A pianist, painter, teacher and more, the Upper Arlington resident recounts her life's work.
On a cool, sunny day in March, Vivian Ripley sits in a cozy chair in her Upper Arlington home studio, taking a rare break between teaching a morning pastel class and a stream of afternoon piano lessons. Adorned with a collection of books, paintings, awards and photos of musicians who have influenced her, the studio reflects the great depth of her career and the many mentors, colleagues and students she's encountered along the way. At the heart of the space, two Steinway grand pianos are temporarily quiet.
“I'm trying to think if I ever thought of doing something besides art or music.” She pauses to reflect as her cat Stripey brushes against her feet. “I don't think I did. Being creative is just part of me.”
As a professional pianist who has been teaching since the final year of the Eisenhower administration (but who shies away from revealing her age), Ripley has long maintained a lucrative livelihood as a solo and chamber performer and duo pianist. As an accomplished artist with paintings in collections all over the world, she has won numerous awards locally and nationally, including a recent best-of-show prize for her “Red Iris” painting, which appeared in the Worthington Area Art League exhibit at the McConnell Arts Center in March.
For Ripley, painting and music are deeply ingrained. Growing up in Cincinnati with great fervor for the arts, she knew that pursuing her creativity professionally meant choosing between her two passions in college. “I decided it would be music because I knew that if I went into art, I'd probably never play the piano seriously because you just lose your technique.”
Putting painting on hold, she earned a bachelor's degree from DePauw University and a master's from Boston University, both in piano performance. Ripley lived near Washington, D.C., as a young newlywed, and then in 1967 her husband's career brought them to Columbus, where she continued to teach and perform. They started a family a short time later. She juggled teaching piano with parenthood, and her children grew up surrounded by music—a passion she didn't want to force on them, but one that naturally found its way into their hearts. Both Fred and Vanessa have gone on to become accomplished musicians in their own right.
Returning to visual arts in 1974, Ripley explored her wide creative range and has since specialized in watercolors, acrylics, pastels and colored pencils, teaching classes in each medium. She has found new ways to challenge herself by painting on location and experimenting with different techniques and subjects.
Decades in, she's still inspired and immersed. Ripley's calendar is filled with 19 weekly piano students, numerous art classes, demonstrations, workshops and her latest art shows, including four pieces now on display in the National League of American Pen Women group exhibit at The Works gallery in Newark. “I think this all keeps me going,” Ripley says.
As for downtime, she laughs. “I am a member of the McConnell [Heart Health] Center, I should be over there in the water doing things, which I will try to do more of.” She then changes the conversation back to art. A few moments later, a student slips into the studio for her afternoon piano lesson. The break is over. There's work to be done.
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