Betty Lou the Artist
I’ve been thinking of writing this post for about a year now. In a few of the photos I’ve posted, there have been some paintings by my mom in the background. I always took them for granted because they were always there. But some people were surprised to hear that my mom painted. When I heard that, I knew I had to write a post that featured some paintings by my mom. The easiest way to do that is to share some photos of her paintings that I own.
This first painting was the first painting that my mom painted. At least that’s what is written on the back of the painting. It was painted around 1950 when she was a junior or senior in high school. I’m sure she must have dabbled with paints and colors when she was growing up. Otherwise she wouldn’t have had the talent or skills to produce a painting like this that she considers her first real painting.
It’s hard for me to imagine that my mom was painting something so nice when I see some of the photos of her from that time. She just seems like a young country girl having fun playing basketball, singing at church, and performing with the band. She had a lot of interests and seemed to be pretty good at most of them. I could say that she was the worst skier, but to be fair that wasn’t really an interest of hers. My dad taught water skiing, so when his new girlfriend said she couldn’t ski, he got it in his head to teach her. After she got tired of drinking lake water, he agreed to concede – water skiing was not a skill of Betty Lou’s. She was his only failure. A fact that never seemed to bother Mama in the least!
And even though that painting was the first one that my mom painted, it wasn’t the first one that I obtained. I got my first one around 1977 or 1978. I call it “The Path to the Lake” and it was painted around 1977. There’s a story about why it is mine. After she painted it, she was always changing the little shrub in the foreground on the right of the painting. For some reason it always bothered her. She called it a “trash shrub” and nothing she did to fix it was acceptable. So one day I saw her getting her gesso out while sitting in front of that painting. Gesso is a thick white paint that artists use to make a canvas smoother for painting, or to give yourself a clean surface to start a new painting.
I asked her what she was doing, and she said that she was going to paint over that trash shrub and start something new. I told her that this was one of my favorite paintings of hers, so she gave it to me then and there. I have always liked this painting, even that sweet little shrub on the right in the foreground. It reminds me of a place near where we lived in North Carolina.
One of the last paintings I got of my mom’s was this “Still Life with Flowers.” In January of 2016 – a few months after we had moved our parents into Brookdale Assisted Living in Lake Charles – we cleaned out their home in Jennings because someone wanted to buy the “happy little house on Lucy Street.” One of the things we divvied up were the many paintings that my mom had done over the years. I picked out a few of my favorites, then Chuck picked this one. I had never really noticed it before. I usually look at the landscapes. But this one has grown on me.
I was talking to my dad a few months later and mentioned the painting. I tried to describe it to him, but couldn’t. So I sent him a photo of it. He showed it to Mama, and she claimed that it wasn’t one of hers. They were in Assisted Living because of her memory issues. She definitely painted it. Her standard signature is on the bottom right, just like on the other two photos I’ve posted. For some reason, paintings were particularly confusing for her. She thought some paintings by other people were hers. She would say that they were stealing her paintings and claiming them as their own. Then she didn’t know her own paintings when they were shown to her. That’s what Alzheimer’s will do to a person.
But my mom outsmarted it in her way by writing messages on the back of many of her paintings. That’s one of the reasons I know about her first painting. But I knew that already because I had heard her talking about it through the years. I never thought I would own it, but my mom gave it to me one day when I went to visit her. I also know that the “Still Life with Flowers’ was painted in 1992. I would never have known that if she hadn’t written it on the back. That’s just one of the many things that I appreciate about my mom.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.