Betty Robertson: Set Free by Art

  Betty Robertson: Set Free by Art Eve Lee On October 16, Presbyterian Homes will hold its second annual “Never Too Old” creative artistry exhibit. This year, one of the featured artists will have several canvases on display — works she might have found inconceivable at the time of the inaugural show last year. At 67, Betty Robertson is the youngest resident at the Rose Anna Hughes facility, and exemplifies the show’s guiding principle that it never is too late. Stricken with a heart attack and multiple sclerosis, she initially came to PHSK for rehabilitation services. “It was a stepping stone to me moving in here,” the former state personnel worker says. At the time of her move five years ago she was in a wheelchair, reeling from a divorce and a serious car accident, but with the guidance of fitness therapist Howard Levine, she was moved to practice using a walker in her apartment — and eventually came to leave the chair behind. Another significant change came earlier this year, when Betty took a painting class with activities director Lisa Stacy. Already a creative person — she designs nearly all the jewelry she wears, from beaded earrings and necklaces to a sterling turquoise ring — Betty, who had never drawn anything, found herself feeling very possessive of a painting the group had been working on. “The more I did it, the more I thought I didn’t want anybody else working on it,” Betty says. “I just loved it.” Lisa noticed her dedication and decided to let Betty finish it on her own. “We have a lot of talented people,” Lisa says. “She has an eye.” The painting Lisa encouraged Betty to complete became known as “Dancer in a Red Dress,” and it set the tone for many of Betty’s subsequent compositions. Like Degas, she favors ballet dancers, and her acrylics exhibit startling detail and apparent ease for a novice. There is a fluidity to them — a twirling skirt, a wave of fabric. Even the hands, notoriously difficult to draw, are delicately rendered. Even more startling is the fact that the vivacious Betty, with her grey-blue eyes and spiky salt-and-pepper hair, can knock out one of these in just a few hours — which she does nearly nightly in the former second-floor lounge. Her artistic revelation did wonders not only for her mindset but also her body: “I was set free,” she says. “The muscles in my back, my hands … relaxed. I found a way, and I relaxed.”