Merle Zirkle taught at Grinnell College for thirty two years, retiring from teaching in the spring of 2000 after having been a full professor of art since 1989. At the present she has Senior Faculty Status. During her tenure she taught ceramics, design, jewelry and sculpture. Prior to 1986 she shared a teaching appointment with her husband Louis G. Zirkle. Professor Zirkle holds an M.F.A. in Ceramics from Southern Illinois University (1959) and a B.A. degree from the University of Mississippi (1957).
Besides teaching, she worked as an independent artist/craftsperson in jewelry and ceramics. During her career she has exhibited her artwork in numerous competitive and/or invitational national, regional, state and local exhibitions, including National Decorative Arts-Ceramics Exhibition, Wichita, KS, (1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968), National Arts & Crafts Exhibition, Jackson, MS, (1969, 1970, 1971), and Mississippi River Craft Exhibition, Memphis, TN, (1959, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1975) as examples of early showings. She has very consistently exhibited in Iowa and bordering states, including the Des Moines Art Center's Iowa Artists Show, Des Moines, IA, (1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1994, 1999), Polk County Heritage Gallery shows (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001), Charles H. MacNider Museum, Mason City, IA (showing in 48 competitive state and regional exhibitions since 1968), Augustana College, Rock Island, IL (1997, 1998), Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids, IA, (1980, 1981, 1993, 1997), University of Iowa Hospitals' Project Art, Iowa City, IA (1995, 1996), Hearst Center for the Art, Cedar Falls, IA, (1989,1990, 1992, 1997), Luther College, Decorah, IA, (1994), Monmouth College, Monmouth, IL, (1994, Central College, Pella, IA, (1991), Grinnell College Print and Drawing Study Room, Grinnell, IA, (1992, 1994, 1996) and the Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College, (2000, 2002), and most recently she has participated in the Women's Caucus for Art Midwest Regional Touring Exhibition exhibited in House Springs, MO, Omaha, NE, and Chicago, IL in 2002-03. This is a small sampling of the 218 shows that Professor Zirkle has participated in over the last forty four years.
Zirkle's work is a part of numerous private collections and several public and academic collections, including the Charles H. MacNider Museum, Pioneer Hybred, Grinnell Regional Medical Center, Grinnell College, and Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. Her artwork is shown by the Corner House Gallery in Cedar Rapids, IA.