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Molly Dykstra sits in her brand new art studio in The Stutz Business Center, overlooking the Indianapolis skyline, preparing to model for a drawing class. Dykstra, 42, has been a model for artists for 20 years. In those years, she's learned to appreciate herself and her body. Dykstra has a full head of strawberry-blonde hair. She's on the lower end of 5 feet tall, petite, with a healthy body -- not too small, not too big.
Her career as an art model did not begin as a hobby or a way to make a living, but rather a way to prove to herself that she was beautiful and could inspire other beautiful things -- like pieces of art.
"My ex-husband thought very logically," she said. "When I was 22, he told me he didn't think I was aesthetically beautiful. It made me uncomfortable. Ever since then I've been obsessed with finding the beauty in everything."
Dykstra's first opportunity to model for a group of artists was at the University of Michigan. She remembers feeling self-conscious, nervous, and empowered all at once. Her first job was posing nude.
- provided by Molly Dykstra
- Dykstra delights in the unique perspective each artist uses to translate her body onto the page.
"It takes a certain strength to drop the robe and just do it," she said. "Sometimes a model's first gig is their last because they can't handle it."
Dykstra said that from the first day she "dropped the robe," being an art model has given her total acceptance of herself and an enormous amount of strength. She has learned to not take her body and physical self so seriously.
She explained that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is knowing that she is helping to create art. She feels most proud when people buy pieces of artwork that she modeled for and inspired. The different ways artists portray her never cease to amaze her.
"I've seen myself very heavy, emaciated thin, and even different ethnicities. It's a beautiful thing, really. Art is so much about perception."
Being an art model can be difficult. It requires holding a single pose for up to 20 minutes with little to no movement. Dykstra said she lets her mind wander to a Zen place, which helps release her stress from the day. She typically thinks about the day she's had or the people she loves. Her feelings and emotions often become evident through the way she poses that day.
"The artists always appreciate whatever I'm feeling that day and use my emotions to influence their works," she said.
Dykstra believes that art tends to get overlooked in Indianapolis. A native of the city since she was a young child, she thinks art is much more a part of Indianapolis now than it ever has been. A bit of an artist herself, she likes to do photography and write on the side.
"A city's art is the life of the city," she said. "It's like the heart. If the heart isn't there, you don't have a city."
- provided by Molly Dykstra
- Dykstra's search for her own beauty has inspired countless artists over the past two decades.
Art modeling is a profession that is often misunderstood, in her opinion. People tend to associate nude modeling with stripping and other risqué behaviors. Dykstra feels a sense of pride and power knowing she is a part of the finished product that is a beautiful work of art. She has never once felt judged, and plans to continue to model both nude and clothed well into her 60s and 70s. Plus, she enjoys that she gets to plan her own work hours and make decisions about which artists she wants to work for.
On this night at the Stutz Building, the class opens with a short mingling session where the six artists are invited to enjoy a variety of wines and hors d'oeuvres while setting up their easels. Once class begins, Dykstra walks onto a short platform lit with soft spotlights in the center of the room. It looks like a small sitting area. She nonchalantly, yet elegantly, drops her robe to reveal her nude body and sets up in her first pose. She holds each pose with grace and ease, barely even batting an eyelash.
After a few two-, three- and five-minute drawing sessions of different poses, Dykstra and the artists take a break. Then the process is repeated, with longer drawing periods of 15 minutes.
During the break, the model and artists take the opportunity to view each other's work and give compliments and critiques. Dykstra says she always appreciates talking with the artists and getting to know each individual's style of art.
"Modeling is an amazingly empowering profession," she said. "Anybody can do it and just go through the motions. It's those who take it to the next level and make the artists feel something that have success and find peace."
For Dykstra, success is found in this, her moments of Zen.