames has Christ feeding the multitude, a 60 x 80 painting done in 1944, hanging in a third floor room.

Newspaper articles on Velma Wallace Rayness[edit]

  • Ames Show Features Work of Pioneer Iowa Artist Des Moines Sunday Register June 10, 1973
  • Ames Artist Teaches Her Students to See by Pam Witmer. Ames Tribune, August 14, 1976 (with photo of Velma in The House That Art Built on Oakland Street)


Velma Wallace Rayness often signed her sketches and paintings as "V.W. Rayness" I own three paintings by Velma Rayness—two are oils, and one is a watercolor. The oil ( a portrait of a Dutch woman) i signed Velma Wallace and is not dated. An oi of a backyard view in Spring was done in 1968, and a watercolor of a Christmas tree in her window, is dated 1970.

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