A new exhibit celebrates four decades of support among a group of dedicated painters.

Jeny Reynolds is right on time for the January meeting of the Women’s Palette at the High Road Gallery in Worthington, but the gathering gets off to a late start because of freezing rain and poor visibility on the roads. Reynolds, 93, only had to drive from the Far East Side; Jane Heller, 91, is coming from Granville.

“Never again,” says Heller, laughing as she enters the room about 20 minutes behind schedule, carrying a portfolio. She’s unlikely to follow through on the threat. After all, she’s been attending these monthly meetings for 40 years. Reynolds founded the group in 1978; Heller joined about a year later.

Reynolds and Heller are two of three nonagenarians in the group of 13 painters, who give each other honest feedback and support one another’s work. In celebration of Women’s History Month, the group is holding a show titled Women With a History: 40+ Years of Fine Art at the Fort Hayes Shot Tower Gallery.

A lack of opportunities for women artists to show and sell their work spurred the group’s formation, says Reynolds, who cooked up the idea over a lunch with her late friend Mary Lou Jackson. The two were members of the Bexley Art Guild, where, according to Heller, “The men would enter the shows, and the women would do all the work.”

They hoped to draw more attention to their own art. The initial group included 10 women, working in a range of styles and genres. “We asked each girl for $100,” says Reynolds, pausing to apologize for using the word “girl.” “That was a lot of money in 1978!” They used it to buy lumber and recruited their husbands to build 100 easels. Their first exhibition was in the second-floor parlor room of the long-gone Neil House hotel. “We sold a lot of work,” Reynolds remembers, smiling.

Members are often invited to teach, sit on juries and sell their work in far-flung galleries, but the group’s only requirement is passion. “This is what we do,” says Heller. “We don’t do lunches, we don’t play bridge. This is how we spend our time.”

They also have sustained each other through personal struggles. Plein air watercolorist Christiane Curry, 79, tears up as she describes how the group persuaded her not to resign while she was in treatment for cancer and was too exhausted to work. “Jeny said, ‘The only time you quit is when you die,’” Curry recalls. “And I’m so glad.”

At the High Road Gallery, the Women’s Palette is back to its regular business. Reynolds brought an unfinished collage for critique. Suzanne Accetta, 65, known for her paintings of musical and dance performers, uses her iPad to mock up some suggestions. A small picture of an adobe church floats near the center of Reynolds’ mostly abstract work. The group debates whether the church should stay or go. Watercolorist Lavonne Suwalski, 72, votes to keep it: “I like it when there’s something that gives it a story.”

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