As if dealing with sexism in the arts isn’t enough, older women face another ism that gets little attention, ageism. Older women artists continue to be overlooked, ignored or presumed past their prime or ability. Our objective is to bust the stereotypes and showcase the art life of women over 50, women whose passion and exploration in the arts is as vibrant and as exciting as ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A visit with Bette Kelley

As Bette said goodbye to us today she said "Keep Making." When I asked her "Do you have any advice for young artists, she said "Keep working." Do you see the theme here?

Everywhere you look in her home it is bursting with hand crafted art.
Bette comes from a family that made things. They taught her how to do things and instilled in her the belief that she could do anything that she wanted to.  "I learned to sew when I was 7, and I started selling my sewing at 14." She is always teaching others.  When I asked a question about some embroidery, she immediately started to show me how to do it.
  And at the same time told me that the decorated embroidery hoop that she was using was her grandmother's.Generations of a family that made art, crafted their surroundings, used their hands to make their world beautiful. Bette is following in that tradition and inspiring her grand daughter. She taught her to embroidery at the age of 4 and now at the age of 8 her grand daughter has started a once a week "Craft Night" in their family. 

Bette smiles and says,"She has the same Crow quality about color." Crow Quality? we ask. Bette explains that her grand daughter is exuberantly drawn to beautiful, colorful things.  She took exquisite pleasure from just sorting the multi-hued floss into neat sections in her floss box. Bette loves color too. I think especially purple.  You can see it in her home, her clothes and her flower filled back yard.   Have I said yet that, she is beautiful to look at?  With her long silver braid and delicate face, she is a line drawing by Klimt melting into a riot of color.  
It is such fun looking around in awe at her house crammed with art I ask her what are some of the kinds of art that you have done?  Bette replies "I did Stained glass for 17 years, beaded for 17 years,

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 embroidered on and off most of my life and have seriously worked at it about 15 years
(Embroidery samples here). Went back to school and got an MA in costuming, then moved here to take a job with the Dayton Ballet where I worked for 3 years.  Then on to the Opera 2 years as a costume co-ordinator,and 2 years at the Human Race Theatre.  
I made costumes for the Dance Company Rhythm and Shoes for 18 years, did contract work for the DCDC, and for the last several years have made costumes for the Dayton Opera

 I have earned 90% of my living from doing art and teaching art. I had my day art that was for sale and my night art where I got to do whatever I wanted to. Nowadays it's the opposite my night art is my job-I'm in the Wardrobe Union and work backstage as a dresser for edseveral venues. I helped make costumes for the South Slavic Club for 25 years. As you might have guess, a lot of my "jobs" overlapped."

 Bette also has an extensive collection of handcrafted dolls and we asked why make so many dolls? "It started with the South Slavic Club. I was in charge of the cultural display at our Dayton International Festival booth for several years. One year we made dolls. I talked 3 other women into making some as well. I like to make ethnic costumes and doll scale size goes  so much faster."

"Most of the time I'm an energizer ever ready bunny.  My hands need to be busy.  As a child, I couldn't sit and watch TV.  My dad made me a wooden jigsaw puzzle  board that fit over my lap so I could do that while I watched TV."

"I worry about how much sentient time I have left since dementia runs strong in my family.  When I think about projects or things I want to do I always keep this in mind.

Bette showed us a huge notebook for the lessons that she has taken on line with the British City and Guild program.  Lots of intensive research. "The main reason I didn't continue the City and Guilds program was time. It took me 10 months instead of 3 to finish that module-at that time there were 8 modules. I have so many ideas in my head that I felt I couldn't give up that much time."
"I've had to make some adjustments because of aging. You learn to accommodate because you have to keep working." She hired an ergonomic expert to teach her exercises to combat her arthritis.  "I listen to books on CD while I embroider or do any of my art and I have learned when the CD is done it's time to stretch." Bette also said with her slow smile, "and I wear as many braces as I can put on my body."

"I belong to the "More is Never Enough Fan Club."